AUTHOR SWAG - SERIOUS BUSINESS
Everyone needs swag. Authors who attend conventions need LOTS of swag. So what do I take to comicons all around the country? Check it out:
The general set-up looks like this. Market research shows people don't look down, they look across (hence the good cereal is on a top shelf while the generics are down below) so I use a book rack to get my image up to eye level. Also, use a tablecloth! It costs like $6 (Wal-Mart) and looks waaay better than the booth to my right and left. Those dangling white posters are price lists. The image poster is info on my pre-order, which is also seen on the left side. Why have stuff down there? Where I'm standing to take the picture there are a bunch of tables for people to game. Those hanging posters market constantly to people seated at the tables, right at eye level.
My first bookmark. These are good, but not great. The font isn't wonderful. The biggest issue is my lack of website. I didn't have this website at the time, so I had no url to post on my bookmark. I originally ordered 1000 of these for about $50 (UPrinting) and gave them all out in less than a year.
My second bookmark. This one (obviously) promotes my horror novel For We Are Many. Again, it came out before I had this website, so I have no url on it. That's a mistake. Also, it doesn't even say Amazon.com or any other retailer. Oh well. The art is great an the bookmark is striking - it works well enough. I ordered 2000 (about $70) of these bookmarks and have handed about roughly 60% of them in 2 years.
These are the best bookmarks I have. They promo the entire Goblin Wars series and mention Amazon, B&N, and this website. These are the real deal. Striking art, good font (especially color), and all the right info. I ordered 5000 of these for about $100 and have given out maybe 200 in the past 3 weeks since I received them. I plan on giving out all 5000 in 2 years or less.
The business card. Simple, elegant, accessible. Perfect to hand out on the fly since you can't put bookmarks in your wallet. I ordered 3000 of these for about $65 I think.
2" x 2" stickers. These are great to hand out at conventions because people will put them on notebooks, laptops, etc. which serve as free advertisements for my brand. 500 of these cost about $35.
Once you have all your swag under control, check out the Marketing Series for tips and tricks on picking the right conventions and selling!
Have your own author swag? Post it in the comments!
So you've written your first book. What now?
If you're like me, I had no idea what to do when I finally finished my first manuscript. I knew self publishing existed, but I really thought it involved owning a physical book press and printer to make the actual books myself. The only other option I knew was traditional publication through a major house.
So what's the third option most people never hear of? Small press. A small press like mine, Hydra Publications, tries to combine the best aspects of traditional publishing with the best aspects of self publishing. Of course, not all small presses are the same, but I can speak from experience about a dozen or more small presses I know and how the business is generally run. Here's what I know from a few short years in the industry and heavy involvement with my own press:
Self Publishing pros and cons: When you do it all yourself, you need to spend a lot of money. Editing can cost anywhere from $250 - $3000, a cover can run from $20 to $1000, formatting will set you back a hundred or more, and that is just to get your work ready for publication. First and foremost, the downside to self publishing for most people is the cost. It can also be time consuming, but pretty much everything in the writing business is. Once you've got everything paid for and your book is ready for sale, you need to do all of your marketing yourself. While that isn't difficult, it could be expensive. Buying tables at conventions, buying all your own marketing material (i.e. bookmarks, posters, banners, cards, artwork, audiobook production, etc.), travel expenses, online advertising, the list goes on and on. For most self published authors, I tell them to have at least a few thousand dollars saved to drop on their expenses in the first year. That should cover all the basics of pre-sale preparedness and cover initial marketing costs. (These costs include the obvious like covers, editing, formatting, etc. and also cover the often-overlooked costs of marketing, first couple hundred paperbacks, a dozen or so tables at conventions, bookmarks, a banner, and other promo items.) The benefits of self publishing? Control, control, control. You make every single decision. For many people, that is the deciding factor hands down. You pick your cover art. You pick your fonts and formatting. You pick your marketing and event schedule. Period. 100% control is given to the author. Again, that takes a lot of time away from writing, but if you want your books to make money like a full time job, they need to be your full time job.
Traditional Publishing pros and cons: With a big publishing house, you don't have the primary benefit of self publishing: control. The house gets your editors, covers, promo material, etc. Furthermore, big houses are notoriously difficult to get into without a nepotistic connection. Even finding an agent can be brutally difficult for many. The pros? Obviously, it comes down to money. You are nearly guaranteed to make more money with this option than any other, especially if you are just starting out and don't have a following. Huge distribution means your books go to all the major retail outlets.
