I didn’t feel right to review just one book, when I was reading the series. I finished A DARKER SHADE OF MAGIC last year, but had editing commitments that prevented me from diving in and finishing the series until now. Now that I have finished, I will still be focusing on the first, with the reach of the other two in the series.
I met V. E. (Victoria) Schwab last year at Salt Lake Comic Con 2017, back when it was called that. I get more excite about authors I admire than big-time celebrities. I actually dressed up as her character Delilah Bard – tweeted at her with a picture – she hearted it, it was fun.
She remembered my costume. She was waiting to meet me and found out I was an author too. We talked for a bit, and of course I gave her my card. She’s with TOR! It was REALLY a fun moment.
I got the chance to see her again on her tour a few weeks ago. Out of all the cities, she decided to stop at quaint, little Salt Lake. And she again, totally remembered me, even after a year of meeting countless other Bards. I wasn’t even wearing the mask. I was so impressed by the sincerity and funny candidness. It felt truly special to have a level like that with someone I admire so much.
It’s very hard for me to put this reading experience into words. One of the things I look for in books I read is “Mind-blowing creativity,” something I admire in style and envy as a writer. I state this a lot because I hunger for it, and when something surpises me or takes me off my guard, I can’t help but smile. Ms. Schwab has done that very thing in A DARKER SHADE OF MAGIC. I stepped into reading this book without any prior knowledge of the books. I followed Ms. Schwab on twitter and I liked her online persona. I looked into her books and I FREAKING LOVED the covers and how graphically intriguing, and yet, how simplistic they were. And when I started reading it, I knew within moments, that this book did things right.
A first page is critical in setting up EVERYTHING. I learned that at my very first writers event I went to, where praised authors Shannon Hale and Dan Wells gave feedback on my first page before I even became a published author. THat experience changed a lot of the way I view first pages and writing style, I personal imprinted it on my writer soul. So, when I looked at this first page, I picked up very quickly that this was something new.
It starts with a very simple line, “Kell wore a very peculiar coat.” That’s the first line, a line that told me so much about the story without telling me anything. It turns out this coat as different identities, depending on where it was and what Kell needed it to be. This coat had its own character and story before I even knew anything about the plot. I was very intrigued. I immediately was thrown into a rich world, not of fantasy, but one with dimensions – ALL London.
RED LONDON – Rich and vivid, smelling of roses and deep with magic.
WHITE LONDON – Cold and colorless, where the magic has nearly vanished from the world.
GREY LONDON – OUR London, or the one from King George VI, industrial grey-sooted London.
BLACK LONDON – We do not speak of it, it’s that bad.
The idea of dimensions added with magic, blow me away. Antari can travel through different Londons as long as they carry something from the world, and as willing to use their own magical blood to create a portal. And what happens when a clever Londoner thief, Delilah Bard, picks Kell’s pocket from his magnificent coat? The beginning of a great adventure.
The series as a whole was unpredictable and clever. It continually surprised me. It’s not like anything I’ve read before, and that was so refreshing. Each character is well-developed and has their own purpose and drive. Ms. Schwab writes gender-fluid characters, both hard and soft, light and dark in their own way, and stays true to their flaws. I found myself not rooting for just one character, but more rooting for the magic to win. In A CONJURING OF LIGHT, Kell says Delilah Bard is “…one of a kind,” which is so true. She is fearless, determined, daring, and lethal. Kell’s character is sacrificial and honorable, everything Bard wasn’t. It was a great juxtaposition. The whole cast did a great job, though I gravitated to Kell and Holland.
It was a brilliant idea, told in a brilliant way. And again, it was a story done right.
Schwab set out to tell a complicated story, from several POVs, and delivered a magnificent work of fiction. It’s hard to rate the two books after, because I look at it as a whole piece. Just like any continuing story, the first magical sparks of imagination can’t be duplicated. Fans are the ones coming back to read the stories of these characters. I feel it ended perfectly well, though it was hard to guess who would die (because I thought everyone would). I had a hard time wrapping up the series. I’m excited to go back there with her continuing fiction in this world. I leave the series feeling better than when I started, a better reader and a better writer. I’m so tremendously grateful I found this series and this author, because it changes my view of what fiction can be, and that has a magic all its own.
I had a discussion years ago, actually on a road trip to Portland with my author gal pals, about when someone “Makes It” in this business of writing. What is the threshold? I mean, I’m sure that once you need a personal assistant or a publicist to do things for you, you have definitely “Made It” in some way or another. Just having enough to pay your car payment each month is a huge accomplishment. It’s a hard classification, because my internal view of being an author is not what is reflected in the external view to the reader.
