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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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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