Category Archives: Commentary

Lit Up OC: Author Open Mic

Kean Coffee Tustin 2
Kean Coffee in Tustin, CA

I drove down the country road with anticipation, a small box of my books in the trunk of my vehicle and wearing comfortable, but nice clothing. I did my best to quell my nerves and remind myself that I’ve done this before, but it had been almost a year since I last performed an author reading in public. I felt that I might be rusty. This was no ordinary author series either. It was Lit Up OC, the series attached to my local writing guild and most of my writer friends attend it. Would I lose my voice? Would I blank out when my friends grilled me with writing questions that would go far beyond a typical layperson? Of the three authors reading, which one would I be? First? Last? I wasn’t sure.

What is Lit Up OC

I stumbled upon Lit Up OC around two years ago. It is a monthly reading series in Southern California located at Keans Coffee in Tustin. Local writers hang out with their coffee and tea while three authors read excerpts from their novels or a short story. Represented genre include mysteries, thrillers, science fiction, fantasy, literary, memoir, you name it. You never know what is coming next. There are many events like this in nearby Los Angeles, but Lit Up OC is the only reading series I know of in Orange County. Our host, Madeline Tighe Margarita is the creator and organizer of the event. She handles the author introductions. Asks questions of the audience afterward about what they heard and what their impressions were in critique style. Then moderates a general question and answer session between the author and audience.

What I Read

Murder They Wrote Book Cover (blog)In December of 2017, I had a story included in a horror anthology called “Murder They Wrote” put out by Serial Sikk Publishing. The theme of the collection was speculative fiction that included a murder. My story, “We Can Rebuild Him” began as a writing prompt from an online science fiction writing club. The prompt was to write a story about a cyborg. I combined the prompt with the feelings I felt when watching the Kevin Bacon movie “Taking Chance”. It features an American escort officer returning the body of a soldier to his family. I combined this with ideas about cyborgs that I had gleaned from panels at science fiction conventions. The result was psychologically dark and although it was not technically about murder, it fits with the bloody theme of the anthology.

I read the entire story to the audience. My goal was not to sell books per se, it was for me to get out and perform a reading for the first time in almost a year. I practiced all week. Developing different inflections for the characters. Where to put in pauses for emphasis. Making sure that all technical terms flowed with proper pronunciations. Everything that I could do to make a good first impression of my writing to my peers.

What Questions Were Asked

Wendy Reads at Lit Up OC - Jan 2018
Wendy Van Camp Reads at Lit Up OC

After the reading, Maddie conducts a question and answer session. The first part of the session she asks the audience about what they heard during the reading and their thoughts about it. Considering most of the audience are authors, some with multiple books, the comments can be extremely technical and difficult to answer on the fly. I prepared to answer typical questions at the reading. The inspiration for the story. My writing voice. Experiences on the science fiction convention circuit. What national author guilds I belong to and why. The audience asked all that and more.

I’m told that I appeared articulate and that my reading was entertaining, even with the dark subject matter. Many were surprised that I had written a story in the horror genre.

I feel that “We Can Rebuild Him” is a good story to perform and I plan on using it as my main piece at the various readings I will do at conventions this year. While I don’t write dark, horror pieces as a general rule, it still showcases my current skill level as an author. If you are planning on attending WorldCon, you will hear me read this story at the Broad Universe Rapid Fire Reading.

Kean Coffee Reading Audience 2
Lit Up OC Audience

Why Do Readings?

Many writers are introverts who feel anxiety standing up in front of people. I can sympathize with that. When I was a beginning teacher, standing in front of 30 teenagers and trying to convey English, History or Math to them, I felt challenged. Over time, I learned to be more comfortable in front of a classroom and to speak in a manner that is engaging enough to hold the attention of teenagers. If you can do that, you can speak to anyone! An easier way to learn this skill is to join the Toastmasters in your local area. There will be fewer spitballs on your back that way!

As an author, I like to find opportunities to be in front of potential readers and give them a sample of my work. This is why I attend book fairs, do readings at science fiction conventions, and read at local salons. When you get a chance to meet readers in person, you learn things about your own work or help you match the expectations of your target audience. While these events provide me with a place to do sales of my books, that is not my main focus. I am there to make an impression on readers in the hope that they will remember me later when looking for a new author to read. Not to mention, have a good time.

