BristolCon 2017 – Art, Fantasy & Maps!

Last weekend was BristolCon, the largest sci-fi & fantasy convention in the west country, UK and by far my favourite con. For the last nine years BristolCon has flourished at the Hilton Double Tree hotel in the heart of Bristol, a single day SFF convention that always signifies a glorious mix of panels, events, signings, workshops, art, and of course books! Amongst the flurry of bookish activity, one the things that makes BristolCon so damn special is that feeling of inclusiveness, a welcoming family for old friends and new, with no cliques, no judgements, just a genuinely open, friendly and ultra cool ethos of – “come along folks and have a great time!”

What made BristolCon 2017 extra special for me this year, besides being thrilled that my lovely publisher, Grimbold Books (and our leader the wonderful Sammy HK Smith) has subsequently won the BFS Award for Best Independent Press, is that I wasn’t just there as an author and panellist (moderating an uber cool panel on ‘Mapping in SF & F’)…but that I was there as an artist too! 😀

*gulp*

Yes, after being talked into applying to exhibit in the famous Art Room at BristolCon by the lovely vice chair, John Bav, with extra encouragement from Mark Robinson and the lovely ex-chair, Joanne Hall, I actually plucked up the courage and applied and got in! For me this was a huge thing. Although I’ve been drawing and painting my entire life (before I could even walk apparently), and although I did a BA (Hons) Degree in Fine Art and had won an MA place at the Slade School of Fine Art (which I stupidly didn’t take up), I’ve only actually been illustrating for the last 2 or 3 years. In fact, it’s only since my teaching career ended due to illness that I’ve even had the time to do more art.

So, in the last 2 years, I’ve illustrated about 12 books so far (with a few current ‘in the works’ projects). The highlight undoubtedly had been creating the fantasy maps for Juliet E McKenna and the two HarperCollins commissions for Anna Smith-Spark & Anna Stephens, and now I am busy creating another cool fantasy map for Penguin Random House – Yay! 😀

But actually exhibiting my artwork was an entirely different thing. I haven’t exhibited since my art student days, twenty years ago! Despite starting prep for it months ago, finding and buying the right frames, getting all the ‘s’ hooks needed to hand them etc etc. I’d actually forgotten just how much work is involved! The framing and mounting card alone took ages, the picture prep, sorting out illustration portfolios, transporting the art and putting it up. Thank goodness for Andy Bigwood (Mr Art himself) who runs the Art Room and helped me find my feet and for the vital Friday pre-BristolCon Art Room set up time! I was there at the hotel until 11pm the night before BristolCon, knackered and nervous but I can’t explain how great it felt – being in that atmosphere! A mixture of pure fear, excitement, exhilaration and total imposter syndrome! Lol, when you’re there in the Art Room next to the likes of illustrating greats like Jim Burns and Chris Moore and BFS Award winning Sarah Ann Langton (who did the cool cover for the ‘Fight Like A Girl’ anthology), you suddenly feel very quickly out of your depth!

BUT, despite all those daft fears, the whole thing felt RIGHT. It felt like THIS is what I should be doing, coming full circle, coming home to art – my love of it, my solace, my saviour through mental health problems and depression, my relief, my method of self-expression when I can’t muster the words.

I admit, with only an hour and a half sleep, I was a walking zombie when Saturday actually came. Apologies to a couple of customers as my brain freeze took over a couple of times – so weird that when you’re that exhausted you slip into daft old sayings as your brain stops processing new information. By the end of BristolCon I was so out of it, I honestly can’t remember how I drove home! Oops!

But it was brilliant and I loved every second of it.

I’d decided to show some of my best portraits (30 of them all framed in lovely black box frames) for a cool ‘Game Of Thrones’ idea I had of having them all clustered together for a ‘wall of faces’ (aka GoT season 6) which became an interactive ‘Game Of Faces’ where people had to try to identify as many of the portraits as possible and the winner would win a piece of original artwork of their choice! Cool idea, eh? 😀

Well, it worked beautifully! I had loads of people coming to view my work and participate. I also displayed some of my silk paintings and my maps (all framed in lovely matching black frames) and one of my ‘works in progress’ (the steampunk map I’m working on for the lovely Kate Coe) so people could view my creative process at constructing them. 🙂

In fact, I had so many people coming to visit my art display that I couldn’t finish writing up my art price list! Lol, I eventually finished it after I’d already sold a load of silk paintings and was dragged off by the lovely Robyn Fulton to actually eat something before I dropped.

After a hurried but much needed lunch I went off to my ‘Mapping SF & F’ panel about one fo my favourite subjects – fantasy maps!  I was moderating the panel in the big conference room with the lovely Anna Stephens, Juliet E McKenna, Joel Cornah and Andy Bigwood. It went wonderfully, in fact myself and all the panellists could have talked for three or four hours and only got through half of my questions!

