How To Be A Great ART ALLY

I’ve been having a lot of heart to hearts lately with my friends who are authors and artists and we’re all saying the same thing:  It is getting harder and harder for everyone who isn’t in the top 5% of their industry to get the word out about work they are doing.

Because of the way the industries are now, many artists are not getting the marketing and push that they deserve or need.  Much of that promotion and publicity now falls on the artist’s shoulder.  Your artist friend may have a good career, but unless they are crazy lucky, or have the “it” thing of the moment, your artist friend is probably really struggling.

“What. But they have so many books out! They are on tour all the time! They are always doing some wacky play!”

Sadly, about 90% of artists are struggling and barely making a living wage. Most have full-time day jobs on top of their full-time art careers. Remember, every new project that they do is like starting from scratch.

For example, many of the people who I know who are not artists see all the stuff that I am doing and think that it’s going so great for me that I don’t need their  help to get the word out about my books. But I do.  All of your artist friends (even the most famous ones) need your support all the time.

To be a great Art Ally for any of your author/artist friends I’ve drummed up a list of things that you can do.  I’ve focused on books, since I’m an author, but I’ve added helpful tips within to give you ideas on how to help your music, performer, filmmaker, comic book, visual artist and indie game maker friends.

1) Pre-order their stuff. Seriously.  If your friend has a book (or CD or DVD or indie game or comic book) coming out pre-order it.  Pre-orders give the publishing company an indication of interest and can help with print runs. Good pre-orders sometimes help a book because the publishing company may give a book a little push with extra marketing money and publicity based on those numbers.

2) Show up.  If your friend has a reading or something, go to it.  “But I went to it once for another book!”  That’s great!  You are a supporter!  But, every book is a whole new thing!  (Go to their rock show! Play! Art gallery opening! If your friend is in a film/made a film go opening weekend, that’s when the box office counts. Or order it on VOD the week it drops. Or buy the game the week it comes out. You get the idea.)

3) When you are there, buy the book.  “But I already pre-ordered it!”  Yeah, I know.  But buying it at the store or the reading helps the bookstore and the numbers and will help your friend do another reading there the next time. This is especially important if your friend is doing a reading not in their hometown. (If your friend is a musician, buy merch because that might be how they are paying for gas.  If your friend is an artist, buy a piece of art because that might equal a bag of groceries.)

3a) “But argh! This is not my kind of book.  I don’t read that genre.  It’s not for me.  I’m not a kid/teen.”  Sure, that’s fair.  The book might not be for you.  But I bet you one million dollars that you know somebody that the book (or other thing) would be perfect for.  Maybe a strange aunt?  Maybe your weird nephew?  Maybe your co-worker?   And remember the holidays are always just around the corner! Why not get it signed? Think of it as a back up present. You can give it at a white elephant exchange. If all else fails, get a copy and donate it to your local library or if it’s a kids book, to the school library nearest you.

4) Signal boost it.  While it may look to you like everybody knows about your friend’s book, they probably don’t.  Remember that we are all kind of in a bubble when it comes to social media. Authors (and artists of all kinds) are always looking for new readers/audience and you totally have a bunch of friends that your author/artist friend doesn’t know.  And those friends might have never heard of your friend’s book, movie, game, music and it might be right up their alley. And those friends have friends that you don’t know.  And so on. And so on.  So every once in a while, if you like and in a way that you are comfortable with, an easy Art Ally action is to Tweet, Instagram, Pintrest or Facebook (or repost) something about that person’s art thing on the social medias! This signal boosting helps to get new eyeballs on the book (or art thing) that your friend is doing.

5) Review it / Rate it.  Perhaps you are on Goodreads? Or perhaps you frequent Amazon or B&N or Powells?  If you really are a fan of the book (or art thing), a simple way to help boost your friend’s work is by giving it a star rating or a review.  (For musicians you can do this at those places as well. Also you can add their album to your streaming site and rate it! For films rate it on Netflix if it’s there! For games there are places to do this too!)

5a) For books, on Goodreads it’s also helpful if you add it to your to read shelf.  It’s both helpful before the book comes out and when the book comes out.  So if you haven’t done it already, go to it! Add all your friends books to your to read shelf. It’s not too late!