Small Press Publication: With a small press, you get the benefits of control with the benefits of marketing and support like a traditional press. Have your own cover artist or don't want to use the artist employed by your press? No problem. You might have to then pay for it, or at least part of the art, but typically small presses have no problems paying your own artist if they do quality work. The same is true for editing and proofing. If you don't want to use the people already hired by the press, that's fine. You get the control to decide. Again, that might mean out-of-pocket expenses, but many small presses will at least offer to pay your editor the same they normally pay their own. The best advantage of small presses comes in the form of networking and marketing. If you've read my Marketing Series, you know that selling live at conventions is crucial to the indie author's success. Small presses typically buy several tables at conventions and invite their authors to come sell / sign at no expense to the author. Typically, even my food is covered by the press. Plus, you get the community offered by the small press. I've met some of my best friends through my press and we all help each other out every chance we get. Someone finds a promo strategy that works? They tell everyone in the press. Want to bundle your books together to offer a sale? Just ask and the press will facilitate it.
Can a small press get you the distribution of a traditional press? In short, no. But a small press offers one thing that self publishing does not: legitimacy. The average reader (sadly) doesn't respect self published works very much. It can be a detriment at conventions and when trying to get into real stores. Here is a story I've heard pretty often: A self published author gets accepted by B&N. They have to supply 10,000 copies of their book to be sold in stores nationwide. Yay! They spend $15,000 (probably getting a business loan) on book production and mail the books out on their own dime. Guess what? B&N doesn't market for you. If you don't have a BIG following already, your book will rot on their shelves. And since B&N has your books on consignment, they don't pay you until the books sell. So when they don't sell in a year, you have to cover the shipping cost to get all of your books back into your garage. And you are now literally bankrupt. I've met people who have told their similar stories at conventions and literary events, often ending in tears because they lost everything due to B&N's consignment scheme.
So how do you get into bookstores without being traditionally published? Here is where the small press comes in. Small press owners typically go to the store manager personally, pitch the book, and offer to do a book signing / selling event in their store with a few authors, giving the store a cut of each sale. Pretty much every manager is going to take that deal, especially if the books are available through B&N online. Once you set up and sell in the store, offer to sell the remaining stock to B&N at the industry standard 55%, not consignment. Many accept. Obviously, it then comes down to marketing (leaving bookmarks, displays at the cash register, etc.) to actually sell the books from the shelves, but you've already sold them. You transfer the risk to B&N, not yourself. Sadly, approaching stores like B&N with a self published book will usually get you turned down simply due to the stigma. The small press legitimacy gets you in the door. As your book sells and your brand expands, you can approach more and more stores, employ the same method, and before you know it, your books are being ordered by stores in states you've never been to. It grows slowly, but your distribution does grow.
Royalty Breakdown: self publishing offers the best. Period. You don't pay a middle man so no one has their hand in your wallet. Small presses offer the middle ground. You have to pay the press a portion of your royalties, but if you negotiate your contract well / find a press with a good royalty rate, it turns out very well. Traditional publishing pays very little (I've seen as little as 6 cents per copy sold) but does it on a HUGE scale, often outweighing the small percentage of royalties.
Conclusion: this is nowhere near a comprehensive list of pros and cons. Media rights, translation projects, and all sorts of other things come into play as well. Personally, if you can get accepted by a traditional press, DO IT. But if not, go for a small press. Small presses give you the best combination of both options.
No matter which route you choose, make sure you do your homework first. Know exactly why you are going with your choice. Is the unlimited control offered by self publishing enough to outweigh the initial costs? Is the host of free benefits offered by a small press the deciding factor, even if it means perhaps getting slightly different formatting than you had in mind? Make an educated decision based on your personal goals. My advice should not be taken as definitive. Everything here is simply my opinion after a few years of success in the industry.
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C. Bryan Brown, thank you for doing an interview. Firstly, take us through your bibliography. How did Necromancer start and what led you in the direction of Vampires for They Are Among Us?
Hey, Stu, thanks for having me!
Necromancer started, technically, many years ago when I was in high school. I used to play AD&D (2nd Edition, for all you new-fangled d20 people) with my brother, cousin, and grandmother. Necromancer is, in a lot of ways, an homage to that era of my life and to my grandmother. She always played a wizard, fancying herself a female version of Gandalf. But we told stories together, the four of us, and those stories were about warriors and wizards and orcs and trolls and all their lovers and I ported all that into the modern time, changed it to be as realistic as I could possibly make magic, and went from there. As a bonus answer, the original story draft for Necromancer had Bobby as the main character, not Torrin.