The whole day was a delightful blur of meeting old friends and new – people I’ve been friends with for years on Facebook but who I hadn’t actually met yet (like RB Watkinson, Judith Mortimore and Jessica Rydill) and chatting to the lovely people who bought my art – THANK YOU! ❤

 

 

 

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6 months of magic and mayhem…with more to follow!

Today’s post is a rather reflective one, so apologies for getting a little misty-eyed and overawed!

Six months ago on the 1st December 2014 my debut novel, White Mountain, the first of my Darkling Chronicles trilogy, was gloriously published by Grimbold Books & their imprint Kristell Ink Publishing. I knew at the time that the merry-go-round of madness was about to begin, but boy what a rollercoaster ride it’s been!

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White Mountain, as most of my friends, family and supporters know, was a complete labour of love that took over ten years to write, research and worldbuild (yes, I am a VERY slow writer! I promise that Book 2 WILL be finished and ready next year, so no decade to wait!). All my interests in ancient history, world mythology, geography, geology, natural history, ecology, anthropology etc., etc., dripped into the history and worldbuilding behind the story of White Mountain; and my personal experiences and complicated relationships seeped into the characters and their lives.

No matter what genre you write in, no matter how fantastical or other-worldly it may be, use your life in what you write.

For me it was a wonderful cathartic experience of writing about dysfunctional relationships I knew, about friendships, inner turmoil, feelings of atonement, guilt, rage, loneliness and yes, it was liberating to write my villain, a thoroughly nasty, manipulative, violent and cruel character who I have openly admitted is based on my father. Do I have baggage to write about? Hell, yes…don’t we all?

Anyway, White Mountain was born into the world with its awesome new cover and that’s when all the fun began!

My signing at Books On The Hill

The last six months has been a manic ride. I attended my very first fantasy/sci-fi convention, BristolCon, (huge thanks to the multi-talented and fellow fantasy writer, Joanne Hall who founded & runs it brilliantly). I went to my first book fair and did my first public reading (terrifying but brilliant!). I then embarked on a hectic book-signing tour around Wales and the West Country, signing in some truly gorgeous and prestigious bookshops and meeting some terrifically awesome people along the way. Best of all though, has to be that sense of tingling excitement when someone buys your book! I don’t think I’ll ever feel blasé about that, it’s a truly humbling experience chatting to customers, signing and dedicating books to them and loved ones. Simply put, it’s just one of the most magical experiences and completely eclipses the awkwardness and embarrassment of sitting in a bookshop feeling like a lemon waiting to be squeezed! SAM_6855 (2)

Chepstow BookshopAmongst the book-signing tour and newspaper articles I went to my first literary festival as an author, to do a poetry and fiction reading. The tiny but potent, Hawkesbury Upton (HULit) Literary Festival, founded by local indie author, Debbie Young, who is a one-woman self-publishing whizz and who managed to not only organise the whole event but to even attract big name authors such as Katie Fforde – who opened the event, read from her book and graciously took a photo op with little old me!

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White Mountain, continued to pick up momentum and great reviews, including gaining a 5 star review and shiny medal from Reader’s Favorite and from very popular websites, Girl Who Reads and Brainfluff among others. Of course we authors are always desperate for more reviews as we know that getting reviews is absolutely crucial to whether a book succeeds or fails. So if you read a book you love, help that book and author and post a review! Reader's Favorite review

Then, amongst the book signings and readings, I was asked to participate in the Cirencester Literary Festival in July, as an author and illustrator and run my own illustration workshop for children in Bingham Gallery!

Cirencester event on Octavia's

Octavia's Cirencester eventWow!

With more bookshop signings and book fairs on the horizon in addition to BristolCon 2015 and FantasyCon coming up in the Autumn, it has been a gloriously nutty few months!

Then…to top it all off, White Mountain, has been shortlisted in The People’s Book Prize! The People’s Book Prize is the only major literary award voted by the people, as a way of finding new books and new talent which may have been overlooked by mainstream markets. Founded by Dame Beryl Bainbridge and with Frederick Forsythe as it’s current Patron, it is wonderful to be nominated.

People's Book Prize page

Do I have a chance of winning?

I’d certainly LOVE to win as it’s a fantastic way of raising your book’s profile, with the awards ceremony even being televised on SKY News, but honestly I don’t hold out much hope. White Mountain is in the Children’s category and the competition is very stiff with the most likely winner being a larger mainstream author who sells in Waterstones, has a larger fanbase and has won it before. BUT, you never know…could David defeat Goliath?