6) Make sure that it is in your local library branch! Libraries are the biggest purchasers of books!  An author wants their book to be read!  Libraries help with that!  Maybe you are librarian?  Or someone super close to you is a librarian?  This is where you can really help to get it on the library radar by making sure that it is on the order list for your branch or for your system. Sidenote: Many libraries are too poor to purchase books this is a great place for you to donate that extra book!

7) Many books have reader guides or teacher guides.  Are you a teacher?  Or is someone super close to you a teacher?  If you love the book, consider using it in your class!  Or if not that, you can donate the book to your (or your teacher pal’s) school library or classroom library for students to enjoy.

8) Book Club it.  If you have a book club, suggest your group read your friend’s book. Or maybe just have a one-off book club and get a group of your friends together to read your friend’s book.  If your friend writes for kids, do a mother/ daughter or father /son book club with a group of people. I’m 100% certain that your author friend would be delighted to come over (or if they live far, Skype) to discuss their book with your book club.  (for musicians you could host a living room show at your house)

9) Ask your art pal to come in and speak!  Maybe your school or library has a budget to bring in a variety of guest speakers for classrooms or assemblies?  Your friend would be perfect for this.  If your institution has no budget, you can still ask your friend to come and speak!  Lots of authors have sliding scales and can organize a way to sell their own books and that can offset a pro bono visit. Also, it will help them to get new readers.  Being an art ally is all about getting new audiences for your arty friends.  (Your other artist pals would make great classroom / assembly visitors as well.)

10) Vote and Nominate.  It’s possible that there are lists that you can vote on or nominate your friends for that they may be eligible for and deserving.  This could be anything from your local publicly voted on thing to a list that is for professionals which you might be.  It’s easy for everyone to remember to nominate the big best sellers of the year or the debut books that are getting the big pushes.  But there are many midlist books that are wonderful and get lost in that shuffle.  Make sure to champion the midlist! They really need help to be seen!  (This is the same for all of your artist friends. There is always a thing that is going on where they can use your vote or nomination. You’ve gotten those emails / updates.)

11) Hand sell.  Maybe you are a bookseller?  Make sure that the book is on the shelf.  And then, when and if you love it, hand sell it! You can also help by making sure that the book is still on the shelf once it’s sold.  Many stores don’t automatically re-order a book if it doesn’t sell more than a certain amount.  If you are not a bookseller, you can still hand sell by just talking up the book to people.  (Talk up their music, game, comic, play, and movie.)

11a) If you work in retail anywhere and your pal is a musician and you like their music: Try putting their album on at work!  Who knows? Maybe someone will ask you who that swell band is?  Your pal may gain a new listener!

12) Support their Indiegogo or Kickstarter.  For your other artist friends who are making movies, plays, albums, comics, indie video games support their crowdfunding effort.  Really.  You can totally afford the $5-10 level (even if you think the project is lame.)  And it will really help them and boost morale.

13) Be a good literary citizen.  If you are an author, remember to be a good literary citizen. Promote yourself, but also do stuff for the larger literary community. Participate and include others.  There are many things you can do.  You can organize events.  You can pitch panels.  You can show up to things. You can volunteer to be a judge for things or to moderate panels (be a good moderator if you do.) You can write essays about other works.  Remember to extend past your own inner circle of friends to include people who you might not know. Being an artist is very hard. There are many ups and downs in a career.  At some point everyone goes through a hard time and needs help. Avoid the cool kids table mentality.  Be kind.  When you are on the top, don’t forget to keep helping your community.  Diversify your literary and artistic world.  (Other artists, you know what this is in your own field.  Art citizens for the win!)

14) Invite your friend over to dinner.  Or buy them dinner.  Or have a potluck.  Everyone could use a good night out with friends and conversation. It’s a spirit booster. No lie.

You have the power to be a great ART ALLY!  Champion what you love. From all artists everywhere, I thank you for your support!

Tin Star RPG Game!

Hello! As you all know, TIN STAR is out (hope you’ve picked up your copy )

I love Tula Bane’s world and I thought it might be fun to play in it! So my brother and I have created a tabletop RPG True 20 game based on the book Tin Star! Grab yourself a 20 sided die order a pizza and invite a bunch of friends over! You can play a bunch of aliens who land on the Yertina Feray and interact with the characters from the book!

DOWNLOAD THE TIN STAR GAME HERE *note. you should download both files the quick start rules and the adventure.

