Category: Articles

Europe – Planning a Trip

Europe – It’s Not Just for Daydreams Anymore

A Guide on Planning a European Vacation

 

Ah, the magic of Ireland.  The history of London.  The highlands of Scotland.  You’ve heard of them for years, seen them in the tourist commercials, and heard about them in the music.  Yet you have never yet visited these dreams.  And why not?

It’s too expensive, you say.  I could never afford a trip to Europe.

Less expensive than a week at Disneyworld, I say!  For a two week Ireland vacation in summer (2006), including airfare, rental car, B&B accommodation and trip insurance, I spent about $1600.  Yes, that’s it.  Now, that doesn’t include food or souvenirs, of course, but it did include a wonderful vacation to a magical place.

So, how do you get such a deal?  Well, it takes patience, research, and the ability to make decisions when you need to.  I will take you through, step-by-step, how to get the best deal for a European vacation.

DECISIONS:  Who, What, Where, When and Why

WHO’s going?  You?  Your spouse?  Your children or parents?  Your best friend?  A huge group of 20 friends (not recommended unless you want ulcers!)  This decision makes a big difference in accommodation and transportation choices.

WHAT to do?  Are you interested in touring the whisky distilleries in Scotland?  Or the abbeys in England?  Or the pubs in Ireland?  Your trip doesn’t have to have a theme, of course, but it is more fun if you have one – and helps you to plan when your mind is a blank.  Perhaps you’ve seen a movie or read a book set in Yorkshire, and want to tour the area?  Or you dance and want to learn step dancing in Ireland?  The imagination can take flight here!

WHERE to go, of course, depends on WHAT you are doing.  It also ties into WHEN you want to go.  Since my most recent trip was Ireland, I will use that as an example, but most of my advice can be applied to any destination in Europe, or even beyond.  The decision of WHEN to go will be tied into the destination.  For instance, Ireland is much nicer to visit in the summer – but also more expensive; whereas Greece is cooler as a winter destination.  The days are longer in the summer the farther you go north – and conversely, shorter in the winter, resulting in much shorter days for sightseeing.

Another part of WHERE includes the character of place – towns and villages, or bustling metropolis?  London or Kilkenny?  Edinburgh or Ullapool?  While each city has its own character, they can be overwhelming at times, and aren’t always the best places to stay.  A small village used as a base of exploration can be wonderful, and you get more chances to meet the locals.

You might also want to think about WHY you want to go.  Do you want to touch the roots of your ancestors?  Or experience an ancient culture?  Do you just want to get away from the screaming kids?  Or make your co-workers jealous?  There are many reasons WHY you may want to go to Europe – pick several!

RESEARCH: Find out everything about everything –

then throw half of it away

The internet is many things.  Addicting, yes; maddening, yes.  But it is also incredibly helpful when doing research, especially about places far from your home.  Airfare, hotels, cities, beautiful beaches (yes, they exist in the UK) and gloomy castles are all listed somewhere – you just have to find them.  The best order of research I’ve found is airfare first, then itinerary, lodging, and finally ground transportation.  The airfares available may define your itinerary somewhat, and the itinerary will define the other items.

Airfare:

 

There is a reason I look for this first.  There is a definite season to vacationing in the UK – summer.  While many people do go on the non-‘peak’ months of July and August, there is indeed a reason why summer is the best.  Longer days to see sights, warmer weather, less rain and wind – and more things are open.  That also means the airfare is the most expensive, and usually lodging as well.

The shoulder months of May, June, September and October are becoming more popular, as the weather is still nice, and the days aren’t incredibly short yet.  However, that also means that the airfares are creeping up as they become more popular.  I have traveled to southern Ireland in April and it was beautiful – and inexpensive.

When I’ve decided how much cash I’m willing to sacrifice for a warmer vacation, I start researching my flights.  I go to dozens of websites, sometimes daily, to find the best fare.  When I got tickets to Ireland in 2006, I found them on Travelocity on a one-day fare sale on Virgin Air.  The tickets were non-stop from Miami to London, for $488 including taxes – in June.  They were gone within 24 hours, so if I hadn’t jumped on them, I would be stuck with the lowest I could find later – $800 a piece.

Also consider flying into one city and out of another.  This is great for Ireland, as you can fly into Shannon, explore the west, and end up flying out of Dublin at the end of your trip.  Edinburgh, London, and Glasgow are also considerations for this technique.  This is called an open-jaw ticket, and usually doesn’t cost much more, if any, than a normal round trip ticket.

Here are some of the sites I check regularly for discount airfare:

There are others, of course, but these are the ones I’ve used most often.  Also don’t forget to check the airline websites; if you find a great fare on Travelocity for Delta, Delta might have it cheaper, and it is usually better to deal directly rather than through a middleman.  Also remember not all sites include taxes in their fare quotes.

When you buy your tickets, check out the cancellation policies.  Usually, the cheaper the flight, the less flexible the changes allowed.  Make sure you are going before you purchase non-refundable, non-change tickets!

Itinerary:

There is a wealth of information about places, monuments, workshops, battles, and other things of interest.  Most cities and towns, even villages, have their own website with tourist information.  In addition, many travel agent websites have great information for the intrepid traveler.  Even more, there are websites dedicated to those interested in travel, with wonderful forums for those odd questions.  Some of my favorites are:

Once you have done exhaustive research of the places you want to see, taken notes to places, planned routes around them, and then throw half of it out. Yes, that’s right – you will likely end up with a list of 17 things to see in each city, and you will only have time for half of that, so pick your favorites.

Also, do yourself a favor, and be sure to leave room in your itinerary for free time – wandering around and getting lost, people-watching at a café, or just having a pint with the locals.  These are usually the most memorable parts of your trip, leave time for them frequently.  You don’t want to end up with an itinerary where you are rushing through things so fast you don’t see them.  Michele at www.IrelandYes.com calls that the Green Blur tour.  I suppose a Scottish version would be the Plaid Blur?

