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WonderCon 2018: A Review

WonderCon 2018 - Convention Exterior

Science Fiction conventions are the lifeblood of science fiction and fantasy authors. We go there to sell our books, meet the readers of our genre, sign a few autographs and participate in panels. Not to mention have a great time soaking in the creative atmosphere of people that “get” us and our crazy love for our genre. The science fiction community is tight knit, they support creatives with passion.

I’ve been a dealer and participant at various science fiction conventions on the West Coast of the United States for over twenty years. I began as an artisan jeweler, selling handmade sterling silver items featuring semi-precious stones and art glass. I was both in the dealer room and in the convention art show, depending on the venue.

In 2014, I published my first novel and began the shift toward less time in the dealer room and more time in programming. I began participating in panels, giving workshops on building a social media platform both as an author or an artist and I shifted my wares in the art shows, not only bringing in my handmade jewelry but also selling a series of art prints based upon my illustrated scifaiku poetry.

WonderCon 2018

WonderCon 2018 - Wendy Van Camp AutographWonderCon is one of the newer incarnations of Comic Con International, put on by the people that organize the huge convention in San Diego. Although I’ve been exhibiting my work at the San Diego Comic Con for almost twenty years, I had never so much as walked the floor at Anaheim’s WonderCon. When Broad Universe, a feminist science fiction writing guild, opened a table at the convention. I decided to attend.

I was assigned five hours at the Broad Universe table to sell and autographic my books. I appreciate everyone who purchased a book from me. It is my readers that keep me going. This year I brought my Regency Historical “The Curate’s Brother” and copies of “Murder They Wrote”, a horror anthology in which my short story “We Can Rebuild Him” is published.

After my autograph time was over, I left the table and went out to see what WonderCon was all about.  My goal was to make a solid determination if this was a venue that I might return to or not as an author. I will outline my personal impressions of the convention below.

Small Press

The table I was assigned to during my autograph session was in Small Press. This is where all the authors were located. The section is on the far left side of the convention, the furthest area away from parking and furthest from programming. Many of the authors had paired up at the tables and fully half of them were promoting graphic novels. There were plenty of dead times in Small Press when foot traffic disappeared, but the authors were stoic and kept a smile on their faces.

I noticed that the major Indy bookstore in our area, Mysterious Galaxy, was relegated to the rear back corner of Small Press next to the area set aside for the authors of programming to do their autographs. Normally, Mysterious Galaxy has a prime location at the science fiction conventions I attend, so it was odd to see them in this low traffic location. Of all the areas in the convention, this was the slowest and least attended place at WonderCon.

Exhibition Area

WonderCon 2018 - Exhibition HallThe Exhibition area was the largest of the convention. The vendors had full 10×10 spaces or larger. The majority of the vendors were from media, software, gaming, or popular artists. I counted three extra large booths that sold artist supplies at discounted prices. Being a sketch artist, I drooled over the selections of fine paper notebooks, pens, and inks. If you are a painter or sketch artist, this is a great place to stock up on art supplies for the year. Curiously, I did not see booksellers in the Exhibition area. If they were there at all, they were tucked away from the main areas and I did not encounter them during my four or five passes through the place.

The Exhibition area was packed with people at all times. It is located under the location where programming takes place on the second or third floors so it would be easy for attendees to pop in between panels and do a bit of shopping. I personally did not find anything to purchase beyond the art supplies, but I imagine if you were into software games, science fiction films/TV or collected Disney pins or bobbleheads, you would find something to please you.

WonderCon 2018 - Artist Alley Composit

 

Artist Alley

This was one of the larger artist alleys that I’ve ever encountered. It rivals the one at the San Diego Comic Con. The artists were all top notch. Most were sketch artists whose work would be comfortable gracing a comic book, but all styles were represented in the science fiction genre. There were plenty of graphic novel authors there as well. I spent some time chatting with various artists to get a feel of how they felt about the convention. Most were delighted with the attendance and traffic to their tablespace. Artist Alley was the place to be at WonderCon.

Art Show

There is no art show at WonderCon. I find this surprising since almost every science fiction convention offers one. An art show is a boutique showing art from artists from all over the country. They mail in their art or drop it off in person and the art show handles the sales. Afterward, the unsold art is mailed back and the artist receives a check for their sales minus a small commission to the art show and any sales taxes owed to the state the show takes place in. It is an inexpensive way for an artist to gain exposure for their work without having to attend the convention. For a venue that seems to support artists in all other ways, this is a glaring exception.

Panels

WonderCon 2018 - Panel 1Personally, I was disappointed by the panel selection at WonderCon. As an author,  I did not find panels about writing except for one or two late on Sunday.  As a sketch artist, I discovered many art-related panels. The panelists offered good basic information for budding sketch artists or digital art creators. While the panels were all of good quality, they were clearly designed to be of benefit to artists, gamers, or filmmakers.  Writing books was not a focus of the main panel topics, it was more of an afterthought.  However, the one or two writing panels that I saw were well attended and offered quality information.

Cosplay

The costumes were in full force at WonderCon. The majority were wearing comic book themed characters. The cosplay participants wandered the halls of the convention, but many clustered outside in the courtyard near the food trucks. There was a bevy of professional photographers taking pictures. I asked about the media attention and discovered that the photographers were not connected with the convention officially, but had been brought in by the cosplay people. Although they had access to the professionals, I found that the people in costume were happy to pose for regular people such as myself. You should make a point to politely ask first. This is part of the collection of photos I gathered to enjoy after the convention.