Get it on Scribd: Tin Star QuickStart Rules
Tin Star: A Simple Favor Adventure Module

I got the idea to create a game when visiting my good friend Chris Prams, publisher of Green Ronin Games! They created the True 20 system, which is an open license system. Check out their True 20 games here!

I hope you will enjoy playing! If you have any questions or any trouble downloading the game you can email me and my brother at tinstargame (at) gmail (dot) com or tweet us @tinstargame

Have fun!


the next big thing

My friend Jenn Fujikawa tagged me in this meme where you talk about a project you’ve been working on. She got it from our friend, the fabulous Sarah Kuhn and Amber Benson. I decided to answer questions about my newest book Odd Duck!

A little something about Jenn. She’s a cook, a nerdy girl, a sassy mom, a designer. You should totally check out her recipie blog. If you’ve ever wanted to make things like wookie cookies or princess leia cupcakes, her blog is the place to go. Right now she’s got a mochi book out. YUM.

Here are the medusa cupcakes she made for my book launch.

The Next Big Thing: Odd Duck!


Where did the idea come from for the book?
I think everyone I know is a little bit odd.

What genre does your book fall under?
It’s a hybrid graphic novel picture book for kids of all ages. (6 – 106) It’s written by me and illustrated by the fabulous Sara Varon.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie 
It’d be voice actors! Because I would want an animated movie. I think I’d choose my old pal Reno Wilson to voice Chad and Jennifer Hale, from my fave video game Mass Effect, to voice Theodora. To round it out, let’s say Dave Foley, Sean Cullen and Jane Lynch for Gabe, Max and Velma.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Theodora is a normal duck, following her daily habits. Chad is a bit of a strange egg, chaotic and creative. But which of them is really the odd duck? (that’s from the Junior Library Guild page where it is a spring pick!)

When will this book be published?
It’s out on First Second in May 2013. You can pre-order it now. amazon barnes and noble powells indiebound

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
I originally wrote it as an easy reader. So it was all text. Then Sara Varon came on board and we decided to throw out the words and make it pictures. Sara broke down the text and then we worked together on the pacing and fleshing out what needed to be fleshed out. All in all it took about three years.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Any book where there are two mismatched best buds.
Ernie and Bert. Wallace and Gromit. Bink and Gollie. Elephant and Piggie.
Oscar and Felix.

Who or What inspired you to write this book?
Many years ago I was sitting at a dinner with author/artist Peter Reynolds. We started talking about the odd ducks we knew. I got an image of a duck swimming with a tea cup on her head. That’s when I came up with Theodora. I made everyone laugh at dinner with stories of Theodora. And what better way to ruffle her feathers then to have a new duck move in next door. . I loved the idea of Chad being loud and colorful and messy. I wanted to write a book about being okay with yourself being weird.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
What I like a lot about this book is that it really is for all ages. It works on three levels. Kids who can’t read can follow the pictures, which are adorable. Kids who can read can get more details about the story, not only in the regular text but in the asides that are in the pictures. And then I think that adults can enjoy it because because we as adults know exactly what it’s like to be a Theodora or a Chad.

Here are the other super talented people that Jenn tagged: Genevieve Tsai, Kristin Weber , Leslie Levings, Bonnie Burton

As for who I’m tagging to go next, I wanted to highlight some fantastic female writers/creators/artists that I adore and also call friends.

Jillian Lauren, Liza Palmer and Sherri L. Smith

Jillian Lauren is a sassy lady who writes non-fiction and fiction. She wrote the memoir, My Life as a Harem and the novel Pretty. She also performs. She just did a one woman show at the Edinburgh Fest! She keeps a great blog about motherhood, which I adore.

Liza Palmer has written five books. She’s emmy nominated. She’s best selling. She’s sassy, funny, plays board games and is always a good time. She wrote More Like Her, A Field Guide to Burying your Parents, Seeing me Naked, Conversations with the Fat Girl and her most recent, Nowhere but You. Chuck her books into your bag and read them everywhere.

Sherri L Smith is an award winning YA author. She wrote one of my fave historical fiction YA books, Flygirl, which won the California Gold Medal. She’s worked in comic books, has helped organize special effects, makes cool jewelery and is an all around great gal to go to a comic book convention with. Her new book Orleans is an amazing dystopian YA set in a post hurrican New Orleans. So. Good. She blogs over at the Middle Hundred.

And I’m going to back tag Sarah Kuhn and Amber Benson

New York Comic Con Schedule

I’ll be at the NY Comic Con this weekend. Here are my panels. Please come and say hello!

