Is it right for an author to ask a reader for personal information?
From my early years and into most of my adult life, I’d always thought writers were solitary creatures, locking themselves away in a safe environment so they could focus on the craft of writing. Perhaps that’s true in some sense–while one performs the actual writing–but in today’s storytelling market, it doesn’t pay to live in a vacuum. A writer must engage with his / her audience.
How else would you know if you’ve “hit the sweet spot” for your readers? How could you know if you’ve touched a heart with the images you’ve rendered, by the words you’ve combined, by the world you’ve built from the ground up? Have you thrilled their senses with the way you portrayed a scene? Have you entertained? Have you prodded someone to think deeper on a subject? Did your story become a call to action for an important social topic?
How would an author know any of these things unless soliciting input or feedback from the readers?
So…if I seem to be a bit nosy, if I seem to step across a personal boundary you’re uncomfortable with, if I make a social faux-pas, if I ask for something you’re not willing to divulge…just tell me so. I’ll back up, regroup, and give you space. I do want to keep you as a good acquaintance, perhaps even becoming a good friend over time.
Ground rules, then:
Our communications will be done with respect for one another
We will use our “adult words”, without any offensive language
We will not pry, but rather solicit with questions
If we deign not to answer a question, we will say so
If, perchance, we offend, we will be swift to make it right
Are we good then? These guidelines aren’t onerous, are they? I mean, I can live with them. How about you? Good?
Okay, then let’s get to know each other over my writings and yours, if you decide to share. I have some initial offerings you can take out for a test run. They’re on Amazon, produced with AKDP and CreateSpace. Most of the stories have been brought into the world via the NaNoWriMo.org challenge of writing 50,000 words in 30 days with 0 excuses. You should try that for yourself sometime.
Odd, but it’s where you’ll stumble across Readers and Writers.
It may seem like such a coincidence, that the odds are stacked against it happening, perhaps a million-to-one shot. However, I believe there are two major factors swaying the odds in your favor. 1) God. 2) People.
For those of you who don’t subscribe to belief 1), try considering it as “a higher power” involved, guiding you into a situation where a propitious meeting takes place. Random chance? Yeah, right. Proximity? Okay, that’s likely, as well. A little nudge in the circumstances, a decision made one way instead of the other, the courage to speak up and reach out to another person? Sure, it tips the scales for an incredible event to occur.
For me, not just once today, but twice.
I agreed with a friend, Dave Brownawell, to set up a tent at the Fulton Farmers Market on 5th Street on Saturday. He hand-crafts wooden bowls: beautiful patterns of wood, turned on an old lathe he got from his father, each one uniquely shaped, carefully milled, and sanded for a smooth tactile sensation. He also takes large craft beer bottles, cuts off the top with a diamond-tipped saw, smooths the lip so it provides a safe drinking surface. They’re usually the bottles with adhered paint, but sometimes he’ll do the ones with paper labels, covering them in a protective coating so they can withstand washing. He also went to Keokuk with a mutual friend and they garnered bucketfuls of geodes, which he cracks open to reveal hidden secrets. My part in the street-side sales? Be a presence as an Author to display and sell copies of my books. Simple.
It was a marvelous day to be out on the cobblestone streets of the Brick District. We enjoyed a leisurely morning of sunshine, blue skies, and moderate temperatures in the 70s. Dave had been getting a lot of lookers and a few buyers. I wasn’t getting anywhere near the interest I’d hoped for. My attention kept drifting around the crowd, though I was pretending to write another chapter of the sci-fi novel I anticipate publishing before the end of the year. The Seeds of Mankind: Universe 242 is moving along, but completion will require more diligent effort.
I noticed the vendors across the street had brought their teenagers along to help. I also noted the guy and the gal seemed to be getting bored between customers. When I saw the young gal plop into the back of their van and flip open a book, an idea struck.
I pulled copies of Chasing the Dragon and of Dark Attic Manuscripts from my inventory. It was easy to pique their interest, handing the fantasy novel to Sierra and handing the compilation of scary tales to Jon. Their parents were appreciative of my kindness and we struck up a conversation. They jointly run a homemade baked goods business in their spare time, called Jenny Bakes. They give a portion of their profits to benefit the local Serve Inc. organization, which helps provide transport, meals, clothing, school supplies, and other life services for the elderly and for families in need. It depends heavily on community volunteerism, and the Milligans are doing their part.
It was just as folks were beginning to break down their stalls and pack up, that Jon walked back over, followed by Sierra, and they returned the books. Jon asked about the pricing on the books, then they both went back across the street. Moments later, Jon ambled back and handed me cash for a copy of DAM, acting kind of shy to be asking. I swapped book for cash, then followed him a few moments later. His parents chuckled when I admitted to not having done due diligence to autograph the book, and Jon was ecstatic when I made good on it.
