In My Head Tour Stop 2: Mead Hall Strawberry Festival

On April 21st, 2018, Cate and I were at the Aiken Strawberry Festival.

I have two confessions to make. The first: I was excited going in. The festival’s home page boasted the expected amount of visitors would be between 2000 and 2500 people. For a four hour event, that is a lot of foot traffic. I was optimistic we would have a good day.

Strawberry Festival 2Now for confession number two and this is the one I hate to admit, but on the grounds of being transparent, I will. I honestly didn’t realize the event was being held at an episcopal school. Let’s think about this for a second: I write horror and I was going to attempt to sell books about the darker things in life at an episcopalian school. I honestly didn’t think this was going to go well. I mean, who is going to buy horror books at a religious school?

I hang my head in shame for thinking this. I did the proverbial judging the book by its cover. I can’t say I will never do that again, but I can say the Aiken Strawberry Festival turned out to be quite enjoyable, but I am getting ahead of myself here.

The first half hour didn’t bode well. One person came by our booth, his hands behind his back. He looked disinterested and said nothing as he walked by, even though we tried to engage him in conversation. Oh well. It was just one person, right? Then, at around 10:30 something happened. It was as if someone opened the floodgates and people flowed in on the rushing waters. 

Strawberry Festival 4Business suddenly picked up. We talked to a lot of people. We sold some books and some bookmarks … oh wait. Did you not know about Cate’s Bookmark Emporium? Cate makes bookmarks. No, these are not paper bookmarks. These are made with ribbons and charms and she can pretty much make them to order. Keep that in mind if you need or want a bookmark for one (or all of your books).

We met Tina McIntyre with Super Smart Girl, LLC. She is super nice and easy to talk to. We talked for a while and I got to meet a lot of the Super Smart Girls. 

The food was good and inexpensive and the length of the festival was just right: four hours. Though we didn’t sell as many books as we did at the State Street Soiree, we sold a comparable number based on the hours there. 

All in all, it was a great day at the Aiken … err … let me correct that … All in all, it was a great day at the Mead Hall Strawberry Festival in Aiken. 

strawberry-festival-5-selfie.jpg
To top the day off, Cate and I arrived home just in time to see Prettier Than Matt play a short show at the Cayce/West Columbia Riverwalk Amphitheater. 

Before I go, I want to mention how great a job the organizer of the strawberry festival did. Her name is Courtney and she was exceptionally nice and helpful and pleasant to deal with on all levels. Cate and I definitely would like to do this event again and look forward to the 2019 Mead Hall Strawberry Festival. 

As always, thank you for reading. Until we meet again, my friends, be kind to one another.

A.J.

In My Head Tour Stop 1: Soiree on State/Cayce Festival of the Arts

April 14th of 2018 put Cate and I at the Soiree on State/Cayce Festival of the Arts. The joint effort by the city of Cayce and the Cayce Avenues Neighborhood Association began at noon and ended a little after eight that evening. There were many vendors, food trucks and live music. 

VOICES with TypewriterThis festival was held the day after my short story collection, Voices, came out. It was the first stop on the In My Head Tour 2018. Tour? Yes, tour. You see, we are looking at each event as a stop on the Voices promotion tour. Though we didn’t have the books for this event, we had a proof copy and pamphlets we had made up about Voices. At the end of the day, many people were interested in getting the print edition when it comes in.

[[As a side note, you can find Voices on Amazon, by going here.]]

To say things got off to a little bit of a rocky start is a slight exaggeration, but still things didn’t go smoothly at first. When we arrived to check in, we were not on the list of vendors. Seriously. We weren’t. I’m not going to lie and say I wasn’t a little concerned. After a few minutes of them trying to locate our spot, they finally found a place for us.

“We’re going to put you in spot 52.”

After driving the length of the vendor section once, we doubled back and finally found the spot, pulled off the road and unloaded. We went to set up the tables and … I forgot to pack the back flap to the tent and the tablecloths. 

