What I Learned At My First Promotional Convention

28 05 2023

There is a difference between wandering around as an attendee and wandering around as a vendor.

I had thought, “I’ve been to a lot of cons by myself! Three WorldCons! Countless PhilCons, BaltiCons, ConClaves, and ConQuests! I can sell my books at a con by myself!”

Au Contraire, Amigos!

My way of going to a con solo is to wander around aimlessly, attend a few panel discussions and readings, have a dinner, and leave early.

As a vendor, I could do none of these things. I stared at my vendor table. Every other table was heaped high with books and geegaws to sell. I had a skull-patterned tablecloth cut at Michaels not 24 hours before.

(similar to this, but no flowers. And in gold and black. And more crowded. This had skulls, okay?

And a poster of the new “Saints of Flesh” cover.

And a matted print of the vivid yantra by my friend Rachael.

And I remembered that at every con, in every vendor room, there seemed to be one guy with a sparse, if not sullen table, seemingly unprepared. A newbie who exuded an aura like that of a hiding deer.

There I was.

I spoke with my neighboring vendors. Was introduced to friends of theirs. Spoke with a few passersby. Accepted compliments on all the art, even the skull tablecloth.

Within two hours my tank was empty. My head ached. My stomach now percolated from the rather good Breakfast Cuban I had at a nearby Iron Rooster. I packed up and fled. Napped for two hours.


In the past, I would have berated myself viciously for not sticking it out and forcing my charisma on any and all. Now, looking at the long picture, I realized that going solo is not playing to my strengths. I have never been a Top Banana, but always a Second Banana. I am not a Face or a Hannibal Smith, but a Mad Dog Murdoch. And that’s okay.

It was worth the money and time to discover this. I emailed my publisher explaining this and she quite understood, even though I left out the A-Team.

I did attend a reading that hopefully I will recall more clearly later this week, where a writer brought up a resounding point. To connect with readers, authors must be authentic. But the internet is a pit of rabid badgers. No matter what you declare, someone will pick a fight. An author might as well be honest.

So! Any experience can be like an experiment. I did not get the result I wanted, but I did learn from the result I got.

My reading had been at 6PM on Friday. As I expected there were only five people, what with no name recognition between myself and the other author, and the barely-past-rush hour time. But my reading went well. I recorded it and will be posting it soon. I also met a few very cool people, who I will be linking to in this coming week.

All this said, I got my schedule from StokerCon. My scheduled reading: Saturday at 1PM. A great time! I would be sharing the hour with three other authors, but some authors with more name recognition were in the same bind in other time slots. Then I saw this reading would be opposite the reading of the Guests of Honor. That, and I would be doing this alone.

At first, I thought, “Ah I’ll be networking and schmoozing all weekend! And it’s all paid for already!” I looked in my account and saw, no, I hadn’t yet been charged for my ticket. Or my hotel room. Urgh. I had less money than I thought….

Recent developments revealed that no, I probably would not be networking and schmoozing, but rather netslipping and receding. I cancelled my StokerCon ticket.

Maybe in a few years I will build myself up to the bon vivant I had thought myself to be. In the meantime, I will keep myself to the familiar cons crowded with my friends.

Social Media To Help Book Sales, As Of Today

12 05 2023
people looking at books
Changing the cover of “Puke Slugs of Planet Feculon” increased sales, but at what cost to credability?Photo by Dario Fernandez Ruz on Pexels.com

My publisher Noble Fusion Press works with professional marketers. Recently, the podcast Rit Gud with Racquel M. Benedict discussed effective strategies with author and marketer Megen Cubed. My publisher and the podcast agreed in what social media performs best in book sales and community building.

First, some general advice. “Common wisdom” for selling to SF, fantasy, and horror changes over time. This advice is different than the advice you would have seen even a few years ago. The advice will be different in a few years. The advice will be different for each genre, yes, but there apparently is overlap.

For example, a few years ago there were people making a living by gaming the algorithms of Amazon, Facebook, and Twitter. Now?

DO NOT BOTHER. These sites change their rules too frequently. It used to be that fifty Amazon reviews got your book onto their “Recommended For You”. Now? No one seems to know.

