Leaving New York City

On the last day of our trip to New York City for BookCon, we decided to walk down a few blocks from our hotel to go explore Times Square. It’s one thing to see it during the New Years parties every year, but it’s entirely different getting to see it in person during the day.

Times Square is huge and towers over you. I felt dwarfed there from all the skyscrapers and enormous posters and signs. It’s also not really meant for cars either. It’s way easier to get around on foot than it is to drive. The screens were absolutely everywhere. It seemed like every wall had an LED screen on it, and there were a ton of theaters. More than I ever expected.

We also saw a person asking for volunteers to see the Daily Show for free and if we hadn’t been flying out that evening, we would have totally done it!

Overall it was an incredible experience, and I’m happy to be able to share it with you! Check out the video of our last day in New York as we make our way down the bustling sidewalks of Times Square, enjoy a Pride drink at the Hard Rock Cafe, and pop into the Disney store!

Review: To Dream Is To Die

Sarah Lampkin is another one of my incredible Parliament House Press sisters, and we’ve been fortunate enough to work alongside each other at not one, but two events this year!

(Check out our interview on YA Fantasy and Science Fiction at the Alabama Book Festival below!)

I look like a Batman villain in that preview pic!

Sarah is awesome to work with. She’s also a gym rat and is a big inspiration to hit the gym if you follow her on social media! So I was thrilled to get a chance to review her book, To Dream Is To Die.

Brenna is clearly ready to kick some ghost butt!

Finished: June 5, 2019

First of all, the concept behind The Dead Dreamer series (this is book 1 of that series) is so fascinating! I love the mixture of dreamers, spirits, and portals for demons and fairies. Brenna is a tough-as-nails protagonist and although her pessimistic personality took a bit to win me over, her friends and experiences soften her hard exterior throughout the story.

I also loved the mystery that takes place on a haunted college campus! I mean, technically anywhere Brenna goes is ultimately haunted, but you know what I mean. As someone who works on a campus, this especially appealed to me. I really enjoyed the fast pace and the way each of the characters change and evolve over time. For fans of ghost hunters, conspiracy theories, administrators hiding the truth, and characters with big secrets to hide, this is a novel for you!

I’m really excited to read book two in The Dead Dreamer series, To Wake The Dead, coming in October!

What I consider a 5-star book:

  • Is it a fun read? Although it took a little longer for Brenna to grow on me due to her pessimistic outlook on life, once the story got going I had a hard time putting this down!
  • Would you recommend it to others? If you love ghosts, people who turn into ghosts, or ghosts co-existing with demons and the fae, then this is definitely a book to check out!
  • Does it stick with you? This book has some scenes that will absolutely stick with you for a long time to come!

My overall rating: 5/5

Note: This book follows Brenna in her first year of college and she’s surrounded by party people who drink a LOT, with all the detail of having to puke into trash cans and whatnot. For me, this was triggering, but I’m a little squeamish about that sort of thing. For others, it may not be a problem at all. So just a warning if you’re squeamish like me to tread cautiously!

Interview at The Horror Tree

So I apologize folks, but I am terrible at remembering to share interviews I’ve done on here. I share them around like crazy on social media, just because it’s easier to to do, but when it comes down to posting them on my blog, I just forget. It’s one of those bad habits I’ve noticed since my debut novel, Stolen, came out in January, and it’s something I hope to tackle as I continue doing interviews down the road.

The researcher in me thinks there has to be a pattern, because I see other authors struggle with this too, especially as interviews get done around release dates. When you have a book coming out, not only are you prepping for your own release party, but you’re also working on book tours and putting together materials for those. Interviews for some reason just get forgotten after the initial social media push.

So in trying to make up for that lapse, here’s an interview I did back in March for The Horror Tree. Now if you’re a horror author looking for publishers to submit to, this site is indispensable. They’re a free site, and they post up information that is often more detailed than what’s on Duotrope. For short story horror writers, it’s a gem.

The Horror Tree: An indispensable tool for horror authors.

So you can imagine my excitement when I was asked to do an interview for them! This is one of the most comprehensive interviews I’ve done about not just Stolen and The She-Wolf of Kanta, but also for Night Feeders. Check out the link below!

The Horror Tree Presents… An Interview with Marlena Frank

Author Vending: Business Cards and Branding

When I first got my business cards created, I didn’t know the first thing about how to make them. I was a short story author, but was just beginning to get into having full novellas and books published. I didn’t have any idea of where to go to get them printed, what made a good design for a creative person, or anything like that. The only design I was really familiar with were the ones I had from work. I work in IT in education during my day job, so you can imagine how plain those were.

So I researched and found out that Staples did business cards. Perfect, I thought, that’s where I’ll go! I designed them all online, expecting a variety of design options, but was dismayed with how quickly the price rose for just simple design elements. Want an icon? That’s extra. Want color? That’s extra too. Want to print on both sides? Yeah, you get the idea. It was difficult.

Another piece I didn’t understand at the time was that I needed an author brand. I needed a look and feel that described me as an author, and I wasn’t sure what that was yet. Should I define myself by my dark horror short stories? Or should it be my lighter fantasy pieces? It was a struggle, and so instead of making a big decision about it, I decided to go simple and dark to try and embrace my horror side. It… didn’t look nearly as good as I hoped it would.

