Gay romance fiction

Décor Wars: party style that packs a punch      

by Damon Suede

(A-game Advice was a monthly column offering practical tips for winning promo that fits your personal style, strategy, and measure of success.)

So this month’s column arose on the PAN loop in a conversation about Barbara Vey’s legendary Reader Appreciation weekend, an annual event known for its passionate attendees and over-the-top author décor. I’ll confess, I find design projects fun and relaxing, but I know some folks don’t. Either way, decorating for reader events doesn’t have to be expensive, exhausting, or annoying, so long as you keep the focus where it needs to be: on your voice. And that means, all decorations begin with your unique authorial brand.

Now in the interest of brevity, I'm going to assume that you've spent some time specifying the details of your brand for promo purposes because you should have, full stop. Love it or hate it, promoting your work is part of the professional requirements.

In the same way that a perfume ad uses a series of images and sounds to evoke a scent, the sensory details associated with your voice (aka your brand) allow audiences to form an opinion about the books you write before they've read them. Branded décor attracts your unique audience.

In simplest terms, your brand is your voice made visible. Branded decorations show folks what your voice sounds like on the page.

Every design choice you make must reflect your brand (and telegraph your voice) so that the right audience can find you. Readers want different things from books, from authors. Our job is to facilitate that quest for everyone.

When we host a fan event or hang a poster or come up with some dazzling swag we are creating branded breadcrumbs that lead the innocent, the eager, and the skeptical through the forest to the stories they want. Decoration in any form lets us depict an imaginative state for an audience. Design lets symbols run riot: think of the distinction between proms, weddings, promotions, and funerals. Each has its own vibe, tropes, clichés, and flourishes. Ideally, a design reflects the emotions and expectations of the attendees.

Let’s say you’ve got a party or a signing or a bookfair coming up. You know you'll be appearing in public to represent your work in front of current and potential readers. You want the return on investment to be credible and you want to attract the right kinds of attention for the right reasons. We aren't expected to be decorators, but we must be able to communicate our brands to our distinct audiences.

Rather than thinking of this task in terms of set design or special FX, think of décor as giftwrapping the space for the intended recipient. We all know how to wrap a present, and we all know that different people enjoy different kinds of gift and open them idiosyncratically. Some people love the suspense and some people shake the box. Some folks rip the paper off and some unfold slowly and save the ribbons. As authors, you need to wrap the package you’re offering so the right folks can find it.

Start with the five senses; that’s not a glib suggestion. This info will help you narrow down options for gifts, ornaments and more. How does your brand/voice…?:

  • Look: consider color, shape, context, and saturation.

  • Sound: weigh the power of music and other sound FX to create a mood.

  • Smell: allow the inestimable power of smell to create memorable impressions.

  • Feel: use texture, materials, and contrast to standout in the right ways.

  • Taste: offer the right kind of noshes and treats make a impression

In the same way that genres and subgenres create expectations, the imaginative footprint we leave attracts the right kinds of readers. Coherent branding keeps that potential audience from being confused or distracted. A few simple choices anchored in sensory specifics can boost the decorating ROI significantly.

Style counts and manners matter. A perfume’s name and the shape of its bottle don’t change how it smells, but ideally those choices attract the right kind of attention. You get extra points for wit and imagination, but ultimately decoration only matters as much as you need it to. The sizzle only matters if there’s steak on the plate.

Whether you're decorating a room or a table make sure you use every square inch mindfully. One stylish choice can put you on the map and a million sloppy gimmicks will make you invisible. Carve out an imaginative space that invites the right readers into your perimeter. Get creative; you’re an artist!

There's an old saying in Hollywood: always put your money in front of the camera. The same thing is true in theater; nobody upholsters the back of the set in watered silk.  Make sure whatever cash, time, and energy you invest ends up in full view of your actual audience.

Determine a measure of success to keep you on track. Right off the bat, create a budget for yourself. What do you want to accomplish and what is a sensible amount to invest? Having boundaries in mind will keep you from making egregious or bizarre decisions at the last minute. And last minute is always too late. Before you begin assemble:

  • Your brand assets (your brand’s 5 senses, licensed artwork, logo vector, etc)

  • Measurements for the available space and services

  • Technical details like outlets, available furniture, and venue policy

  • A clear goal with concrete benefits for your career.

  • Any relevant instructions, permissions, and compromises with your colleagues.

On that tip, be respectful of anyone with whom you're sharing the space. We all want to stand out but that doesn't give us a license to make other people feel annoyed or unwelcome. The minute your décor becomes a negative, it’s ceased to function as it should, unless your brand is “solipsistic jerk.” Make sure you're not cramping other people's efforts or enjoyment.

Cooperate and reciprocate, always! Play well with others and they'll play well with you.

Make design choices that telegraph what makes your writing extraordinary. If you're witty, hit that funny bone head on. Known for sweet cozy mysteries? Give them a pretty puzzle that will tickle their fancy. If you write intense erotica, tease and seduce them with the possibilities without tipping over into raunch. And if you write in several genres, identify the coherent thread of your voice across the various shelves in tone, timbre, and rhythm. Again, think like a perfume ad on television: evoke the scent so powerfully that they’d know it on first sniff. Wrap the present you’re giving them.

Remember: not all books are for all readers. Good branded decoration can also steer the wrong people away from your books towards a better fit, which is a win/win/win for everyone because it saves time, headaches, and disappointment. Help folks find other writers and they’ll return the favor. Cooperation and reciprocation helps the entire community.

Another advantage of this “gift wrap” décor model is that it’s inexpensive, arresting, and as imaginative as you feel like getting. Nobody wraps a present in platinum leaf or emerald-encrusted ribbons. On a practical note,

  • Edit your ideas down so that the ROI and visual impact are maximized. Feature one dazzling, unforgettable idea rather than a blurry/generic hodgepodge.

  • Gather your supplies in advance. Keeping an eye on craft stores, Etsy, and eBay can help you build a party “kit” with infinite applications.

  • Consider packing and transport logistics. Your supplies need to be portable and durable enough to make the trip with you (and possibly back).

  • Are you design impaired or chronically disorganized? Turn to talented folks who are willing to help for love or money. Treat them well and take them seriously.

The minute decorating becomes an irritant, consider scaling things back. What really matters is the books and the fun for the fans. Your best decoration is always an enthusiastic, gracious vibe.

Look, no one needs to wrap packages. No one ever died from a lack of embossing or origami bows. Keep thing in perspective. Ribbon and paper creates suspense and drama in a festive setting, a kind of aggressive display like a peacock's tail that simultaneously reveals and conceals something fabulous.

Your decorations do exactly the same. They are the wrapping, the books are the box, and your voice is the gift, so present it to them.

A professional development article for writers by M/M author Damon Suede

Copyright 2016. Damon Suede. All Rights Reserved

Originally published as part of A Game Advice for the Romance Writers Report.

If you wish to republish this article, just drop me a line.