Hello? Is there anybody in there? Just nod if you can hear me. Is there anyone at home? – Pink Floyd, Comfortably Numb
Comfortably Numb is a Pink Floyd song from the album The Wall, which somehow seems appropriate because one of the hardest things to do as a writer once you’ve written a book is get through a wall of social media noise and figure out how to get people to read it. In many ways, it’s the biggest challenge facing authors these days, especially indie ones. How can people discover you?
Part of the reason that I’m thinking about this subject is that I (the Harry Heckel half of Jack Heckel) am going to be on a panel at Awesome Con in Washington, DC this weekend. This is amazingly cool, and I owe fellow author Wayland Smith for making it happen.
I’ll be on a panel at 2:15 on Sunday with Wayland Smith and Day al-Mohamed discussing how to build a knowledge base and use it for writing. I’m sure I’ll talk quite a bit about reading fairy tales.
All of this is good, even I daresay, AWESOME, but I should have announced that I was going to be at Awesome Con a month ago on this blog. Opportunity lost.
And that brings me to the challenge. I got published because I love writing and have worked at it for years. Like many writers, I do very well hidden away from the public with my keyboard, listening to music, dreaming of words and typing what my characters tell me to type.
Once books are published they need support. Major publishers expect writers to have blogs, carry on Twitter conversations, have an Amazon page, a Facebook page, probably Instagram, Google + and who knows what else. Writers need to arrange book signings and convention visits. They must have business cards and create their own promotional materials. Relationships have to be built and cultivated.
Most of that has little to do with hiding in front of a keyboard and dreaming up a fantasy world.
I recently attended RavenCon in Richmond, VA, which made more of a media splash for a Gamergate related expulsion than the number of amazing authors in attendance. I saw one lady, who was on a panel with me early in the convention schedule, on the last day looking fairly close to terrified. I said hi and reintroduced myself. She told me that meeting people wasn’t her thing and that she couldn’t wait to be back home writing again.
I can sympathize, but unfortunately for her, it’s all part of being a modern writer. I’m lucky in that I enjoy talking to fans and getting to know them. Several writers helped inspire me, in particular, Richard Knaak, who sent me a letter when I was getting started, encouraging me. So, if you don’t like meeting people, my advice is practice saying hello and shaking hands because you need to do it anyway.
While I’m no expert, I’ve heard more than a few good pieces of advice on how to be a writer at a convention. Here’s one – cultivate an image. Consider what you are wearing, both clothes as well as buttons, logos, hair, etc. I’m not very fancy or clever, so I try to pull off jeans, a geek culture t-shirt, and a jacket. I also carry a stuffed Green Dragon who looks a lot like the dragon on the cover of Once Upon a Rhyme.
The dragon works extremely well. When I went to RavenCon without the dragon, no one talked to me. When I walked around the convention with the dragon, I was stopped numerous times. People remembered me. I wasn’t just another author, I was the guy carrying the stuffed dragon. Victory!
My second piece of advice is simple. Introduce yourself and start conversations, then listen. Everyone enjoys when people listen to what they have to say. Don’t be afraid of engaging con attendees. You know they share some of your passions. Shaking someone’s hand may make a difference. You never know who you are talking to, so (though you should always do this) treat everyone like they were a movie producer wanting to make a script out of your book.
Be positive. Having a smile and being happy and encouraging goes a long way. Unless you have a true gift for being a curmudgeon, stay on the bright side of life. It makes you more approachable (and the effect is multiplied if you have a stuffed dragon).
Let the social media world know you are going to the convention. Alert the world in advance. Tweet from the con. Share pictures on Facebook. I’m terrible at all of these things, but I strongly urge any new authors to be far better than I am.
If you are on a panel or leading a seminar, prepare in advance. Fans are super smart, well-informed and if you just scan wikipedia for your info, they’ll know. They can do it too. Try your best to share things of real value and on that note…
Tell stories. It’s much easier to remember a story or anecdote about someone than to blather on about facts. Most people who read this blog will remember that I carry a stuffed dragon at conventions, but might have trouble recalling the other stuff. That’s okay, but it helps that it makes a good story.
Finally, make sure you help others whenever you can. Open doors. Recommend other authors. If someone doesn’t like your writing and wants to find their way to the Battlestar Galactica booth, at least try to give them directions. If nothing else, you will feel better at the end of the day.
In any event, if you happen to be at a con and you see a guy holding a stuffed green dragon in a sport jacket and a superhero t-shirt, please say hi!
I’ll delve more into social media and signings in the next few weeks.