Character Impact Matrix

I’m working through the developmental editing process and have recently been introduced to the character impact matrix. For those of you with a background in studying creative writing, and in particular novel-writing, this may be old hat. For me, whose background is in IT, it was a new approach to pulling the various character pieces together and I found it to be a great help.

What is a character impact matrix? It’s a table of your characters capturing how each one impacts the others in a simplified summary form. This is not a detailed character sheet, but a quick reference to a) help you better understand the relationships, and b) put those front-and-centre when writing scenes. It’s incredibly simple:

Plot your important characters across and down. It isn’t a requirement, but it’s neater if you put them in the same order. In the example above, the names down the page are the characters being impacted by another, the names working across the top are the characters who are impacting them. The cells where the two meet in the table are where you capture the impacts. The grey boxes (where both names are the same) are where you can capture internal conflict / how the character influences themselves.

Note: in the example not every cell has an entry — this is perfectly fine, as not all characters will impact every other character.

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Convention Lessons Part 3: Rick Heinz

This post is the third in my series on promoting books at conventions. In Part One I related my personal experience at AI Con earlier in the year. In Part Two I chatted to Rochelle Campbell about her experiences promoting her book at conventions. In this post, I talk to Rick Heinz. At the end of the series, I’ll produce a consolidated tip sheet incorporating suggestions from all the participating authors.

Rick Heinz

Rick Heinz Con profile picRichard Heinz is as an electrician with a deep interest in politics, symbology, and― not to mention — countless caffeine-driven hours spent playing Diablo. The Seventh Age: Dawn is Rick’s first book, as well as book one in the sprawling urban fantasy epic, The Seventh Age Series. When he isn’t navigating the labyrinthine corridors of his own imagination, Rick works as a project manager in Chicago.

What conventions have you attended? Why did you pick those conventions? In hindsight, were those reasons valid?

I’ve attended everything from Anime Conventions, Gaming Conventions, General Sci-Fi Fantasy Cons, Comic-Book Cons, and a small local con. I picked these conventions for a variety of reasons: Target Audience, the LACK of other authors at them, location, and most important — I won the artist alley lottery. What is often left off a selection of why to attend a con, is that you usually must register a year in advance and it’s a lottery system. You can apply for 15 cons and end up getting into zero.

What were your objectives for the conventions you attended? Do you feel you achieved those objectives?

Direct Book Sales. I once went to a con for the intention of pre-orders, and it had some success. But I’ve been peddling the actual book since it was released. My average con sales over a 3 day event is around 50-60 books on average, so to that end, its been a moderate success.

What was your strategy for engagement at the conventions?

Well, first off, I’m a giant geek whose been at conventions my entire adult life. So the strategy for engagement is pretty easy: Find something you are passionate about and engage in that. Standing behind a table, talking about games or other things with people, and then having a polished book pitch is my thing. I’ve got a pretty solid book pitch I can deliver in less than 15 seconds that hooks most people in. As for my display, I’ve invested a solid amount of money commissioning artwork, banners, floor stands, and even scenes from the novel. Paying for top-talent art was an investment, and well worth the pay off. Most people come up because of the pictures.

As for physical books, I’ve always had them on hand and sold out a few times now. But, it’s clear that if you are going to work the convention circuit, having a quill book or being self-published is the better avenue.

What did you feel worked well?

Making connections with other artists and industry contacts. I’ve often found other artists to work with, or even other people looking for writers. Working behind the table has opened up more than a few doors. So on an industry level, it’s worked out very well. As for moving physical books, I’ve had a lot of success with it so far. We will never be on the level of art dealers with prints, but an author can move plenty of books if you are comfortable talking.

What didn’t work, or not as well as you had hoped?

