Inspiring character development with memes

A couple months ago, a friend shared on social media one of those memes where you search your name and use the first search results to make a fantasy name, etc. This meme caught my interest because you had to search:

  • [Your name] fantasy gown
  • [Your name] fantasy crown
  • [Your name] fantasy weapon

For fun, I started with my given (legal) name and came up with this collage, which I love because I’m obsessed with white lace dresses with low backs and curve-hugging forms. I’m a huge fan (otaku) of Sailor Moon so the crown of moonstones and moon-shaped filigree is just to die for, and that sword is nothing to sniff at!

Then I got curious and searched against my writing name, Belinda Kroll, which was interesting because it feels like a darker personality to me. While the dress is reminiscent of a Victorian interpretation of a medieval dress with ruffles and embroidery, the crown, with its sea shells and obsidian gems, speaks to some sort of dark sea goddess. Throw in the emerald sword hilt and again, you’ve got a persona no one should think about messing with!

And finally, I searched my heroine’s name for my gaslamp fantasy and squealed because it’s just so perfect. I love the gold military-inspired detailing in the bodice, the simple elegance of the gold diadem, and the angular shape of the sword spun up so many ideas!

All of which made me think, I should be using internet memes for inspiration more often! One reason I usually don’t do memes is because sometimes I worry this is a method for internet scammers to get information (especially the ones that ask for your middle name or birthdate). But for a character who only exists in my mind? I mean, why not?

Unrelated, I wanted to share that I’m currently cuddling my second child! Wish me luck with recovery and regaining my writing energy after everything settles into place at home. See y’all soon!

Why podcasts are saving me during “lock down”

I’ve never gotten into audio books because even with the best narrator, I lose interest or feel sleepy about 15 minutes into a listening session. This is a big reason why I never picked up podcasts, I assumed the same thing would happen.

Part of the problem was friends were suggesting podcasts that they cared about… I don’t need more politics, or reasons to get frustrated about the inequalities experienced by women and minorities, or the incomplete or biased snippets we get from audiovisual news media. I have plenty of sources for that, thanks, but I appreciate the suggestions.

However, in the last month I’ve craved a way to consume media that doesn’t require using my eyes. I sit in front of a computer for work, and ultimately for writing as well. I stumbled onto Stitcher, a free podcast streaming service, I can’t even remember how, and now realize what I’ve been missing. Many of these episodes are only 15 – 20 minutes long, which is my sweet spot, but I’ve found I can even listen to 45 minute episode because it gets my brain into a writing mode.

Screenshot of Stitcher.com home page
Create your own account at Stitcher.com

Between Stitcher and adopting Notion.so to plan and write my latest book, I’ve never been more mobile and nimble with my writing. The other day I went on a walk with the kid and was able to listen to a full episode and write a little over 150 words into the Notion app on my phone, then later go into my tablet and rearrange scenes, and still later go into my computer to do additional plot tidying and some deeper research.

I don’t think I would have sought out podcasts had it not been for the pandemic. We’ve been one of the families to stay at home since March since I’m a high risk individual. This means we’ve worked full time from home and provided child care as well. We’re not accepting help in order to protect me, basically. This means we’ve been catching an hour or even just 30 minutes each day to ourselves. That’s not enough time to plan and write a book, or so I thought.

I’ve felt burned out and frustrated because I wanted to write, but didn’t know how to start. The lock down started right as I was about to rejoin my writer’s group, which didn’t move to a virtual platform and I probably wouldn’t have dialed in anyway because I’m in so many video conferences for my day job. On top of the whole pandemic reality, I’ve felt insecure about the book I want to write because of the way certain media outlets have twisted the purpose and meaning behind the Black Lives Matter movement. I’ve blogged about my insecurities about writing about someone who looks like me but living in a historical context… mostly because so many people don’t understand that the Black experience in America was more nuanced than “all people from Africa were slaves and no one was allowed to marry them.”

If you want to read another author’s perspective on the matter, check out G.S. Carr’s “Wielding Historical Inaccuracy Against Authors of Color.” It really made me think! Why do I not question when a book suggests a duke could marry a family-less, penniless governess? We clearly know that wouldn’t happen, just look at any of Jane Austen’s works to know that’s too much of a leap. Why do I pause when I read about an interracial relationship in the 1800s? I know they occurred whether in secret or not, and at least here in the United States, not all states had laws against interracial relationships. In fact, Connecticut, New Hampshire, New York, New Jersey, Vermont, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Alaska, Hawaii, and the District of Columbia never had laws preventing interracial relationships!

But I digress. These are the podcasts that I’m following these days:  Writing Excuses and DIY MFA are both great for different reasons, but I credit both of them for strengthening my creative backbone to just try something. I just picked up but have yet to listen to The Self-Publishing Show, Writing Roots, and the Alli Self-Publishing Advice podcasts.

Tell me, is there something you’ve tried that you wouldn’t have if there were no pandemic? How is it going?

How to Rock an Author Festival with a Self-Published Book

LocalAuthorBookFestival

Last weekend I had the pleasure of visiting a local author festival with a teacher friend of mine. By my eye, it was about 60 – 70% local self-published authors. Let me tell you, my indie heart about exploded at the sight!

