Arisia 2016 and the Lessons Learned

This past weekend, J.M. Aucoin and I shared a table in the artist/author alley section of Arisia 2016, a long-running fantasy and sci-fi convention in Boston. This was our first time pimping ourselves out at a major convention, so we had no idea what to expect, on pretty much any level beyond what sort of people would be attending — which is why we took a chance on doing the show, because we figured if nothing else, we’d be surrounded by avid readers with a taste for non-mainstream fiction.

Sleepy Authors
Justin and I by the third day of the show. Sleep was the enemy. Caffeine was our friend.

It was a long four days, and while neither of us made enough money to allow us to run around our homes pumping fists full of cash in the air while chanting “USA! USA!” we did well enough to warrant making plans to go back next year, armed with some valuable lessons that’ll hopefully lead to greater financial success. Sorry to sound so mercenary, but realistically, money is and always shall be a factor here.

Some of the things I know I learned…

Stay for the whole show. Stay for the whole show. For the love of Cthulhu, STAY FOR THE WHOLE SHOW.

Our area was supposed to have eight or so tables for other writers and small artisans. We had that many tables, but few of them remained full throughout the weekend. One artist stayed for two and a half hours on Friday and then left, never to return (bear in mind that Friday is NOT a great business day here, as the con is only open for a few hours in the evening and most folks use that time to check in, get a lay of the land, and scout out where the good parties are). Another showed up very late Saturday and didn’t bother to come back Sunday or Monday. People running a bake sale didn’t stick around for more than three hours either Saturday or Sunday, and never showed up Monday. Even those who did show up for all days tended to close up shop well before closing.

I understand the frustration of sitting there, watching people go by, sometimes without ever even glancing at your table, but you can’t sell your stuff if you aren’t there to sell it. Justin and I both made sales within the last ten minutes of the last day, as did our author neighbor Calandra Usher (who, along with Jim McDonald, completed our happy little literary corner). Leaving early shows poor business sense.

It’s also inconsiderate to the neighbors. When con-goers see too much empty space, they go the other way, which doesn’t help those who stick it out — and those of us who did stick it out already had challenges to overcome…

Location, Location, Location

The artist/author alley area was, for reasons too complicated to go into here, moved out of the vendor area proper and into an escalator landing — which, to be fair, wasn’t an awful space. Anyone entering or leaving the vendor area had to use those escalators or the nearby elevator, so everyone saw us. However, we were back against the wall, which gave people more than enough space to skirt by us and never get within pitch range.

And I admit this is probably a matter of personal perception, it often felt like the traffic was never as heavy as it was in the vendor area proper, where my wife was set up (Storied Threads, plug plug). Justin and I already spoke to the area manager, who was very receptive, so perhaps next year we’ll get a table in the vendor area proper.

And Here’s the Pitch…

Once we caught someone’s eye, we had a precious second or two to draw them in. Justin was much better at this than I was because he’s more outgoing than I am, so I know I have to raise my game here. Once they got to the table, we had to pitch our books in a manner that enticed the potential customer into buying but wasn’t pushy. I hate hard sell tactics. They always turn me off, especially when there’s a whiff of guilt-tripping involved (“If you don’t buy my stuff, I can’t pay my mortgage!” — and yes, I have in fact heard that exact pitch before).

We had our “elevator pitches” down pretty well, but they could use some improvement. I know mine could stand to be more informational and less generic.

Justin gets interviewed for the TyroTV YouTube channel.
Justin gets interviewed for the TyroTV YouTube channel.

Network!

While I had no idea what to expect at the show, I definitely did not expect to be interviewed twice, or approached by someone in the early planning stages of a convention focusing on non-mainstream fiction, or meet a freelance editor looking to make connections within the indie author community. Thank god we had a ton of business cards to hand out.

However, I can’t help but feel we missed out on some other networking opportunities, opportunities we initiated rather than received. Something to think about.

Price Matters?

