Writing Wednesday – Lessons from Marscon, part 2

Once again, I’m looking at at what I learned from my most recent public appearance as a professional writer. I spent the weekend of 15-17 January at Marscon in Williamsburg, VA, and in addition to having a great time, I learned a few things about going on the road. You can read lessons 1-5 here. But right now, let’s jump into #6 and go straight through to the end.

Lesson #6 – Take care of yourself at the con! I can’t emphasize this enough. I had to man my author table from all during then day then turn around and spend three hours each night participating in panels. Not that I’m complaining! But that’s a lot of work and an exhausting schedule. Most of my panels were scheduled to start at 10PM and didn’t end until 1AM, so I was up very late both Friday and Saturday night. Between that and the hours I needed to spend at my table actively selling my books, my chances of going out for a meal were mostly screwed. However, I was smart enough to bring a few groceries to the con, so I always had some healthy snacks on hand (a lot of people kept asking, “What are you planning to do with that bannana, young lady?” “Oh, it’s part of my act,” I’d reply). I also made sure I had plenty of water with me, since hotels get pretty dry. So I managed to eat and drink no matter how crazy my schedule was, and that went a long way toward me not passing out around 11PM during a panel. Very important to keep in mind.

Lesson #7 – Bring a power strip. I really could have used one of these this weekend. I brought both my cell phone and my netbook, expecting to use them both. Problem was, my hotel room didn’t offer much in the way of electrical outlets. They were all tucked behind large pieces of furniture, making them damned near impossible to reach. The one I could reach without rearranging the room was cracked and warped so badly I couldn’t plug either the phone or the laptop into it. That meant I had no cell phone and no netbook for most of the weekend, which sort of sucked. Next year I’m bringing a power strip with a surge supressor so that I can be certain to have outlets that I can reach and thus have a charged netbook and cell phone. ‘Nuff said.

Lesson #8 – Bring a friend along! When a friend of mine heard I was going to Marscon, she mentioned she wanted to go too. I just happened to have an extra bed in my room, so I offered it and she accepted. This worked out really well. Jett not only bought me dinner Saturday night, she also helped me lug around my box of books and promo and helped me set up and break down each day. Plus she showed up to almost every panel I was on, which gave me the warm fuzzies like you wouldn’t believe. It’s nice to have friends who support everything you do, and Jett just made the weekend so much easier and nicer than I ever could have imagined.

Lesson #9 – One author can do a little, 6 authors can do a lot. I was not the only erotica author at Marscon last weekend. J.M. Snyder, Treva Harte, Kathryn Lively, and Sapphire Phelan were there too. I made sure of it. For the last three years now, I’ve coordinated with Marscon and EPIC Virginia to ensure that there are a group of e-published authors at the convention. It means a little more work for me than if I just went on my own, but the benefits more than make up for it. For starters, one erotica author by herself wouldn’t warrent an entire track of adult-themed programming. But six authors, especially when two of them are publishers of spec fic erotica and erotic romance? That definitely deserves a special track. By going as a group, we were able to do a series of panels on e-publishing and writing speculative fiction erotica and romance. In return, we got guest status at the con, our bios in the program book, a chance to talk to readers, and a late night reading. We were also able to split the cost of author tables to keep expenses down, and by sharing the tables we were better able to fill them, making it look like we really meant serious business (which we did). Together, we were just bigger and better than we would have been on our own.

Lesson #10 – Stuff happens. There was actually supposed to be one more author with us at Marscon – Beth Wylde. Beth is one of the best I’ve seen at public appearances, and we had a blast working together last year. She had signed up for this year, but had an unexpected emergency the night before and couldn’t make it. In years past, I might have panicked, but I’ve learned that something will always go wrong at a convention. Rather than pull my hair out, I talked to the other authors and we made arrangements to fill in for Beth’s panels. It’s a shame she wasn’t able to make it, because she really would have been a hit again this year. But we were able to work around that. And Beth, if you’re reading this, I hope everything is going well now and I’ve already got you on the list for next year!

Writing Wednesday – Lessons from Marscon, part 1

I love going to conventions. I especially had a great time last weekend at Marscon in Williamsburg, VA. Being a guest at a convention is one of those things that really makes me feel like all the hours I spend huddled over the keyboard are more than worth it. I get treated like a minor star, I get to sell my books and talk to fans (yes, I have a few!), I get to do readings and moderate discussion panels… It’s all very heady stuff.

But conventions are real learning experiences too. I’m pretty comfortable with what I do by myself at home — sitting down to write, coming up with story ideas, hunting for markets and sending out submissions, etc. Public appearances are all together different. Here’s a list of things I learned last weekend about being a writer on the road.

Lesson #1 – Pack early. The day before the convention started, I had all my promo material scattered in fifteen different boxes. There was no rhyme or reason to where things were stored. I had an author table to run at the con, and so I started pulling out all those boxes to take stock of what I had and organize it more efficiently. I wish I had done this sooner, a lot sooner! It took all day to sort through boxes of bookmarks, business cards, post cards, buttons, and posters. I was a little surprised at what I did and didn’t have to take. It never occurred to me to put together new business cards for the new website. I don’t know why I didn’t think of that, but when I pulled out my old business cards and saw the old URL, I smacked myself hard in the forehead. On the upside, I discovered I still had enough bookmards for Future Perfect and Heat Flash, and one of my publishers had sent me plenty of promo for the books by other authors that I had offered to take with me to the con. He even got me a t-shirt with the cover art for Future Perfect on it and a huge banner that said, “Meet the author, Helen E. H. Madden!” Made for a very full, very nice table.

