My First Author Panel: The Student Becomes the Teacher

I’ve been on the marketing road for a year now, but my first author panel happened yesterday. The panel was part of a Founder’s Week celebration at my high school Mount Saint Joseph Academy. Five alumnae authors took the stage to talk to the girls about the writing life.

MSJA Author PanelMy fellow authors were Jane Kelly (class of 1966), Elizabeth Barker (1974), Louise Pisano Simone (1977), and (via Zoom—kinda like Skype) Cat Zakrzewski (2011). Louise and I met as we wandered the halls together trying to find our pre-panel coffee and donuts. Once we found the others, we traded stories of what the school had been like when we went there.

The students (all girls) were enthusiastic and eager. Each author spoke a little about how we came to be writers, and we all had very different stories. This illustrated that no writer’s journey is the same, and comparing your journey to others’ only leads to frustration.

Our different paths (and our age spread) also gave many perspectives on the business of publishing, although I did warn the girls that anything we told them today would likely be out of date in six months, that’s how fast publishing is changing!

The students had a chance to ask us questions, including one about how to handle rejection. The other authors spoke about the opportunities of self-publishing or hybrid publishing, and using rejection to motivate you to reach higher. I used my experience as a reader for agent Marie Lamba to explain that rejection is usually not personal. It’s not a statement about you, or even about your work, it is more often a business decision that has nothing to do with you personally. So we all stressed to not allow doubt to creep in and to keep going—persistence does pay off.

MSJA Author Panel

Kerry Gans, Elizabeth Barker, Louise Pisano Simone, and Jane Kelly (missing: Cat Zakrzewski)

After the author panel, the girls came up and speak to us if they chose. I have to say that 1) their uniforms now are much nicer than the ones we had, and 2) so many of the girls reminded me of me and my friends at that age. They had questions for me about fan fiction (which I mentioned that I had written when I was at the Mount), about process, and about how to make a re-envisioned story like The Witch of Zal your own. (That last was from a young lady who liked to write fractured fairy tales.) Great questions, although I prefaced most answers with, “This is my way, but it may not be your best way.”

The high point of the event for me was when the fractured-fairy-tale student first approached me. She had this huge grin and said, “I read your book with my little sister! I loved it, and when I saw your name on the list here I couldn’t believe it!” As the first reader I have ever met who I didn’t know personally, she is now my favorite fan!

After the event, I snuck backstage (I had been a theater geek in high school). I found to my surprise that the initials my friend and I had painted on the wall with glow paint were still there, along with a poem written on the back of a dressing room door written by another classmate.

My initials backstage at the author panel at MSJAPoem on the door at MSJA author panel

The whole morning was a great time from start to finish. I am so grateful that my first author panel was in a place that still feels like home.

Where was your first author panel, and what was your experience?

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Thankful for One Year as a Published Author

Thankful for one year of The Witch of ZalMy debut novel, The Witch of Zal, launched November 4, 2015, so I have been doing this published-author thing for a little over a year now. On this Thanksgiving, I am thankful for the many people who have helped me make the transition, and for the many experiences that have helped me grow as an author and a person in the past year.

First, I am thankful to all the people who helped me improve my craft over the years, and who supported me through the writer’s journey, such as J. Thomas Ross, Nancy Keim Comley, Gwen Huber, Matt Q. McGovern, Bob Drumm, Lois Steinberg, Kathryn Craft, Jonathan Maberry, Don Lafferty, Jim Kempner, Jeff Pero, Keith Strunk, Donna Galanti, and all the others who have supported me in hundreds of small ways.

Second, I am thankful for those who gave me business advice and guidance, such as Jonathan Maberry, Donna Galanti, Marie Lamba, Uwe Stender, my publisher Charles Day and his editor Mary Harris, various people I have chatted with at author events, and pretty much everyone at the Writers’ Coffeehouses who bring perspective and their own experiences to the table every month.

Third (maybe this should be first, LOL) I am thankful for my family. My parents for encouraging me all my life, my brother for not killing me when we were kids, my husband for putting up with my living in a dream world, and my daughter for believing I am an artist even when I don’t feel like one. Also, for my extended family and life-long friends for supporting and encouraging me through this long, strange journey.

Thankful for summer campFinally, I am thankful for challenges. Yes, challenges. Because as an introvert with anxiety disorder, being a published author is a smorgasbord of panic-inducing moments. Book launch. Speeches. Group author events. Traveling to places unknown. Summer camp workshops—with real live actual kids. So many kids. Author panels. Talking to strangers. Lots and lots of talking to strangers. However, I have faced these challenges so far and conquered the fear. I have stepped out of my comfort zone and stretched myself as a person.