One of our big hurdles was the fact we were selling print editions of our books, which cost more and our less likely to inspire impulse purchases…or so we thought. People were surprisingly willing to cough up $12 or so for a full-length novel, more so than they were to pay $5 for Justin’s Jake Hawking short story collection; he moved more copies of Honor Among Thieves than the Hawking omnibus.

Nevertheless, I have a project in the works to create my own low-cost book to serve as an introduction to my two series, for the benefit of those who are intrigued enough to look into my work but might not feel like making a serious investment.

I also plan to take a page from Calandra and Jim’s metaphorical books and look into selling e-book editions of my work directly at cons.

“It’s you!”

The high point of the weekend came when a man came wandering toward our table, his eyes fixed on my display banner, and asked me, excitedly, “Are you Michael Bailey?” He was a fan of the Action Figures series — and, as it turns out, knew my cover artist Tricia back in high school. I’ve never been fanboyed over before. It was both extremely flattering and incredibly surreal.

The Recognition Factor

Justin and I got a hint of how powerful a social media presence can be. Perfect strangers recognized Justin from his Tumblr account, while my book covers got an ongoing response of, “Wow, those look really familiar!” In both cases, it helped attract people to our table who might otherwise keep on walking. Now we have to find ways to increase that recognition factor so we can parlay it into sales.

October Book Fair(e)

CTRF AuthorsBeware! Multiple cheap plugs ahead!

Today is the last day to grab advance tickets for the Connecticut Renaissance Faire, which begins on October 3 and runs for four weekends at the North Haven Fairgrounds in (duh) North Haven (double duh), Connecticut. I bring this up for several reasons, many of which are shamelessly self-serving.

For starters, it’s a fun show and a great day out for the whole family. Many, many of my friends will be there performing in one capacity or another, my wife will be vending her awesome wares, and seven different authors — including me — will be there to sell and sign copies of their books. Here’s the complete schedule for your planning pleasure:

  • Saturday, October 3: Erin Thorne (Losers and Their Friends; Deals Diabolical)
  • Sunday, October 4: Michael Bailey (self-explanatory, I think)
  • Saturday, October 10: R.A. Salvatore (the Drizzt Do’Urden novels)
  • Sunday, October 11: E.A. Rappaport (the Legends of the Four Races series)
  • Monday, October 12: J.M. Aucoin (Honor Among Thieves; the Jake Hawking series)
  • Saturday, October 17: A.L. Davroe (the Tricksters series)
  • Saturday, October 24: Deborah Ann Davis (the Love of Fairs series)

Check out the CTRF authors series page for updates.

Book Signing (And New Book) Announcement!

I’m still pinning down the fine details, but I am currently scheduled to appear at the Connecticut Renaissance Faire for a book signing on Sunday, October 4 from 1 to 3 PM.

ct-renaissance-faire-header2

This will be a new experience of sorts. I’ve been involved with CTRF in various capacities for 10 years now (I started out as a staff script writer before moving on to performing and fight directing), so it’ll be odd to be at the show as a special guest.

I’ll be one of three authors making in appearance at the fall show. My friend J.M. Aucoin will be there on Monday (Columbus Day), October 12 signing copies of his new book Honor Among Thieves (Hope & Steel Book 1), and some guy named R.A. Salvatore will be there on Saturday, October 15. I hear he’s got a few books out there, and a bit of a following.*

While I will of course have copies of the Action Figures series on-hand, I am using the opportunity to finally finish work on a book I’ve had sitting on the back burner for a while. That’s right, CTRF will host the official debut of my humorous fantasy novel The Adventures of Strongarm & Lightfoot! I’ve already spoken to my editor Julie and cover artist Tricia and put them on alert so I can get this sucker wrapped up and ready for sale by the show.

I often refer to this book as the fantasy novel for people who don’t like fantasy novels or, when I’m in a more hyperbolic mood, the anti-A Song of Ice and Fire. It’s got plenty of action in it, but also a lot of humor, including some gentle (and not so gentle) jabs at some of the well-worn tropes of the genre.