People's Book Prize capture

So here’s my shameless plugging bit…can I ask EVERYONE reading this to PLEASE lend your support and give the underdog a chance by voting for White Mountain? It only takes a few moments of your time, is totally FREE and really would make all the difference to a little indie author like me. Voting continues until August, but every single vote counts! Just pop on the website, register by giving your name and email, they will then send you a password. Then click back onto my book, put in your name, password, VOTE and leave a short comment. http://www.peoplesbookprize.com/book.php?id=1295

A MASSIVE THANK YOU to everyone who has already voted, especially those who have left comments too, and to those who are going to vote. It really is hugely appreciated, so thank you guys, you are the best! Lol, I won’t hold my breath, but I’ll quietly keep my fingers, toes and dragon wings crossed! 😉

So, there you go…as my little blog passes 39,000 visitors (a truly humbling number for such a tiny online diary about writing), I can only wonder what the next six months will bring… 😀

A HUGE thank you to all of you who keep the fires burning in this quiet cloister of the internet! You are all amazing and uber-cool dudes and dudettes! THANK YOU!!!!!! 😀 xxxx

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Book Signing: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly!

This is the second post I’ve written specifically on book signing, as this is a topic I have some experience with. So, I’d like to share what I’ve learnt and what the experience is like for authors embarking on this scary and exciting journey.

Back in 2012, I had a sell out book launch in prestigious ‘Bookseller Award Winning’ Octavia’s Bookshop, followed by a very successful Waterstones book signing tour. It was both exhausting and exhilarating and costly in terms of petrol/gas and parking, but I loved it and sold a lot of books! Yay! Octavia's Bookshop Cirencester

Fast forward to now. I’ve done my first book fair, my first reading and attended my first convention for my novel, White Mountain (published 1st Dec 2014 by Grimbold Books & Kristell Ink Publishing), and am embarking on yet more signing dates. Octavia's Bookshop

Along the way, I’ve learnt things that work and things that don’t and have had invaluable advice from booksellers and staff on what they like and are looking for, and what they really don’t like!

Now, getting any signing dates is an achievement in itself, it’s very tough out there and many bookshops simply aren’t interested in smaller press and indie authors, sadly all they want are the big names and celebrities to draw big crowds. However, another HUGE reason the large bookshop chains such as Waterstones, WHSmith’s, Foyles or Barnes & Noble in the US have pretty much stopped all indie author signings, is due to the bad behaviour of a few over zealous writers who have ruined things for the rest of us.

Stories of customers being accosted by authors prowling the shops, book in hand, and pouncing upon them or frogmarching them to the tills, have effectively given Waterstones the excuse to shut their doors to all of us. Yes, that one rotten apple really can spoil the barrel!

The climate out there for any author wanting to do signings, is certainly not easy. Waterstones in particular have actually stated that they are no longer doing local author signings in any of their stores, this is a new company wide policy, since I did my Waterstones signings two years ago, which has to be at least partly due to unprofessional bad behaviour by a few idiot authors.

So, what makes an author attractive or not to a bookshop? 45-Chepstow-Bookshop[1]

For what it’s worth, here’s what I’ve learnt about the art of book signing, I hope you find it helpful. In no particular order, here are my 8 do’s and don’ts:

DO’S

  1. Do your homework on the shop you’re signing in. What sort of books do they sell more of? What authors have signed there? Do they have a particular specialism or niche? What is the name of the owner or event manager? If you’re prepared, you’ll look like a true professional and will immediately impress the bookshop owner/staff. No, you don’t need to know every little detail about the shop, but you do need to look like you’re interested in them.
  2. Do organise yourself. Plan your event, what to take/is appropriate to take (depending on whether it’s a children’s bookshop, fantasy/horror bookshop, general book store etc.), know your route there, where the shop is, how to get there, how long it takes, petrol/gas needed, tolls, parking, everything. Will you be eating at any stage? Take water…ALWAYS TAKE WATER! Trust me, you’ll need it!
  3. Do publicise the event. You want it to be as big a success as it can be. So set up FB event pages, tell your family and friends and anyone who will listen. If it’s appropriate make up some cheap flyers or photocopies advertising the event that you can leave at work, try to organise some newspaper coverage if possible. 10614253_846486532082170_6044863703050848758_n[1]
  4. Do be professional. Remember that the bookshop is doing YOU a favour in having you sign there. Yes, it’s a mutually beneficial relationship as they will take between 30 – 40% from each book sold. But do be thankful and courteous – humility goes a long way and will get you asked back again!
  5. Do be flexible in approach and practicalities. Obviously bookshops vary in size from the very petite to the large. By all means take that huge banner along with you, but be aware that some shops may not want it taking up precious floor space if space is tight. SAM_5405
  6. Do provide as many visual aids as possible. We are a very visual species, we buy with our eyes, which is why book covers are so crucial and a bad cover can do untold damage on a great book (I have personal experience in having previously had a very crappy cover – I LOVE my new publisher’s cover which is so good it’s edible!). So, provide materials which will draw the customer to you, whether it’s posters, flyers, bookmarks, postcards or illustrations from your book. Use them. A note of caution though, you have to use your judgement here as an over cluttered table will detract rather than attract, so choose a few striking images/visuals only. For me, being an illustrator too, it’s quite easy as I take along an illustration book to showcase my work, pull in curious customers and it’s a great thing for people to flick through. This is especially useful if you have more than one customer at your table, so while you’re chatting to one person the other is kept busy and interested by the illustrations. SAM_5409
  7. Do keep a record of the number of books you actually sign and sell, this may sound obvious and rather daft, but in amidst the nerves, adrenaline and chatting to customers it’s easy to lose track. You’ll need to know the exact number of books sold either for your publisher or yourself so that invoices to the bookshops are accurate.
  8. Do enjoy yourself or at least try to. Yes it can be nervous as hell, embarrassing and buttock clenching at times, but you’ll need to try and relax. No customer is going to approach an uptight nut job. Find your pace, what makes you comfortable and enjoy yourself. Remember, if you can get a signing in a bookshop, that’s one more bookshop stocking YOUR book and before you know it you’ll be wanting to do more and more signings for the rush of adrenaline as much as for the book sales! SAM_5394