Final Word

Wendy Van Camp and Maddie at Lit Up OC
Host Maddie Margarita and Author Wendy Van Camp

Being the first to read, I was able to relax and enjoy the other two writers that night.  Both were accomplished authors and I enjoyed hearing their work. Afterward, I met people that came to hear me and to purchase signed books. I’m glad that I finally gave in to Maddie’s offer to read at Lit Up OC. It was a great experience and I hope to be back again once I complete my science fiction novel. However, I will be grateful that the next time I’m at the event, I will be in the audience posing “difficult” questions to the next set of authors!

 

Components of Your Poetry Chapbook

Poetry Book
Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

As a poet, I write and submit my poems, much as I do my short stories. I write a batch of scifaiku, submit it to various magazines and hopefully, see most of it published. As an artist, I take the second step of illustrating my poems and turning them into blog posts, illustrated poems to publish in magazines or to sell as art prints at science fiction conventions. I have a dream to one day create a collection of my poetry to sell as a poetry chapbook.

Whether you submit your collection to a traditional publisher or plan to self-publish your manuscript, there are certain elements your manuscript will need to be ready.

Title

You will need to decide on a title for your collection of poems. Think about the theme of your work and what poems you are going to include in the collection. This will help you determine a good title for your chapbook. I often suggest to make a list of possible titles, pick out three or four favorites from the list and then double check the names on Amazon. See how many other books have the same title as your book. If there are none or only one or two, you have made a good choice. Be unique.

Author Name

Do you use your real name or a pen name for your work? Today, this is not an obvious choice. I know of authors that have different pen names based on the genre or type of writing that they do. Sometimes I wonder if I’m the last author on Earth who uses her real name on everything! Be aware that potential readers are more likely to purchase your book if they recognize your name. Branding yourself as a poet is important. It helps to have published your poetry in magazines for a few years or even to have won an award before you publish your first poetry collection.

ISBN

As with a regular book, owning your ISBN number is an advantage. If you traditionally publish via a small press, they will handle this for you by placing their own ISBN on the collection. If you self-publish, purchasing the ISBN is a good idea. This means that your own imprint is listed as the publisher of record of your chapbook. It gives you more control over the product in the long haul. It is possible to use Amazon’s free ASIN number on your book and if this is your first volume, that might be a good option. You can reassign an ISBN at a later date to your book if need be.

Acknowledgments

This is not a mandatory page in your chapbook, but it is a nice touch to have. It is where you might credit literary journals that first published your poems or a mentor that helped you find your way as a poet.

Table Of Contents

A linkable (in the case of an ebook) table of contents is important in a chapbook. The order in which the poetry is read is part of the overall experience of a chapbook. Unlike a novel, poems could be read out of order and still hold meaning to the reader. Do you want to move the reader in a steady emotional progression? Do your poems tell a story and need to be read in a certain sequence? If some of the poems are related, do you group them together? As you go over your body of work and make decisions which poems you will include in the collection, these ideas need to be decided upon and then reflected in a cohesive index that the reader can follow.

Biography

At the end of your chapbook, include a short Biography of yourself as a poet. Most books have only a paragraph or two. If you have a website, make sure you include its URL. If you have a mailing list, include the link where a reader could join it. In the ebook, the link will be clickable. However, I like to include a QR image of the links here as well. In a print version of your chapbook, these can be accessed by the reader’s phone and take them to the link more easily.

Book Cover and Blurb

A picture says a thousand words, or can possibly sell a thousand books. Put time and energy into your chapbook’s cover. Find a compelling licensed image that speaks to the theme of your presented poetry to use, or hire an artist to create one for you. On the back of the book, you will also need an image, but there you will include a blurb about your chapbook. Tell the reader what they can expect to find inside in a way that would intrigue them to open your book and take a peek. This is a good place to include your poet photo if you wish. I usually do not include photos of myself as an author or poet on my books, but it is an option for you to consider. Many poets do.