If you’ve got the places listed you want to see, look for a pattern.  Are they all close to a couple central locations?  If so, pick several places and use them as bases of exploration.  Can they be strung together in a large circle?  Then spend a couple nights in each place, moving around the circle.  Plan wisely, and try to avoid criss-crossing or backtracking.  Check driving times between places with www.michelin.com and www.theaa.com.  Then add about 20% to those driving times – they don’t take into account UK and Irish roads.  They twist, turn, and wiggle, which keeps speeds down lower than the speed limit!  You don’t want a day where you are driving 80% of the time, trust me!  I try to keep my days to 3 hours of driving at the most, and even that broken up with sites along the way.

Lodging:

Once you have your airfare and itinerary, you know which nights you are going to need lodging for, and where.  The UK is wonderfully full of adorable Bed & Breakfasts, and I highly recommend this accommodation choice.  The B&Bs in the US tend to be more upscale and expensive than those in the UK, so don’t go by their example.  Most B&Bs I’ve ever been in have been comfortable, clean, cozy, and a delight to stay at.  They run around $30-$60 a night per person, and include a huge breakfast (more on that later).  You will pay higher for city B&Bs, and sometimes shared hotel rooms are less expensive in the larger cities.  Do chat with the owners, and get their advice about local sites and attractions.

Now, the breakfast.  Ah, that artery-clogging wonder of cholesterol, the Full Irish, English or Scottish Breakfast.  Take eggs (usually over easy), add cold toast (they put it in racks to cool), sausage, side ham (they call it bacon), black pudding, white pudding, grilled tomato, sautéed mushrooms, cereal, bread, milk, juice, coffee, tea, and perhaps some fruit on the side – if you’re still peckish.  Stent, anyone?

Hotels, as mentioned above, usually charge by room rather than by person.  However, they may or may not include breakfast in the deal, and are usually more cookie-cutter and sterile.  They are a place to stay rather than a place to enjoy.

Then you can try the other options, such as youth hostels (not just for youth anymore), camping, caravanning (RV), canal boats, or lodging in old monasteries, colleges out for the summer, etc.  There is no end of unusual places to stay.  On the Isle of Lewis, you can stay in a traditional black house; near Inverness, there is a converted church set up as a B&B.  Get creative!

Once you have decided where you want to stay, make a reservation.  Make sure to check the cancellation policies.  Most have a day or so required, some a week or even a month.  Email is usually an option for communication these days, but some may require a phone call; remember they are at 5pm when it is noon here, and don’t wake anyone up!

 

Ground Transportation:

So, you know when, where, and why you are going – how are you getting there?  Well, my recommendation for the UK and Ireland is definitely for renting a car.  While it is possible to use bus and train to get around, and certainly many people do, you can’t find the little villages doing this, and getting lost on the way is half the fun.  If you are in a bus, you can’t make a detour on a whim to go find a hidden castle when you see a sign.  You can’t always determine how long you stay at one spot; there is much less flexibility.

Now, I know it is scary to think about driving on the wrong side of the road.  It gets worse:  automatic transmission cars are twice as expensive to rent, and the manual transmission cars make you shift with your left hand (since the driver is on the right of the car).  Confused yet?  I remember many times trying to grab the stick with my right hand – only to bang it on the door.  However, it’s not so bad – you get used to it very quickly.  It helps to have a designated navigator, as the signage on the islands is different.  Signs tend to tell you what the next town is, not what the road is called.  That means you should know the major towns on the way to where you are going, or even the ones just past your destination.

Many cities in the UK don’t require a car to get around in; in fact, having a car is a liability in Edinburgh, Dublin and London.  It is difficult to drive, find parking, and expensive.  London even has a toll to enter the city centre!  Those cities have a good public transportation system, though, especially the Underground in London, so use those instead.  Turn in the car before getting there, or wait to rent it until you leave.

Gas (petrol) is very expensive over there.  It is running around $8 a gallon right now.  Yes, really!  The good news is their engines run much more efficiently, and you can usually get around 45 mpg from them.  However, filling up a tank can still run you $100!  Budget accordingly.

I’ve gotten decent deals from www.autoeurope.com and from www.enterprise.com.  I would advise against renting from a place you’ve never heard of, cars can be very expensive – and it is difficult to fight a fraudulent damage claim from overseas.  Do be aware that most credit card insurances do NOT cover Ireland, so you will likely be required to purchase expensive CDW insurance for such a rental.

OTHER CONSIDERATIONS

 

OK, you’ve done your research, gotten your tickets, your reservations for lodging, and your car rental.  Ready to go?  Not yet!

Trip Insurance

You break your leg the week before the trip.  Ruined!  All your money lost!  Not so, grasshopper – if you bought the proper trip insurance.  Go to www.insuremytrip.com and compare the benefits of different packages.  Find out if your health insurance will cover you on foreign soil.  Find out if you need medical evacuation, trip cancellation in case of medical emergency, etc.  Compare the benefits, and find one that fits right.  For a small investment, you get a great deal of peace of mind.

Paperwork, money, etc.

This should be taken care of before you even get the tickets, but everyone procrastinates.  My husband ended up getting his passport the day before we flew out – we were very nervous!  Normal processing time for a new passport is six weeks, but please give it plenty of leeway (especially if you’ve already bought non-refundable tickets!).  This has increased to about 12 weeks with the new regulations regarding travel to Canada and Mexico (which don’t apply on the road crossings, just flying).

US citizens don’t need visas for short visits to the UK or Ireland, but if you are going somewhere else, do read up on the requirements long before your flight, and make sure all paperwork is in order.

Right now, the UK is on the Pound Sterling and Ireland is on the Euro.  I recommend going to your bank and getting a couple hundred dollars with to start out with, and getting more during your vacation from the ATM machine, and/or using your credit card.  Shop around for a card with a good rate – many (Capital One is one of the few that don’t) add on an extra 3% for any foreign transaction, in addition to the 1% Visa/MC charges.  You don’t want to carry too much with you, but some B&Bs require cash, and some require prepayment.  You can also get some pre-trip Euros online through companies like AAA or Thomas Cooke.

Packing

Sure, you’ve packed dozens of times for vacations.  What’s the big deal?  Well, the new flight carry-on restrictions, for one.  Transatlantic flights have new rules, and it behooves you to know them before you are waiting in the security line for your flight.