Blink Blink

After hurrying to the house and getting behind every slow moving vehicle on the entire planet, I arrived home, found these things and headed back. Yeah, you know what happened. I got behind every slow moving vehicle on the way back. I parked in the designated spot grabbed everything, including  Cate’s Starbucks she left in the car (this alone could have been disastrous) and walked the two blocks to our booth. Yes, I carried her Starbucks coffee like a true man: down at my side so it looked like it was just another cup.

Upon getting everything set up, we still had about half an hour or so before the event started. This gave me time to walk around and check out some of the neat things other vendors had. After perusing for a few minutes, I made my way back to our tent and sat with Cate until people began to show up. Then, I guess you could say it was showtime, though I don’t know what type of show we put on—we were just ourselves. 

Cayce Setup 2There were quite a few positives throughout the day. First, there was a ton of foot traffic. Second, we had seventy or so people stop by and talk. Third, I got to see my niece, Emmy. She is like a good luck charm or something. She is only three, but she has been to all four of the Cayce Festivals. Yes, it is possible. She was born in January and the festivals have all been in April.

A few quick things:

  • Wanda, an old friend of mine from all the way back in first grade showed up with a friend. We joked and talked about school. Then they walked off, came back later and bought a couple of books. I went to autograph Wanda’s friend’s book and realized they had not told me her name. I asked and they looked at each other, laughed and told me her name.

    “Or you can just sign it to Wanda’s Friend,” she said. I laughed, and signed it to Wanda’s Friend (yes, I did add her name in there. I’m not heartless, after all).

  • I met a woman who said she’s great at watching television. The man with her said, “She has a black belt in watching tv.” Well, that was a first.
  • We were invited to two events for authors in the fall. 
  • We sold some books. 
  • Though I didn’t get to hear much of her singing, Jessica Skinner, one half of Prettier Than Matt, played for a little over an hour. 
  • The Kinda Cheezy Food Trailer was the bomb, and not expensive, at that.
  • We sold some books. Did I say that already?
  • The police officers at the event had a long day, but they seemed to enjoy themselves. At one point they were passing by our booth dancing and having a good time. 

Cayce Setup 4One of the best things that came out of the day was being contacted on my author page by someone who had stopped by our booth and talked about books. She bought a book and took a Brown Bag Story with her. She posted on my page about meeting us  and how she enjoyed the TBBS she got. One of the great things about writing is hearing back from someone who enjoyed something you wrote.

(Just for the record, when you tell someone to reach into the coffin and grab something and they still contact you later, you did something right.)

All in all, it wasn’t a bad day. But it was exhausting. You might not think standing at a booth talking to people and selling books would be too taxing, but it wears you out. it was warm and breezy and we were on concrete. 

And we sold some books …

Until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another. 

A.J.

Selling Yourself, A Necessary Part of the Business

These days I rarely buy books written by big name authors. Other than Stephen King, I haven’t bought a book by a well-known author in years. I tend to purchase books written by lesser-known authors (small press and Indie, for the most part). Most of these writers I have never heard of.

So, why would I purchase books from a bunch of unknown writers?

Well, the main reason is simple: I am one of those unknown writers. I’m starting to garner a little bit of a following, but I am nowhere near Stephen King status. I am, for the most part, an unknown trying to get my name out there to the reading population. By putting my work out there I am asking you, the readers, to take a chance with me, to trust that I won’t let you down when you listen to me tell a tale.

Anyone who works in the arts will tell you that this takes a lot of trust on the artist’s behalf as well. Everyone is a critic and artists get blasted hard and often, not just by the consumer, but other artists. Writing is an art. For those of us who no one knows about it’s often frustrating, especially if we believe in our work.

So, what do we do? We go onto social media and say ‘hey, here is my book, buy it, please.’ Every once in a while someone will see that bit of pleading and consider buying the book. But that’s not enough.

