Taking What They Giving ‘Cause We’re Writing For a Living

ImageI have a confession to make. I don’t write fiction full time. Shocking, right? I should be sitting on a magical cloud eating green and blue cookies and drinking sunshine juice and pumping out magical worlds 24/7 while wizards fight dragons on a nearby cloud. Okay, those of your that have read my fiction know that’s not exactly what my full time creative bubble would look like (there’d be a bit less rainbows and a few more scary monsters), but you get where I’m going with this.

No, from time to time -okay a lot of the time- I write for clients. I’ve written for utility companies, I’ve written for design firms, I’ve written for online retailers and even art magazines. Sometimes I’ve known what I was talking about. Sometimes I had to research the difference between an Ai Weiwei and a Rudolf Stingel. Always I’ve been able to produce a piece that said what the client wanted to say with just a little bit of that “Rob irreverenceā„¢” mixed in for taste. The results have left my clients anywhere from mostly satisfied to ZOMG WHY HAVEN’T YOU BEEN WRITING ALL OF MY WEBSITE COPY SINCE 2001? I can’t really brag though because for every few wins there’s always a client who just isn’t satisfied with anything unless you crawl inside of their head and pluck their thoughts out word-for-word.

It’s grunt work. It’s unglamorous and often uncredited but it pays the bills and allows me to keep my writing muscles nice and flexed, not to mention allows me to experience writing in styles and voices I normally might never have thought to. In the meantime, I get to step away whenever I can and jump right back into the ocean of creativity and the fictional worlds and characters I know and love.

So how about you? Are any of you writing for people other than yourself and your fans? How does it make you feel? Do you feel challenged or does your creativity get drained and leave you unable to devote the energy you want to your creative work?

A Shy Writer at Dragon*Con

dconmeThere’s a little place that’s been a home away from home for me for the past ten years. It’s less a place, really and more of a state of mind, collection of absurd moments, explosion of untamed expression and geek nirvana all rolled into one. That place is called Dragon*Con. Or Dragon Con if you want to be specific. This year they took out the asterisk. Why was it there to begin with? Because why the hell not. Such is the philosophy of Dragon Con.

I’ve been there seven times in ten years. Three of those years I was lame (or broke depending on how you want to look at it). The other seven years I made the conscious choice to be awesome and throw myself into the storm with nary a plan nor a life preserver nor a care for life nor limb nor liver. This year was my first year attending as a published writer.

My plan was simple. Go there in costume as my protagonist and every time someone asked who I was I’d tell them about my work. I had 500 business cards printed out with my cover art and URL to this very site printed on them. I brought about 50 books in case I could consign some with any of the booksellers in the dealers room. I scheduled (via the handy Dragon Con app) to attend every writer panel I could get my grubby costumed hands on and meet as many people there as possible. Naturally I also brought protein bars, lots of deodorant, $400 cash and a bottle of blueberry vodka to carry in a flask so I wouldn’t have to spend that $400 cash on $10 hotel bar drinks.

I won’t give you all the dirty details because some of them are pretty boring and others are pretty dirty, but here’s the lowdown on what went down downtown in Dragon Con…town:

  • The costume was a great idea. Not only did I get my picture taken a few times – great publicity for The Pull – I also got asked about it a fair bit. That led me into many conversations about who I was, what I did and who the character was. The vast majority of the business cards I gave out landed in pockets this way and not in the trash. I saw another struggling indie author simply handing her cards to every person in the registration line. Do you know what else I saw? A trail of discarded business cards on the sidewalk that could have led Hansel and Gretel into the candy cabin of wasted marketing budget.
  • Going to writing panels was also a great idea. I left some materials on tables in these panels and heard some good advice from successful fantasy and YA authors, but the real prize was the opportunity to talk to other authors like me who were taking steps on their road to getting their work out there. I met fantasy authors, horror authors, comic authors and even a lesbian bondage erotica author from Ireland. All of them were very cool people who I hope to meet again.
  • Trying to get my book consigned by booksellers? Not such a great idea. I figured it was a long shot but I wasn’t prepared for the amount of bungholery I received from vendors telling me with their lips that they weren’t interested and telling me with their eyes to go die in a fire. Getting your book carried by retailers in real life is hard. Getting your book carried by retailers during a con is a hell of a lot harder. Plus most of them were from out of state and didn’t want any more stock than what they currently had. Fair enough. Best of luck to them.
  • I learned that the best way to talk to guest writers themselves is to go to readings. Often it’ll just be you and a handful of other fans shooting the breeze with one of their favorite authors. Hell, even if you don’t know the author it’s still a good way to glean some insight from someone with experience in the industry.

Now keep in mind I did all of this as an introvert with lifelong social anxiety and a complete lack of understanding of the language of small talk. It just so happens, however, that I am also an introvert with lifelong social anxiety, a complete lack of understanding of the language of small talk AND A COMPLETE UNWILLINGNESS TO LET MYSELF CHICKEN OUT AND BE ANYTHING LESS BUT AWESOME. I realized early on that I was among people with similar passions to my own, so an easy icebreaker was always within reach. Inside of writer panels my secret weapon was, “So what do you write?” Outside of writer panels it was, “So what are you here for?” Sometimes I got the blank stare, but more often than not people were excited to share their interests with me and listen to mine.

This experience has given me a great amount of encouragement and more than a little bit of gumption to go back out there and bring my masked, writin’ self to every little (or big) convention, seminar and meeting of writers and fantasy/sci-fi fans I can possibly attend. It’ll be like I’m a touring musician except I’ll be lugging books around instead of an expensive PA system. At best I’ll successfully market myself as a writer. At worst I’ll have a hell of a good time.

Dragon Con 2014, get your beautifully weird behind over here so I can keep this crazy train rolling.