Carry-on:  Most airlines have their carry on rules on their websites.  Some have weight as well as size restrictions, and the liquid restrictions are fun.  Check before you go!  Right now (Jan 2007) any carry-on liquids must be in containers no larger than 3oz (100ml) and they must all fit comfortably in a quart-sized clear Ziploc bag.  That includes water, drinks, toiletries, even lip gloss.  Prescription medicines must be labeled in the traveler’s name, baby formula may need to be tested at the gate.  There are several exceptions like this, so check them out.

Liquids include gels and semi-solid things like jellies and sometimes cheese, so be careful.  When in doubt, check it or leave it.  Also, jackets and medical equipment are not counted towards your carry-on limits.  I’ve taken heavy stuff from my carry-on and stuffed it in my purse, which is rarely weighed.  You can also stuff the pockets of that jacket!

Bring a soft sided carry-on or luggage, as it will likely expand with the things you buy on your trip.  Some are expandable with zippered sides.  Or, just bring an extra duffel to check on the way back.

Checked luggage:  Some airlines are now charging hefty fees for overweight luggage, and limit the number of pieces each person can check.  Also, any locks on checked luggage can be cut by TSA (airport security).  I usually use cable ties to tie mine – if TSA does go into my bag, they will put their own on afterwards, and in the meantime I’ll know if someone else goes into my bag.

Don’t, don’t, don’t put valuables or medicines in your checked luggage!!!  Cameras, laptops, anything fragile, anything essential, must go in your carry-on.  Of course, this makes your carry-on heavy, so some decision making is sometimes necessary.  I also usually put one day’s worth of clean clothes in my carry-on, in case the checked luggage is delayed or lost.

If you think you must take your laptop for all those digital photos, think again.  You can have CDs made at most internet cafés (which are prevalent even in small villages like Dingle, Ireland) or bring a photo storage device.  I bought one with 30G of memory – plenty of room for the 3000+ photos I take.

READY TO GO?  Don’t forget the smile!

Don’t forget to pack the most important thing for any trip – a great attitude.  This small item can make the worst disaster into a hilarious story, can take the biggest lemon and make lemonade out of it.  After all, how can it be terrible – you’re in Europe!

A trip to Europe will be full of wonderful memories, historic experiences, and meeting wonderful folks.  Whether you get addicted like I have, or are happy with going once and treasuring the memory forever, you will have an exquisite time.

Irish Shows and Movies

Irish Movies and Shows

by Christy Nicholas

Want to feel closer to the Emerald Isle? This might help!

  • Comedy/fun/light:
  • Ballykissangel (TV Series) – not really historical, but set in a small town in Ireland, great funny series.
  • Father Ted (TV Series) – again, not historical.  Three priests (a young one in training, a mature one, and an old one in retirement) live on a remote island in the west of Ireland.  Silly comedy. Some strong language.
  • Waking Ned Devine – an old man wins the lottery – and promptly dies.  His friends try to collect his winnings. Hilarious.
  • The Secret of Kells – a delightful animated movie about the Book of Kells, an exquisite illuminated gospel from the 8th century – the kids would probably love this, too.  Some scary bits (mean Vikings).
  • Leap Year – an American is stuck in the boondocks of Ireland, and tries to make her way to Dublin to propose to her boyfriend on Feb 29th.
  • P.S., I Love You – A true tearjerker. A man dies in New York, and his wife is sent on a series of quests by him, via notes written before he died, ending up in Ireland where they met.
  • Darby O’Gill and the Little People – Sean Connery sings! Darby O’Gill tries to get the better of the Fairy Folk to save his daughter from dying.
  • The Matchmaker – Based on the Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking Festival, a funny tale with Janeane Garofalo.
  • Drama:
  • The Commitments – A Soul Music group gets together in Dublin
  • Into the West – a couple young tinker (gypsy) boys find a mystical white horse
  • The Secret of Roan Inish – a movie about Selkies, mystical creatures that are seals in the water, but humans on land.
  • The Quiet Man – A classic with John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara; a man moves from America to the small town he was born in to reclaim his heritage.
  • Circle of Friends – Minnie Driver stars in this tale of young men and women in 1950 Ireland.
  • Once – Set in Dublin, story of a pair of musicians learning the ways of the street.
  • The Guard – A misfit policeman gets partnered with an uptight FBI agent to investigate drug smugglers
  • Philomena – A woman searches for word of her child, taken from her in the Magdalene Laundries.
  • Angela’s Ashes – True story of a child growing up in Limerick.
  • Ondine – Tale of a water spirit.
  • Dancing at Lughnasa – Five sisters in rural Ireland in the 1930s.
  • Gritty/heavy/serious/not for kids:
  • My Left Foot (Daniel Day-Lewis plays a Irish painter quadriplegic, 1960s)
  • In the Name of the Father (Daniel Day-Lewis, accused of bombing in Northern Ireland, 1970s)
  • Michael Collins (Liam Neeson/Alan Rickman) About Ireland’s revolution (1916)
  • The Wind that Shakes the Barley – Also Ireland’s revolution (1916)
  • Bloody Sunday – historical drama about the true events that occurred in the beginning of the Troubles in Derry, Northern Ireland (set in 1972).
  • Ryan’s Daughter – Story of a woman who has an affair with a WWI British officer. (1916)
  • Excalibur – Classic King Arthur tale filmed in Ireland
  • Da – Story of a man dealing with his father’s death, with Martin Sheen.
  • The Field – A feud about who gets to farm a field results in death and pain. (Spoiler! Sean Bean dies)
  • Omagh – Dramatization of the bombing in Omagh in 1998.
  • The Crying Game – A British soldier captured by IRA terrorists

Filming locations in Ireland:

  • Game of Thrones
  • Penny Dreadful
  • The Princess Bride
  • Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
  • Braveheart
  • The Tudors
  • Foyle’s War
  • The Count of Monte Cristo (2002)
  • Your Highness
  • Reign of Fire
  • Casino Royale (1967)
  • The Amazing Race

List of Historical and Quasi-Historical Shows/Movies

List of Historical and Quasi-Historical Movies

by Christy Nicholas

Drama:

  • Troy – Has Peter O’Toole, Brad Pitt, Orlando Bloom – flashy but interesting.
  • Alexander the Great – Colin Farrell, Angelina Jolie, Val Kilmer
  • Vercingetorix(Druids – UK title) – Christopher Lambert, about Celts vs. Romans
  • Gladiator – Russell Crowe, Roman empire
  • Boudicca – Alex Kingston, Dr. Corday from ER – a Celtic Queen who sacked London in Roman times
  • Mists of Avalon – miniseries about King Arthur times, mostly from the female/pagan viewpoint
  • First Knight – Sean Connery/Richard Gere/Julia Ormond – King Arthur tale, lots of Hollywood on this one
  • Kingdom of Heaven – Orlando Bloom – About the Crusades, and fall of Jerusalem to the Muslims
  • Thirteenth Warrior – Antonio Banderas is a Muslim who goes and helps Beowulf kill the dragon
  • Braveheart – Mel Gibson in 12th century Scotland
  • Henry V – Kenneth Brannagh is the English King who wins at Agincourt against the French
  • The Messenger – Joan of Arc
  • The Lion in Winter – my favorite – Katherine Hepburn/Peter O’Toole/Anthony Hopkins – Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, parents of Richard the Lionheart, play political games with their children as pawns
  • The Agony and the Ecstasy – Michelangelo = Charlton Heston, with Rex Harrison as the Pope
  • Anne of a Thousand Days – Richard Burton as Henry VIII, story of Anne Boleyn
  • All the Mornings of the World – Gerard Depardieu – a sad story of a cellist in Provence, France
  • Dangerous Beauty – courtesans in 15th Century Venice, a true story
  • Victoria and Albert – about Queen Victoria’s life
  • Lady Jane – about Jane Grey, who was queen for a few days before Mary took over (daughter of Henry VIII)
  • A Man for All Seasons – About Thomas More, who dared to say No to Henry VIII.
  • Mary, Queen of Scots – about Elizabeth I’s cousin, unhappy in love.
  • The Count de Monte Cristo – Not really historical, but based in 17th C. France, and a well-done movie
  • Brother Cadfael – great medieval mystery series, with Derek Jacobi, set in 12th century England.
  • Gypsy (Natalie Wood as a young girl, who ends up as a stripper)
  • Mississippi Masala (Denzel Washington – Indian girl falls in love with black man in Mississippi)
  • Memoirs of a Geisha – set in Japan before WWII
  • Mrs. Brown (Judi Dench plays Queen Victoria, depressed after the death of her husband)
  • Valmont (Annette Benning, Colin Firth, 18th century French nobles playing games)
  • Pride and Prejudice (Colin Firth)
  • Rob Roy (Liam Neeson – historical character in the 17th C. Scottish highlands)
  • Last of the Mohicans (Daniel Day-Lewis plays a white man raised by Indians after the French/Indian wars)
  • John Adams (excellent miniseries on the birth of the US)
  • The Queen (Helen Mirrim, about Elizabeth II during Princess Diana’s death)
  • Les Miserables (Liam Neeson)
  • Sharpe’s Rifles (first in a series of 14 BBC episodes with Sean Bean, about the Napoleonic wars)
  • Horatio Hornblower (another series, with Iain Gryffud, life on the high seas with the British Navy)
  • Master and Commander (Russell Crowe on the high seas with the British Navy)
  • Becoming Jane (life of Jane Austen)
  • Emma (a Jane Austen book)
  • Sense and Sensibility (another Jane Austen)
  • Tess of the D’Urbevilles (depressing story set in England in 19th C.)
  • Ivanhoe – set in 12th C. England, about crusaders returning from the wars
  • Ladyhawke – Michelle Pfeiffer, Matthew Broderick, set in medieval times, with magic and revenge.
  • Outlander – a British WWII nurse gets sent back in time to 1743 Scotland, thrust into the heart of the Jacobite rising. (based on a series of bestselling books)
  • Frontier – Jason Mamoa as a trader in the American French/Indian war time.
  • The Crown – An in-depth look at Queen Elizabeth I
  • Victoria – Queen Victoria done well
  • The Last Kingdom – Based on Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon series, a decent take, though they do take liberties with both the books and history. Great portrayal of King Alfred.
  • Poldark – Dark, gothic tale of mining in 18th century Cornwall
  • Comedy/fun/light:
  • Princess Bride (a requirement!)
  • Willow – very early Val Kilmer
  • Ballykissangel – not really historical, but set in a small town in Ireland, great funny series
  • Monarch of the Glen – again, not really historical, but set in the highlands of Scotland, and my favorite TV series, period.
  • Monty Python and the Holy Grail (silliness and fun)
  • Princess Caraboo (exotic girl found in Edwardian England)
  • Black Adder (more silliness and fun, 4 series – each a different era.  Has Hugh Laurie in the later seasons, and Rowan Atkinson (Mr. Bean) is the main character)
  • Shakespeare in Love (Gwyneth Paltrow) – Fun in life meets art
  • Amadeus – Funny/tragic account of Mozart’s life
  • Beau Brummell (James Purefoy, who was Marc Anthony in the above Rome, plays the man who turns the Prince Regent from a fop to a dandy, both fashions of the time)
  • Gritty/heavy/serious/not for kids:
  • 300 (Spartans make a stand against the Persions)
  • Rome (HBO series) – excellent series with Ciaran Hinds, James Purefoy.  Lots of violence/sex, but great historical accuracy and acting.
  • I, Claudius (BBC Series) – 1970s series with Derek Jacobi of late Roman empire
  • Excalibur – King Arthur story
  • The Name of the Rose (Sean Connery, Christian Slater) – A 12th century monk tries to solve a murder mystery
  • Elizabeth – Queen Elizabeth I first days in power
  • The King’s Whore (Timothy Dalton) –  gritty and violent, but very well done
  • Immortal Beloved (Gary Oldman as Beethoven)
  • Queen Margot (16th century Catholic marries protestant prince)
  • Water (the tragedy of widowhood in India)
  • The Madness of King George (the king that lost the US)
  • My Left Foot (Daniel Day-Lewis plays a Irish painter quadriplegic)
  • In the Name of the Father (Daniel Day-Lewis, accused of bombing in Northern Ireland)
  • Kama Sutra (Indian love story)
  • Michael Collins (Liam Neeson/Alan Rickman) About Ireland’s revolution
  • The Wind that Shakes the Barley – Also Ireland’s revolution
  • Quills (about the Marquis de Sade, with Kate Winslet, Joaquin Phoenix and Geoffrey Rush)
  • The Tudors – series by Showtime about Henry VIII and his wives
  • Game of Thrones – while more fantasy than historical, the storylines are based on several incidents in history, such as the War of the Roses and the Glencoe Massacre, among others.
  • Brittania – More on the fantasy side than historical, it still shows an interesting take on the Roman invasion of Britain.