So the idea of “Making It” is difficult. And as I really thought about it, it’s only important to one person. . . That’s me.
In all these years of being an author, I’ve never really felt that I “Made It.” I’ve taught classes and been on panels at different writing conferences, with really, really cool people too, by the way. But I didn’t feel successful, I kinda felt like I was a cool kid, but not a success. My audience is not my peers, so writing conferences are not the best place to sell books or engage with your audience. Online sales are difficult to judge, because I have no engagement what so ever. It’s all just numbers, not people. My books are very buried in the doldrums of Amazon, and only with promotion do my books get any attention.
But when I really feel like an author and really feel an impact of what I’m doing, is when I physically get to place a book in someone’s hands. I’m handing them an adventure, my adventure that I’ve created for them. And when I get to personalize it? It’s the best! Because I am offering a part of me in this book, a special message just for them. It’s a special feeling.
FanX 2018 offers a great way to find your fan base and connect with readers one on one. It was a different experience this year than our other times at the Con Formally Known As Salt Lake Comic Con. In previous years, I had filled the booth with other authors – last year, we had NINE authors. My ideas were to give other people a chance to shine, and make back the cost of the booth, without thinking that I would profit anything. This made for a very crowded and stressful environment.
This year, I decided to do things differently. I didn’t want to be stressed. I wanted to enjoy being at this con. It should be fun. So, I scaled it way down to working with only my closest and best friends in my writing circle: authors Christine Haggerty and Ben Ireland. Each of us write for a different audience, so no competition in sales, and also, we genuinely really want each other to succeed, so selling each other’s books was easy. It’s all about the reader. That is so important, the MOST important thing we did in the booth.
We got lucky booth 1203, a corner very close to the opening doors and main staircase. We set Christine and I on opposite sides of the corner and gave Ben the front corner spot (picture above), so every book had its own place to shine. We all had something new for our booth: Christine’s Middle Grade – Lucas and the House of Lies, Ben’s third in the Blacksmith Legacy – Billy Blacksmith: The Ironsoul, and my new poetry book – Wandering Beautiful.
Historically, we never sold very well on the first day. Most people were waiting to buy everything on the third day. I don’t know if it was the phase of the moon or something, but once those doors opened, people found us immediately and we started selling.
Hands down, this was the BEST year at FanX. The crowd was amazing, we had exceptional stars (I witnessed Jason Momoa, he is real, we breathe the same air, and rotate around the same sun. . . ), but the panels were amazing. Both Ben and I got to participate on panels. My retrogaming panel went amazingly, but not as fabulously as Ben’s Voltron panel. And Christine cosplayed as her pocket pin-ups and drew quite the crowd, plus a free red top hat.
We had fun. We were everywhere. But the best part was talking with fans, fellow creators, fellow readers, who were interested in getting to know us and know what our books were about. We were an impressive force. Many people asked about who we were, how we became a group in a booth, and other authors were anxious for a spot with us next year. I sold out of two titles as well, Ben sold out of his first title. We were not expecting to sell so much. I under-prepared for the crowd, because it’s hard to haul unsold books back. It’s discouraging. I have one, small box of books now sitting in my empty garage instead of several. I’m just still stunned and impressed.
I’ve had a few days to let things settle, but my glow has not faded. As I was driving in on Day 3 of FanX, it was a little cloudy, but the sun was peeking through little breaks, making gorgeous little spots of sun. I thought those lucky people may not even know they are in this spotlight right now.
“Making it as an author is much like being in that spot of sun, not until it has passed can you see and recognize how truly beautiful it is.”
I felt the admiration from each person who purchased my books, and those buying my friends’ books. We all felt the energy, which brought us closer as a group. We were making a difference in their lives, even for a fraction of a moment, but it is imprinted on me forever.
I feel invincible and ready for any challenge. I’m feeling creative and set to finish my book. To all my new friends that I met at this conference, thank you from ALL OF US! FanX has made me the author I had always felt I could be and I will forever be grateful for the opportunity to be in that spot of sun.
Experiment #2 involves Salt Lake Comic Con, though I think this would apply with any convention. I tried to make this post as funny as possible, but sometimes, the truth is just not funny. What you will feel is the embarrassing reality of a small time author selling their soul for a reader to believe.
Salt Lake Comic Con is in its 5th year in the Beehive state. It’s in my home town, practically my backyard, and for this home-grown nerdity that infects this valley like a petri dish, it’s one of the best attended Cons in the nation. I’m still exhausted from experiencing the con for the 5th time, and each one has been different. In reflecting on past vs. present, I thought I would share tips on how to “con” the Con.