DON’TS

  1. Don’t behave like a diva. You’re not the star, your book is. Diva behaviour will GUARANTEE that you won’t be asked back again. Although you should pat yourself on the back for having written a book, you must also temper that ego with the fact that nowadays every other person seems to have written a book too. The market has never been more saturated and sadly, a lot of it is detritus, poorly written and poorly edited, but nonetheless, it also makes it damn difficult for your brilliant fiction to rise above the masses and be noticed. Acting like a diva will get you remembered in the wrong way!
  2. Don’t be offended or put off if your signing table is the size of a napkin, or if you are placed at the back of the shop, behind a sign, next to the toilet, out in the cold entrance, or are given no table are all. Every bookshop is different, EVERY one, even the big chains differ from shop to shop, so be adaptable.
  3. Don’t intimidate your customers. An obvious, eh? Well you’d be surprised how many authors can come across in a very intimidating fashion and end up putting more potential buyers off just by their body language. Be cheerful, approachable, don’t stare or keep eye contact too long if the customer is merely browsing and casting a curious look your way and don’t cross your arms.
  4. Don’t pounce on customers, shadow them, follow them around the shop like a puppy, frogmarch them to the tills, prowl the shop like a cougar book in hand and strike up false conversations. People aren’t stupid, they know you’re bothering them to try to sell them your book. DON’T DO IT!!! You’re not a secondhand car salesman or trying to hock some dodgy stuff from the back of a van. It’s tacky and unprofessional. You are a professional writer, an author, novelist, behave like one. If people are interested in your book, THEY WILL COME TO YOU! If they’re not interested, then shoving your book under their nose won’t get them buying it and again, will guarantee complaints against you and guarantee that you won’t be invited back! Respect your customers enough to let them CHOOSE what they want to buy. Hard sell NEVER works. Honestly ask yourself – when you’re quietly browsing in a bookshop, do YOU want a stranger sidling up to you? No.
  5. Don’t be late. I know I’m terrible at being late for things, but you really cannot be late for signings. If you say you’ll be there at a certain time, BE THERE! In fact, a good rule is simply to be 30 mins early (40 mins if you want), that way you can introduce yourself, see what space you’ll be working in and have time to set up without being too flushed and flustered.
  6. Don’t be too laid back. This is a big thing, someone has actually invited you to sign your book in their store. So be professional, be organised, know your route there, exactly where the shop is, where you’re going to be parking, exactly how long it takes to get there, what materials you need to take with you, etc., etc. Think of it like a job interview, at the beginning you’ll be as nervous as a job interview before you settle into it and start to enjoy yourself, but you need to look and act the part. Be yourself, but on a good day!
  7. Don’t be too pushy. Even when customers are interested and come to you, you still need to sell them your book, get them interested, hooked, in what makes your book special. But don’t be too pushy about it. It is a fine line, but there’s nothing more off-putting that a desperate person. So practice your spiel beforehand on your friends and family, anyone who will listen, so you can perfect how you’ll speak and deal with people.
  8. Don’t stand! This may sound weird to you, but if you don’t follow any of the advice above, FOLLOW THIS! I cannot tell you how important this is and just how many times bookshop staff have said to me that they like their authors to stay seated. It’s what bookshops and customers expect. SO SIT YOUR ASS DOWN! Actually a recent bookshop member of staff put it brilliantly, “People like to feel at ease. You have to make the customer feel in charge, in power, so they have to be taller than you. If you’re sitting down you’re more approachable, so more people will approach you.” Absolutely! It’s basic psychology 101, let the customer be in the position of power. Stay seated and let them come to you. You won’t look lazy, indifferent or too laid back, you’ll look like a professional. Since when did you ever see a major writer standing up to do a book signing? They don’t. They’re always seated. They’re not signing autographs outside of a football stadium or a film premiere, and neither are you. SIT DOWN! Octavia's Bookshop signing 2012

There, that’s about it! Some of the points may seem obvious but you’d be amazed how you forget everything. It’s easy to panic and forget your name when your first customer looms up. Just breathe, try to calm down, smile and be friendly. Don’t talk too fast and remember to sign your books properly. Even after doing quite a few signings, at a recent book fair and in the heat of the moment, I found myself signing my scribbling signature like I’d do for a cheque rather than actually writing my name! Duh! Remember too, that a lot of customers want their books dedicated/scribed to someone, rather than just having an author’s name.