The book will be something of a test. It is set up ad the first book in a series, but whether I continue the series will depend on how well-received it is. We’ll see.

One potential downside to this is: it might delay Action Figures – Issue Five: Team-Ups slightly. I am still plugging away at it and should finish up draft one soon, but there are other elements of putting a book together I have no control over (namely the availability of my aforementioned editor and cover artist, who now have the AoS&L project on their do-to lists) that could delay the release — hopefully not long, but it could happen.

One final note: Strongarm & Lightfoot will be my first non-YA release. It’ll have some more mature elements that might make it inappropriate for younger readers, but I will aim to give readers another title that leans toward fun escapism rather than the darker, more serious fare that tends to dominate the genre.

* Chill out, people. I know who R.A. Salvatore is, and I’m extremely flattered to be in the same airspace as the man.

Author Interview – J.M. Aucoin Discusses “Honor Among Thieves”

Hey, folks. My friend Justin is getting ready to release his new book, Honor Among Thieves (Hope & Steel Book 1), which is now available for pre-order for the Kindle. Here he is to tell everyone about it!

JustinTell everyone about the new book and what inspired the story.

Honor Among Thieves is the first book in the Hope & Steel series. It takes place in early 17th Century France, during King Henry IV’s reign and about a decade after the French religious wars ended.

In the book, we follow Darion Delerue, a former soldier turned highwayman, and Jacquelyna Brocquart, a lady-in-waiting for Queen Marie de Medici. Both are unwillingly thrown into a political plot to undermine the crown and could throw France back into chaos and civil war.

As for inspiration, I’ve always been a huge fan of swashbucklers and the historical adventure genre. I’m a carnivore of all things Three Musketeers. I love the high adventure, the weaving of fictional plots with historical events, and the camaraderie of the characters. I’m also a fan of Arturo Perez-Reverte’s Captain Alatriste series, which is full of swordplay, history, and a dash of realism. So I tried combining both into the Hope & Steel series. You get a lot of high adventure in the plots but with the gritty realism of life of 17th Century France and all its consequences.

Your previous releases (the Jake Hawking books) were all short stories. What drove you to tackle a full-length novel?

It’s funny, Honor Among Thieves gave birth to the Jake Hawking Adventures in some ways. I was in the middle of a major re-write for Honor Among Thieves and I was getting a little frustrated with the process. I was struggling to fill major plot holes and I was second guessing myself on what point of views to keep and what to cut. I needed to step away from the project, but I also hate going too long without writing anything. I need to feel productive or I get grumpy. So I decided to write a few piratical short stories. Nothing serious. Nothing grim. Just fun, light-hearted tales. And voila! Jake Hawking, Little Queen, and the crew of the Broad-Wing were born.

Doing the Hawking stories also gave me my first taste at self-publishing, which was good. The trio of short-stories and then the omnibus collection let me ease into the industry and figure things out without like hiring a cover artist and formatting for Kindle and Createspace.

But it’s always been my plan to write full-length novels.

Is this the first in a series for this character or a stand-alone novel?

This is the first book in what I hope becomes a long-lasting series. I have the first four books more or less outlined in my head, but I’m hoping for a long and prosperous career of fighting for Darion and company.

This is your first new release in more than a year (since Jake Hawking & the Bounty Hunters (A Jake Hawking Adventure Collection Book 1), released in April 2014). What took so long?

Rewrites. Day job. Procrastination. Take your pick!

Honor Among Thieves has been about three or four years in the making. It was the first full-length novel I actually completed (I had tried and failed at completing novels a few times prior), so there was a lot of problems with the first draft. It was way too long (140K words), and the second half of the novel didn’t really jive with the first half. It was a perfect case of the story taking a life of its own and running away from my outline.

So I basically torched the first draft and started over. I thought I would be able to use large chunks of the original copy in the second draft, but I think I rewrote about 90% of the book. In the middle of all this is when I took a break and let Hawking come to life. Then I went back and finished it. Sent it out to test readers. Went over their feedback and then hunted for an editor, which was a bit of a nightmare in itself. Finding one that was good and also in my budget was tough. It’s one of the harder parts of being a self-pub author.