Ads? DO NOT BOTHER. Facebook ads are too poorly placed. Blocking Twitter ads are an official hobby. Amazon return of investment is too low unless you’re already selling well.

The common wisdom in this year is to test sites like Book Bub. Be methodical in seeing if each site increases your sales. Channel all communications toward building your mailing list.

Dozens of Readers Braving “The Flesh Sutra”

2 05 2023

I’m still trying to establish a work rhythm, and I’m sorry this update is late. But sales of “The Flesh Sutra” had ranked it in the 800’s in Amazon’s Horror Fiction sales. It’s back down again, but we’re establishing a small business here, and business has ebbs and flows. What else is going on?

A wonderful artist and friend Rachael Mayo is working on a yantra appropriate for Alecsi and Olivia’s mysticism. She loves making dragons, but I chose her because her eye for color is so startling and innovative. Look at this color work!

If anyone could make the disturbing, compelling, soul-straining yantras, it’s Rachael. Check out her tumblr just to wake up your eyes.

What else? I’m editing two videos; one for the reading salon Galactic Philadelphia (I’ve edited all their videos), the other is the aforementioned interview with Sally Weiner Grotta.

I use Final Cut Pro on a Macbook Pro, but lately Final Cut is proving to be a lot more than I need. I’m test driving ClipChamp off of Windows 11, and I’ll let you know how that works out.

My new job is doing very well. I work at a supermarket for more than I was making after nine years at a big box tech store. The scheduling is more flexible so the conventions I need to do will not interfere. Stocking shelves and lifting grocery bags make me buff. My coworkers are my age or younger, and their good nature and ambitions remind me the future is in good hands.

Still figuring out how to make best use of TikTok and Twitter. I’ve bought books based on posts. The trick is to come up with promotions that are both effective and comfortable.

Prepare For Book Launch Pt. 4: Promo Video and Presentations

20 04 2023
black camera recorder
No mysterious phantoms appeared on my video. Darn it.
Photo by Donald Tong on Pexels.com

I’ll be interviewed by Sally Weiner Grotta about the re-launch of “The Flesh Sutra”. How do you an interview?

First, my publisher provides a list of standard, sensible talking points: Availability and current price; Brief quotes from blurbs; the sequel coming out at StokerCon; current pricing deals, and other salient sales points.

Then, I work up my notes. What do I like about my book? Do I have an elevator pitch, where I summarize the book in a pithy sentence? Quick summaries of characters, locations, tone. What existing book is this like? “Fans of (another author) will like this book.”

Last, topics: if this were a podcaster, I would provide my bio and a list of subjects I’m glib about. Since I’ve known Sally for years and we’re focusing on just the book, that won’t be necessary. Hopefully at Horror On Main or StokerCon, I’ll connect with potential interviewers.

I have a terrible habit of making a performance out of everything. That habit comes from insecurity. It will be important to just have a single iced tea, relax, and just answer the questions. A good interviewer will guide the conversation along the interviewee’s strengths.


The interview went well. Being a former video professional, my presentation had a minimum of stammering, at least for my first author interview. I had a few false starts, but it’s my first time, and so I’ll keep expectations reasonable.

I’ll have the interview linked in a few days, hopefully!

“I love ‘The Flesh Sutra’!” – Nancy Holder, NYT Best-Selling Horror Novelist

19 04 2023

Would you mutilate mankind for love? That is the question of “The Flesh Sutra.” In Fin de siècle Boston, the mystic healer Alecsi Keresh lays in the passionate embrace of his lover Mrs. Olivia Spalding, when he is shot dead. Enraged, he forces his way back to life through ghastly means. He becomes an abomination. All for love. Olivia is terrified of death. Alecsandri dreads abandonment. Seeing one another as soul mates, they resolve to atone for their sins by helping humanity. But their jealousies mar their works, often with hideous results. And a spirit stalks them. One that grows more powerful at every turn. Will the lovers succeed and transform mankind? Or will their weaknesses twist humanity into abominations? Therein lies the answer to “The Flesh Sutra.”