Being published and selling the book at cons. It’s a little rough on the math to sell your book at a con if you have to go through a publisher. Look around any convention, and you’ll find that the only people in artist alley that are authors are self-published. It’s almost impossible to recover the costs of a convention between travel, hotel, and table cost as an author. So, don’t go if that’s what you are looking for. Most of the published authors are part of the publishers exhibitor booth doing book signings, and perhaps someday, that can be a realistic dream. For now, it’s not, and so you’ll have to swallow some convention costs for a while.

If you are self-published however, you can be successful at a convention and cover yourself for the weekend.

What other lessons have you learnt?

Stay positive and put in the hard work. The weekend is going to be draining. Go to bed early, resist the urge to drink till 2 am, and plan ahead to show up on time. This is a job you will work for 12 hours a day on the weekend. Plan ahead, and get your cons booked a year out. This isn’t a gig for people who just want to do stuff on the fly.

Do you plan to attend more conventions to promote your book?

I’ve got an entire year booked! Next year, I’ll even have GM’s running the Seventh Age world as rpg tabletop events in addition to the booth. At this point, it’s not really book promotion. I’m just going because I already attend a lot of cons, and so why not double up and do some book promotion while I’m there!

The Seventh Age: Dawn

Rick Heinz - TSA Dawn Cover

I’m enormously grateful to Rick for sharing his experiences. Anyone who enjoys urban fantasy should definitely check out his first novel, The Seventh Age: Dawn.

“Before the age of reason and science, magic ruled the world. Now, it’s coming back and if most of humanity gets wiped out in the process….well, sometimes you have to break a few eggs.”

You can order a copy from Amazon, Book Depository, or directly from the publisher (or ask your local bookstore). You can follow the development of his second novel (the sequel to The Seventh Age: Dawn) here. Finally, you can find Rick online at the following places:

Con Lessons Part 2

This post is the second in my series on promoting books at conventions. In Part One I related my personal experience at AI Con earlier in the year. Starting with this instalment, I’ll be interviewing other authors who have attended at least one convention about their experience and tips. At the end of the series, I’ll produce a consolidated tip sheet incorporating suggestions from all the participating authors.

Today, I present…

Rochelle Campbell

Me_from_Twitter_profile_picRochelle Campbell has a BA in Written Communications with an emphasis on Digital Media and began her career as a journalist and PR specialist. Her writing career spans over 20 years, and straddles both nonfiction and fiction. She is an active member of the Horror Writers Association, yet has had two stories published in literary magazines.

As an indie author, she has published “The Magic Seeds,” an illustrated urban fairy tale for middle grade readers (co-authored with her son), “Leaping Out on Faith,” a book of contemporary women’s fiction short stories which was followed by the completion of a full-length paranormal horror novel “Fury From Hell” in 2015. With nonfiction as the marrow of her writing life, in March 2015, she published a personal finance title for teens and young adults called, “Making Dollars & Sense Work.”

Rochelle’s novel Fury From Hell is currently funding on Inkshares. See the end of those post for more details.

[Update 21/06/2017: Fury From Hell is now in draft mode as it is now a competitor in the LaunchPad/Inkshares contest. The Top 75 books will be selected on Sat. 29/07/2017.]

What conventions have you attended? Why did you pick those conventions? In hindsight, were those reasons valid?

I have attended the MDC3 Con last October. And, more recently, I-CON32 last weekend.

I chose MDC3 Con because it is a writer’s conference focused on genre fiction (Creatures, Crimes & Creativity). It is also a smaller con so you are able to mingle, meet and form relationships with other conference goers.

The thinking behind attending I-CON32, as a vendor, was to share my books with a targeted audience of sci fi enthusiasts. I also wanted to share news of my new book, Fury From Hell, being crowdfunded on Inkshares to see if I could get a few pre-orders.
In hindsight, yes, my thinking/reasons were valid. I sold sci fi books at the sci fi convention. And, I did have an opportunity offered to me to participate in a radio show to talk about Fury From Hell.

The MDC3 Con lent itself to the development of friendships with other writers. I appreciate the relationships that are growing from my attendance of this Con.