Big props to the Westerville Public Library and their community coordinator, Erin, for celebrating local over method of publication. It was a wonderful event! They had food trucks throughout the day. There was cute swag to purchase, which the proceeds supported the library. Everyone was cheerful despite the heat. They even had a local community hot jazz band playing which kept my little swing dance feet bouncing. This was their fourth year, and I fully intend to be a part of their fifth!

However, I was a little disappointed in some of my fellow indie authors’ table displays. Some were engaging, some were lackluster, and some looked 100% thrown together. I don’t want that to happen to you. With the help of my teacher friend’s commentary of what caught her eye or scared her off of each booth, I’d like to share what I learned in a short hour.

2016bookFestival1

Sell a quality product

I know this is a given but go with me here. When you go to a festival, you’re more likely to blend in than stand out. Especially when your competition is other self-published authors. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to look like you aren’t an indie publisher at all. Have a compelling, professionally-designed cover. Have good back cover copy. Have pretty pens to autograph your book. Have a nice display (we’ll get into this later).

Beyond having a quality product, also have a  nice packaging when you sell your product. My friend bought a children’s book and it was handed to her in a Ziploc bag. Now, that’s not terrible by itself, it shows a thoughtfulness that the author didn’t want anything to happen to the book in transit. However, the inside of the bag was wet. No bueno.

Tie a ribbon around it, throw a bookmark in it, or drop it in a nice paper bag… maybe stamped with your logo or social media info? If you can make it look like a gift of some kind, do it. Everybody loves presents!

Accept multiple forms of payment

In this day and age, you have to assume people aren’t carrying cash anymore. Services like Square Up and PayPal Here are convenient for small businesses like indie authors. They are also well worth the small transaction fee to ensure you make a sale. I’m relying on PayPal Here for now because it also processes checks so it’s just a bit more flexible.

Our poor author from above had to rely on the other author at her table to accept my friend’s credit card payment. And then had to borrow a pen to sign the book. It was a little awkward.

Have a booth buddy

boothBuddy
Maybe this is your spouse, child, friend, assistant, whatever. When you’re engaged in a discussion with a potential customer and another person wanders over, you have a back up person who can answer questions or sell a book for you. This also ensures your booth is manned if (when!) you’re asked to go to a different part of the festival to read some of your work.

In this photo, the wife of John Margeson, an author-illustrator, did a fantastic job selling the product and showing how proud and happy she was for him. He was inside doing a reading, but she still caught our attention and we were sad we missed him because he had an easel set up to do caricatures.

Build an attractive tablescape

In a world where Instagram exists, we indie authors really need to step up our game. The word “tablescape” can be traced back to a 2009 portmanteau of “table” and “landscape.” When I joined Instagram with a dedicated author profile, I was shocked and awed that people spend so much time taking photos of books with flowers, pearls, tea, and other pretty things. Why can’t we do that at author festivals?

tablescape

The morning of your festival, go to Walmart and pick up some flowers and throw them in some dollar store vases… as long as they don’t clash with your book topic. I mean, you wouldn’t want bright pretty flowers if you wrote a tragic story. Use your discretion and do something that grabs the attention of passersby.

The tablescape above was simple and adorable. I had to take a photo! I might be buying some copies for my animal friends as Christmas present. Especially since there is a special Christmas book, and he had little Santa hats on the cat figurines!

bannersMy teacher friend pointed out that the tables that had a vertical element grabbed her attention. To her, it showed the author took that extra step to market their products. They were “professional” in her eyes. We both loved the mini banner displays of cover art that a couple of the authors had. One author told me they had them printed at FedEx Office. I suspect you have to go into the store to get this because it took me a while to find that PDF.

Anyway, we both liked it when we could read details about the book without having to talk to a human being. Maybe we’re both introverts, or maybe we’re both regular book buyers. No one wants to feel pressured to buy anything, and the longer you speak to a seller, the more obligated you feel to buy something.

I’d rather not have someone buy my book out of obligation, so I’ll do my best to have sell sheets in acrylic holders with the back cover copy in large text, along with the price and accepted forms of payment.

Engage your reader

Last, but certainly not least, engage your reader. Something about the authors who sat behind their table just felt off-putting that day. Maybe because it made them look tired (poor posture?), or overheated… I don’t know.

I do know that every author we spoke to was standing, or leaned forward in their chair to “grab us” from across the table. It was much easier to chat with the authors who stood to the side of their table, because then they could move around and explore their tablescape with us, rather than dictating to us. Even the authors who stood behind their tables, fiddling with their bottle of water, were more engaging than those sitting down.

For some reason, the authors who sat at the table writing seemed… intimidating or scary. Perhaps because speaking to them would have felt like interrupting a creative session. And I guess that’s kind of my point. When you go to a festival, you’re not wearing your creative author hat anymore. You should be wearing your marketing hat. When I say marketing, I don’t mean sleazy, “buy my book, guys and gals, you won’t regret it!” I mean engaging your audience.

Capture emails

Spanking of engaging your reader, have a note pad where interested readers can sign up for your mailing list. You can ask for their name and email, or, keep it simple with just the email. Next time you’re at a festival, email your list a couple of weeks in advance so people can visit with you again!

Anyway, I hope these observations helped! Let me know in the comments about other effective techniques that worked for you at an author festival or otherwise.