Like all of our first times, there was a lot of excitement and anticipation, anxiety, sweating, embarrassment, and fear of performing poorly and being disappointing.
My first con had all the anticipation and inappropriate sweating to prepare me for every eventuality that came with subsequent Cons.
…and I did EVERYTHING WRONG.
September 2013 – My first book, Vivatera, had been out for three months. The newness and hype had cooled, replaced with… okay, so now what? I mean, I had a book, wasn’t that enough? Hardly. SLC had drummed up the idea of a comic con. It was seriously cool news. Why the Hell not?
My sister somehow talked me into seizing the day and I purchased a booth, a very hefty sum for a nobody author. I didn’t have a discount of any sort, so the booth cost was completely out of my depth – over $700, a sum that I could NEVER recover with my first novel, and something I didn’t realize until during the con. I only had this one book and no author friends whatsoever. How was I going to fill an entire 10 x 10 booth?
By spending a lot of money, of course. Here’s a breakdown:
Shirts that did not sell – that I still have in my garage, if anyone wants one. They even glow in the dark.
Hours, and frankly, days making necklaces that reflected my series. This handcraftory took the possession of my kitchen table and a handful of Saturdays to get done. I still have several in a box in my garage, waiting for me to recover (4 years later) and finish. In the end I sold them for $5, and they did better than my book.
Cheap, colored scarves I could sell for $10, but they hardly moved.
Sheer fabric, for a wispy, mysterious effect.
Buttons that said “Vivatera” on them.
Temporary tattoos with the cool “Star” pattern. And I really loved these, but I gave them away.
Some business type cards that had a QR code for the ebook, for those ereaders. There are always a few. And I ordered WAY too many.
And a fat, expensive banner that said “VIVATERA” in bold letters. (Note: if doing an expensive banner, make sure it is timeless, as in, don’t change your branding and don’t plan on having more than one book. Mine aged very quickly and is now covered with paint in my garage.)
…and more things that I thought were necessary and weren’t.
Are you seeing the $$? It was embarrassing how much I put into this booth to try and make my one book sell. The scale of this is ridiculous.
Don’t spend a ton of money on your first con. Get with some experienced authors (more later) and learn from them.
Don’t attempt to sell t-shirts unless they are as cute and as universal as those Tee Turtle or Teefury shirts (not affiliated with either, I’m just a big fan of both). Don’t kill yourself on unnecessary crap. A good, professional bookmark can do a whole lot for you, one with just enough information so they remember who you are and how to find you. Or just a good business card would work and are rather inexpensive. Spend money where you know it will be useful.
And please… Don’t pretend to be bigger than you are. The one thing I hate more than anything is shameless self-promotion. The effrontery of it offends the art of creating. Simplicity is elegant and still professional. Remember what you love and what you do, and that carries over to those you are talking to at the con. Let the creation of it shine through.
Selling Your Soul
People seem to be impressed any time you say that you are an author. It’s a big accomplishment to, first, finish writing a book, and second, seek to get it published, exposing your creative heart to rejection. I can’t really tell if people are impressed or if they just think it’s strange and don’t know how to reply. “Oh, you’re an author? That’s cool…” slowly backs away… huddles children close and talks about college…
Writing is a solitary activity, for the most part. No one can get into your head and explain what you see. Sometimes when you share with non-creative types, it’s hard for them to relate with why this story is so cool and why you need to believe in it.
It’s hard to explain.
Many creative types are also very private, shy, introverted, and for us to be placed in a situation around thousands (tens of thousands) of people, forced from our cocooned life out into air, and made to talk not just about ourselves, but about our stories, can be hard. I can’t claim to be introverted, I was once shy, but that didn’t last long. However, when placed in an awkward situation, with strangers, asking about my book, I fumble with my words.
“It’s about a girl who discovers she has magic.”
That’s every other book on the shelf. What makes my book special?
And authors don’t know how to talk about our books. It’s nerve-racking that someone wants to know about your words, your heart, your creative dragon that took over your life for six-months or longer. It’s hard for us to come up with an elevator pitch. We know everything about the story. What part would interest them?
Some authors get so desperate if they haven’t sold, people notice the panic. I call this “Killing the Puppy” and the reasons are obvious.
My secret to keeping my puppy alive, is not really a secret at all. I’m just nice and friendly. I KNOW! My big secret to success. I’m nice. People suck some times, but I think everyone has a decent side. That’s my “glass half full” side. I learned at my first con that being nice was what I was most comfortable with, my best way to talk about my books.