What were your objectives for the conventions you attended? Do you feel you achieved those objectives?

In the previous question, I touched on this topic.The MDC3 Con was more for cultivating writer relationships and being around my peers of like-mind. (A sort of assurance against me being positively insane. Mission accomplished!)

Attending I-CON32 as a vendor was all about exposure and direct sales of my book, The SciFi End of the Supernatural.

What was your strategy for engagement at the conventions?

I set up my booth with the thought to what might catch my eye if I am competing for people at a busy, fun Cosplay convention. So, I had walking wind-up Emoji on the table. A mini library of books my family, and children liked. Freebies to give to passerby. As well as a small vessel filled with chocolate and mints. These were done in hopes of getting people to linger while passing so I could engage them in conversation and try to turn the topic to my books. Yes, I had physical copies on display of my scifi book.

What did you feel worked well?

The walking Emoji was definitely a conversation starter especially for those con goers with small children. The best eye-catcher was the book itself. The cover attracted a lot of attention. Many felt the cover art was very appealing, and said so.

What didn’t work, or not as well as you had hoped?

The candy. It only attracted pre-teen boys! They kept coming back and taking handfuls of candy each pass!

What other lessons have you learnt?

Do not try to engage every one that passes by. You cannot seem desperate for someone to buy your books/wares. You must have a genuine interest when you do stop a passerby with a question.

Do you plan to attend more conventions to promote your book?

I do! I had a great time. Made a few new friends and have awesome memories (and pictures!) to show for my weekend at I-CON32.

Fury From Hell

FFHI’d like to thank Rochelle for sharing some of her convention experiences. If you enjoy supernatural or horror novels, you should check out Fury From Hell which is currently funding on Inkshares. Click the link to read free excerpts and follow the story. You can also engage with Rochelle online:

 

 

If you enjoyed this post, give it a like or a share. I have several more interviews in the works as part of this series. Make sure you don’t miss any:

 

Other segments in the series

Con Lessons Part 1

Back in March I had a table at AI Con to promote my upcoming sci-if novel, Human Resources. The event was great fun; I met a bunch of people, chatted about my book, and (most importantly) got a feel for what conventions are like from the other side.

I decided to write a post on my experience. Then, I realized I knew several other authors who had also attended conventions to promote their books and an idea came together…

This is part one of a planned series. In this post, I’ll talk a little about my experience at AI Con, and the tips I came away with. Future parts will feature interviews with other authors, relaying their convention experience and tips. The grand finale will be a consolidated list of tips and tricks.

So. AI Con…

This was my first convention as a trader, rather than as a regular attendee. I’m interested in promoting my book at conventions when it releases, but the big events will cost significant money. AI Con is a small convention in my home town — booking a table was affordable, and there were no travel costs. This made it an excellent opportunity for a “trial run.” My goal for the weekend was to gain experience talking about my book, get at least a few subscriptions for my mailing list, and learn a little about what “works.”

I was lucky to be assigned a table in a high-traffic area. My setup for the table included:

  • A large banner behind the table.
  • A monitor displaying a slideshow (on loop). The slideshow included the longline, book cover, competition awards, and reviews from Inkshares.
  • Free bookmarks. The bookmarks included the banner image on the front, then various URLs, and a QR code to access the sample chapters and pre-order on the back.
  • A sign-up sheet. When I was at the table this was an iPad running the MailChimp sign-up app. When I had to duck away, this was a paper list with a pen.
  • A picture (the logo of the company the novel is set around).
  • Mock wiki articles providing information on creatures and technology from the world of my novel (you can find these in the bonus features section of the site).
  • A sheet with my Facebook and Twitter handles.

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I tried various strategies for engaging people during the two days. I sat behind the table, I stood behind the table, and I stood in front of the table and mingled. If anyone paused to read my displays, I would strike up a conversation and give them a free bookmark. If people engaged in conversation, I’d give them my pitch on the novel, and ask them to sign-up for the mailing list.

