We’re excited to introduce you to the always interesting and insightful Veronica Smith. We hope you’ll enjoy our conversation with Veronica below.
Hi Veronica, thanks for joining us today. Let’s jump right into the heart of things. Outsiders often think businesses or industries have much larger profit margins than they actually do – the reason is that outsiders are often unaware of the biggest challenges to profitability in various industries – what’s the biggest challenge to profitability in your industry?
Writing anything is hard, whether it’s a 5K word short story or a 75K word novel. It takes a lot of time to write. A lot of writers are people just like me. People with day jobs and families. Sometimes it’s hard to find time to write, even if you can see that entire story rolling around in your head. I’ve invested in an audio recorder so I can just spit out what’s in my brain before I forget it. Sometimes I just type out whatever I’m thinking; not worrying about grammar or even if it makes much sense. You’ve just got to get the words out. There’s an actor/writer named Wil Wheaton who calls this “word vomit.” The phrase fit so absolutely perfect I use it all the time too. There are a lot of writers out there, and some are writing the same genres, maybe even something that seems similar. For example, I have written a novel and several short stories based on zombies. Zombies are big right now. There are so many books on zombies. Many of them are very good and it’s amazing that we can all write about them and still have different ideas and stories to go around that main theme. But we have a phrase we use: we aren’t competition, we’re family.
The biggest challenge that I, and many other artists, have been facing is, overwhelmingly, the pandemic. We authors have our books up on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Godless, even Apple. But for some of us, the only time we make any real money is at conventions and book events. If we are lucky, we make enough profit. After paying for the cost of the paperbacks, the costs of the table or booth for the event, the travel to get there; sometimes we only break even, if that. I’m not looking to get rich. I use what I make to buy more paperbacks and sign up for more events. It’s like a cycle.
2020 removed ALL the events. Like many other authors, I had bought a good amount of my books at the beginning of the year to sell at these events. They sat in a room in my house, staring at me when I walked by them, begging to be read.
For some of us, artists included, this is their job, their livelihood; they had no other income coming in.
I was lucky. I have a day job as a computer drafter for an automation engineering company. But it was touch and go for a while in 2020 as to whether or not I would still have a job only a few months in. The Oil & Gas industry was not kind to people, and more than half my fellow employees were laid off. My division was small, and I had an advantage that I can wear many hats, multi-task. For a while, it was just myself, my boss, and one shop guy running it all. I was able to do the job of four people, but I wasn’t complaining. I was still employed, but I worried every single day for over a year if that day would be my last. The stress hit me a lot. I felt bad because I was still employed while so many others weren’t. Many had it so much worse than I did and sometimes I felt I had no right to feel the way I did.
Once 2021 started rolling in, things loosened up a bit. Our company began hiring and rehiring. Business picked up. And conventions and events started to come back. It’s always a hit or miss/toss up whether any artist will “make their table” back at any con, but we have to be able to vend at those cons to even get the chance.
I even went to a Halloween costume contest/party and dressed up, which I never do. I realized how much fun I was missing. I didn’t win, of course. The guy who went as the Beetlejuice carnival game on stilts won it hands down.
2021 has gotten much better; a lot more events opening up, some smaller, and some of the big ones. A few charged a lot more to get a booth than previous years; despite the fact that the artists were hit the hardest. I still tried to vend at as many of them that I could afford. One large one, I won’t go back to ever. I lost so much money at that one, it overshadowed all the smaller ones where I actually made a little money. Some of the smaller ones kept their prices lower and were very popular events. I expect 2022 to be busy and keep getting better but I’ve already started it as a monetary loss from 2020 and 2021.
I attended my first small event in January, and we actually had a great turnout. A little outdoor comic/artist/collector event outside a Houston area arcade, Mr. Pixel’s Classic Arcade. It was a beautiful day and was nice to be back out in the groove.
My next two events are both in April. April 1-3, I’ll be in Lake Charles (my first time vending in Louisiana) at CyPhaCon. I will have a booth and doing three panels on writing with fellow author, Greg Kelso, and other authors that sign up. Then, Trader’s Village will be doing their annual Comic Con, I believe, April 23-24. I’ve been doing this one since the second year they started it and never miss it.
I’m scheduled for Kaotik Freedom Con (first year for them) Jun 25-26 in Lake Jackson, TX. Then I’m sharing a booth with my best friend, Terry Wise of Sculptured Skins, at Houston Horror Film Festival July 22-24 in Houston. I’m really looking forward this one. I’ll be rounding out 2022 with Eastern Rim in Baytown August 20-21 and Beaumont Comic Con September 24-25.
I may add a few in between these if I can, but these are my scheduled appearances so far.
