Today, I’d like to welcome David J. Corwell to the Web Journal. David contributed the fine story “Conqueror of Shadows” to Tales of the Talisman volume 6, issue 2 (click on the link for more information). He has also contributed an article to the writing guide Many Genres, One Craft edited by Michael A. Arnzen and Heidi Ruby Miller. You can learn more about the writing guide at: http://manygenres.blogspot.com/
Many Genres, One Craft gathers the voices of today’s top genre writers and writing instructors affiliated with Seton Hill University’s acclaimed MFA program in Writing Popular Fiction. They write about such topics as style and process, character and dialogue, and setting. They address several genre-specific topics and give advice about how to market your work once it’s complete. David writes about book signings.
Welcome to the Web Journal, David. Tell us a little about yourself and your writing.
I was born and raised in Albuquerque, and my Gremma (maternal grandmother) took care of my brother and me while our parents worked. As she only spoke Spanish, I learned to speak the language fairly fluently, and she introduced me to the world of the supernatural through her stories.
My Mom also read me fantastical and spooky stories from the time I can remember, which further fanned my fascination with the otherworldly and unexplained. If a book/story had either of these elements, I was hooked. I particularly enjoyed (and still do) short story anthologies, with their breadth and variety of stories, even when there is an underlying theme. Comic books, monster movies (I like most of them, no matter how hokey), and Dungeons and Dragons were in the mix as well, and later, I glommed onto Southwestern folklore, legends, and treasure tales. Of course, Halloween is my favorite holiday. I host a pumpkin carving party every year for the entire family, but I digress!
I wrote my first book at the age of 12. Entitled the Temple of Doom, the story was modeled after the Choose Your Own Adventure books, where you got to pick the direction in which the story went by making choices at key points in the narrative. I even drew the cover and provided interior illustrations. Looking at it so many years later, I’m sad to report that my artistic skills have greatly diminished, but I’d like to think that my writing ability has improved.
More recently, I’ve had the luck of publishing five stories—four in anthologies and one in a magazine. Most of them are a synthesis of my love of fantasy/horror and the mystery/intrigue of the Southwest, particularly New Mexico. The two pieces that don’t follow this pattern exactly are a spooky jack-‘o-lantern story and a New Mexican story about family and tradition, so one of the two elements is always present. Talk about underlying themes!
Tell us a little about the book Many Genres, One Craft.
Many Genres, One Craft (MGOC) is the most comprehensive writer’s guide I’ve ever seen (and I have read several over the years) about writing and marketing popular fiction. Whereas other books focus on specific genres, like children’s, romance, or science fiction, MGOC touches upon what it means to work in every genre, the specific writing challenges involved with each, and tips and techniques to create and promote your particular style of story and move your writing career forward.
Comprised of approximately 84 articles/sidebars, this book will help writers jump start their rough drafts and forge ahead to completed, polished, and marketable manuscripts, while providing plenty of advice along the way about craft and the writing life.
MGOC’s contributors are bestselling authors, up-and-coming writers, top-notch writing instructors, and agents/editors who, in some way, have been affiliated with Seton Hill University’s Writing Popular Fiction (WPF) program. Originally offering an M.A. (now an M.F.A.), this program was the first of its kind in the country to offer a graduate degree in writing genre fiction.
Since most university creative writing programs encourage literary works, I waited eight years to find a school that supported my fantasy/horror interests, and the WPF program was all it promised to be and then some. Reading MGOC is almost as good as going through the program itself. Almost.
How did you come to be involved with Many Genres, One Craft?
In August 2008, I attended GenCon to help man the Fantasist Enterprises (FE) booth. A few years before, FE had published my Southwestern elf story, “Legacy of the Quedana,” in Cloaked in Shadow: Dark Tales of Elves, and I wanted to promote my story and the anthology. Lawrence Connolly, one of my mentors from Seton Hill, was also at the con that year, celebrating the release of his first novel (Veins, a supernatural thriller). Larry liked my selling technique and suggested that I write an article about marketing/promoting one’s work for a writer’s guide that was being developed by the WPF program under the expert guidance of Mike A. Arnzen and Heidi Ruby Miller. Larry and I got in touch with Heidi and expressed my interest in contributing.
Two years later, when the project was greenlighted by Headline Books, the initial idea morphed into an article specifically about book signings, along with a humorous sidebar entitled “The Top Ten Reasons People Give Me When They Have No Intention of Buying My Books.” By this time, I had been promoting my stories for about five years, and I did my best to incorporate the knowledge I had gained from consistently being in the trenches. (I usually arrange one to three signings every weekend.)
You have a section in the book called “Successful Book Signings: The Personal Touch.” Can you give us a few pointers about how we can bring the personal touch to a book signing and make it more successful?
While most writers cringe at the thought of selling their work (and I was one of them), I’m here to tell you that you must relax and put your best persona forward. The ease—and humor—with which you approach a potential reader has a tremendous impact on the impression you make. A friendly, welcoming stance (with handshake) is much more inviting than furtive glances, nervous tics, and stilted conversation. So, have fun! (Believe me, this actually does get easier the more you do it.)