I am thankful for this first year as a published author—and to all the many people who have helped get me here. Writing is the effort of a single person, but publishing takes a community. I am so thankful that all of you are mine.

Thankful for book launch

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

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November: Full Speed Ahead

NJASL November conferenceIt’s hard for me to believe that we are already more than halfway through November. For all that October seemed to take forever to get through, November has flown—and the last few weeks are going to move at high speed for me.

This week I have back-to-back book gigs. The first is the New Jersey Association of School Librarians fall conference on Friday. I have a fondness for the NJASL conference—my very first book event when my book got published last year! I look forward to meeting many awesome librarians and chatting with them about books in Authors’ Alley.

The next day, Saturday, I travel to Elkins Park in Pennsylvania for a multi-author children’s book event. I have never been to Open Book bookstore before, but with 20+ authors expected, with readings and a panel, it sounds exciting. My first ever panel—eek! Hopefully I will not trip over my own tongue. Come on down and join the fun!

Then we have Thanksgiving, which is always a whirlwind in and of itself. Traveling, family visits, stuffing ourselves until we need to wear sweatpants…By the time everything is over, I need a vacation to recover from the holiday!

I will not get said vacation, though, because on November 30th I will again venture into Pennsylvania—this time at my high school alma mater as part of an Author’s Panel. Five of us (all female, all alumnae) will talk to the girls about how we got where we are and what it’s like being a female author today. I don’t know who the other authors are or what they write, but I am eager to find out.

Oh, and I am trying to get materials together to start querying one of my novels.

So that’s my November in a nutshell. How’s yours shaping up?

NJASL signing in November 2015

 

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The Dread Synopsis

I am in the process of gathering materials together to query my middle grade historical adventure The Curse of the Pharaoh’s Stone. I have a decent query, the manuscript is properly formatted, and I am working on the final piece—the dread synopsis.

The synopsis is notoriously difficult for most writers (there are some odd ducks that actually enjoy it!), and we procrastinate over it as long as possible. It is no wonder we find it hard. It’s a monumental task to take a 56,000 word novel and explain it in about 1,000 words—especially while attempting to infuse it with voice and emotion.

I took some advice from a few blogs on how to get started on the query. First, I wrote one sentence summarizing each chapter, then I turned that list into better-written paragraphs. Next, I polished it, choosing more powerful verbs, adding more emotional language. To my immense relief, the synopsis came in just at 3 double-spaced pages—my target length!

To double-check that I had not missed anything important, I used a technique taught by Kathryn Craft at a recent Philadelphia Writers Conference. By using her advice, I found that I had missed a structural element—the dark moment—and added it in. I also made sure I had enough emotional language and words that showed why this story is relevant to today’s audience.

So now I have a synopsis I am happy with. Yay! Next, however, I have to condense that to one single-spaced synopsis, and then even further to a paragraph. Can I do it? Can I synopsize my synopsis?

We will find out.

Do you have any tips for working on the dread synopsis (of any length)?

Musings on Grief and Comfort

“Words fail me.” This saying has proven true several times in my life, usually when confronted with an extreme emotion—particularly grief.

Grief is Universal

Grief is a primal and universal emotion—it has existed for all of mankind’s history, in every corner of the Earth. Some cultures still invoke grief rituals involving keening or wailing or rending of garments, and sometimes I think these are the truest demonstrations of an emotion that comes from our deepest selves and predates our use of words.

Yet we do use words to express grief. It may seem strange that as a writer I find words oddly fragile in the face of this emotion. We say things like “I’m sorry for your loss” and “My condolences”,  and we mean them with all of our being. They are only a pale reflection of what we want to express, yet we understand them to speak much more than the flimsy words convey, and accept the true depth of feeling behind the words.

Grieving is Specific

While grief itself is universal, the process of grieving is specific to the individual. Some people grieve openly and loudly; some crawl away and sob in the dark. Some throw themselves deeper into living; others withdraw from life. Some need to talk their grief away; others hold it deep inside. Some need the comfort of people around them; others need quiet to find peace. Some recover from grief quickly; others wrestle for many years. There is no one right way to grieve—each person must make the journey through grief in their own way.

Comfort is also found in places unique to the individual. Some find it in the arms of others, while some find it in the solitude of nature. Some find it in the bustle of life, while others find it in the stillness of home. Some find it in religion, others in memories of loved ones, still others in music or art. I know in times of grief I take comfort in a frenzy of organizing and cleaning, a metaphorical attempt to regain a sense of control and make sense of my inner turmoil.