Lesson #2 – Make sure your luggage has wheels. I had to dig to find a storage container big enough to hold all my books and promo. Unfortunately, said container did not have wheels. That meant I had to lug around a 70 lb. box of stuff at least twice each day I was at the con. Sometimes I was able to snag a luggage cart from the hotel, but at least once I had to carry that damned box from my author table on the first floor all the way up to my hotel room on the third floor. I’m damned lucky I didn’t rupture myself. Before the next con, I’m getting a sturdy box with wheels and a handle!

Lesson #3 – Chocolate is a great way to lure readers in. This is a trick I learned from Beth Wylde. Last year I shared a table with Beth, and she brought a bowl of chocolates to give out to everyone who walked by. I brought my own chocolates this year, and every time someone came within earshot, I called out, “Have a chocolate! It’s free!” Even the one person who didn’t like chocolate stopped to take a look at my table (and tell me why they didn’t like chocolate), and more than a few people actually hung around for a while to talk. Which leads me to my next lesson learned…

Lesson #4 – Conversations lead to sales. I actually knew this from years prior. If you can hold a conversation with someone, you have a good shot at getting them to buy your book. I had a lot of conversations with people that lasted 10 minutes or longer, and seven of those conversations ended up in sales. Others at least ended with people taking my card, some bookmarks, and the catalog for one of my publishers’ books. I made certain to do two things in every conversation. The first thing I did was mention that all my books were available for purchase online, in print and various digital formats, in case people wanted to buy later. The second thing I did was make sure I let them talk while I listened. I’ve seen more than one author go on and on without listening to the people they were talking to. In fact, I’ve been one of those people being prattled at, and sometimes it’s like being trapped by a vicious predator who will only let you go if you BUY, BUY, BUY! I never buy from those people, ever. So rather than push too hard, I let others do the talking for a bit while I listen, so as not to turn them off me and my books forever.

Lesson #5 – Dress up your table. Take another gander at the picture at the beginning of this post. Go on, I’ll wait. Okay, what did you see? Nice table, huh? While hunting for something to carry all my books and promo in, I found a long piece of black and gold lace cloth that I decided to use as a table cloth for my author table. Most author tables are either plain, bare folding tables or plain folding tables with some yucky standard issue hotel tablecloth. The lace fabric transformed my table from old and ugly to nifty and neat, and it went really well with all the bright covers of the books I had on display. I tell ya, I looked like a pro!

I’ve got another five lessons from this past weekend that I’ll post next Wednesday. So be sure to come back next week! It’s all good stuff, I promise.

ACW Episode 52 – My very adult weekend

I know, I know. Today’s cartoon went up late, but there was a reason why. I left Friday morning for Marscon, and was gone all weekend. And yes indeedy, I did have several late night panels which have left me shambling about like one of the living dead. But that’s not why today’s cartoon was late. Today’s cartoon was late because…

It’s all the HUBSTER’S fault!!

Yes, Saint Michael the Magnificent did something truly amazing. He decided to upgrade both my laptop and my desktop this past weekend while I was gone. Now I knew about the laptop. That poor machine has been limping along like nobody’s business the last six months, and I knew while I was away Hubster was going to pull out the old hard drive, install a new one, and reinstall all my software. I knew this. What I did not know was that he also planned to upgrade the operating system on my desktop from Vista to Windows 7.

When I came home Sunday night, both machines were still undergoing upgrades. No big deal. I was too tired to do any work that evening anyway. But on Monday morning, they were both still down. Now I was starting to get a little antsy because in addition to getting today’s cartoon drawn and scanned in, I also had a bit of cover art to finish off for a client and a podcast to finish assembling for Radio Dentata. Both those projects were on the desktop, which I had not been expecting to be under repair. Thus I had not copied the necessary files to my handy thumbdrive in case I needed to use another computer to finish the work. In fact, I couldn’t have used those files on the laptop until the upgraded hard drive was installed anyway, because I think putting anything else on the laptop probably would have killed that machine deader than a doornail. So I had left everything on the desktop, which I knew would back up automatically onto the external hard drive, and went my merry way on Friday thinking I’d be able to get back to work when I got home.

Hubster kept working on both machines all through yesterday. By yesterday evening, they still weren’t finished. In fact, the desktop appeared to have hung itself around the 62% point of the Windows 7 upgrade. It wouldn’t go any further no matter how hard I swore at it. The laptop was almost done, but it didn’t have the files I needed to finish my work, plus it wasn’t connected to my scanner so I couldn’t scan in the cartoon I had managed to draw yesterday. You see, I was on schedule, but got derailed by technical difficulties.

Hubster finally got me set with the laptop very early this morning. The desktop finally hung itself and crashed mid upgrade on Windows 7, so he rolled it back to Vista. Now at 3PM, nine hours later than usual, I can finally post this week’s Adventures of Cynical Woman. Hubster tells me he will wait until the next time I go to a con before he attempts to upgrade to Windows 7 again. I told him fine, but let’s make sure we’ve got a back up in place.

You know, just in case.

Don’t forget, my new/old comic Rats! runs again this Thursday and every Thursday from here on out! If you missed the first episode, you can see it here.