In addition to presence, you must create a personal rapport with potential readers, and it’s important to realize that this initial connection doesn’t necessarily revolve around your book/story. For example, I pay attention to other items that customers buy, and if I’m familiar with a particular book/magazine/movie, I initiate a conversation about that item. I also comment on T-shirts. A fellow friend/writer loves babies and asks parents to see their little ones, then segues into her books. When you create an affinity between yourself and readers, they no longer see you as strictly a salesperson and actually become interested in what you’re offering.
Intriguing displays can also attract a reader’s eye and stop him/her long enough for you to showcase what you’ve written. Props, reader reviews, awards (if any), unusual layouts, etc. work well in this regard.
Whether or not you sell a book, remember that every person you meet has the potential to generate word of mouth about your book, good or bad. And just because the reader didn’t buy a book from you during one event doesn’t mean that he/she won’t come back and buy a copy at a later date.
A lot of your stories appear in anthologies. Have you had luck getting bookstores to carry books and host signings for books where your name isn’t on the cover? If so, can you give us some tips about what works? If not, where do you host signings for such books?
It can be difficult to arrange signings in chain bookstores like Barnes and Noble and Borders, but not because of the fact that you’re only one author in a compilation of stories. The ability to sign in such places really depends on the anthology’s publisher and distribution. If the book is available through Ingram (or Baker & Taylor) AND returnable, then there should be no problem in setting up an event; if one or both of these conditions are not met, then the store won’t be interested in ordering books. I have done signings through both chains, but the anthologies I can sign vary, based on the above parameters.
I’ve had better results arranging book signings with smaller, regional chains and independent bookstores, where I can sell all my titles. Many of these stores are also willing to carry your books between signing events, increasing your potential for exposure. Keep in mind, however, that in most of these situations, the author usually provides the books on a consignment basis, where the bookstore keeps a percentage (usually 40%) of each sale. Whether or not this is financially feasible to you depends on the author discount that you receive from your publisher.
Never limit your signings to bookstores. Alternative venues such as arts markets, gift shops, and writing conferences (just to name a few) offer endless possibilities in which to expand your sales opportunities. And you keep most of the proceeds from these sales.
A few more pointers about promoting anthologies:
Despite the fact that you are only one contributor, treat the book as if it were your own.
When you approach event coordinators/book managers, don’t expound upon what could be seen as a negative (“I’m one of 22 contributors to Cloaked in Shadow.”). Rather, focus (positively) on what you’ve contributed (I wrote “Legacy of the Quedana,” a Southwestern-style fantasy story for Cloaked in Shadow.”) and then pitch the book as a whole (The anthology is a great compilation of elf stories, and it was a double finalist in the New Mexico Book Awards.”).
Always carry yourself as the author you envision yourself to be and act professionally, whether things go your way or not. Nurture each and every contact you make along the way, keeping future signing opportunities in mind.
Once you have a venue for a signing, how do you entice people to buy a book where someone else’s name is on the cover and your contribution is a fraction of the whole?
Focus again on the story that you’ve written, tailoring your pitch for each reader based on the information you’ve gathered about him/her through initial conversation.
It’s also helpful to have read other (if not all) stories in the book, so you can embellish on the content or theme of the anthology further, if necessary. In the event that your story doesn’t pique the reader’s interest, perhaps another contributor’s piece will.
As you pitch your story, place the book in the reader’s hands. Hand-selling allows a reader to discover something about the book that he/she really likes, and oftentimes, this will lead to a sale without any further enticement on your part. More hesitant readers can be nudged by inviting them to purchase the book (“I would love to sign a copy for you.”).
How can readers obtain a copy of Many Genres, One Craft?
MGOC is available for preorder through Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, and Headline Books (Clicking the links will take you to the relevant pages). After May 16 publication date, the book should be available in most bookstores, either as a stock item or special order title. If your local store doesn’t carry MGOC, the contributors and editors would certainly appreciate requests for these stores to carry the book. And if you live in New Mexico, you can rest assured that you’ll find me somewhere, promoting and selling MGOC!
Tell us where people can learn about your upcoming books and events.
Most of my upcoming events are listed at http://booktour.com/author/david_j_corwell. I don’t have a Web site all my own yet, but I hope to get something set up within the next year or so.
Thanks, David, for taking the time to answer the interview questions. For the rest of you, here’s a little more information about David and his books.
David J. Corwell was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico and graduated with a B.A. in English from the University of New Mexico. He owes his love of fantasy and horror to Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, comics, and late night monster movies. His stories appear in Voices of New Mexico (LPD Press/Rio Grande Books), Dia de los Muertos (Elektrik Milk Bath Press), Daily Flash: 365 Days of Flash Fiction (Pill Hill Press), Tales of the Talisman magazine (Hadrosaur Productions), and Cloaked in Shadow: Dark Tales of Elves (Fantasist Enterprises). He is a 2001 graduate of the Odyssey Fantasy Writing Workshop, a 2005 graduate of the Borderlands Press Writer’s Boot Camp, and a 2006 graduate of Seton Hill University with a M.A. in Writing Popular Fiction. When not tussling with characters (real or imagined), David’s family keeps him pretty busy. He still lives in Albuquerque with his wife and three daughters.