Grief is for the Living

One truism of grief is that funerals are not for the dead—they are for the living. We cannot truly mourn the deceased. After all, we would not mourn their life—since we loved them—yet we also cannot mourn their death, either. Almost everyone, whether you believe in an afterlife or believe there is nothing after death, will agree that the departed person is beyond the reach of pain, suffering, and the other cares of this world. So we gather not to mourn them, but to mourn the light that no longer shines in our life, to seek ways to fill the hole where our loved one used to be. Grief is for the living, and funeral services are where those of us left behind begin to find comfort and healing.

I saw many expressions of both grief and comfort this past week at a relative’s funeral, but there is one that has etched itself indelibly on my soul.

After the funeral service, we adjourned to a rural mountain cemetery, one of those places where the sky meets the earth and heaven seems but a step away from where you stand. We gathered around the grave as generations of mourners had done before us on that peaceful hill. The preacher began to sing. I don’t remember the words, but they are irrelevant, for just as grief is from a time before words, so is comfort.

The preacher’s strong, raspy voice rolled across the cemetery, washing grief away and flinging it defiantly to the sky and the hills. And the mountains caught our grief and echoed comfort back to us, as the ancient earth assured us that the deepest stab of grief is temporary, while the powerful bond of our love is eternal.

A place where grief finds peace

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River Reads 2016

event-flyerOn Sunday, October 23rd, I participated in the inaugural River Reads author festival. The brainchild of Brandi Megan Granett, with assistance from Marie C. Collins, the 46-author event happened at Prallsville Mills in Stockton, NJ.

The venue buzzed with energy from the moment we set up. The upstairs housed the children’s authors, and we had a great deal of fun decorating and dressing up. The downstairs held the adult authors, who were a bit more sedate but enjoyed visiting us upstairs to chat and filch our candy.

Prallsville Mills

Prallsville Mills

For a first-time event, we had a good customer turnout. Traffic was steady most of the day, peaking between 2-4 in the afternoon. Because of the beautiful weather outside, we also drew in plenty of people who had been hiking or biking on the tow path that runs behind the mill.

Riverside at River Reads

My lunch spot

The Delaware River behind River Reads

The Delaware River

 

 

 

 

 

Author readings ran downstairs (we could hear the applause wafting up the staircase to us), and later in the day, when we had more children in the customer crowd, several readings happened in the upstairs reading area as well.

River Reads upstairs reading spot

Upstairs reading area

The event ran without a hitch, the weather cooperated, and I got to spend the day sharing a table with Jack Hillman, whose chain mail was quite the hit with the customers. I also got to catch up with author friends I hadn’t seen in some time: Donna Galanti, Keith Strunk, Kit Grindstaff, Al Lohn, Kathryn Craft, Phil Giunta, and Kelly Simmons.

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Kit Grindstaff & Donna Galanti at River Reads

Kit Grindstaff & Donna Galanti

 

 

 

 

 

I had a spooky enjoyable time at the first-ever River Reads festival, and I hope they make it an annual event.

Author Kerry Gans at River Reads

My next event will be November 5th at Open Book bookstore in Elkins Park, PA.

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River Reads Kicks Off the Next Marketing Wave

River Reads event informationThis weekend I will participate in a massive author event called River Reads. The brain-child of Brandi Megan Granett with organizational assistance from Marie C. Collins, this will be a gathering of 46 authors at the Prallsville Mill in Stockton, NJ.

The authors write for all ages and all genres—17 are children’s authors, which leaves 29 for the grown-ups. So there really is something for everyone at this event. And it’s not simply authors hawking their wares, either. We have author readings, crepes, wine, a scavenger hunt, and a raffle for gift cards!

I am very excited to be a part of this, but the question is, am I ready? The children’s authors (and many of the others) have agreed to set a Halloween-y tone, so I’m bringing some things I don’t normally bring to an event—as well as some things I do.

  • Books
  • Table cloth
  • Chair
  • Autographing pens
  • Credit card device/change for cash
  • Swag
  • Fliers
  • Crystal Ball
  • Scarecrows (for a book-related giveaway)
  • Raffle slips
  • Candy
  • Witch’s Hat

Think I’ve got everything? I hope so because I can’t fit more in my car!

The weather is supposed to be nice, which will be a change for me—my last 3 events it either rained or threatened to rain. It will likely also mean increased traffic for the event.

I really enjoy these author events. While there is some debate as to if you sell more or fewer books when you are “competing” with so many other authors for attention, the wonderful sense of camaraderie makes up for any lost sales. We’re all in the same boat, we all have war stories to tell, we all have advice to share and to listen to. I find that no matter how many or how few sales I have, these events are never a waste of my time.

River Reads has me jazzed, because has been a buzz about this event from the very beginning, which is a credit to Brandi and Marie’s hard work. Check back next week to see how it went (and find out what’s up next for me)!