I really wanted this book to come out last October, but I also didn’t want to rush things. Delaying it eight months was the right course, I think.

And, of course, I still need a day job to pay the bills, so that’s 8-10 hours of possible writing time gone. I get writing in during my lunch break and I try to do some writing after work, but some days the brain won’t have it, so an hour or two might be all that I get done. It makes getting projects done a slow process.

How research-intensive was this story?

A lot. I wanted to fictional characters to interact with historical figures and weave fictional plots into real world events. I also wanted to paint a picture of what France was like in 1609, and not just what we all assume it was like because of the movies. So to do that I needed to do a good amount of research into what was happening and who was in charge and doing what, and who liked (or didn’t like) who, etc. for this time period.

Amazingly, my local library (Boston Public) didn’t have a lot of books on King Henry IV of France or that time period. It seems to be a very un-sexy era for researchers. However, I did find a lot of research material via Google Books that I was able to download for free. I found about 10 books from Google Books in total and bought a couple of more online and in local bookshops. I also looked for maps of France and Paris from around the time, so I could get street names and bridge names correct for the early 17th Century.

Readers shouldn’t take my portrayals of historical characters as gospel, but a lot of research went into this swashbuckler to get things right. I want to get people interested in the era and have them do their own research after.

I’m going to assume there are plenty of action sequences. What was your process for putting those together?

What’s a swashbuckler without a little action, eh?

There’s a good amount of fighting in this novel. Far more steel is brandished in Honor Among Thieves than in the Jake Hawking Adventures. Darion’s a former soldier turned highwayman; he’s young, proud, and can be hot tempered. Drawing steel is how problems get solved in his life – for better or worse.

But unsheathing one’s sword is a serious affair. You don’t draw your rapier unless you were absolutely certain you were ready to use it. It’s not like modern Olympic fencing or even HEMA/SCA rapier combat. It meant life or death.

So I try to approach my action scenes in the same way. I don’t just throw in a fight scene for the sake of a fight scene being there. Action scenes need to serve a purpose in fiction. It needs to convey some new information about a character, solve (or create) a problem, or further the story somehow.

We have to talk about the cover, because it’s pretty kick-ass. Did you have any input on the concept, or was it all left to your cover artist?

HAT Cover

I absolutely love this cover. Graham Sternberg made it for me. He’s a good friend of mine from my fencing circle and also a fantastic artist, so he was perfect for the job.

The concept of the cover was a little of my idea and a lot of Graham’s idea. When we started talking about what the cover should be, I wasn’t sure what I wanted it in terms of action and setting, but I knew what I wanted the overall feel and tone of the cover to be. I wanted the cover to convey the action and sense of urgency of the story, and I knew I wanted it to look like a painting. I wanted the brush strokes and the roughness of a not-so-quite-finished painting to be seen. I also wanted more jewel and earth tones, so it would be a little different looking than the Hawking covers, which use a lot of primary colors.

So that was my main contribution. Graham did the rest. He came up with idea of doing a wrap-around cover, so the front and back is one artwork – which I loved. He drew up about half a dozen pencil sketches of ideas based off the plot of the book. From there I chose the ones I liked and gave some feedback based on what I saw and he would go do what he did best until we had the final design.

What’s the next project?

Got a few projects in the works, all at different stages.

I have a stand-alone pirate revenge story that’s about 20K words in. I think that’ll be my “I need to work on something different” project when other stories are becoming obstacles. I have an idea for a pulp mystery/suspense series that I’m aiming to work on – at least for a little bit – in the fall. I think that’ll be a novella length project. And I’m world building, off and on, for a possible fantasy series, but I don’t expect to actually write that for some time.

Of course, once Honor Among Thieves is published I’ll start the second book in the series. I have a general outline all set; it’s just a matter of filling in the details of the plot. There are some bread crumbs in book one that’ll lead to book two.

I think I have the classic dilemma of too many ideas, not enough time!