Fantasy and SciFi movies

Fantasy and Scifi Movies

by Christy Nicholas

I don’t claim that this is a comprehensive list, but it’s a list of those I’ve watched and enjoyed.

Fantasy, SF and Historical movies

  • 1984
  • 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey
  • 300 (Spartans make a stand against the Persions)
  • 9
  • A Clockwork Orange
  • A Man for All Seasons – About Thomas More, who dared to say No to Henry VIII.
  • Across the Universe
  • Akira
  • Aladdin
  • Alexander the Great – Colin Farrell, Angelina Jolie, Val Kilmer
  • Alice in Wonderland (any incarnation)
  • Alien Nation
  • Alien/Prometheus franchise
  • All the Mornings of the World – Gerard Depardieu – a sad story of a cellist in Provence, France
  • Amadeus – Funny/tragic account of Mozart’s life
  • Amazon Women on the Moon
  • Anne of a Thousand Days – Richard Burton as Henry VIII, story of Anne Boleyn
  • Army of Darkness
  • Avatar
  • Back to the Future franchise
  • Barbarella
  • Batman franchise
  • Battlestar Galactica
  • Beau Brummell (James Purefoy, who was Marc Anthony in the above Rome, plays the man who turns the Prince Regent from a fop to a dandy, both fashions of the time)
  • Becoming Jane (life of Jane Austen)
  • Bedazzled
  • Bedknobs and Broomsticks
  • Beetlejuice
  • Being John Malcovich
  • Beowulf movies – Beowulf (1999, 2007), Beowulf and Grendel, Grendel, 13th Warrior
  • Bicentennial Man
  • Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure
  • Blade
  • Blade Runner
  • Boudicca – Alex Kingston, Dr. Corday from ER – a Celtic Queen who sacked London in Roman times
  • Brave
  • Brave New World
  • Braveheart – Mel Gibson in 12th century Scotland
  • Brazil
  • Bridge to Terabithia
  • Bruce Almighty
  • Buck Rogers in the 25th Century
  • Canterbury Ghost
  • Cats & Dogs
  • Charlotte’s Web
  • Charly
  • Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
  • City of Ember
  • Clash of the Titans
  • Close Encounters of the Third Kind
  • Cloud Atlas
  • Cocoon
  • Conan the Barbarian
  • Constantine
  • Contact
  • Coraline
  • Corpse Bride
  • Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
  • Cube
  • Dangerous Beauty – courtesans in 15th Century Venice, a true story
  • Death Becomes Her
  • Demolition Man
  • District 9
  • Divergent
  • Dogma
  • Doolittle
  • Strangelove
  • Dracula
  • Dragonheart
  • Dragonslayer
  • Dreamscape
  • Dune
  • Edge of Tomorrow
  • Edward Scissorhands
  • Elizabeth – Queen Elizabeth I first days in power
  • Emma (a Jane Austen book)
  • Ender’s Game
  • Enemy Mine
  • Eragon
  • Escape from New York
  • Escape to Witch Mountain
  • ET
  • Excalibur – King Arthur story
  • Fahrenheit 451
  • Fantasia
  • Field of Dreams
  • Fire in the Sky
  • First Knight – Sean Connery/Richard Gere/Julia Ormond – King Arthur tale, lots of Hollywood on this one
  • Flash Gordon
  • Flatliners
  • Forbidden Planet
  • Frankenstein
  • Frozen
  • Galaxy Quest
  • Gattaca
  • Ghost
  • Ghost in the Shell
  • Ghostbusters! (Who you gonna call?)
  • Gladiator – Russell Crowe, Roman Empire
  • Godzilla franchise
  • Goonies
  • Groundhog Day
  • Guardians of the Galaxy
  • Harry Potter – all of them.
  • Heavy Metal
  • Hellboy
  • Henry V – Kenneth Brannagh is the English King who wins at Agincourt against the French
  • Herbie the Love Bug (many movies)
  • Hercules
  • High Spirits –
  • Highlander – the entire franchise, except the second movie DOES NOT EXIST
  • Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
  • Hocus Pocus
  • Hook
  • How the Grinch Stole Christmas
  • How to Train your Dragon
  • I Am Legend
  • I, Robot
  • Immortal Beloved (Gary Oldman as Beethoven)
  • Inception
  • Inception
  • Independence Day
  • Innerspace
  • Interstellar
  • Interview with a Vampire series
  • Into the West – a couple young tinker (gypsy) boys find a mystical white horse
  • Ivanhoe – set in 12th England, about crusaders returning from the wars
  • John Carter
  • Journey to the Center of the Earth
  • Jumanji
  • Jurassic Park
  • Kama Sutra (Indian love story)
  • Kat e& Leopold
  • King Arthur Movies –Sword in the Stone, Camelot, Excalibur, First Knight, King Arthur
  • King Kong movies – (1933, 1962, 1976, 2005
  • Kingdom of Heaven – Orlando Bloom – About the Crusades, and fall of Jerusalem to the Muslims
  • Kingsmen
  • Knights of Badassdom
  • Krull
  • Labyrinth
  • Lady Jane – about Jane Grey, who was queen for a few days before Mary took over (daughter of Henry VIII)
  • Ladyhawke – Michelle Pfeiffer, Matthew Broderick, set in medieval times, with magic and revenge.
  • Lara Croft
  • Last Action Hero
  • Last of the Mohicans (Daniel Day-Lewis plays a white man raised by Indians after the French/Indian wars)
  • Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events
  • Life of Pi
  • Lilo & Stitch
  • Logan’s Run
  • Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit – Many incarnations, not just Peter Jackson’s series. Animations with Ralph Bakshi, etc.
  • Lucy
  • Mad Max
  • Mannequin
  • Mary Poppins
  • Mary, Queen of Scots – about Elizabeth I’s cousin, unhappy in love.
  • Memoirs of a Geisha – set in Japan before WWII
  • Men in Black
  • Metropolis
  • Michael – John Travolta is an angel
  • Minority Report
  • Mists of Avalon – miniseries about King Arthur times, mostly from the female/pagan viewpoint
  • Monsters, Inc.
  • Monty Python and the Holy Grail (silliness and fun)
