Authors After Dark: Shattering an Author’s Comfort Zone
With the launch of our second steampunk novel, The Janus Affair, my wife and writing partner Pip Ballantine and I promised ourselves the priority of 2012 would be to make each appearance count. Instead of hitting many cons along the East Coast, we felt that many of the same audience would make the trip to Balticon in May. We also wanted to give more steampunk-centric events like the Steampunk World’s Fair precedence as we knew that is our target audience.
In one of the few quiet moments of the 2012 Steampunk World’s Fair, P.J. Schnyder told us of an event called Authors After Dark. Unlike the science fiction or steampunk conferences, Authors After Dark is a readers’ event focused on romance and erotica. However, we were assured that the event also welcomes science fiction, fantasy and horror. This isn’t new as I know of several podcasts that nurture a healthy relationship between speculative fiction and erotica. Always looking for something different, Pip and I asked its organizer, Stella Price, about attending this event. Stella enthusiastically invited us to attend in 2013. 2012 was already booked solid and had been since 2011.
Considering this was an event that catered to an attendance of four hundred, it was May, and the programming was full? Wow! So we accepted Stella’s invite and started kicking around ideas for Authors After Dark 2013.
Fast forward to the end of July, just under three weeks to go for the event. P.J. is spending a weekend with us and gets word that two authors pulled themselves from the event without warning. P.J., whom Pip and I are learning is not one to let an opportunity pass, looked at us and said “You want to come?”
P.J. talked to Stella. Stella talked to us. Then, just like that, Pip and I started to make plans and securing promotional giveaways.
All this may seem a bit impulsive, but there was a tough call behind this commitment. Authors After Dark caters to a crowd far different than what we expect at our appearances. Granted, steampunk events were on the programming bill, and other authors we knew such as A.l. Davroe, Leanna Hieber, and Lia Habel were in attendance; but these were ladies (P.J. and Stella, included) that all leaned heavier to the romance side of things. The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences is a lot of things, but a romance? Perhaps, if you’re okay with a slow burn, much like Addison and Maddie from Moonlighting.
And if you don’t know Moonlighting, ask your parents, and shame on you.
It was going to be a stretch, but as this was a steampunk-friendly event we decided to go for it.
What. An. Event.
We’ve got a podcast coming where Pip and I talk to Stella at great length about this brainchild of hers, but what makes Authors After Dark so unique is the ratio of readers to authors. The event sold out this year at four hundred. (It will cap out at five hundred in 2013.) For authors, the number will remain the same: one hundred. Four to one. Additionally, there were events that committed writers to kick back and meet readers, book bloggers, and (in one case, for us) book clubs.
Why is this a big deal? Because while you do get interaction with authors at science fiction and steampunk conventions, the interaction tends to be the authors on panels, readers in the audience, and that’s the end of it. Kaffeklatches are now becoming a bit of a trend, but they are few and far between. (The last one I did was at WorldCon in Reno, NV. 2011.) Authors also have a bad habit at conventions to cluster, making a “fan-free” zone for themselves. Authors After Dark, however, makes as part of their programming meet & greet and one-on-one sessions in order to assure readers they are guaranteed time with authors. For authors, this is fantastic opportunity to get your book and yourself into the eye of potentially new readers. This is important because this is what makes the Dan Brown’s, the J.K. Rowling’s, and (like her or not) the E.L. James’s of literature happen — word-of-mouth. Even the panel topics lean toward the reader and author relationship. One such panel (also recorded for podcast and coming soon to The Shared Desk) was all about what readers can do to keep authors employed, perhaps one of the most frank and upfront discussion I have ever enjoyed with readers. It was an amazing ride for three days, three incredible days of discussions, lunches and dinners, and field trips throughout New Orleans.
Pip and I have done a lot of different things to promote our works, both solo and joint titles. We’ve been stretching ourselves in the past two years, searching for readership beyond our immediate circles. We love our podcasting community (and it is a passionate one) but real success in writing requires going beyond those comfort zones. It’s great to be loved, admired, and being treated like a rock star, especially after you have worked hard to get past the “Who are you again?” phase of your writing career. However, finding one’s self in a comfort zone can also be a dangerous place to be. Don’t get me wrong — I love going to Balticon, and RavenCon is my hometown convention; but when I look out in to the audience at the panels and see the same faces, the same faces that also turn up at my signings, I wonder “What about the audience I haven’t reached yet?” By stepping out of those comfort zones, you may discover audiences looking for something new.
Reach farther. Go farther. When you stretch out of those comfort zones, you may find yourself supplying a whole new demand.