We chatted for a few minutes and I worked in the question “Do any of you write?” The husband, the wife, and Jon pointed in unison to Sierra, who demurred at being outed. So…I launched into the spiel about NaNoWriMo. Sierra had heard of it, but had not yet participated. I adjured her to try it this year, extolling the virtues of the challenge to write 50,000 Words in 30 Days with 0 Excuses. As we talked, she began to realize she could take the ideas in her head and tip them out onto “paper” in order to make them a reality, to breathe life into them, to share them with the entire world. We even talked about Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing as a way to take a final, edited, complete manuscript and turn it into a physical book people can hold in their hands. She seemed pretty jazzed about the concept, and I anticipate her being at the local Write-Ins during November.
Another friend, Terry Showers, is a man of many hidden talents. He coordinates our church fellowship; that and a couple of other minor details are all I really knew about him until he retired a couple of years ago. When NaNo rolled around, he told me he’d considered tossing his hat in the ring and writing a sci-fi story he’d been working on. What? I asked and he averred he’d been a sci-fi / fantasy novel enthusiast from way back. What-What?! I never knew. And…later in the year, he springs on us that he’s into rock collecting. Who is this guy? Why did I never think to ask?
So…get this…he is heavily involved in the Central Missouri Rock & Lapidary Club, and was responsible to organize the Rock & Mineral Show in Columbia this year. About a month before the event, he started talking it up. Last week he gave us a final invite, since he was going to be busy with set-up and coordination of the vendor booths. (And, yes, he’s the guy who got Dave involved in hunting geodes at Keokuk.) Dave and I determined to attend the event, as a show of support, and decided on Saturday after the Farmers Market. We went separately, and I brought my wife, AngieMae, along for the ride.
I’ve been building this up in such a way you might think Terry was going to spring another surprise on me about writing, but that’s not where this was headed. While browsing the different vendor tables, AngieMae found several nice pieces of stone turned into jewelry. She got a few items and we called our daughter to find out if she would like a token, as well. We sent phone pix and she made a choice.
I was wandering the aisles when a particular stone sculpture caught my eye. The piece spoke to my sense of craftsmanship and artistic flair. There was a fossilized shell embedded in a large stone. The artist, from Africa, saw the potential of the juxtaposition and formulated a vision of striking aesthetic. He chipped and carved away everything that didn’t look like an alien flower stem suspended on a slick rocky ledge. In some small way, the composition reminded me of Rodin’s “The Thinker.” I couldn’t tear my gaze away; I was mesmerized, so engrossed in thought that I didn’t realize someone else had stepped up to the table until she spoke.
“That’s a very interesting piece,” she said. “Yes,” I told her, refocusing, “it’s got a particular styling that reminds me of Maori fish hook carvings.” The lady reached out and traced the lines of the sculpture in the air with her finger. “What do you suppose that is?” I told her what had come to mind for me and she gave a slight nod. “Are you thinking of buying it?” I sensed there was more to the question. “I’m considering it,” I told her. “Do you think the vendor would give me a discount if I bought something?” Now I understood where this was going. “Only one way to find out. Let’s ask.”
I turned to the man between the tables and noted he was Oriental. I inquired about his pricing and if he ever reduced them. Glen Su cocked his head, furrowed his brow, and asked, “Are you both buying something?” “Yes,” replied the woman. “But separately,” I interjected. “It is Mother’s Day this weekend,” the woman put forward. “And you’d have two sales,” I appended. Glen’s cheeks got rounder with a smile. “Sure. I’ll take ten percent off…each purchase. Let me get my ledger.” The lady looked over at me. “We double-teamed him, didn’t we?” I nodded. “S’pose we did.”
When Glen came back, the woman had an intriguing rectangle of stone in her hands. It was rough and chalk white on one side, dappled with dark splotches. The other side had been cut and planed flat, exposing a beautiful filigree of purple flower-like crystals, seemingly growing in a field of silver. She told me the mineral names, that she’d truly wanted the stone, and said the contingent discount could have been a deal-breaker. Glen told me his final price and I hesitated, thinking it was still a bit more than I’d like to pay. When I glanced at the lady, she wore a look of “if you don’t buy, he may cancel the discount.” Couldn’t have that, now could we?
“Let me consult with my wife,” I told Glen, and flagged her down on the next aisle over. “AngieMae, could you come take a look at this?” I pointed at the wares on the table.