Publishing a chapbook of poetry is similar to publishing a book, although a poetry book is usually a slim volume. In some ways, it is more difficult to create than a fictional book because of all the tiny components that come together that may or may not be related to one another. Putting together a book of poetry is an art in itself in addition to writing the poems in the first place. But overall, the advent of modern Print-on-Demand publishing has made the act of creating a chapbook and selling your poetry much easier than it was back in the days of vanity presses. As a poet, you have little to lose and much to gain if you think carefully about the components of your poetry chapbook and publish your poetry to the world.

Social Media Tips For Your Author Platform

Laptop

An active author platform can often be the difference between poor sales of your book and making a living with your writing. The main parts of your author platform are your writer’s blog, a newsletter, social media (Twitter, Facebook and Instagram). You will want to write proposals, queries, and manuscripts, do interviews both online and in person, and go to conventions, book fairs and other writing events. All of these activities can be overwhelming to any author, no matter if you are an aspiring author or a pro with many novels on Amazon. It is a fact that maintaining your platform takes constant work.

There is a solution to taming the platform workload. It is called automation, scheduling and following a routine.

No Wasted Ink, as of this writing, has a blog following of around 1800 and a twitter following of 25 thousand. Each and every one of these followers was found one at a time and added organically to my lists over the course of five years. I am doing the same with my new quarterly newsletter and Instagram account. Both are small in subscribers since they are new, but in time both of these new legs to my platform will improve.

I’m often asked how I built my large number of followers. It is mainly by providing consistent and quality content to my readers. No Wasted Ink provides book reviews of classic science fiction and fantasy novels, interviews new up and coming authors, has a list of writer’s articles every Monday that I curate by hand, and original articles and poetry. It is all offered up for free to anyone who wishes to follow. In addition, I have links to my writing, both free stories that are published in online magazines, and content to purchase such as novels, novellas, and anthologies that I am a part of. I consider my writer’s blog to be the cornerstone of my author platform.

I am active on social media. Every post on No Wasted Ink creates a tweet on twitter to inform my followers that there is a new post to read. I also post a link on my Facebook Author Page. This is done automatically by WordPress for me. For key posts, I will often follow up with additional tweets, one a day to my feed for a time span of two weeks. I create these tweets on Hootsuite, a free service that I use to schedule tweets and Facebook posts ahead of time.

Another service that I use to supplement Twitter is a free service called Triberr. I have joined a number of “tribes” there and offer to promote other writer’s posts in exchange for their promoting my posts. By doing this cross promotion I gain two things. An easy way to queue additional posts to my twitter feed so it is not all about me. I select articles from fellow writers that I feel would be of interest to writers or readers of science fiction or fantasy. This fleshes out my twitter feed and makes it more interesting. I also gain access to other author networks for my own posts. On average, all my interviews and guest posts gain around 60 to 80 retweets from my various network connections.

An important thing to remember about Twitter is that you need to cull your follower list from time to time. I do a culling of people that do not follow me back or who have not tweeted anything in at least six months from my follower list a few times a month. I use various third party platforms to locate these tweeps and prune them. This allows me room to add new people that might be more inclined to read my tweets and respond to my messages. By doing this, although my list of followers is large, they are all very active.

Having a Facebook Author Page is important, but I don’t view it as a platform for sending messages to followers. I like being there because most people expect you to have a Facebook presence. It also is a great place to host an online book launch, post your upcoming live events, or do a Facebook Live video. For me, Facebook has been a great place to network with fellow authors, magazine editors, and publishers of anthologies. Most of the places that I publish my short stories and poetry to have been found by networking on Facebook.

I know that all of this can seem to be overwhelming. And sometimes it is! However, it doesn’t need to be. Scheduling your time is the key to handling the social media marketing. I schedule myself two ways. The main way I do my marketing is to do a short session in the morning and in the evening, each no more than 15 minutes. Yes, I sometimes set a timer. In these sessions I will do any of the following:

* Write a blog post
* Draft an email newsletter
* Research articles for my Monday link posts
* Write a Facebook status or Twitter update
* Take an Instagram picture and upload it
* Comment on a blog post on another author’s site
* Share another author’s book, on a social media platform
* Update my website or blog in some way
* Draft a query letter to a magazine on a subject related to your book
* Create an image on Canva with a reviewer’s blurb on it and Tweet it
* Create an image on Canva of a quote from your articles and Tweet it
* Write a thank-you note to a book reviewer, librarian or bookseller
* Load up future tweets to promote new blog posts
* Write up a call for new authors to interview

I also have one other social media work session. It happens once a year in the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. This is normally a “dead” week for business. All the Christmas shopping is done, people are home with their families and not all that much is going on retail wise. Yet, there is this full week of time available. I schedule this week to do my annual blog scheduling. During this week I will create all the holiday posts for my blog and schedule them for the following year. I find quotes to post on Facebook and schedule them to post for the next year. I finish setting up my editorial calendar for the next year and make sure that all my regular posts are scheduled in my Filofax with a check mark drawn in for when I complete and schedule the post. I tend to work in six to eight-hour shifts during this week, devoting most of my work time to marketing. At the end of the week, I toast the New Year and go back to my usual 15-minute sessions.

Now it’s your turn: share in the comments. What are your favorite—or most effective—quick marketing tasks in your author platform?

3 Steps of Intuitive Writing

matteo-vistocco-320187-muse

This past summer, I attended a speculative fiction writer’s workshop in Lawrence, Kansas. The Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction was founded by James Gunn. Every June, the school hold workshops on novel writing, short stories, or could be used as a writer’s retreat to work on your own project. The attendees live in a dorm and are there for a two-week session of intensive writing and critique.

I was told by one of the instructors that the final story I submitted for review was “unique”, something that she had not seen before. A comment that I appreciated since this is one of the main goals of my writing process. This statement had piqued the curiosity of one of the workshop attendees, who was no slouch herself when it came to storytelling. She asked a question that most authors get at one point or another. “Where do you get your ideas?”

With humor, I thought to reach to her ear to pull out a coin, much as a carnival magician might, and reply, “I found the ideas in your ear.” That would be as good an answer to “where” ideas come from as any. The question is not a matter of where, but a question of how we as writers develop a method of gathering concepts and train our brains to make those unique story connections. For me, it is a three part process that utilizes my trained muse and study of story structure. Much of my process is ingrained. Because of this, I did not give an answer in the workshop, but I have been thinking about her question since I’ve returned home and will attempt to answer it here.

Gather Research into your File System

As a science fiction writer, raw material is needed to start the story process. I have created a computerized notebook system to gather articles from scientific journals and science blogs. I cut and paste the articles into Evernote and include whatever photos are relevant to the article since images are a powerful part of the intuitive process. Sometimes, I include notes that I write during panels at science fiction conventions. The panels are a great place to gather data on current day writing tropes or explain science concepts that are geared toward writers. Online science classes are another good source of raw material.

The key is to have a file system in place and to actively add new material to this file on a regular basis. You do not need to use EverNote as I do. Pocket or OneNote are great alternatives or even an old-fashioned handwritten notebook. Train your eye to observe what is going on in the world of science and have a basic understanding of scientific principals. As time goes on, you will be able to grasp what is as old as time and space and what is fresh as a supernova. Let this raw material accumulate and look over it to allow the information to seep into your mind.

You can use this same process to gather place locations, interesting characters, or plot ideas from newspapers and other types of journals. Many a thriller author has taken a stranger than fiction real life story and turned it into a tale “ripped from today’s headlines”. The key is recording these ideas into a file system and keeping the information in a manner that allows you to access it easily.

Activate Your MUSE to Create Connections

This is where the magic happens. Where the ideas for your stories develop and come to life. It is not a logical process, but one that happens under the surface of your conscious mind. Often times, the ideas seem to pop out of nowhere or come from a source outside yourself. The ancient poets called this experience “speaking to their muse”, hearing a goddess that whispered inspired ideas into their minds that they could not claim as their own.

All human beings have two parts to their mind. The Ego, or the conscious logical mind where thoughts, identity, and structure happens and the Id, a mysterious wordless place where images and information bump into each other until the moment when a solution is found and kicked upstairs to our Ego where we can make use of it. The Ego is the newer part of our brains and the Id that ancient part of the brain without the ability of language. Both are equally intelligent. Both are YOU.