River Reads kids activities

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Indie Author Day 2016

Indie Author Day t shirtSaturday, October 8th was the first annual Indie Author Day celebration. Nationwide, libraries, book stores, and book festivals showcased authors who have self-published their books. Th event introduced readers to authors they might not have known, and we authors networked with each other.

I spent my first Indie Author Day at the Vineland Public Library in Vineland, NJ. At 5:30 AM, my child woke me up complaining of a sore throat. By the end of the day she would be running a fever of 102. Still, I left my supportive husband in charge of the child and made my way to Vineland.

The trip should have been straightforward, but I roadwork delayed me. Note to self: When your GPS warns you about a backup, take the alternate route offered. Then the rain began, but I made the library with 2 minutes to spare.

buddy-the-therapy-dogThe Vineland Library is snug and welcoming. Four other authors made up the showcase with me: Kathryn Ross, Denise Hazelwood, Eloise Sulzman, JoDenise Muller and Buddy the Chihuahua. Buddy is a therapy dog, and was quite the draw for kids and adults alike!

The rainy weather kept traffic down, but we authors had a great time chatting with each other and exchanging war stories. They gave me quite a few tips about self-publishing that will come in handy in the future, and enjoyed the camaraderie of others also in the marketing trenches.

I publish as a hybrid author: as small press published my novel The Witch of Zal in 2015, while I self-published my genealogy reference book The Warren Family of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Their Ancestors in 2014. As I see it, the future of publishing for every author will exist somewhere on the self-publishing-to-hybrid continuum. Some will choose to stay completely self-published, some will have some percentage of titles also carried by traditional presses, and some will want to always have a publisher.

Indie Author Day

There is no doubt that self-publishing is here to stay, but self-publishing is also changing at a rapid pace. Indie Author events like this help the authors keep abreast of changes, and allow readers to find new authors. It’s a win-win, and I hope to participate again next year.

I now get a week off from “eventing”, then my next event will be River Reads on October 23rd. I am so excited for that event—a massive showcase of 46 authors. I’ll talk more about it next week!

Indie Author Day setup

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Collingswood Book Festival 2016

Collingswood Book Festival balloonsThe Collingswood Book Festival is a massive annual outdoor book fair held in Collingswood, NJ. Music, food, author panels, and a children’s area round out a street full of book sellers and authors. If you love books, it’s the place to be the first Saturday in October!

Weather is always a concern when you hold an outdoor event, but never fear! In case of rain, the Festival management has a plan—they move everyone inside the nearby high school/middle school. This year, a full week of rain showed no signs of letting up, so the managers moved us indoors.

This was my first year as a vendor. I’d been to the Festival a couple of times as a browser, and it was dizzying to see the vast array of books laid out across several blocks. As a vendor, the sight of tables packed into the gym—all with books piled high—created excitement.

Author Kerry Gans at the Collingswood Book Festival

The weather didn’t dampen the energy at the Festival. Maybe being indoors magnified it as it ricocheted around the gym, but the buzz began long before the first customer walked through the door. The camaraderie of fellow authors made the long day go by quickly, and the streams of book lovers that braved the weather to visit us brought smiles.

Halloween fun at the Collingswood Book FestivalAll in all, my first Collingswood Book Festival was a great experience. I met some other authors, networked with a few people holding other book festivals in the spring, sold some books, and chatted with people who get as enthused about books as I do. I’ll be back next year—but hopefully outdoors!

This Saturday, October 8th, I’ll be at the Vineland Library for their Indie Author Day celebration from 12-3 pm. If you’re in the area, stop by!

Vendors at the Collingswood Book Festival

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Marketing Madness

This past Saturday kicked off my busy marketing season. My event schedule starts with three book events in a row.

eastampton-dayFirst was Eastampton Day, the yearly celebration of Eastampton Township. In spite of a cloudy start to the day, it didn’t rain, and the sun broke through the clouds around 1 pm. The pleasant day brought plenty of people to enjoy the bounce houses, carnival games, and dunk tank.

I had a good time chatting with my table neighbors and the people browsing the tables. I met one woman who runs a book club, who invited me to speak there, and several other customers excited about the book. All in all, a successful day!

My next two events are a little farther afield. Saturday is the Collingswood Book Festival in Collingswood, NJ. I have been there as a browser several times, but this is my first as a vendor. It’s usually a wonderful day if you’re a book lover. I’m hoping it doesn’t rain!

October 8th will see me in Vineland,  NJ, at the library’s Indie Author Day showcase. I have never been there before, but it promises to be a day of local authors showing their wares and talking books.

Although authors are often nervous about marketing events, I’m looking forward to both events and chatting with book lovers of all ages. If you’re in the area, stop by and say hello!

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