She came around and asked, “What did you find?” I put my hand on the sculpture. “What is it?” I explained its composition and its artistic merit. She leaned closer. “Is that the price?” I told her the discounted total. “I don’t know. That’s a lot. We can’t do it.” I slouched and gave her a look with my puppy-dog eyes. “Hmm… Okay, but it has to come out of your account.” I tried not to seem over-eager. “Yeah, sure. That’s fine by me.” She tilted her head and squinted at the thing. “Where are we going to put it?” I hadn’t thought of that. “I’ll show you when we get home.”
“Who’s this?” she asked me. “Another buyer, who wanted a bargain. Didn’t catch her name. We kind of made it worthwhile for Glen and he offered a lower price to both of us.” AngieMae reach out to shake hands and I caught only bits and pieces of the introduction, because the vendor was ready to conclude our transaction now that it was confirmed as a go. It was a good solid ten minutes before the prize was safely wrapped and we’d finagled the technology to process payment. By that time, AngieMae had held an entire discussion and was ready to move on. She excused herself and caught up with Terry to talk with him.
“That worked out well,” said the lady, indicating her colorful stone and my bagged sculpture. “Yes, and I never would have stumbled across it if Terry Showers–the man over there AngieMae is talking to–if he hadn’t invited us out to this Rock Show.” I paused for a second, then held out my hand. “I’m sorry. In the midst of all this, I completely forgot to introduce myself. I’m TJ…and you are…?” She shook my hand and said, “Virginia Almon. Good to meet you. And who is Terry…?” I explained he was the one who’d coordinated the whole event for the Rock Club, that he is our church fellowship coordinator, and that he was also working toward becoming a published Author. At that, Virginia raised an eyebrow, leaned closer, and tapped me on the arm. “I’ve also done a bit of writing, but I haven’t published any books. I’m listed with Psychology Today. Does that count?”
I laughed, then launched into the NaNoWriMo thing. She listened as I painted the challenge in glowing terms. When I wound down, she told me, “That sounds interesting. Perhaps I’ll look into it. I’ve got so many ideas, it’s just a matter of making time to organize them and write it all down.” “Eight to ten minutes a day,” was what I suggested, “every day, and before you know it, you have a large and growing novel.” She seemed to consider the idea, weighing the merits of taking bite-size chunks out of the project, as opposed to tackling it like a mammoth undertaking. I handed her a business card. If you ever want to chat about writing in general, NaNoWriMo in particular, or how to tackle self-publishing with Amazon Kindle Direct, drop an e-mail or call me. Happy to help.” She examined the golden card, then stood back and said, “Let me consider it. Perhaps it would be better for you to call me. Your wife has my number–we swapped–so if you want to talk about writing, call the number on the card.”
So…twice in one day. Once at a Farmers Market on the cobblestone streets of Fulton; and again in the midst of a Rock Show in Columbia. Either I’m getting some guidance, or the number of “closet writers” is much greater than anyone has ever suspected.
This is a shot of the vendor table at the entrance to the Base Exhcange at Whiteman AFB, where I did my very first book signing and public sales. Day 2 had me rethink the presentation, because we had placed the paperbacks on top of each of the images in the computer screen. So, I did a bit of innovation and hung the second banner from the bottom of the first, draping in front of the table. Duplication of the image to reinforce the branding, and it wasn’t cluttered with all the paraphernalia.
Go ahead and ask me.
Yes! It was fun! Connecting with people who are readers, striking up conversations with a common core of experience, watching eyes light up to realize the author of the books was right there to sign them…oh, that was a treat!
Wait. Let me start at the beginning…
My daughter and I were greeted with a warm smile and a welcoming attitude by Cherie Lyn E. Celli, Service Operations Manager for AAFES. She ushered us in and coordinated with her staff to provide a table, chairs, drape cloth, a set of boxes for our personal gear, and the Electronic Accounting Tablet (that ensures sales are logged for proper revenue stats to AAFES). I want to thank my daughter, Yvonne, for accurately keeping track of the sales and making the technology work as it should. Cherie also checked in frequently to ensure we were settled, that things were going smoothly, and to encourage us to have a good time while we were there.
The BX was also hosting a Pet Adoption day at the front entrance, which spawned some extra foot traffic into the main concourse. We got the benefit, because at least 25% of those passing by gave us a second glance. Neither my daughter nor I had to use any over-the-top strong-arm tactics to get folks to buy from us. Rather, we gauged their interest, used an appropriate opening line to start a conversation, and then worked toward common ground on a variety of topics. By being personable and engaging folks in a friendly manner, we developed their interest in what we had to offer, and thereby allowed them to decide to buy if they so chose.