The background of the card is supposed to be black, but came out as a dark, flat gray. I assumed that was as black as they would print it. The red lettering really looks bad against the color, and the words are almost illegible. The white font doesn’t pop and almost faded away as well.

At the time, I also didn’t see the value of having a back side to the cards. I could barely figure out what to put on the front of them, and I didn’t want to incur the extra cost. I saw it as an expense instead of an investment, as a simple way for people to remember my name rather than a way to advertise for myself. At the time I had no plans of being an author vendor or anything like that, and it really shows. Staples is more for basic business cards, not for more creative cards, and their color choices show that.

Now, these cards aren’t bad exactly, they’re just boring. I’ll probably still pull them out when I need just some basic cards. They’re great for a basic exchange of info and they have space to write on the back. However, I’m really proud of the recent redesign I made for them. I’m bringing these to the 4th of July event tomorrow, and I think they really pop, especially compared to the old design.

Look at how vibrant the colors are on these! Look at how just looking at the card you can see the style of my work. You see fantasy, but you also see the hint of darkness with the tendrils reaching out on the sides. The butterfly and the tendrils are from some free clipart I found online, but everything else was built in Canva and printed from Vistaprint. Not only do I get a beautiful glossy front, but I also get that true black that I wanted. Pictures don’t really do these justice because you miss that glossy effect and the brilliant colors, but I’m so very proud of how these turned out compared to their predecessors. I feel like people will want to pick these up.

Take a look at them side by side. The differences are dramatic. One looks like a plain business card, while the other looks like it belongs to a creative person.

Now as far as branding goes, I wanted to add that the theme of the new business card designs go along quite well with my vertical sign. Are they the same colors? No, but the butterfly theme links them together.

From our Geranium Festival setup, featuring Kelley M. Frank from Morbid Smile with the hat, and
Jordan Dixon from Heartfelt Knots Knitting.

My vertical sign also implies with the gradient from black to purple in the background that there is a darkness to my stories as well. This is a shot from our setup from the Geranium Festival earlier this year, and I think this was the first time my vertical sign was pulled out. These signs have been so very helpful in bringing people into the booths at our events.

I hope you enjoyed this little dive into designing and author branding! I hope it not only helps you figure out your author brand, but also how to reflect it in various mediums. I’ve only been doing this for a year and I still have a lot of learning to go, but hopefully I can share some experiences and resources to help others get started.

I’m hoping to do more posts like this one on vending as an author! Let me know if you have any topics you would like me to cover in the comments below.

Author Vending Lessons After One Year

So going to BookCon was a heck of an ordeal, as I mentioned previously. I have never been a vendor at an event where I had to fly in, and it of course meant paring down all of my vending essentials down to the bare minimum. What can I fit in a carry-on? How do I get my books there? What do I absolutely need, and what do I not need? Check out my video below for some of the packing decisions I had to make.)

Now it’s been a month, and in the meantime we’ve traveled out of town again for a completely unrelated event. Two trips in one month mean laundry is a thing. I’m still working on book deadlines, and the kitties are very needy. I’m also left with the daunting task of finding all the things I used for BookCon, restocking them, and then reorganizing them for a new event. A kind author friend shipped my remaining books back for me from New York (thank you, Amber!) I was completely out of all my book goodies: magnets, postcards — even bookmarks! So I had to do a refresh order from VistaPrint (fortunately taking advantage of one of their big sales!) and get it all in before our next event on the 4th of July.

The 4th of July Family Fest had its first year last year, and it was the first event where I actually did really well. I was unexpectedly interviewed on the radio by a book lover, and I had a number of readers come out just to see what I had available. I was over the moon, as you can expect, and so I’m making sure I’ve got plenty of stock this year and plenty of copies of Stolen too. I met some of my biggest fans last year at this event, and I’m curious to find out who I’ll meet this time around. It’s always a great experience going to local festivals, and this one isn’t the smallest we’ve gone to, but it’s not BookCon size either. Regardless of what size it is though, I always try to be prepared!

In a couple of months I’ll be prepping for another big book festival of BookCon size, the Decatur Book Festival, which is the largest indie book festival in the country. There I’ll be stocking for not just one, but two booths! Oh boy. Some lessons I’ve learned from BookCon is to always bring an extra stamp pad (mine dried out, but it lasted me all last year!), and bring plenty of extra pens for all colors of paper. I have silver sharpies for The She-Wolf of Kanta and I have my fine-liners for Stolen. I also learned to bring plenty of swag beforehand. I failed to do a refresh before BookCon and was wiped out almost completely.

I’ve learned a lot since year one of vending as an author, but I’m still learning in year two, and I expect to be learning for many years to come! I feel far more comfortable and more experienced in how to do these things now, but I still probably stress out way more than I need to (hence this blog post haha).

I’m hoping to do more posts like this one, talking about what I’ve learned vending as an author, discussing what I could have done differently, and figuring out how to always improve my methods. Would you be interested in hearing more about this process? What topics would you like to learn about? Leave your comments below!