Comic Con is full of creative types. Many are introverts and don’t know how to respond when a pretty girl talks to them, which I find adorable. (And which totally happened last con. This poor guy couldn’t speak after he first asked me a question. I really did want to know about your story.) But a lot, and I mean, A LOT are there to show off their cosplay. And if I recognize something is cool, I tell them it’s cool.
My other secret is sincerity. I truly do want to be nice and friendly. I DO like their cosplay. I recognize it and because I recognize it, they think I’m cool. A commonality. And because I’m cool, they want to know about me.
We really are the worst sales people. It’s something that I didn’t know came with the job as an author. Learning to sell your books is hard, but it’s not impossible.
Be kind to your authors. It’s not easy for us.
Partners In Crime
I mentioned getting together with other, experienced authors. I have done this a few times, each time differently. By the time I had a few cons down, I became the experienced author and started helping others out.
Finding a loyal crew to work with can be hard some times, there is a lot of talent and some times their stuff sells better than yours. It is also very rewarding. It’s not as lonely when I share the ledge with others who understand my anxiety, my awkwardness, my trepidation, my fear of rejection. But the ledge is not as thick as I would like, and sometimes other authors need space. Sometimes, I don’t sell by other authors, because I feel the competition in the same genre. I get jealous by other creative works. I get jealous of others’ brains and ideas. It hurts, sometimes.
Because I am printed through a small press publisher, I can work with them on marketing, and sell my own books. Some bigger publishers require an author to be licensed with a bookstore or distributor in order to do signings. This limits who can be in the booth (sorry Michael 🙁 ). I have been in a booth with my publisher before and I have been with other indie authors as well. What I’ve learned from both experiences – work with those who believe in you just as much as you believe in them.
It’s hard to know what the reader likes or what they would like to read. So, running a booth like a bookstore and having the reader’s interest at heart, is the best (and most fun) way, in my opinion, to run a booth. I usually ask authors that have a similar readership to mine, but different enough to direct them to what the reader would like.
My biggest advocacy as an author – it’s not all about you. These words might shock other authors. It should never be about you, it’s about THEM. Not everyone is going to like my book. Fantasy is not everyone’s cup-o-tea. Some people need the fairy tale, some need the horror and darker bits. And that is why I like community so much, and that is what I try to do within the booth. I’ve found that people are very receptive to this. It’s the success of everyone that’s really at heart. Separating feelings of jealousy is so important to have a successful con. It’s hard, but I promise, it is worth it.
Pretending To Be Special
Being a “Special Guest” over the past few cons has been a very cool experience, but it was not lightly earned and never abused. Being marked “Special” means I get to enter through a different entrance than everyone else, and I get to stand in a long line, oogling other “Special Guests” and contemplating what makes them special. I eavesdrop a lot. These people know each other or know of each other, and talk about very nerdy things or complain about green room entrance. It’s a rainbow of conversation. It’s another show that I feel privileged to witness.
What does it really mean to be called a “Special Guest?” I don’t really know. I’m always too busy with my booth to enjoy it.
One year, my daughter cosplayed as Lapis Lazuli’s “Bob” character from Steven Universe, and I told her she could not bring the aluminum bat from home, it’s a weapon. She didn’t listen, as is the usual. She brought it anyway, and of course, she was denied access. I came to the rescue. They saw I was a “Special Guest” and let me take in the bat, no questions asked. That was a really strange power to be granted.
But I don’t feel more special than usual. The reason why I keep being asked to be a special guest, is not because I am cool or know better than anyone else, they just like my creativity in the ideas I suggest, and they like ME. I fake knowing more than the audience, unless it’s Sherlock, Futurama, or Blood Science. I try to be engaging and charming, and most of all, funny. It’s me, amplified. But it all goes back to my books. I’m here! Get to know me! And go, read my books, please!
Truth is, being an author is special. It ROCKS! It’s the best freaking job in the world, to make stuff up and get people to believe in it. But I gotta tell ya, it’s a very interesting and different life than I thought it would be. It’s more than just writing a book, it’s branding yourself. Cons are not something that I thought would be such a big, important part of my author experience. But, being at a con gets me one-on-one time with the readers, and I feel like an author there. It gets me respect from big audiences and that connection can’t be replaced. I never know who I will influence or who will be in my path.