Writing Advice: Make Sure You Feel It

6 04 2023

dreamy woman filling diary in light room
I woke up this morning to her sitting and looking at me. She won’t move. She doesn’t breathe.
Photo by George Milton on Pexels.com

A writer is supposed to make their mother uncomfortable, yes. But the writer is also supposed to be uncomfortable. Two events reinforced this recently.

I just joined an online workshop for horror writers as a student. The workshop has the standard format in that the students send in a story and everyone provides a critique. It’s the first time in years I’ve seen the work of beginning writers. It reminded me of my earlier work.

Mistaking the conflict for the ending. Groping for a style instead of plot. Most of all, cinematic descriptions of scene. That is, visual and auditory senses only, but also use of senses to invoke a feeling. This last bit is tricky and I have much to learn here.

Imagine a swamp. Spanish moss hanging from willow trees. Brackish water concealing secrets. Reeds grown rampant. Calls of birds in trees. Pretty standard. I wrote scenes like this plenty of times. My friends taught me that other senses pull the reader in farther. A stink like mulch. Humidity laying like a hot wet blanket. The creep on your scalp of sweat and gnats. Drag of mud sucking at your boots. You get the idea.

What I’m starting to learn starts with that “Brackish water concealing secrets”, that is, using description to convey tone. Using those words like stink and suck and creep to create a richer scene.

If I want to create a mood, I need to use elements that invoke that mood in me. Note that “scalp” line: I’m bald, so sweat and bugs on my head really relates. I hate the outdoors, really, for the reason of mud sucking at things, so I thought to use that. Note that I could go deeper and go “slimy mud sucking at my low-top boots” and man writing that just icked me the heck out.

So this is what I am learning, in part thanks to this writing group prompting me to up my game. Also, I am helping out a new writer who had asked my advice. He is developing his magic style (I’m avoiding saying ‘magic system’ because magic needs to be mysterious. An AD&D detail level of understandability takes away from the magic’s drama, I think.

Anyway, the writer wanted ideas as to what price a magician should pay for overuse.

“As far as character limitations, I’m assuming you mean the toll Magic takes on a character.

If so, make a list of things that make you queasy. For me, that would be dementia, cockroaches, physical paralysis, shit and piss, parasitism, chronic pain, skin disfigurements.

I can imagine too much magic, too exhausting magic, doing: causing dementia, generating parasites under the skin, renal failure (*makes you sweat urine*), intestinal failure, neuropathy, gnarly skin diseases. I could even push each icky thing past known science, like with the spontaneous parasite thing.

The limitations could even be idiopathic, or specific icks to specific individuals. 

It HAS to be a limitation that you as a person finds distasteful. The distaste will come through in your writing. If you are uncomfortable, your reader will be uncomfortable. You as the writer has to feel in order for the reader to feel.”

So, make yourself uncomfortable. And keep learning.

How To Prepare For Book Launches Pt 2

4 04 2023
person reading book in city
Once again, not me. But marketing surveys say I rate very well among Sheet Ghosts.
Photo by Ayşenur Sağlam on Pexels.com

This is to catch myself up on what I’m doing in the next couple of months:

Prepare a presentation/reading for the launch(s):

it’s tough to get a slot for an author reading, so apply early. Most conventions allow you to just request a slot; the Horror On Main convention requires the author to buy a vendor table as well for IIRC $200? It’s promotional expense so if I make more than $4K from the books this year I can write off the expense yadda yadda. So step one, get those slots requested.

Prepare the reads/presentations. Usually the author will be given 30 minutes to do a reading and/or what’s called an “anti-reading”. An anti-reading can be anything like a presentation about the novel’s world or a free-form discussion or really it has no boundaries. At present, I plan on fifteen minutes of reading and a fifteen-minute presentation about the fun stuff I discovered while researching the “Flesh” books. I may include a Powerpoint. For the Fazgood launch at World Fantasy, at present I’ll just do a reading.

Get stuff into hands and onto tables: Conventions usually give attendees a swag bag, or a bag filled with promotional materials. My publisher Noble Fusion Press is getting post cards or other materials to World Fantasy to give the launch a boost. For Horror On Main, and more so for StokerCon, I have to get on the stick and find out if they do swag bags. Tables will need signage, which I image will have to small to accommodate travel.