WonderCon 2018 Cosplay Composite

 

Why WonderCon is more for Artists than Authors

In the end, I am forced to conclude that WonderCon is not a good venue for authors.  Most science fiction conventions have full writing tracks, rather like a mini writing conference, to give beginning science fiction authors genre-specific information. They also allow published authors time to hold readings and autograph sessions in the more traffic intensive areas of the convention. WonderCon did not offer this.  As an author, I felt shunted aside.

However, WonderCon seems to be a great place for artists to be seen and network. While there were fewer professional tutors to review your work and give career advice as San Diego Comic Con offers to new artists, there was still more than enough panels and exposure for an up and coming artist to find value. If you are a science fiction themed artist, WonderCon should be on your list of consideration for an artist alley table. I don’t believe that you would be disappointed, even if you need to travel to attend.  I spoke with many contented artists during the weekend, many of whom have been returning to WonderCon for years to showcase their graphic novels, art books, prints or imprinted 3D items.

I hope this review of WonderCon is helpful to you, either as an artist or an author.  As always, if you can attend a convention to “walk the floor” in person before purchasing a table, that is always the best policy to follow.

Attending Science Fiction Conventions

San Diego Comic Con

All across the world from the United States to Europe, Australia, and more, large groups of readers and writers of the science fiction and fantasy genre gather together to experience and talk about all that is weird and wonderful about the books they love. Some conventions are huge with tens of thousands of attendees and others are smaller local affairs of a few hundred. Both types are incredibly useful as an author and offer much both as a resource for writing material, a writing conference to learn your craft, and a place to hang out and talk about your love for Star Wars or Dr. Who without getting odd looks from your mother. One of the reasons I choose to be a science fiction and fantasy author, besides the fact that I love the genre, is that it has a well-established circuit of literary conventions.

The conventions have different “tracks” within them. This is a series of programming at the convention that ties in with certain people and interests. Sometimes there is a separate charge or area for the different tracks, but often the programming is left wide open allowing the attendee to enjoy what interests them.

Writing Track

This is where I usually hang out. The writing track is a mini writer’s conference within the convention. Panels and workshops about the writing craft, tropes in the genre, how to market your books, and readings by established authors or up and coming writers are featured. This is also where the podcasters and movie buffs hang out.

Filk Track

A filk singer is someone who takes a well-known song and gives it new lyrics, in this case, of a science fiction or fantasy nature. It is sort of like fanfiction for musicians. The better-known filkers are set up to perform throughout the evenings to provide exposure for their art and to provide entertainment to the attendees. It is common to see people with folk guitars lounging around the commons of a convention on any given day.

CosPlay Track

Conjecture 2014 - blogAttendees who wear costumes and groups of people that enjoy creating them have been a big part the science fiction community for as long as I remember. You’ll see people dressed as Jedi knights, in star trek uniforms, and many other pop culture icons. Usually, if you ask politely, they are happy to stop and pose for a picture with you. On Saturday night, there is often a masquerade ball where the costumes are judged and prizes are awarded based on their creativity.

Science Track

Science fiction attracts a large number of engineers, doctors, and other professionals who come to let out their geek side for the weekend. Most conventions will feature lectures and presentations by these scientists that rival ones I’ve seen at JPL and other institutions. These are talks about the planets, new technology, mathematics, physics and a host of other subjects. As a science fiction author, I find these to be gold mines of information that I can later use in my stories.

Artist Track

Dealer Room ShopperAnother track that I am very much a part of, the artist track consists of the vendors in the dealer room that sell all sorts of science fiction related items from books to soft goods, jewelry, and much more. There is also an art show where 2D and 3D art is on display and for sale in a boutique to the attendees. Before I became an author, I was a dealer of jewelry for around twenty years. I sold Celtic and Science Fiction themed jewelry in the dealer rooms or more recently, my prints of Scifaiku Poetry in the art shows. I still book tables for my jewelry and books from time to time, but these days I’m more often in panels or giving presentations in addition to my readings.

I consider these conventions to be a “leg” of my author platform and every bit as important as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. I attend several each year and always see a bump in my online sales along with the books I sell at the event. It also proves to be a great place to network. I find new authors to interview for my blog, guest posters, and people to interview me in turn.

While you certainly can book a table to sell your books at the convention, I found that joining a writing guild and sharing a table proves to be more beneficial. That way you get time at the table to do signings, but you also can get away to enjoy the panels and other fun events of the convention. The guild I belong to is Broad Universe, a writing guild that promotes women writers of science fiction, fantasy, and horror. It is a national writing guild and we host tables and readings at most of the larger conventions in the United States. However, there are many other guilds represented at the various conventions. As an author, you simply need to check out what is available in your local area and move forward from there. If you are attached to a small press, often times they will host a table for their stable of authors too.

Science Fiction Conventions are fun! The creative energy in the place is like nothing I’ve experienced anywhere else. If you haven’t been to one, find a smaller local one and get your feet wet. Release your inner geek. Beyond selling books and doing readings of your work, you might find a place where you can relax and chat about your favorite books and movies on a level you have never experienced before.

 

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?