  • Monty Python’s Meaning of Life
  • Brown (Judi Dench plays Queen Victoria, depressed after the death of her husband)
  • Naked Lunch
  • Nanny McPhee
  • Night at the Museum
  • Night of the Comet
  • Pacific Rim
  • Pan’s Labyrinth
  • Paul
  • Pete’s Dragon
  • Phenomenon – John Travolta gets hit on the head
  • Pirates of the Caribbean
  • Planet of the Apes franchise
  • Practical Magic
  • Predator
  • Pride and Prejudice (Colin Firth)
  • Princess Bride (a requirement!)
  • Princess Caraboo (exotic girl found in Edwardian England)
  • Princess Mononoke
  • Queen Margot (16th century Catholic marries protestant prince)
  • Quills (about the Marquis de Sade, with Kate Winslet, Joaquin Phoenix and Geoffrey Rush)
  • Ratatouille
  • Reign of Fire
  • Rob Roy (Liam Neeson – historical character in the 17th Scottish highlands)
  • Robocop
  • Sense and Sensibility (another Jane Austen)
  • Serenity (Firefly)
  • Shakespeare in Love (Gwyneth Paltrow) – Fun in life meets art
  • Short Circuit
  • Shrek
  • Snow White and the Huntsman
  • Solaris
  • Something Wicked This Way Comes
  • Somewhere in Time
  • Song of the Sea
  • Soylent Green
  • Spiderman franchise
  • Star Trek Franchise
  • Star Wars – the entire franchise, despite not wanting the first trilogy to exist
  • Stardust
  • Stargate
  • STarman
  • Starship Troopers
  • Stepford Wives
  • Stuart Little
  • Superman (yes, any of them, I suppose)
  • Tangled
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
  • Terminator Franchise
  • Tess of the D’Urbevilles (depressing story set in England in 19th)
  • The Abyss
  • The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension
  • The Agony and the Ecstasy – Michelangelo = Charlton Heston, with Rex Harrison as the Pope
  • The Andromeda Strain
  • The Andromeda Strain
  • The Black Cauldron
  • The Blood of Heroes
  • The Cell
  • The Chronicles of Narnia – whole franchise (more than just the recent incarnations)
  • The Chronicles of Riddick
  • The Count de Monte Cristo – Not really historical, but based in 17th France, and a well-done movie
  • The Craft
  • The Crow
  • The Dark Crystal
  • The Day After Tomorrow
  • The Emperor’s New Groove
  • The Evil Dead
  • The Fifth Element
  • The Fly
  • The Ghost and Mrs. Muire
  • The Ghost and the Darkness
  • The Golden Child
  • The Golden Compass
  • The Green Mile
  • The Hunger Games
  • The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus
  • The Indian in the Cupboard
  • The Island of Dr. Moreau
  • The King’s Whore (Timothy Dalton) – gritty and violent, but very well done
  • The Last Starfighter
  • The Last Unicorn
  • The Last Witch Hunter
  • The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
  • The Lion in Winter – my favorite – Katherine Hepburn/Peter O’Toole/Anthony Hopkins – Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, parents of Richard the Lionheart, play political games with their children as pawns
  • The Little Mermaid
  • The Little Prince
  • The Lovely Bones
  • The Madness of King George (the king that lost the US)
  • The Matrix Franchise
  • The Messenger – Joan of Arc
  • The Name of the Rose (Sean Connery, Christian Slater) – A 12th century monk tries to solve a murder mystery
  • The Neverending Story
  • The Nightmare before Christmas
  • The Prophecy (creepy Christopher Walken, with Viggo Mortensen as the devil)
  • The Purple Rose of Cairo
  • The Queen (Helen Mirrim, about Elizabeth II during Princess Diana’s death)
  • The Rescuers
  • The Room
  • The Running Man
  • The Secret Garden
  • The Secret of Kells – a delightful animated movie about the Book of Kells, an exquisite illuminated gospel from the 8th century – the kids would probably love this, too. Some scary bits (mean Vikings).
  • The Secret of NIMH
  • The Secret of Roan Inish – a movie about Selkies, mystical creatures that are seals in the water, but humans on land.
  • The Seventh Seal
  • The Seventh Seal
  • The Stand
  • The Sword in the Stone
  • The Time Machine
  • The Time Traveler’s Wife
  • The Truman Show
  • The Village
  • The War of the Worlds
  • The Water Horse
  • The Wind that Shakes the Barley – Also Ireland’s revolution
  • The Wizard of Oz
  • The X Files
  • Thirteenth Warrior – Antonio Banderas is a Muslim who goes and helps Beowulf kill the dragon
  • Thor/Ironman/Avengers
  • THX 1138
  • Time and Again
  • Time Bandits
  • Time Bandits
  • Titan A.E.
  • Total Recall
  • Toy Story
  • Toys
  • Tremors
  • Tron
  • Troy – Has Peter O’Toole, Brad Pitt, Orlando Bloom – flashy but interesting.
  • Twelve Monkeys
  • Twilight Zone Movie
  • Up
  • Valmont (Annette Benning, Colin Firth, 18th century French nobles playing games)
  • Vampire Hunter D
  • Van Helsing
  • Vercingetorix (Druids – UK title) – Christopher Lambert, about Celts vs. Romans
  • Victoria and Albert – about Queen Victoria’s life
  • Videodrome
  • Waking Ned Devine – an old man wins the lottery – and promptly dies. His friends try to collect his winnings. Hilarious.
  • Wall-E
  • Wargames
  • Weird Science
  • Where the Wild Things Are
  • Who Framed Roger Rabbit
  • Who Framed Roger Rabbit
  • Willow – very early Val Kilmer
  • Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
  • Witches of Eastwick
  • Wizards – Ralph Bakshi!
  • Xanadu
  • X-Men
  • Your Highness
  • Zardoz (beware – Sean Connery in a leather strap thong!)