Other than that, just make sure you have a good supply of reliable pens (black looks best), some clear acrylic book stands (not all bookshops will supply you with these so bring your own), water, a notepad, some good visual aids and of course your lovely books!

For more information on the mechanics of how it actually feels doing a book signing, check out my previous post: https://sophieetallis.wordpress.com/2012/10/29/book-signing-what-you-need-to-know-but-were-afraid-to-ask/

There you go! GOOD LUCK my friends and may the pen be with you! 😀 xxxx

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Waterstone’s, passing 30,000 and getting ready for the chicken dance!

White Mountain full book jacketFirstly, I just had to showcase my gorgeous new cover…well I had to, look at it…it’s GORGEOUS!

Despite the exuberance, I’m in reflective mood tonight. I have a lot to be thankful for and a lot to be celebrating. Not only has my little blog passed 30,000 visitors, for which I am profoundly shocked and humbled (THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!) but my novel is due to be published in less than two weeks time…my excitement is palpable. SAM_5228

So, it’s November already, still can’t quite grasp how the year is flying past. Already the TV is full of Christmas advertisements, hoping to whip up the masses into our usual hysterical feeding frenzy. Need a new sofa, how about some solid oak furniture or ten frozen homogenised meals for £4? Lol, I admit, despite the cynical side of capitalism, I still LOVE Christmas and all the daft glitzy trappings that come with it. It still conjures the magical memories of my early childhood before the dark days came – that sense of magic and optimism, where anything is possible, has never left me despite the struggles of my life.

As November slides towards the grand event of the year, I find myself having a brief window to breathe before another kind of crazy madness takes me. I talk of course, of doing the chicken dance again.

“The chicken dance?” I hear you ask. “What’s that?”

Well, as all my writer friends know, the chicken dance is what we writers do when a new book, OUR new book, is coming out. Not only does the writer resemble a babbling headless chicken, overcome by a heightened state of euphoria, but suddenly they have the inability to stay focused or remain in one spot for more than a few seconds. The chicken dance involves many things, behaving in a dignified way isn’t one of them, but jumping up and down like a frog on speed may be obligatory!

The chicken dance doesn’t just involve a manic sense of excitement that you struggle to temper when you’re surrounded by more sensible people or at work, but which seeps out in your solitary car journey home. Something like…”Yes, yes, YESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!!!!!!” SAM_5203

You get the idea.

The chicken dance also involves rushing around everywhere, even when you have plenty of time, the NEED to rush, to be permanently active, on the go. ‘Stand still and you’ll die’ kind of feeling. Very much like playing an out of body RPG game, except that it’s your life.

Only fellow writers will understand this, friends, family, no matter how supportive, may want you to start taking medication or ‘seek help’!

In amongst this general hysteria, you are frantically contacting everyone you ever knew, even in passing, even the most transitory meeting, they all NEED to know your exciting news, how could they not be interested?

Did I mention the heightened state of delusion you find yourself in?

Yes, your book, your baby creation is the best thing since Tolstoy and Tolkien, so EVERYONE must know. Lol, delusion plays a large part in most writer’s lives. The tricky part is being honest with yourself about it!

For me, the chicken dance started last Friday when I opened a very special package – two boxes of my gorgeous new book! My reaction was suitably restrained and subdued… SAM_5206

Lol, so my chicken dance has begun again. My epic fantasy novel, White Mountain, the first book of my Darkling Chronicles, is being published by Kristell Ink Publishing and Grimbold Books, on 1st December 2014! Yes, Christmas is coming early for me this year!

BUT, there is a big difference this time round. Having done the chicken dance before, I have at least learnt some lessons now. So, embarking on this journey again, here are my top five tips for trying to survive the chicken dance with your head relatively intact!

1. When getting writer/book resources from Vistaprint, Staples or wherever else you go, remember, YOU DON’T NEED TO BUY EVERYTHING! Getting the staple remover with your book emblazoned on the side or the embroidered napkin, large car magnet, selection of baseball caps, T-shirts (for the size you are now and the size you will slim down to), the 100% cotton linen bags, the pens, the pen holders, the keyrings, the mouse pads, the card holders, the personalised card holder for your wallet or bag, the leaflets, pamphlets, any lets, on and on and on….

Trust me, you could blink and spend a fortune. Your bank balance will thank me!

YOU DON’T NEED IT! You will find three things of real use, and that’s about it. A large banner with your book on it, some business cards with your book & website details on, and either ONE T-shirt to wear for signings (ONE not FIVE!) or possibly a mug. Well, you gotta drink don’t you? Buy some cheap acrylic book stands too to display your epic tomes.