I am still looking for a publisher for my Young Adult zombie novel “Just Get There,” after having the misfortune of two publishers closing right before staring my book. It happens, unfortunately more than once. But sometimes I feel like this book is cursed. Haha
I’m currently working on a novel called “Bitchilante.” This one is based on a female vigilante who goes after sexual predators. I’m twenty chapters in (about 30K words) so I’m about halfway done. And, of course, I’m always working on short stories, submitting them to anthologies. My books are up on Amazon (www.amazon.com/Veronica-Smith/e/B014JCZQT4) and Godless (https://godless.com/collections/godless-authors/products/veronica-smith-1). All are available in paperback and ebook except for the short stories, which are ebook only. My crime novella, Chalk Outline, is also up on Audible.
Great, appreciate you sharing that with us. Before we ask you to share more of your insights, can you take a moment to introduce yourself and how you got to where you are today to our readers
I’ve always loved to write, even as a child. Back when I was reading Nancy Drew books, I started two separate “teen detective” books, even starring in one of them myself. I think I got as far as ten or twelve chapters. Everything was handwritten back then, computers unheard of. I don’t remember why I didn’t continue on with them, but they are now casualties. They are somewhere with the rest of my childhood things that even my parents don’t know. They may all be hiding in a box in some attic from a past residence. But I had that urge even back then. I was always writing poetry and little stories my entire life. But in 2014, I found an open call for short stories for a Christmas zombie anthology. An anthology is a book of stories, sometimes centered around a theme, written by different authors. I’d never submitted a story before, but as my first real story, “A Zombie Christmas,” seemed to fit perfect. The publisher agreed and it was accepted! My first story; my first submission. I was giddy. I thought “If I can get one accepted, I can do more.” And so, it began. I wrote and I subbed. Some were accepted, some were rejected. But the rejected ones always found a home somewhere else later, maybe even years later. That one thing for writers to remember. Even if you get a rejection, take heart. What one publisher didn’t want, or couldn’t use, another one has been searching for years for. There is a home for all stories. You just have to have the patience to find it. When I wrote “Chalk Outline,” I had that entire story in my head. I had to “word vomit” the idea so I wouldn’t forget. I originally thought it to be a long, short story but it kept going. It ended up being a novella instead. I went the way of self-publishing then. A friend taught me how to format. Another friend did the cover in exchange for my doing some minor editing on one of her books. And another friend did the editing. That’s when I realized I could write more than just short stories (although I still love to write them), I could actually write a book.
Alright – let’s talk about marketing or sales – do you have any fun stories about a risk you’ve taken or something else exciting on the sales and marketing side?
I sell books at author events and comic conventions all the time. Those are the normal places to sell books. But sometimes you have to think outside the box. Once I shared a table with a fellow local author at a gun show in George R. Brown. We were the only authors vending. Most people walked right by, while others looked at our table in interest. It was a two-day show and, while neither of us made a ton of money, we both made our halves of the table back. When you try sometime new, that is really all you can hope for. I’ve also shared a space with my friend, Terry Wise, who I mentioned before. We tried the vending event at St. Arnold’s Brewery. To our happy surprise, it was actually a very popular event. I sold quite a bit of books. Unfortunately, the higher cost of the space and short hours of the event kept me from breaking even. I gave it another couple of tries but I could just never get it to even out. But I chalked it up to lesson learned. I had to try. Since I write zombies, I got with my local Alamo Drafthouse theater one year when they were doing a showing of Night of the Living Dead. It was extremely short; just the people going into the theater and coming out when the movie was over. But I sold a few so I called it a win. But my best unusual place to vend was Katy Rice Festival. Generally, this is a craft show. My “neighbors” was a woman who sold homemade baskets, and the American Legion. I was selling horror books. But I outsold any place I’d ever vended at. I shared the book at this two-day outdoor event with my friend I shared the table at the gun show. It was a craft market, but we both sold a lot of books. I even sold out of one of them. Who knew? Never think that a place is a bad place to sell your wares. You never know what may turn out to be a great idea.
What’s worked well for you in terms of a source for new clients?
Originally, I only uploaded my books to Amazon or Smashwords, two popular online booksellers. Online is okay as long and people can find your books. Correct titles, placement of genre, and wording of the blurbs (book summaries) all play an important part in getting your book noticed. I’ve found the best place to gain new readers is in person. I love to go to book signing and get my favorite authors to sign my books. I have all these signed books on a special bookshelf at home. I like to think that some of my books are up on someone special shelf as well. Once I had a table at Nerd Con and a man came up to me all excited. “I have to tell my daughter you are here!” Then he rushed off. She came back and was all giddy. She had read my book because it was in the library. She wanted her own copy, signed and personalized. Then she wanted a picture with me. I felt so honored. At several events I’m at, I have people come up to my table and point out that they already have this book or that. “Ooh, I don’t have that one. I’ve got to have that!” They literally have read everything I’ve written. That makes me feel so good. Sometimes they will hang out and we’ll talk for a while. It’s so much fun to talk about books with other readers. In fact, they have turned me on to new authors, and I’ve suggested others they should read as well.