Britcoms

Britcoms

by Christy Nicholas

I love British comedies. I grew up watching them, and I seek them out today. Some are incredibly cheesy to the point of moldiness, and others are simply brilliant. I’ve compiled a list of them for you here!

  • Absolutely Fabulous – silly fun, two women who never grew past the 1960s
  • After You’ve Gone – is good, but not as good as My Family for dysfunctional family
  • ‘Allo ‘Allo – a bit odd, set during WWII
  • Are you Being Served – the epitome of Britcom for me
  • As Time Goes By – My parents story, or pretty close. Judi Dench is awesome.
  • Ballykissangel – Irish town meets English priest. Hilarity ensues.
  • A Bit of Fry and Laurie – Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry. Nuff said.
  • Black Adder – Rowan Atkinson at his sarcastic best
  • Brother Cadfael – lovely historical mysteries with Derek Jacobi
  • The Celts – Documentary that made Enya’s music famous
  • Chef! – you thought Gordon Ramsay was bad?
  • Coupling – Like Friends, but funny and with more sex.
  • Doctor Who – No description needed
  • Doc Martin – a country doctor afraid of blood, and no social skill whatsoever
  • Father Ted – bumbling Irish priests on a small island.
  • Fawlty Towers – John Cleese. Nothing more needed.
  • French & Saunders – Vicar of Dibley meets AbFab
  • Good Neighbors – a young(ish) couple decide to live off the land – while living in the suburbs.
  • Hamish MacBeth – Dr. Rush from SGU is a cop in the highlands of Scotland. With an attitude.
  • Hotel Babylon – 5 Star hotel in London – the inside view
  • Horatio Horn blower – History on the High Seas
  • I, Claudius – Derek Jacobi again, fantastic series of ancient Rome.
  • Jeeves and Wooster – More Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry
  • Little Britain – Silly, toilet humor for the very British. Narrated by Tom Baker
  • Lovejoy – Antique dealer/rogue
  • Last of the Summer Wine – A group of old men try to have fun in their autumn days
  • Michael Palin’s travel vids – He brings travel to life
  • Monarch of the Glen – My favorite series ever. Highlands of Scotland.
  • Monty Python’s Flying Circus – true silliness as only the Brits can do it.
  • Mr. Bean – Sort of a BritMime
  • My Family – Dysfunctional family – hilarious
  • One Foot in the Grave – Old man complains about forced retirement to anyone who will listen
  • Red Dwarf – Space Britcom with human cats
  • Rosemary and Thyme – Two gardeners find lots of murderers.
  • Roar! – Celtic historical – sort of (Heath Ledger)
  • Rome – great rendition of Julius Caesar’s time
  • Sharpe’s series – fantastic series of Napoleonic wars (Sean Bean)
  • Shaun the Sheep – claymation, very funny
  • Sherlock Holmes – any version will do.
  • Strange – defrocked priest turned demon hunter
  • Thin Blue Line – More Rowan Atkinson – as a cop, this time.
  • Torchwood. – Chasing aliens in Cardiff
  • The Tudors. – Another great historical series (mostly)
  • Vicar of Dibley – hilarity from Dawn French as a female vicar in a very small town
  • Waiting for God – Fantastic! Sarcastic wit and silliness
  • Yes, Minister – amusing, not required, Britcom about the Prime Minister
  • The Young Ones – early Britcom silliness

Pricing Your Art

Pricing your art

By Christy Nicholas (www.greendragonartist.com)

PRICING:  The eternal question!  There are so many methods (including just blind guessing), but no one has a true answer to this.  However I have some ideas to pass on.

I’m a tax accountant as well, and the formula SHOULD be as follows.  For anything you sell, take your costs of making it, your own hourly wage for creating it (times the number of hours spent on the project) and then add your overhead.  Double this for your wholesale price, double THAT for your retail price.  While this works fine in theory, in real life, this isn’t always easy to figure out.

First, what hourly wage should I choose?  That’s up to you.  What would you be comfortable making, doing this for a living?  $10?  $30?  $50?  I find I charge less for items I do less ‘creating’ on.  Make sure not to make the biggest mistake, and underprice yourself out of any profit.  $2 an hour is NOT a decent wage!

Second, what’s overhead?  That’s the costs that aren’t directly related to creating your pieces of art.  It includes the cost of traveling to shows, the jury and art show fees, the cost of the tent and tables, your meals while at the show, advertising, business cards, website fees, etc.  It’s very difficult to figure out, especially when you are first starting out.  After the first year, you can add up all those expenses, and divide by the total hours you spent making art – and that is your hourly overhead fee.  During the first year, however, you need to estimate it in some way.

For instance, say you spent $600 on your setup (tent, tables, display stands, cloths, etc.).  Then you spent another $300 on findings, clay, embellishments,  all your stock.  You plan on applying on 4 shows this year, and each one will cost $100 in fees, and $50 in traveling expenses and meals.  You spent $50 on business cards, and $50 in website fees.

So, your inventory cost is $300, and you kept track of what item cost what, so you don’t have to prorate, or apply a percentage.  Item A cost $10 and you spent 10 hours on it (at, say, $20 an hour), Item B cost $50 (and 20 hours @$20 an hour).

Your overhead is a total of $600+(100+50)*4+50+50 = $1300.  You estimate that you will spent about 500 hours making the art you currently have in stock, so your overhead cost per hour is $2.60.

Item A has the following costs:                Item B has the following costs:

Direct Cost       $10                                                                     $50

Direct Labor      10X$20 = $200                                                20X$20 = $400

Overhead          10X$2.60 = $26                                              20X$2.60 = $52

Total Cost         $236                                                                  $502

Wholesale         $472                                                                  $1004

Retail                 $944                                                                   $2008

These are guidelines, of course, not set in stone.  They reflect absolutes and estimates, not the real world.  You also have to look at your market, your competition, and your cash flow.  If someone next door to you is selling the same item for 30% less, you won’t sell much.