They Are Among Us is a lot simpler; I love classic monsters. Vampires and werewolves are my two favorites. I have a werewolf book in me, I’m just not ready to write it yet. And for most horror fans, bloody, killer vampires aren’t as easy to come by as they used to be. The lion’s share of vampire fiction falls into the urban fantasy and paranormal romance genres. So that coupled with the fact that I had a story and world building idea in my head, I ran with it.
Have you always been a fan of horror? In different media, how does horror change? What are the differences between horror film and horror literature?
I suppose so, yes. I don’t remember ever not being around horror. My mother was a big, big fan of the gore movies in the 80s. As a matter of fact, she still loves her gore, but also pretty much any horror movie in general she’d watch. She was also an avid reader, or so she says. I only ever remember seeing her with Stephen King books. One true fact… when I was 10 or 11, my mother dragged me out of bed to watch the original “A Nightmare on Elm Street” because it scared her and she didn’t want to watch alone. Been hooked since, really.
I think horror changes to suit the media it’s presented in. To your question about the differences between horror film and horror literature, specifically, film is bringing horror to life and, in most cases, leaving very little to the imagination anymore. Classic example – Kubrick’s “The Shining” didn’t feature the topiary animals at the end because the FX at the time sucked and it didn’t look real. They can do that now (and have), so if it can be written, it can pretty much be filmed, and for me, once you take it out of the reader’s imagination and put a face on it, it loses power. There are some films that have come out recently that don’t show the horrors and rely more on the watcher’s imagination and these are good. A wonderful example is the film “The Babadook.” The ending has at least two interpretations that I’ve heard.
And that’s what makes horror literature so much more in my opinion. The ability to just sketch a picture or a scene and let the reader do the work, let them scare themselves. Their imagination produces monsters much scarier than any FX company can and so you’re able to delve into psychology of your themes with a soft, deft touch. There’s no need to over describe every detail because the reader is doing it for you. You can tell them a monster has a three inch horn, but they’re going to see a six or seven inches of darkened ivory waiting to impale them when the turn the next page.
When did you begin writing? What was the impetus that made you finally start putting words on a page with a specific goal?
I guess I started around 14 or 15, though it wasn’t serious. My sister pissed me off and I filled notebooks with a story about monsters killing The New Kids on the Block.
I kept writing after that, though most of it was for AD&D and online gaming stories back when dial-up was still cool. I was one of those CompuServe and AOL kids in the late 80s. It was just a whole lot of fun, but in my early 20s (which was the mid 90s), the gaming scene changed and the collaborative writing kind of fell away. People got prickly and way to attached to their characters, so stories were then written by one person for their character. Sometimes you’d add in another person or two, but mostly not. You could still game in chat rooms and things like that, but the forum boards, where the real writing was done, became a solo act. A few years later, I quit gaming online, and starting writing my first real stories.
In 2001 and 2002, I got my first publications, but then in late 2002, my wife had our first son and I stopped writing until he made it into kindergarten in 2008. I started writing again and then sold my next story a couple years later in 2010 to Post Mortem Press.
What’s next for your writing? Is there a specific direction you want your work to take?
What’s next is to continue the vampire trilogy and finish it, plus continue to work on some other things I have on the stove that involve dark urban fantasy and more straight-line fantasy.
I’ll have some audio stories coming soon, which I’m really excited about, and I can’t say much more than that yet.
And no, I don’t have a specific direction for my work. I’m not trying to point my career or my style in any specific direction other than producing better words than I did the last time I sat down to write them. As long as each book is better than the last, and readers are entertained and maybe enlightened a little bit, I think I’ve succeeded.
Which writers do you aspire to be like, if any? Which writers give you the best inspiration?
I want to be like the working writers, the ones who get to do this full time. And by that I’m not talking the level of fame held by Stephen King, Dean Koontz, or JK Rowling (though, seriously, I wouldn’t say no to it), but if I could replace my corporate salary with writing income, I’d be golden. And since I don’t really know the salaries of my writing peers, I can’t give any definite names.