Activating your muse can be difficult. For most people, waiting for that moment of inspiration to arrive is their only experience with using that ancient part of the brain. Do not wait for the muse, train it to work for you. Training your muse means that you have a closer connection to that part of your mind and can guide its process.

When I direct my muse, I pick out ideas from my research that appeal to me. I focus on those ideas I want the story to take place in. Then I literary walk away. I go on strolls with my dog. I ride my bicycle. I go to sleep. I put stress behind me. Occasionally, I might pull up the original article and reread it or look at images associated with it, but otherwise, I put it out of my mind. A few hours or a day later, an image will burst in my mind, or a new character will come forth and speak to me based on my researched material. I’ve noticed as the years have gone by, this process has become faster. My brain has been trained to work with this innate ability and control it. When you first attempt to train your muse to create new ideas, the process will be slower. It is like training skills or muscles, it takes time and repetition.

Apply Ideas into Story Structure

The final step is to gather these new connections and plug them into a story structure. I use Scrivener to create virtual index cards of all the random ideas associated with my intuitive sessions. I put the new characters, created locations, and other concepts into the program as individual files. Using a beat sheet, I organize the ideas to create a plotted structure of events as an outline. As I outline, more ideas and connections will flow in until I feel that the story is ready to draft.

This step is the one that most writing articles and classes cover. It is where the Ego takes over and applies the craft of writing to the story. As there are many different methods to create a story, I won’t go into too much detail here. Every author has their own methods that work for them. My craft process will certainly be different from others. You must find the methods of the craft that works best for you.

Conclusion

It was a pleasure to meet Mr. James Gunn this past summer in Kansas. He gave our workshop a ninety-minute presentation on the creativity behind writing science fiction. Most of the talk was on how to tap into your muse and to keep on writing one word at a time. I felt a deep connection to his words. Mr. Gunn is in his mid-eighties. He is still publishing in pro-magazines and creating top of the line novels, using his well-trained muse to fuel his stories. He too speaks of how to find ideas, not where they are. Ideas are in the wind, catching them is the key. I can’t imagine the high level of creativity that Mr. Gunn must enjoy at his age, but I hope one day to do so. I am inspired.

Author #Hashtags for Twitter

Twitter Hashtag

As an author, being on twitter is a great way to attract new readers to your blog and published books.  Developing your twitter feed is an organic process that you should attend to each day.  I personally spend around ten minutes each day going over my list, following back new followers, blocking bots and “follower sales pitches”, and looking over notifications for comments to respond to.  Over the years, my list has grown to thousands of followers and allows me to promote the authors and guest posters that come to my blog as well as drop in the occasional pitch for my books and poetry.

One of the best tools I have as an author using twitter is the use of hashtags.  It is a word preceded by the pound symbol that allows anyone on Twitter to find my post, even if they are not a follower of my twitter feed.  I try and use two or three hashtags in my posts for this reason.  Any more than that would be overkill.

List of General Hashtags for Authors

This list is some of the more common hashtags used by authors to promote their blog posts and work.  I’ve included tags for poetry too, they are fairly obvious!

Connecting with Authors

  • #AmWriting
  • #AmEditing
  • #IndieAuthors
  • #NaNoWriMo
  • #PoetTues
  • #WordCount
  • #WriterWednesday (or #WW)
  • #WritersLife
  • #WritingPrompt
  • #WIP
  • #WritingTips
  • #WriteTip
  • #WritersTellMe

Connecting via Genre

  • #Fantasy
  • #FlashFic
  • #KidLit
  • #History
  • #Horror
  • #FanFic
  • Memoir
  • #NA (New Adult)
  • #PNR (Paranormal Romance)
  • #Poetry
  • #Romance
  • #Scifaiku
  • #SciFi
  • #YA

Connecting With Readers

  • #BookGiveaway
  • #bookpost
  • #books
  • #bookworm
  • #bookslover
  • #free
  • #FridayReads
  • #iBooks
  • #kindle
  • #MustRead
  • #nook
  • #ReadingList
  • #StoryFriday
  • #TeaserTues
  • #WorthReading
  • #WhatToRead