We do blogs or vlogs or other forms of communicating to people we try to connect with. And, like the social media thing, someone might see the blog and consider purchasing a book. [[Yes, I know a blog is social media, but when I say social media I mean Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and those types of things.]]  

Hmmm…but that’s not enough. Even if you have a potential best seller, unless you have a big publishing house behind you helping you with marketing, doing these things will only help so much.

Then there are conventions and festivals.

Back in April I participated in The Cayce Festival of the Arts as a vendor. It was the first time I had been on the other side of the table. Instead of buying from someone, I was there for folks to buy from. At first it was daunting and I was nervous. What if no one bought my books? What if no one came to my table? What if no one talked to me at all? Oh, the anxiety.

I can say that my fears were unfounded, at least for that festival. People did come to my table and talk with me and purchase books. It was a very successful event. And very enjoyable. I got to talk to a lot of nice folks.

One particular woman came to my table about halfway through the day. She was older than me. She was also an editor. She came to my table and asked a question I had never been asked before: ‘Tell me about you.’ Yeah, I know it’s not technically a question, but in essence, it really was.

I replied, ‘Me, the person, or me, the writer?’

‘You, the person.’

Up to that point I had heard the term, ‘sell yourself,’ but never really thought about it. This woman—and I wish I would have gotten her name—was asking me to sell myself to her right then and there. And I did. I told her who I was and a little about my family and where I was from—which just happened to be a hop, skip and a jump from where we stood talking.

She gave a quick nod and pointed at one of my books. ‘I’ll take one of those,’ she said and handed me cash. I signed her book and gave it to her and off she went. She never asked me about the book, only about me, the person.

I learned a valuable lesson that day. As a writer, I’m not just selling my books, but I’m selling myself, my personality. Who I am. The term ‘sell yourself’ suddenly clicked with me. Again, I had heard the term, but never really thought about it. So, if I never thought about it, then how could I actually do it?

Fast forward to today. I went to the South Carolina Book Festival this morning. I was there for almost four hours. I talked to a lot of authors, both traditional and indie published. They were all trying to get people to buy their books. They were all selling their books. But not all of them were selling themselves.

I went to one table and the vendor said nothing. He looked at me and then turned around to tend to something else. I walked away. He wasn’t interested in me or my money. He also wasn’t interested in selling his books or even making an attempt. There were other folks sitting at their booths on their tablets or phones, seemingly oblivious to the many readers there to buy books.

One person stuck to his sales pitch and whenever I asked him questions, he didn’t seem to want to answer them. But he constantly tried to put a book in my hand and asked for the cost of the book, even though I didn’t say I wanted to purchase one. He was somewhat pushy.

Then there were those who said ‘Hello’ to everyone as they passed. I stopped at every single table where the person/people genuinely seemed to want to talk to the readers. They were there to sell their books. They were there to network with the readers and other authors. Many of them constantly had smiles on their faces and talked excitedly about their books.

And then there were those writers who were more interested in me, the reader. I spent the most time with them, getting to know them, the person, not the writer. They smiled. They talked. They asked me questions. I asked them questions and they answered them. They told me stories, not about their books, but about them. Those are the ones that I would purchase books from, even if I had zero interest in their books.

One woman said to me, ‘You don’t have to buy a book. I just want to talk to the readers.’ She was selling herself—and I really liked her and what she, as a person, was all about. I spent the most time with her.

This business—and really, any business—is never just about the product. It’s also about who sells the product, or who created the product. Sure, if the product is good it could sell on its own, but if no one knows about it, then it is up to the person who is selling it to do the best he/she can to do so. And in order to sell that product, the salesperson has to have the type of personality that could help convince someone to buy it.

One of the keys to selling anything is personality. If your personality is sour or pushy, then your sells may not be all that great and you could leave a bad taste in the mouth of the customer. However, if your personality is sunny and you treat your customer with respect and try to make them feel comfortable, not with just the product, but with yourself, then your chances of making a sell go up. Even if you don’t get a purchase out of it, you gave the customer something to remember you by and they may just come back to you on down the road.