Honestly, I was surprised at the number of folks who took us up on the offer. It was at least as good as I’d hoped for, as a newly minted Author with no real street cred to my name. But our explanations of the books’ contents, plus allowing them to handle them made a huge difference. Also, letting them know the Author was right there to sign them tipped the scales on several occasions.
Here’s the best part: I got to physically see and interact with individuals who will be reading the stories I’ve crafted, and those same people got a chance to learn a little bit about the guy who wrote the books. That was priceless. It’s the aspect of being a writer that makes me not care to focus on the time and money; it’s the part that makes my heart rejoice in The Process, especially the final stage where a Reader connects with an Author.
It took me by surprise, almost the same way the Wizard of Oz may have felt when Dorothy pulled back the curtain to reveal the man behind the magic. It was humbling and it was satisfying. It brought me face-to-face with other souls who love to broaden their horizons by delving into stories of could-be / make-believe / far-flung lands and imaginary characters they themselves might like to meet or even become.
These are the “people” who made my day(s): Jean, Preston, LeRoy, Janice, Cherie, Matt, Laurel (for her son, Nathan), Talayeh and her mother Gwinn, Bill, Skylar, the Juneman Family, Joshua, and Chris. There were other folks who were interested enough to say they’d check me out on Amazon, but didn’t have time to linger due to errands and schedules. Even those few who just smiled and gave a “thumbs up” to the books as they passed by kept my energy level humming about the whole prospect of being there. (Well, maybe the Starbucks had something to do with that, too…)
Let me tell you about some of the biggest kicks I got out of this event:
I watched Talayeh’seyes light up when I told her I was the one who wrote the books, and reached out to shake her hand. Her mom, Gwinn, mentioned she likes to write, so I went down the path of “you can do this, too” and explained some of the steps it took for me to accomplish this. I painted the process in broad strokes, tailored to her age bracket, coaxing her to keep after her storytelling. I gave her a personal point of contact where she could share her finished project(s) with me, because I want to see how she succeeds.
Skylarwas ecstatic to meet a writer in person, too. She told me she shares books with a couple of her friends; they swap different books among their group, so they all benefit from a larger variety of stories at only a fraction of the cost. Smart! I was so tickled after signing her book that I had her mom take a picture of us. Proof that she met the Author.
Joshuais a young buck in the USAF with a streak of anime / manga storytelling waiting to burst forth, though he lamented the fact he wasn’t skilled enough to be a writer. Ideas are GO, but grammar is NO. I encouraged him to gather around a core of friends who could help him with it: to be Beta Readers, to offer edits, to even help him visualize characters with sketches / drawings. I told him I’d be interested to see what he’s produced when he completes a story, and gave him a contact card.
Chris, Joshua’s buddy in the USAF, doesn’t write. He reads. I mentioned I was working on a Sci-Fi novel, The Seeds of Mankind, and let him preview the beginnings of it. While Joshua and I talked, Chris devoured the first three chapters, scrolling through the story on my laptop. He was so intrigued by the premise, the viewpoints of the different characters, and descriptions of the new world in a different universe, headjured meto finish the story soon. He wants to read the whole thing. Okay. So now I have a deadline.
One of the vignettes I’ve shared with a lot of the folks who stopped by goes like this: It took me 40 years to get Chasing the Dragon from initial idea to final publication. One of my Readers blazed through the book in one day’s time. I’m obviously going to have to step up my game and learn to write muchfaster.
Yeah, so welcome to the world of a Writer. Always in demand when he / she does it right.
This is a momentous occasion. My first book signing. As a published Author. Capital A.
Pompous. Self-aggrandizing. So full of myself. I could classify the attitude that way, or I could take the more humble tack, saying simply “it’s been a long time coming.” Seriously. Over forty years to go from dreaming about being a Writer / Author, to actually being one, to have something to show for it.
So, where am I showcasing my wares for the first time in public (other than on Amazon)? My youngest (adult) daughter and I traveled to Sedalia, MO, to hawk my books at the Whiteman Base Exchange. They’re providing a small kiosk, electrical hook-ups, and possible connection to Wi-Fi. I provide the labor, the books (see the covers below), the new banner (from VistaPrint), the phone & computer to keep track of sales (Square), and an upbeat attitude that will surely draw customers to make purchases.
Years and years of writing, ruminating, editing, hem-hawing around, making decisions to not give up on this ‘thing’ I want to do in my lifetime, getting the momentum going with NaNoWriMo, figuring out that AKDP gives anyone the ability to put their work out there, and then pushing the GO button. And in less than three months I’ve got as many books to offer the Readers of the world, hoping that at least some of them are blessed with what I have to offer.
I’ll let you know how it goes when the dust settles. I’ll try to be objective, honest, and perhaps even amusing. Stay tuned…