The writers that give me the best inspiration are my direct peers. You, Violet Patterson, Tim McWhorter, Brad Carter, and all of us writing in the small press arena. I think it’s a great place to be, and I think we’re writing in a critical time, not only in the industry, but also in the world. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else, doing this with anyone else (except maybe Stephen King, you know…) but who I’m doing it with. And that is inspiration enough to keep writing, keep getting better, and to forge forward.
If Necromancer could be made into a horror movie, who would you want to direct it and why? Who would be cast as the main characters?
Oh man, that’s a hard question to answer. Necromancer is definitely dark, and while it has its horrific moments, I’m not sure I’d qualify it as a horror novel. That said, I’ve been super impressed with Antoine Fuqua’s movies over the years, and specifically, handling Torrin’s characterization would be paramount. But he did a hell of a job with Training Day.
As far as casting goes, that’s a little simpler for me. I’d give the role of Torrin to Kevin McKidd, Bobby would be played by Bradley Cooper, and I’d totally have Kevin Spacey do David Hale. I used to think Warwick Davis would be good for the Salamander, but after Game of Thrones, I’m down for Peter Dinklage. Mercury is a little younger, just under 30, and I could see Joseph Gordon-Levitt pulling him off. I suppose that leaves Mildred and Kara… Kathy Bates and Kate Winslet, respectively.
What makes horror so appealing to horror fans? Why do we like to be scared?
I think in the context of movies and literature, horror makes us feel alive, yet in the back of our heads, we know we’re safe. Nothing bad is going to happen to us, it’s going to happen to the characters in the book or on the television. Hell, I love to watch people getting killed in the movies or write about it in my books, and there’s a great sense of excitement when a movie or book gets my heart pumping, and my ears attuned to the slightest noise in my dark basement or very quiet house. But I know I can flip on a light, or turn off the slasher flick, and that’s it, it’s all over until I want it again. It’s appealing because we’re in control.
But you put me in even a mild car accident, and I’m not chomping to have another. It’s not an adrenaline rush, but rather too close for comfort. Uncontrolled fear, as in the kind I don’t actively give myself, isn’t for me.
Of course, there are those that will jump off a cliff with nothing but a shoestring and a prayer to keep them safe, so what do I really know?
In Necromancer, much of the horror comes from very realistic situations such as failing relationships set over the supernatural backdrop. How does realistic horror stack up against supernatural / fantastic horror? How do you find a balance between the real and the impossible?
For me, realistic horror is far more terrifying than anything else. The thought of losing my sons or my wife to violence, or failing them to the point where our lives are broken, is what really scares me as a human being. One of the scariest films I’ve seen in the last five years is “Compliance” and, worst part, is it’s based on true events.
And for me, it’s not so much as finding the balance between the real and the impossible, but using the impossible to exacerbate the real, make it worse than it is, and ratchet up the suspense. Let’s face it, most people (myself included) see obstacles and problems and we have a tendency to overstate their seriousness. You’ve heard the “woe is me” testimonials, and have probably given one or two in your life. That’s what the supernatural is for me. It’s that obstacle that really isn’t overstated, that thing the character can really cry pity over, and it threatens to make his real problems all that much worse. And, just like with us, that’s what it continues to be, until the character turns the corner and sees the opportunities, the solutions, and moves forward, which is what most people do after a little self-pity.
Lastly, where can we find your stuff and when is your next anticipated release?
My stuff is everywhere! People can catch me on my blog, or on the Facebook at cbryanbrown, or even Twitter @cbryanbrown. I’m up on Goodreads, too, if people are inclined to see me over there. I attend more than my fair share of conventions and events. My schedule for those is up on my blog as well. All the proper linkages are below and I encourage people to stalk me by commenting on blog posts, my Facebook page, or tweeting me.
My next release should be this year, though I don’t have an exact date… my short story, “An Unfettered Life” was picked up for the Hydra Publications Dystopian Anthology and hopefully my next novel, At Dawn They Sleep, will be out next year. That’s the second book in The Blood War Trilogy and it follows They Are Among Us.
Thanks again for having me! I appreciate the opportunity to run off at the mouth!
Check it out! TJ Redig, a very talented man, was kind enough to give me a second interview on his podcast, Scrivener's Soapbox. As always, it was a lot of fun. We discuss everything from fantasy and writing to guitars and metal.
Give it a listen by clicking here.
What got you into horror? Have you always been a fan of the genre or did one particular work pique your interest?