Part of selling yourself is not about making the sell, but making a connection with the reader/customer. If you make a connection, most of the time you are going to make a sell. It might not be right away, but it will happen.

A lot of the books I have purchased over the last few years, I have done so after meeting the author online, usually through Facebook. Those authors I either had conversations with and came away liking them, or the things they posted on their walls showed me some of their character, showed me a little about who they are. Even through a Facebook connection, you can sell yourself, and so often we forget that.

One more thing before I go: don’t sell yourself short. What I mean is have confidence in your work and your abilities…and in yourself.

For the longest time I had difficulties talking about my writing. I’m not sure I was comfortable with people knowing I liked to write. I certainly wasn’t comfortable with people reading what I wrote. Talking about what I had accomplished as a writer always felt like bragging and I’ve never been one for bragging. It took me a long time and a lot of encouragement from Cate and other writers to start truly believing in who I was as a writer.

When it comes to selling your work and yourself, confidence is extremely important. If you are not confident in yourself, your abilities or your work, the customer (reader) will immediately pick up on that and your chances of making a sell diminish. I have confidence now that I was lacking four or five years ago. I believe in my abilities and my stories and I believe the readers will, as well.

In this business of publishing, the writing and editing and proofing and publishing is only part of the gig. The marketing is a huge part as well. Part of that marketing is selling yourself as well as your books. It’s making a connection with the people you want to read your books. I hope along the way I’ve connected with you at some point. And I hope you were happy, not just with the product you received, but in whom you received it from.

Until we meet again, my friends, be kind to one another…

 

 

 

The Cayce Festival of the Arts–A Wonderful Experience

This may or may not be a short blog tonight. It has been a long day and I am tired. I also cannot guarantee the quality of this piece. Again: long day and tired. Continue on at your own risk.

I love going to festivals and conventions. Usually we go to check out what is being sold or to see what all is going on. Sometimes you can see some neat stuff and meet some cool people. Today my wife, Cate, and I set up a booth at the Cayce Festival of the Arts. There were fifty booths in all with people selling everything from wooden toys to glass etchings to jewelry to paintings to pottery and so many other things, including three or four booths where people were selling books.

Ahhhh…kindred souls.

Before I really get into this, I must say if not for Cate this thing would not have gone nearly as well or been half as fun for me. She had her checklist of things we needed to do and have in order for this to go as smoothly as possible. And she worked her magic on the set up of the booth. To be completely honest, without her I would not have went. She thought this would be a good way to get my name more out there in the community.

After today’s experience, I believe she was right.

The morning started with a light rain. Yes. Rain. We were worried. Though the event was a rain or shine deal, water and paper don’t tend to mix all that well. There had been a big storm the night before, so we were expecting the ground to be a little wet, but not for it to still be raining.

A good thing happened, though. The rain didn’t last long.

We got our tent set up, but not the way we had originally planned. Again, rain and paper are not fond of one another.

**Blink. Blink.**

Ummm…guess what? I was so tired last night that I crawled in bed and didn’t finish this blog. So, let me try and finish this today.

So we got the tables set up. I think that’s where I left off. Yeah, that’s it. Nice blue tent and tablecloths, the books where they need to be, The Brown Bag Stories in the coffin… The coffin? I didn’t mention that, did I? My brother-in-law, Chris, made us a coffin bookshelf as a display. It is totally cool and rough looking. We set it up near the front of the tent. It definitely attracted a few raised eyebrows and brought people over to our booth. It even startled a few folks, one woman in particular whose son pointed it out to her after she had walked by it. He laughed. The man she was with laughed. I laughed, as did the person at the booth with me.

But I’m a little ahead of myself here.

The rain stopped and the festival began, and right off the bat, we sold a copy of Cory’s Way. The couple that bought it was super nice and it felt really good signing the book and handing it to them. Then nothing for a while. It was early and wet, so people just weren’t coming out at first. But once the rain was gone and the clouds started to move on, folks arrived, and business picked up.