Saturday, October 13 1:30-2:30pm
HOCUS POCUS: MAGIC & MONSTERS IN SCI FI AND FANTASY. , followed by a signing by all participating authors. With: Andrea Cremer, Cecil Castellucci, Jacqueline Carey, Jocelynn Drake, Kim Harrison, Max Gladstone, Richard Kadrey, Victoria Schwab.

Sunday, Oct. 14, 4:00 – 5:00PM
Getting Graphic with Girls: Empowering Girls and Addressing Issues through Paneled Pictures, with Cecil Castellucci, Colleen Venable, and Lucy Knisley (Room 1A01)

Come and say HI!!!

Letters for Kids

I think it’s long been known that I love mail.  I love writing letters and receiving them.  Therefore, I think you will understand when I announce with such happiness that I am the Children’s Correspondence Coordinator for the Rumpus’ new Letters For Kids!

Basically, you can subscribe your kid (or yourself) to receive two letters a month from middle grade authors.  So far up on dock, we’ve got letters coming to you from people like Natalie Standiford, Lemony Snicket, Adam Rex, Rebecca Stead and more to be announced.  Think of it as a way to introduce your wee ones to the joy of receiving mail.  It’s $4.50 a month.  You can sign up your classroom or library, too!  And you can even write back!

TCAF / Toronto Comic Arts Festival

Hello all!

I’m going to be at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival (TCAF) this weekend. It’s at the Toronto Public Library at 789 Yonge Street and it’s free! I’ll be at the Librarian and Educator day on Friday for the author luncheon. Then I’m tabling with Nate Powell, the illustrator of my new novel The Year of the Beasts! We’ll be on the second floor so come on by and say hello. I’ll have books for sale.

My panel is on Sunday, May 6, 2012 | The Pilot 22 Cumberland Ave.

2:00 – 3:15 – Making Comics: The Process
Creators discuss how they make comics: what’s the process of writing and drawing that they go through to create individual creative projects? When a comic varies from only writing to nonfiction journalism to fantasy, how does the process change? With Mike Dawson, Adam Warren, Cecil Castellucci, and Kagan McLeod. Moderator: Tina Coleman

The American Cinematheque / celebrates Robert Downey Jr

My fine friends. Many of you know that I am a cinephile. And many of you know that I have had a long and wonderful relationship with the American Cinematheque. I’ve volunteered there, I’ve worked there, I even had my character Egg, from Boy Proof, have an internship there. Every year the American Cinematheque has a gala fundraiser where they give an award and celebrate an actor. This year it’s Robert Downey, Jr. (swoon!)

One thing that you can do to help the Cinematheque is to watch the Ustream of the red carpet at 6:30 PM (PDT) The Cinematheque earns a revenue share for every viewer who watches live.

Streaming by Ustream

in progress : literary diaspora

As some of you, but surely not all of you, may know, I have been conducting my very first conceptual art project which I call The Literary Diaspora You can follow along @litdiaspora on the twitter or on the litdiaspora on the tumblr I hope you will.

What is the Literary Diaspora? It’s a playful game of narratives. Think of it like a strange exquisite corpse, where I send a blank postcard and a word or phrase to visual artists and ask them to send back a piece of work inspired by it. Then I print 10 copies of that image and I send one of those cards to an author and ask them for a microfiction, or a poem, or tiny philosophical thought. The other cards I slip into that authors book in bookstores. Not just in LA! Everything is done through the post. Mail! Lovely mail!

A diaspora is a scattering or a dispersion.

I am curious to see what will come back to me. And it’s been great fun to see what’s been returned.

Some pretty amazing people have participated. Visual Artists who have returned cards include Becky Cloonan, Chip Zdarsky, Darina Karpov, Jen Wang, Julia Denos, Ken Garduno, Rachel Perry Welty, and Sara Varon to name a few.

Authors who have returned text include: Blake Nelson, Cory Doctorow, Emma Straub, Marie Mutsuki Mockett, Marisa Silver, Natalie Standiford, and Patrick deWitt to name a few

There is always more arriving.  I hope you will follow along!

And if you are at the West Hollywood Book Fair, on Oct. 2,  you may just find a card in a book you buy.

Returned art by Gabriela Salazar / word given “dreaming”

Returned text by Steve Almond on the card “Relaxed Shoe” by Joe Infurnari