Tip 1: Get out from the table

Over the two days I found people were most willing to check out the table and chat if I stood in front. Standing behind it was next most effective, with sitting resulting in terrible engagement. No matter how friendly I tried to look, people walked straight past if I was sitting.

Tip 2: Don’t be afraid to sell (just don’t be a jerk about it)

People responded well to the novel concept, and I had great conversations with attendees. My biggest issue was being confident in my sell. This was also a problem with the mailing list. Numerous people signed up, but in hindsight I think I was too timid in asking people to hand over their email address.

Tip 3: Provide an incentive to sign up to the mailing list

Other than the bookmarks, I didn’t have anything to give away. It meant those who signed up did so because they were genuinely interested in the novel, but I feel I missed out on many more people who were on the fence. For the next con I attend, I’ll have an incentive to sign-up. If I have some short stories ready, it may be a free eBook for anyone who signs up, but I also plan to offer a raffle. For instance three people who sign up at the convention will receive a free copy of the novel. This is relatively inexpensive and should help improve sign ups.

Tip 4: Have a physical sign up list and pad it

The MailChimp sign-up app on my iPad worked well, and I’ll be using it again. However, I didn’t feel comfortable leaving my iPad lying on the table when I had to step away. In addition, sometimes technology fails and you need a backup. So, always have a paper sign-up sheet and some pens. BUT, don’t leave it blank. Get some friends to fill it in before the convention so if you have to use it, people see there’s already interest. No-one likes to be the first to put their name on a sign-up sheet.

Tip 5: Bookmarks

These were really popular, and I recommend them as a promotional tool.  I didn’t see a massive increase in traffic from the bookmarks, but people loved them, and they provided a great “in” for conversations. Mine were printed by a local company, but there are a bunch of online services where you can upload a design and have them delivered to your door.

Tip 6: QR codes are meh

I added a QR code to the back of my bookmark as an alternative to typing in the URLs. When I did this, I knew QR codes weren’t popular in Western countries, but I had the space so thought it would be an interesting experiment. I configured the QR code to use a URL I could track, and can report it didn’t work. No-one from the convention used the code.

Tip 7: Tracking URLs

If you want to track the success of your con adventure, I recommend handing out URLs you can track. For instance, you can create an account at bit.ly (or a bunch of their competitors) and configure custom short URLs (like https://bit.ly/RBatten). These are often easier for people to type in, and you can then track the number of times people use them.

Summary

My efforts at AI Con had mixed success. I had fun and met my goals, but came away feeling I could have achieved more with a few tweaks. I’ll be better equipped for next time.

Stay tuned for future installments as I bring perspectives from other authors and other conventions:

The Road to Hell

King-hell-FT

“I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops.” Stephen King, On Writing.

The above is one of the most quoted “rules” Stephen King identified in his book on the craft, On Writing. From my experience in writers’ forums, it also seems to be the most misunderstood. Nary as month goes by without someone typing “… but I checked [insert random famous title here] and they use many adverbs!” In most cases, I suspect the problem is those asking haven’t read Mr King’s book, and many desire to take such rules as literal absolutes. The complaint is so frequent I decided to write a blog post on it, rather than keep typing the same answers ad nauseam.

Remember: this is my opinion and interpretation. If you see it differently, I’d be happy to chat about it in the comments or on my FB page.

Continue reading The Road to Hell

When thoughts break immersion

A common technique, at least in science-fiction and fantasy, is to include the inner thoughts of the Point Of View (POV) character. Often this is done by including the thoughts in italics without any attribution. I’m a fan of this technique, and use it in my writing. Done well, it can add flavour to a passage and deepen the immersion for the reader. One of my favourite authors, Ilona Andrews,1 is superb at this. Take the following passage from Magic Slays:

Continue reading When thoughts break immersion