2. Go through your book and find at least three great passages that you can read aloud. Choose excerpts which are exciting and give a good flavour of your book to prospective readers. You’ll need the passages to be of varying length, maybe a short one of only a few minutes, one that can keep you talking for ten minutes and one for longer, maybe 15 to 20 minutes. Trust me, you need to do this. My very first book signing went brilliantly, yes, we sold out in just under an hour, fab, eh? Yes, but I made one major gaff. A customer asked me for a reading. I hadn’t thought of that! I stumbled, I stuttered, I flicked through the book in a sweat and nervously wobbled my way through one very brief section. I was not good and didn’t do justice to the passage I was reading. Lesson learnt. Passage preparation! – ye gods that sounds medical!!

As I always say, better to have something and not need it, than need something and not have it!

3. Remember and repeat…YOU ARE NOT A STAR! Just because you have managed to acquire several Waterstone’s signing dates, something rarer than gold dust these days, you are not the star attraction so don’t act like a diva. Be polite ALWAYS, courteous, humble. Listen to the staff, what they want from you, where they want you. Listen, smile, be affable and charming. Remember, even if you only sell one book, you want them to remember you and be happy to let you come back.

4. Remember, Waterstone’s have severely restricted who they let into their shops to do signings precisely because of some dreadful bad apples in the indie barrel who ruined it for the rest of us by harassing customers and virtually frogmarching them to the tills! I happen to vaguely know one of the offenders who is blissfully unaware of what a firestorm she caused and how she contributed to Waterstone’s shutting down the rest of us! I’d take her to task, but to be honest, she has had the roughest of times recently so I’m not one to shovel shit. But remember, DO NOT APPROACH CUSTOMERS. Let them come to you, stay seated at your table and smile. That’s what Waterstone’s want, not some lurking author pouncing out at unsuspecting browsers!

5. Remember, as much as I love Waterstone’s they are not the only bookshops in town, if you support you local independent bookshop, they will support you! Get to know and love the independents, they may be the only shops willing to get behind you and your book, so ignore them at your peril!

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For a few those of you embarking on such a perilous journey, being an author and watching your creation take flight, here are a few insights from when I did my chicken dance two years ago…ahem…I mean my Waterstone’s signing and promotional tour. 😀

https://sophieetallis.wordpress.com/2012/10/29/book-signing-what-you-need-to-know-but-were-afraid-to-ask/

Hope it helps or at least prepares you a little for the rollercoaster ride! 😀 xxx

White Mountain coverWhite Mountain full book jacket

😀 xxxx

Book signing – what you need to know but were afraid to ask!!!

books[1]Okay…I’m jumping ahead here, but seeing as I just had my fourth book signing event on Saturday and have my next coming up this Saturday, I wanted to share the freaky experience of author book signing.

Think you’re ready people? I can guarantee you’re not!

Well, like many of us, my only ‘experience’ of book signing was watching it portrayed on TV and in film, i.e. a pretty exciting, thrilling glamorous thing, right? LOL!!!!!!  Oh dear… If you are a celebrity, you’ll have people thronging around you, lining up to get a glimpse of you and a signed copy of your latest tome. If you are a new writer…you’re a nobody. No lining people, unless it’s to the tills, no throngs.

Well, again, like every aspect of a writer’s journey, it will be unique to you. Some writer friends I know don’t do it all. Whether it’s because of time constraints or simply because they feel they can’t and don’t want to do the whole ‘selling’ thing, I don’t know. In fairness, it is an expensive venture, travelling, petrol, parking…it all adds up!

I must shout out though, to some brilliant surprises I had on my book launch at wonderful Octavia’s Bookshop, apart from selling out in an hour! Thank you to my gorgeous fellow fantasy writer, Lindsey J Parsons, turning up (a welcome distraction and lovely support) and my lovely and nutty mate Will Macmillan Jones who LOVES book signings – he has a natural confidence in talking to people and an ease when doing these events.

Octavia's Bookshop signing 2012Then there’s me…the nervous jelly in the corner. Cold sweats, lack of sleep, bitten nails, dodgy tummy, dry throat and well, a host of other nervous complaints. It IS hard and difficult but what nobody prepares you for, is that it is also one of the most totally bizarre experiences a human being is ever likely to find themselves in!

Exactly like walking down the street naked. That is how it feels…and no, I haven’t gone romping down the local lanes and roads starkers! But you feel utterly exposed and naked in a room of crowded strangers…yeap…prepare yourselves guys!

Firstly, you will have to decide on what approach suits you best. By now we all know the changed policy from Waterstone’s head office regarding signings, so NO pushy hard sell! It doesn’t work and it’s at least one of the reasons Waterstones cites for changing their policy, because they were getting complaints from customers who had literally been frog marched to the tills!

Remember you are selling your literary masterpiece, not a tin of beans. Nobody likes being hassled, especially if they’re in a bookshop quietly browsing…so back off. Always go with a relaxed soft sell approach.