Yes I am nervous about all this.

Contact the relevant media: the Horror Writers Association has a newsletter, and I have to get my Horror On Main and StokerCon plans to its editors.

Supporting promo material: I’m working with a talented artist friend to come up with yantra stickers. Yantra are mystical symbols key to the “Flesh” mythos. I believe stickers are the way to go, because even if no one is interested in the book, they may like the sticker design and get interest developed that way. I’ve seen the preliminary colors and they are disturbing. Plan is to have them done by end of April.

List of people to contact: I’m shooting for podcasters, mainly. I’m funny and have a varied, colorful history. Obvioulsly, the “Flesh” books and Fazgood have two different audiences, with different persons of interest to contact.

I’ll keep you posted, obvs.

Is Your Character Stiff and Boring? Try This Acting Trick

29 03 2023

photo of fox sitting on ground
This fox is actually actor Daniel Day-Lewis. He lived on shrews for three months to get into character.
Photo by Alex Andrews on Pexels.com

This trick seems basic, but it’s helped me with character mannerisms and tone.

Usually I like to “cast” people I know as characters in my work, but lacking that, I try this trick.

Which animal best represents that character?

It’s one thing to describe a man as “bearish”. But it’s more effective to have that character jostle their way past furniture, or complain about the cold, rouse slowly to anger, enjoy naps, thump the table for emphasis, and have other bear-like behavior. Do they like picnics and the outdoors? Say, I need a reason to get outdoors for that one scene…

The more detail you can get for the scene or character, the more the motivations of the story will click into place.

Like I mentioned, this is an old trick actors use to find character. Anthony Hopkins famously used it in “Silence of the Lambs” when he considered Lector to be like a snake, and let that consideration guide Lector’s behavior. Check out a scene or two of “SotL” and that consideration becomes palm-to-forehead obvious. Hopkins’ choice of snake also led to iconic moments like Lector standing watchful as Starling first visits.

I wish I had examples from prose, because I dislike writing advice that uses examples from film. But the only other example I can think of is Ben Kingsley’s performance In “Sexy Beast” as goon Don Logan, which Kingsley had said was based on an abused dog. Please see that movie, because Logan is the Anti-Ghandi, the angriest human put on screen.

Does this technique ring any bells for you? Is there a prose character you know based on an animal?

My Unpopular Writing Advice

28 03 2023

The closer the word “I” is to the beginning, the worse the story or essay will be.

There is such thing as a bad idea, an idea which no amount of craft can save.

Genre fiction must center the genre to the conflict. Just because a story contains a werewolf, it is not a horror story or fairy tale.

A lived life is worth more than an MFA, or Clarion, or Odyssey. Spend the tuition money on experiences.

If the value of art lies with its audience, then the artist must be separate from their art.

Have we all gotten over “write what you know”?

The experimentation of MFA writers drove the popular audience from fiction to genre, then chased the audience from genre to Young Adult. Self-publication and small press reclaimed genre.

I am so glad that we are ignoring “If it doesn’t help the plot, it must go.”

What you write, writes you. Is what you’re writing making you a better person? Happier?

Always find some good in whatever you read. This keeps your perceptions and compassion alive. Always find where your favorite media could be better. This will keep you from worshipping idols.

If you write a character you identify with, grind them. Their emotions will surprise you, make the story resonant, and help you grow personally.

If you cannot weep about your life in front of your writers’ group, get a new writers’ group.

My writers group is a mix on genres, and I recommend yours be too. It keeps focus on the essentials of plot and character.

Bonus Comedy Opinion: It is possible to do improvisation with only questions and the word “no”.

Look At Stories Which Take Emotional Risk with A.C. Wise

23 03 2023

Favorite Stories of 2022 from A.C. Wise.

Turns out I am socially acquainted with A.C. Wise through a mutual friend. She and her husband are very cool people, which pains me to say because I am a little jealous of her. Ms. Wise’s writing accesses universal, yet still intimate themes. I’ve read some of these recommended stories, and while I have qualms with some, they all undeniably bear real emotional weight. I’ll be reading more of them.

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