From a very young age, I preferred horror and the macabre to anything else. I remember one year I missed a lot of school because I got very sick, and I spent the days in bed watching a marathon of old Vincent Price films. Many of them were based on works by Edgar Allan Poe, which guided me towards his books. I read everything I could of Poe's and he was my first, biggest influence. I loved the way he created such rich, Gothic atmospheres even in very short works.
On of your stories, Hat Man, deals with night terrors. Do you have any personal experience with sleep paralysis or other terror-inducing sleep disorders? An interesting phenomenon occurs during the hallucinations triggered by sleep paralysis where the brain has trouble recalling the face of a remembered person and thus places a hood or dark hat over the character in an attempt to make the blurred face appear logical.
Hat Man is definitely based on night terrors I had when I was young. In fact, 80% of what Bernice lives through in Hat Man are things that actually happened to me. I have read all the scientific explanations behind sleep paralysis and night terrors, and I do think there is a physiological component to them. However, no one will ever be able to convince me that there isn't also a supernatural element to what I experienced.
Have you ever used a Ouija board yourself? If so, how did it go?
I have, with a childhood friend. We both loved ghost stories and anything spooky, so we played with it often. The only thing I can remember happening when we played was that she would get terrible migraines almost every time, which is part of why we stopped altogether. Another reason we stopped was a story that her mom told us. Her mom said that when she was a little girl, she played with the Ouija with her friends, until something happened that scared them out of it. One of the girls she played with had recently lost a family member who, by all accounts, was not a nice guy. So, they asked the board what happened to him, if he was in a better place, that type of thing. She told us that the board suddenly shifted under their fingers, and then spelled out "Satan knows" before sliding across the room and hitting the wall. Of course, she might have made the whole thing up, but that story coupled with the migraines was enough to scare us out of playing with the Ouija anymore. I haven't picked it up since.
Almost everyone experiences some type of terrifying, unexplained event. What's yours?
Other than the night terrors, which were truly terrifying, I have experienced a lot of strange events. I'll pick one from when I was a kid. I grew up in a house set back deep in the woods, with big windows all over the first floor looking out at the trees. My mom says I used to stand at the windows and smile and wave outside. One day she asked me who I was waving to, and I said, "All the people." Now, no one was outside. At least, not that she could see.
Do you believe in ghosts? How about spiritual beings such as angels and demons?
Definitely, I believe in all of them. I don't think that this life is all there is and that there is a lot we don't know and can't prove. There is real evil in the world, both natural and supernatural. I also believe there is pure good and love that counteracts that, whether it's angels or God or whatever your particular beliefs name it.
When you first started writing horror, how did your friends and family respond?
It's not a surprise to anyone who knows me. Most little girls play with baby-dolls--I had a plastic skeleton who I named Skellie that I carried around. My parents are a little shocked, though, that I remember the night terrors so vividly, since it's been over twenty years since I first had them.
What has been the most difficult thing that continually plagues you as an author?
Self doubt is a huge obstacle to getting words on the page. What I've learned to do is "brain dump"--just get it all out there. No matter how terrible that first draft is, you can always go back and change things, edit, add, subtract. My advice to writers who struggle with the same issue is to give yourself permission to suck. Really, it's OK if what you put down is terrible at first. None of it's permanent, it's not as if your first rough draft will be tattooed on your body forever. But if you don't at least start somewhere, the words will never make the jump from your brain to the page.
What is the most unique advice you've ever been given by another professional in the writing world? Did that advice prove to be useful?
I read an interview where Stephen King answered the question, "What makes a talented writer?" or something along those lines. I'm paraphrasing, but basically he said that if you write something, and someone pays you for the story, and you then take that money and pay your light bill with it, he considers you talented. I love that. It takes the pressure off of setting out to be the next Hemingway, and lets me have fun and focus on being a storyteller who people pay to entertain them. That's something I can be proud of, too, it's not all about Pulitzers and The Paris Review.
If you had to pick one author for your writing to be favorably compared to, which would you pick? What elements from other writers do you try to incorporate into your own writing?
In my dreams, Vladimir Nabokov, simply because of his mastery of the English language. As far as my genre goes, Stephen King knows how to tell a great story and create realistic, flawed characters, and that's my main focus in writing. The fanciest prose, scores of allegories, and a dreamy, stream-of-consciousness style of writing are worthless if you can't tell a story worth a damn. I want to entertain and help people immerse themselves in the more visceral and scary elements of the world in which we live, and he is the master of that.