Friday, November 14, 2008

Interview with Danielle Ackley-McPhail on Community Fridays

Welcome to Community Fridays!

During Community Fridays, I interview authors, editors, publishers, and pretty much anyone else who I can get my hands on from the writing and publishing community. Hope you enjoy, and feel free to suggest new participants. Check out current and past interviews here. Only have a minute? Click here for interviews at a glance.

Today's guest is Danielle Ackley-McPhail, author and purveyor of promotional awesomeness.

You're about to release your newest novel, Tomorrow's Memories, sequel to Yesterday's Dreams, and you're an expert when it comes to creative marketing techniques. For example, at Capclave you distributed giant Pixie Stix® to promote a book about fairies. What ideas do you have for the book launch? (Unless they're secret, of course!)

The biggest plan we have is the raffle prize, which in this case will be a full-sized replica claymore donated by Griffon's Claw Armoury. The reason for the prize is that in Celtic mythology there were four artifacts the Sidhe or the Tuatha de Danaan brought to Ireland from their home land: From the city Murias, the great Cauldron of the Dagda, or caldron of plenty. From Gorias, the Spear of Lugh, from Findias, the Sword of Nuada, which always struck true and fatally; and from Falias the Lia Fail or "Stone of Destiny." In the novel, the sword plays a key part in the climatic ending, so our prize is a sword. If anyone is interested in the novel, they can click here, and if they would like to know more about the launch party, and how they might win that sword, they can visit this site.

While we're at it, would you like to tell us a little about the book?

Yesterday's Dreams and its sequel, Tomorrow's Memories are the beginning of my Eternal Cycle series, urban fantasy novels based on Irish Mythology. I am mostly Irish, but I never really knew what that meant. Most of my family history was lost in a fire and my heritage was never really passed on to me. Because of this I was always curious. The music and the legends always moved me and the brogue... anyway, I was frustrated that most of the fantasy books I picked up never really explored the Irish mythology. Mostly they just took the concept of the Sidhe, combined it with a few Gaelic words, and then made up the rest. I know it's fiction, but I like fiction that uses a foundation of what is established in the real world to add depth. I decided to write my own and in the research came across the goddess Carman and her three sons. There are so many variations that I won't mention the names, but basically they terrorized Ireland until they were finally destroyed by the Sidhe. I used that as the foundation of my story, introducing one son in the first book, returned as a possessing spirit, and then a second in Tomorrow's Memories. Each novel builds on the last, starting in New York and ending up in Ireland and Tir na nOg.20 I haven't done much work on the third book, too many other projects, but now that book two is coming out I have to get cracking!

Where do you get marketing ideas? Do you observe other people? Do you read about the subject? Do the ideas just pop into your head?

Most of my marketing ideas come from my own imagination, others do come from hearing what others I know have done. Basically, I try and think of things that apply to the subject matter of the current book, thus the prize of a violin for the Yesterday's Dreams launch and an autographed set of military-style patches as a prize for the anthology Breach the Hull, a military science fiction collection. The patches are also offered for sale, which helps to promote the books, particularly if a reader has enjoyed a particular author's story. As give-aways I always have Pixie Stix® on hand because of my anthology series, Bad-Ass Faeries... Pixie Stix® for Bad-Ass Faeries. Another thing you can do is use something that comes your way, even if it is meant for something else. We were given a bunch of pins promoting the movie Beowulf, now when we have a Bad-Ass Faeries event we give out the pins saying "The studio says B is for Beowulf, we say it's for Bad-Ass." For Breach the Hull we had another idea, that we didn't follow up on, but I still really like... we toyed with the idea of having custom dog-tags made up to distribute.

You describe yourself as an anthologist, which is a term I haven't heard before, 'someone who puts together an anthology.' Does that mean you solicit submissions, edit manuscripts, select cover art, publish the book, or some or all of the above? How does one get to be an anthologist?

Actually, I don't remember using the term, but I have heard others use it in reference to me. The description is apt, though. It isn't the normal way things are done, but in small press, particularly very small press, things can often be informal. I have taken four books through the process from idea conception to preparing the final files. Sometimes all the steps you have outlined above, sometimes only part of them. I have never published anything myself, I've always made arrangements with existing publishers when I have an idea. Mostly this is possible because of the connections I have made at various conventions, though I have been approached by publishers based on the reputation built upon what I have already done. I believe another term that exists to describe what I do is 'packager'. Someone who takes care of the details of a project for a publisher and then hands over the files at the end.

You're a convention and conference veteran, a frequent attendee as well as a panelist. What are your suggestions for a newbie just starting to attend these events?

1) Economize where you can: share rooms, bring food, don't go wild in the dealer's room.

2) If you want to be an author, go to the pro panels about writing and the business, participate from the audience if you are comfortable speaking and have something to add.

3) Meet the professionals, strike up conversations with them... it is important to make friends, not just contacts.

4) Look for opportunities you hear about at panels or in discussions and follow up on them.

5) Add your name to the mailing lists/news groups, they are opportunities to build on the friendships you started at the convention.

6) Volunteer for programming, even if you don't have any publishing credits, you have stuff to add, but be sure to prepare, at least in your head, if not with notes

7) Be respectful and professional.

8) Bathe... regularly ;)

About the panels - how are the selections made for who sits on them at a conference? Do you mention your interest, or does someone contact you about it? How do you prepare for being on open-ended panels like the ones they had at Capclave?