Cons have brought me closer to other authors, bigger names than I. It jump-started me becoming an editor. Introduced me to influential people. It has given me a chance to talk with publishers, agents, people I just can’t get to, but are present at these kind of things. It’s a funny, interesting juxtaposition – the quiet, simplistic author being placed in spotlights. It’s odd, but wonderful. And as much anxiety that it may cause, I find I need it. It rejuvenates me and ignites the creativity. It is part of me now, and I carry the beast.
Ten days! Salt Lake Comic Con is in TEN DAYS! And we are in Booth 1001! I expect to see everyone there.
I’m anxious. I’m excited. I’m nervous. I’m… just… so many things I might burst!
Salt Lake Comic Con has kinda become home to me. The first year was insane. No one knew what to expect or do. Everyone was new at it, my newby-ness didn’t show so much. I completely winged it and learned on the fly. Now, I’m a professional (right?) and know exactly how it runs (right?), however, it still gives me butterflies putting on the face of the author I’m supposed to be.
This year, like other years, I am surrounding myself with authors, both promoting their works and buoying their spirits. I’ve done a booth by myself at these things and it is hard, so hard, and very lonely. When I join with other authors, there is a valuable sense of commendatory, a deep-rooted understanding of the creative process that comes from creating a book, and most importantly, a security blanket, a safe place beyond the crowds and people, where we can be ourselves and share the author world and experience.
There are six other authors in our booth. Here is a snippet of each one and there creative works:
Christine Haggerty writes dark fantasy.She calls it darker than Grimm. Her little novellas are a hit for those fairy tale lovers that like a taste of the the macabre. Her stories are mature, intended for a more sophisticated teen and up.
Christine is my mechanical arms, the organization of this booth. I take more of a cheerleader role, but someone needs to guide the ship to dock. She holds everything together. Thank you Christine! Mwah!
Marion G. Harmon writes Superhero fiction in a comicbook styling. His series, “Wearing the Cape” made it to Amazon.UK #1 in Superhero fiction. Great for those searching for some strength. It’s perfect for 14+.
C.K. Johnson also writes fairy tales, but unlike Christine, this is for the tamer, sweeter disposition. This is good for any age. C.K. and I have worked together before. I’m really excited to work with her again.
Jessica Parker‘s The Bride Trial is a combination of the Bachelor and the Hunger Games. I think I just got every teen girl’s attention. I think her cover is so stunning. Perfect for those romantic types and teens looking for an adventurous romance.
Quinn Coleridge coined her work “Gaslight Fantasy” leaning on the Steampunk crowd but with a delicate elegance to the stories. I’m really excited for this rather dark, Sherlockian duo, solving the mysteries of the fantastical.
And if you didn’t know, my Build A World is new also for Comic Con as well, for those would be writers. I sometimes forget that I need to sell my stuff as well, but I promise, here it is if anyone is interested. Pre-order is only $.99! Remember BOOTH 1001! See you there! 😉
Today, I’m reflecting on my past experiences as I get ready for another FanX.
My first FanX was an experiment. It was only me and my family and friends helping out. I was NOBODY – a fledgling author with one book and a BIG award. I coughed up the money (YIKES!) for a booth without any special discount beyond being a repeat vendor. (I think they were nervous it would suck.) Along with my book VIVATERA, and a short story in an anthology, I was eves away from my second book CONJECTRIX, being published. I met my editor for the first time – Lissa – and I was placed on the end RIGHT in front of Patrick Stewart’s and Karen Gillan’s line. It was hard, HARD work. I filled it with other Xchyler’s (my publisher) books, those who could participate, and did my best at selling them.
Last year, we collaborated as Xchyler authors, plus having our sponsor Kelly Olsen, in a booth together. We were generating some buzz at other conventions. Still hard work, but completely worth it. I got the chance to grow in friendship with some of these amazing people. The experience also set me in a new direction as an editor.
This year for FanX, I’m helping other authors get the chance to let their books shine by hosting a booth for Local Fantasy Authors. With both FanX and Salt Lake Comic Con, I have established relationships and respect within the community, something I feel very humble and honored to have. I get to participate again as a panelist and special guest at this convention. The idea still blows me away. But with that, I can help others make their mark in the community. Attending these conventions can be expensive, but the exposure is VITAL. And WOW I’ve got a great crew with me for this con.
I’m incredibly impressed with the talent in our little booth. We have Amazon top sellers and award-winning talent, among some stunning new fiction. If you are in Salt Lake City attending FanX, we are in booth 721. If you don’t get the chance, check out the links and look at these wonderful authors.
FanX is so much fun – hard work, but so worth it. I can’t wait to be an author again.