That aside, you still need to decide how to do this. Do you stand and wander round the shop? Stay permanently seated at your table? Or a mixture of both? Sometimes the bookshop will tell you what they would like you to do, so you can just follow those guidelines.

My friends all do it slightly differently, which works for them. You’ll need to find out what works for YOU. For me…I just don’t have the confidence to wander, so I tend to stay permanently glued to my table and let people come up to me, or not.

Even though all the Waterstones staff I have met have been absolutely lovely, very friendly, welcoming, helpful and ply you with as much tea/coffee as you want, you will most likely be given a small round black table only a little bigger than a napkin, to display your books. So be prepared! 😉

You may be placed in the fantasy section, teen section, children’s section or by the doors, it totally depends on the store. If they are planning to place you right at the back, you can very sweetly ask if you could be moved. Remember they want you to be every bit as successful as you want to be. You sell a lot of books, it’s great for the store, great for you and most likely you’ll be asked back.

As far as symbiotic relationships go, it’s pretty good – they are the oak tree and you are the nourishing fungus at its roots! Ummm…now doesn’t that sound sexy?!

The next thing you need to be prepared for is…people. Lots of them, none of them, crowds jostling past you, ignoring you, bumping into you. People glancing at you and your book then thinking better of it, shy people wanting to approach but nervously edging past, brash people, “So, what’s it about?” You start your well rehearsed but genuine spiel, “Nah…not for me,” as they drop it on the pile with a clunk. You notice the smear of finger prints on the cover and quickly pop it to the bottom of the pile.

Also, depending on where you are stationed, be prepared for arses (asses for my lovely American friends) and lots of them as you see them leave the shop having NOT bought your book, or worse still, as they queue at the tills and the queue goes back to you. Suddenly you’re sitting in a forest of people’s legs, backs and arses, totally obscured! 😛

You’ll find yourself with a gentle fixed smile, trying not to look desperate as you shift your weight, stare aimlessly into middle distance or try to make eye contact and lightly engage passersby with a, “good morning,” you check your watch. Damn it! It’s 12:30pm. So you change tact to, “good afternoon”.

Or you start to play ‘spot the fantasy fan’ – a fun game which entails eyeing everyone coming into the shop and trying to place which section they’ll head for. Even though I’ve only done 4 signings so far (my amazing book launch at Octavia’s Bookshop and three lovely Waterstones branches to date, with more going right up to Christmas) I’m getting pretty good at this detective game.

But the frustration comes, if you see someone heading and then lingering in the fantasy section and before you can get a chance to talk to them, they’ve left the shop carrying a Robert Jordan, G.R.R. Martin, Robin Hobb, David Brett and walked straight past you without noticing…despite the 7ft banner next to you! You could try a net or lasso, but I wouldn’t recommend it! 😛

Then, you get the ones who have no intention of buying your book but haven’t had a decent conversation with anyone in a while and as you’re just sitting there doing nothing, how about a chat? You know what? Always be gracious and grateful…at the very least you are talking to someone and look busy – this is good! Unless of course they stop you from engaging with those who really are interested in buying your book. Tricky.

Then, you get the good stuff, the reason you are there, putting yourself through this…the interested person…what a thrill! The person or people who ask questions, are really engaged when you tell them about the story, who ask about when and why you started writing it, your inspirations and in my case, those who get totally enthralled with my illustrations.

Btw, it really really helps to have visual aids! I’m lucky, I have my own illustrations so I enlarge them, colour some of them, even laminate them and put them in this flick through book for people to…er…flick through! If you don’t have any visual aids – GET THEM!

Now don’t get me wrong, even though the experience can be akin to having root canal, which I have had, there is a genuinely awesome payoff – you get to be on the frontline, talking to people about your book, the characters, the plot, how you created it, what your influences are, and most amazingly, you get to sign a book and watch someone walk to the tills and buy it!!!!!!!!!!!

There really isn’t anything like it!

If I hadn’t been sitting in public, I would have welled up and cried, it’s that emotional. A really unforgettable and moving moment.

That’s why you do it, why you put yourself through the nervous emotional exhaustion of it, not to mention the difficulty of travelling there, finding somewhere to park, finding the store etc – because the payoff is SO sweet. Isn’t that what we all want? To feel that sensation – pride, accomplishment and sheer joy? It doesn’t happen often in life so try to embrace it when it does.

So the next time you’re in a bookshop, do spare a thought for the lonely author sitting or standing there, being brave or possibly nutty, and go and talk to them. Even if they’re selling a manual on how to clean the inner tubing from a bicycle wheel and you couldn’t be less interested in what they are selling and certainly don’t want to buy it…spare a thought for them and go a have a natter and a smile, you’ll really make their day! 😀 xx

P.S. Make sure you have a bottle of water with a good screw top, you’ll need it. In your nervousness, if you knock it over you’re not going to spoil your precious books. Oh…and make sure you have at least three pens, at least one is likely to fail on you! 😉

P.P.S. I must say a special mention to my pal Lucy for stopping by and saying hello yesterday while I was book signing in Waterstones Cribbs Causeway, thank you honey! AND a special mention to Bryony, the lovely lady I meet yesterday who was so interested in my book and who I had a fascinating chat with. I hope you keep going with your writing sweetie, and DO check out The Alliance of Worldbuilders on the HarperCollins writing site, Authonomy www.authonomy.com or on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/TheAllianceOfWorldbuilders or on it’s own website http://theallianceofworldbuilders.weebly.com we’d love to see you on there with the rest of us nutters!.