I met some really nice people and had some really great conversations. One woman asked me, ‘Tell me about you.’ She didn’t want to know about my books. She wanted to know about me, the person. I told her. It was a much different conversation than I expected. I met one person on the committee who immediately related to Cory’s Way because of the bullying aspect of the story. We talked for a few minutes about how he had been bullied growing up. He is a good guy and I hate that he was bullied growing up.

I met a couple of other authors, one with whom I traded books with. Her name was Jan Hull and she wrote the book Ceres Exley. We talked for a few minutes several times throughout the day. Very nice woman.

I also met Jack Gannon from J & C Wordsmiths. He listened to me talk to a woman purchasing a book, and then he introduced himself. He said some nice things about my presentation. He had a warm feel about him—a truly nice, genuine feel about him. We talked and he said something that gave me more confidence as the day went on. He said, ‘You’re doing it right. You’re telling them what they want to know and you have a great display in that coffin.’ Unfortunately our talk was cut short, but it was still a very nice and pleasant conversation.

We met another woman, a free spirited woman, who told us of other conventions and other things we could do to put out my work. She’s a poet and, like so many of us other small writers, she tries to help out in whatever way she can. She was a lot of fun to talk with.

There were others through the course of the day, coming and going. Some people bought books, a lot of people took The Brown Bag Stories, and why wouldn’t they—they were free.

By the end of the day we were tired, but had managed to do pretty good for our first ever festival/convention. We were about to tear down and pack up when someone walked up to the booth and asked if I were there. I was, but I was also about thirty feet away, throwing out some trash. I turned around to see this woman at the back of the tent and walking toward me. I recognized her immediately. Her name is Mary and she lives in Easley, South Carolina. She was with her fiancé, a very nice guy by the name of Brad. She had found one of my Brown Bag Stories a while back in a Starbucks. She contacted me and from there we chatted a little and I sent her more of the booklets.

Seeing her at the festival was a nice cherry on top to a good day. She made me feel really good about my work. Some of the things she said about the stories she had read lifted my spirits. Of course, her turning to her fiancé and saying, ‘he doesn’t look like a psychopath,’ made us all burst into laughter. No, I do not look like a psychopath. But really, what does a psychopath look like these days? We spent almost an hour talking with Mary and Brad and we even took a few pictures. It was a great end to a wonderful day.

The festival organizers were also terrific. Everyone was nice and helpful and constantly walking around checking on the vendors, offering us water and to sit at our booth if we needed to get some food or go to the bathroom. This may have been their first time doing this, but they did a great job of making the vendors feel welcome and wanted. Aubrey, Pamme, Clift and all the organizers and volunteers made the event so worthwhile and enjoyable. I didn’t get to tell them thank you before we left, but if they read this, I hope they know how much all the work they put into the festival was appreciated and not just by Cate and myself, but other vendors as well.

We eventually packed up and made our way home. I unloaded the car, and just like that, the event was over. We learned a few things about what we should do next time and figured out a few things that we did right.

But that’s not the point to this blog.

What is, you ask?

Did you notice the underlying theme throughout? People were nice. They were willing to listen to me talk about my work and myself and they weren’t rude. They asked questions and seemed to be truly interested in the answers. They were nice. I can’t stress that enough. They were nice. Of all the things that happened yesterday, it is the people who came up and talked and who were just genuinely nice folks that I will take away as one of the best experiences.

The Cayce Festival of the Arts, in my opinion, was a success. I don’t know how other vendors did, and I don’t know what festival committees consider a success, but in my opinion, when vendors leave with a good feeling and when they feel like they truly were wanted there, then, to me, that is success.

Because of this experience, I want to do this again. I want to go to other festivals and conventions and have this type of interaction with people. Do I think they all will be this well done? No. But I do know that the standard has been set for me, and it happened right in my home town.

Until we meet again, my friends, be kind to one another…

Coffin and Brown Bags Corys Way Table Southern Bones Table