My first convention I attended as a guest was thanks to my publisher, as it was in the town where they were based. I didn't much know what I was doing, but I was fortunate that it was a very small, forgiving con and I never had trouble speaking in front of people. I also met people there that gave me advice on promoting myself at conventions. Most conventions you simple email the person in charge of programming and express an interest of being a participant. Mostly, that is all it takes.

Each convention has its own method of assigning panels. Some give you a list of panels, you tell them which you want to be on, they compare everyone's responses and time constraints and then attempt to populate the panels according to those constraints without double booking... sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. Other conventions ask your general interests and then put you on the panels according to their own decisions without telling you the actual topics. This can get dicey as an interest in a general topic doesn't mean a person will have any interest or knowledge about a specific topic that would fall under that heading. You are given, in theory, your schedule in advance so you can prepare. For myself, I have been doing this long enough that I get an idea of what I want to talk about in my head and think it through a bit, but then generally respond to what the other panelists bring up. If I can, and it's pertinent, I try and come up with a few examples if the topic calls for it. Some people work up a complete outline and a variety of questions they want to bring up, but I'm more comfortable going with the flow. I've worked in publishing so long, and I am an avid reader that I can generally hold a worthwhile conversation on most topics in that range on the fly.

What's it like to be in the dealer room of a conference or convention, selling your own books and anthologies? What suggestions do you have for people who want to do this?

This can be difficult. I don't really recommend it to anyone that is not extremely extroverted. I also don't recommend it if you only have one or two books. The best way to get started doing this, if you have an interest in it, though, is to pair up with someone else that you know (not good to do this with strangers) and that way you have several people to handle the table, as well as more to offer. Dealer's rooms can be grueling from the other side of the table. Long periods of wishing someone would stop to talk, followed by frantic moments of trying to take care of everyone at once AND keep track of all the necessary details.

Personally, I feel that when I sit down I don't sell because it puts a layer of distance between you and the customer an area of separation. You're talking up at them and not engaging one to one, that means I stand for upward of eight hours at a standard con... very rough. You have to engage the customer, draw them in. Chat, make them laugh. Show energy and enthusiasm, but without drawing them away from someone else's table. That's very important.There is a unity among dealers that you will very quickly find yourself on the wrong side of if it is felt that you are poaching another vendor's sales by drawing the customers away. If they stop at your table, or pass it in a general sense, or you see them looking at your stuff, make a connection, try and point out what you have before you. If you can make them laugh, you put them at ease. You relax, they relax, then you can start pointing out to them the finer points of your book... a brief idea of what it is about, what genre it is, any awards it has or has been nominated for, basically any relevant fact that might make it more appealing to them. From time to time, I've even offered to read them a portion. Basically... you have to be comfortable putting yourself out there, confident in your work, and enjoy talking to people. If you believe in yourself and your work, the customer picks up on that and you make them curious, make them want to know what makes you so confident.

Lastly, because this feature is about establishing bonds within the writing and publishing industries, can you name one author, editor or publisher who's doing great things right now, and why?

Hmmm... I would have to say Jonathan Maberry. He is relatively new in the fiction industry, but he has made such strides in building his career. He knows what he wants and goes for it; he works every angle he sees and has the vision to propose some very timely projects to the proper people and get them signed. He is a business man, a deal maker, and an author all in one...a truly stunning sight to see him in action.

Now... a bit of advice not covered in the above. For any author or writer aspiring to be an author, professional organizations can be a vital tool. Find those relevant to your interests and join, they are excellent for networking, finding opportunities, and benefiting from the experience of those already established in the field. I belong to several organizations, including the Garden State Horror Writers, EPIC, and Broad Universe. All of them have been extremely valuable.

About the Author
Danielle Ackley-McPhail is the author of Yesterday's Dreams and Tomorrow's Memories. She is also the senior editor of the Bad-Ass Faeries Series. See her website for more information.

Update: Tomorrow's Memories is now available on Amazon!

© Emma Larkins and Danielle Ackley-McPhail


Anonymous said...

Hey - a very interesting interview, packed with good advice and information. Danielle, I really appreciated the "how-to's" on making a convention work the best. Planning on going to a couple in 2009. Also liked your insights on developing effective marketing strategies. Thanks, both of you!

Danielle Ackley-McPhail said...

Hi Marvin,

Thanks for stopping to read! I love doing interviews and love even more when they are of use to others. What cons are you planning to go to next year? Anywhere on the East coast?



Jean Henry Mead said...

Awesome interview and a lot of good information! I'm also Irish and wrote about the bean sidhe, or wailing banshee, in my historical novel, Escape. Irish legends and history are fascinating subjects to write about. I recently wrote an article about the origin of Hallowe'en, which, of course, originated in Ireland. :)

Danielle Ackley-McPhail said...

Very cool, Jean. Most people feel Celtic Myth has become cliche and overdone, but the truth is the bulk of it is completely underutilized. Like when I was doing research for Yesterday's Dreams I discovered Cliodna is the Bean Sidhe for Clan O'Keefe...but she also has an existence beyond that small role and was actually the goddess of beauty. Most people just picture a screaming apparition when you say banshee and think that is all that is to them.

Oh...see... you got me going! LOL

As you can tell, I love delving in :)

Thanks for checking out the interview, I'm glad you enjoyed it.



Emma Larkins said...

Thanks again Danielle for the interview! And thanks to everyone who stopped by!

Danielle Ackley-McPhail said...

Any time, Emma! It was fun.



Danielle Ackley-McPhail said...

Oh yeah...I forgot to mention, Tomorrow's Memories finally went live on Amazon, if you want to update your post.