Right, so that’s it, at least for now…everything you needed to know about author signing events, but were afraid to ask! HUGE good luck guys and I hope to meet you on the circuit!  ;D xx

OMG! The word is spreading…!

It is true that the world is a strange and bizarre place, but wow, sometimes it can surprise you in an utterly delightful way!

Firstly, there seems to be a small but growing ‘word-of-mouth’ about my book. Exclamations like, “It’s better than Rick Riordan and Harry Potter!”I never read fantasy but I loved this!” “Beautifully written and captivating!” etc. All wonderful comments that fill you with butterflies and a nervous kind of energy you can’t quite explain.

Reviews? The ones I’ve had so far have all been great, but like any author, I’m desperate for more. Reviews after all are what people turn to when deciding what book to pick off of a shelf. They are also essential in spreading the word about your book.

Well, all of these are fantastic but what about the gritty reality of how your book is doing?

I’ve had a little inkling that my debut novel, White Mountain – Book 1 of The Darkling Chronicles, is selling well. But of course, as an author you are a little removed from the hard-line of sales figures.

Instead, we tend to focus on what people think of our books – Did they like it? Were they swept along with the story? What were their favourite characters? Did they like the way it was written? etc etc.

We naturally love our stories and want others to love them too, for an author, there is no greater feeling than having a reader tell you how much they loved your creation. So, actual hard sales don’t really enter the consciousness…maybe they should, but I’m just not a business type person, my brain is far too chaotic for that!!!!

Anyway, imagine my joy when out of curiosity I popped onto Amazon and looked at epic fantasy paperbacks for the last 30 days and found my own book on the first page at No.12!!!!

I couldn’t believe it! My novel was higher in the charts than established authors like David Tallerman, Robert Jordan (Wheel of Time),  A. E. Marling and even G.R.R. Martin! It won’t last of course, and by tomorrow I’m sure it will change…but WOW!

Totally unbelievable!!!!!! 😀 xx

Sold out – Magical days are made of this!

Well, it’s taken me three days to fully recover enough to string a coherent sentence together.

Without meaning to sound too OTT, Saturday was truly was one of the best days of my life! …My very first book signing and launch in the lovely Octavia’s Bookshop in Cirencester.

So, what was it like?

Nerve wracking, incredible stressful, tense and hard…but also totally amazing, wonderful, inspiring and unforgettable. Octavia Karavla who owns Octavia’s Bookshop, couldn’t have been kinder or more welcoming and even bought me lunch.

Despite some hiccups, the day really couldn’t have gone better. A heavy stream of eager customers jostled into the shop (very heavy ‘footfall’ apparently), some I knew from teaching, some were supportive friends and family and others were total strangers. Such a thrilling feeling, signing books for people and asking what inscription they’d like inside, but also so surreal! This was me, little old me sitting here like a real author..totally unreal.

One little girl I knew well, asked why I was doing this, did I want to be famous?

I laughed. I tried to explain that I simply had always wanted to be a writer, that that was what I had dreamed about since I was a child and as I said the words I couldn’t help smiling. Good days or bad, troubles and strifes, life’s little bumps and catastrophes really didn’t matter anymore.

Yes, it’s true, I’ve had a tougher life than many and wouldn’t have wished the troubles I’ve lived through on anyone. But you know what? …it has brought me to this point. I wouldn’t be here, on this strange and wonderful journey without having had the dramas and traumas.

Perhaps you need the angsts? Perhaps it’s those angsts which fuel you creatively?

In any case, Saturday’s book launch and signing was a HUGE success and to my utter delight – we SOLD OUT!!!!

Every single book was sold in just over the first hour and Octavia then had to take names, addresses and orders for more! SO thrilled! White Mountain – Book 1 of The Darkling Chronicles, was a smash!!!!

Luckily I had a spare copy to show customers what the book looks like and I had a selection of my illustrations to cover the table…which were a great point of interest for browsing shoppers, but what a day?!

Pinching myself quite severely.

It’s just that having spent so many years creating and writing my fantasy epic and the world it inhabits, I now find I’m living in a bit of a fantasy myself. Nothing feels quite real. I’m sure reality will come crashing down around me and I’ll come back to earth with a bump at any moment…but for now, I’m happy to float around for a while!

😀 xx

(Try to ignore the half eaten hot dog on the table…I should have hidden that away! :P)