You should also take into consideration the economy.  Art is considered a luxury, and therefore, one of the last things people are willing to spend money on in a tight economy.  That doesn’t mean there isn’t anyone out there that will buy your stuff – just that it may be harder to find those people.  Geography also matters.  For instance, I lived in north Florida for many years, and did many shows there in the more rural portions of the state.  However, when I moved to West Virginia, and started doing shows in urban Pittsburgh, I found that the amount people were willing to pay for my art was much higher.  It stands to reasons that people in, say, New York, will pay more for art than those in, say, Zephyrhills, Florida.

Another thought to consider is when or if to change prices.  I have found that it is much easier to increase them than to decrease them.  Why?  Think of this.  You are at one show several years in a row.  One year a loyal customer buys a bracelet at $75.  The next year she sees a similar piece for $60, and is upset because she could have waited and gotten it cheaper.  Or, she sees it the next year at $85, and is glad she got it when she did.  Would you rather encourage your customers to buy now, or wait until later?

Pricing can be a very organic, difficult process – but this should give you starting guidelines that you can then mold (pun intended) into your personal situation.  Good luck, and good pricing!

Taking that First Step – Doing Art Shows

TAKING THAT FIRST STEP – DOING ART SHOWS

By Christy Nicholas

Aka Green Dragon, Artist

www.greendragonartist.com

So, you are an artist.  You have some stuff on consignment at a couple local shops, you have a website, and perhaps you have even had a private showing at a friend’s house.  But what if you want to get into that crazy world of Art Shows?  Scared?  Of course you are.  It’s a big step – and a complex one.  There are many things to consider first, and many preparations to make.  I’m here to help defray your anxiety – at least a bit.

I’m not an expert, but I have been doing shows for 3 years now, and have learned a lot by trial.  I’ve also gotten some wonderful help and advice from older, more experienced artists, as well as from several magazines such as Sunshine Artist and Where The Shows Are.

It takes a lot of hard work to do art shows – don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise.  Besides all the preparation and costs before you do the first show, there is the back-breaking labor of setting up, tearing down, keeping up with stock demands, advertising, schmoozing, keeping records, doing taxes – oh, and making art.  Almost forgot about that part!

I’ll break this article into three parts.  The first part is preparing for the show; what to buy, what stock to have, etc.  The second part will concentrate on the show itself – setting up, selling, breaking down.  The third part is the tedious stuff – the record keeping, paperwork, etc.  Each part is, of course, essential to success.  However, you will not be successful if you don’t enjoy the process!

PART I – PREPARING FOR THE FIRST SHOW

Where to begin? Well, let’s start by figuring out how you want to display your art, as that will dictate a lot of the rest.

TENT:  In order to do art shows, you must have a tent.  Many shows require it to be a white tent (unless you are going to do renaissance festivals), and the stronger the better.  However, most of us start out simple, and get an EZup tent, hoping to upgrade to a Flourish or Craft Hut later.  This is fine – as long as you take certain precautions on your EZup.  The reason they are cheap ($200 or less) is because they are not strong, and can blow away in 15mph winds.  But not many artists just starting out can afford a $700 investment in a Craft Hut, plus the Propanels to go with it.

If you do buy an EZup, try to get one of the sturdier models.  I purchased an Encore II at Sam’s Club three years ago for $100, and it included four zippered/Velcro walls.  It’s done well by me, though the roof is starting to droop a little.  I got concrete weights to put on each leg, and weigh down the tent by attaching everything to the frame.  Eventually I will upgrade, but since I often set up alone, EZup is a useful and practical option for me.

DISPLAY WALLS:  If you sell 2D art, such as paintings or photographs, you will want walls for your tent to hang them on.  If you sell 2D art, such as pottery or jewelry, you will want tables, stands, or other display items.  I sell both 2D and 3D, so I have both to worry about!

I started out with gridwalls, which you can buy at display stores, and cost around $20 a piece (plus shipping!).  Gridwalls are sturdy, but heavy, and aren’t as professional looking as Propanels… but they won’t break the bank either, and can weigh down that tent nicely, especially after hanging framed prints on them.  I still have some gridwalls, but I have lighter aluminum ones with thinner metal grids.  For the sides of my tent, I have graduated to mesh walls, which are a wonderful mid-range option.  These are walls made of strong mesh, easy to hang on your tent (they attach to the frame) and have a stabilization bar at the bottom.  They are easily transported as they fold in half and roll up.  They are expensive though – $600 for three of them, retail.  Check artist groups online, as many people upgrade to Propanels and sell off their old mesh panels at a discount.  That’s how I got mine – 2 walls for $100 including shipping.

TABLES:  If you have 3D art, or browsing bins for your 2D art, you may want tables.  I love the plastic durable folding tables you can get at Sam’s or Costco – they are virtually indestructible, and MUCH lighter than those wooden monstrosities.   However, you will want matching table cloths for your display – trust me, it looks so much more professional, with the fabric coming to the ground and hiding all those storage boxes.

DÉCOR:  Yes, décor.  An art booth at an art show is competing with 200 other artists, and you want the patrons to be welcomed into your booth, and enjoy their stay.  Better yet, remember their stay and come back when they are ready to purchase.  If it is memorable (in a good way!) then you have an advantage.  This can be achieved in a color scheme (my booth is all green and white), a theme (one lady had everything like a desert bazaar), or just simple and elegant.  One lady had her jewelry all displayed on the necks of glass vases, with black and white stones in all the vases.  One man had his nautical themed paintings on walls decorated with fake coral and fishing nets.

Be creative in this, but it must look nice, professional, and not distracting.  Try to stay away from colored ceilings or tent tops – it will distort your work in something other than white light.

 

SETUP:  Now that you have a tent, display furniture and a décor, how to set things up?  I would suggest having things at several ‘viewpoints’, i.e., something at eye level, something at table level, and something in between.  This will make the best use of the limited space available.  Finding a good solution to this has as many results as there are artists.  I use collapsible wire mesh boxes (got them at Bed Bath and Beyond) that can be constructed on site, deconstructed afterwards, and carried in one small bag in the meantime.  They not only give me a second level on my tables, but offer sheltered cube for displays that are easily blown down by wind.  Some folks simply use carrying boxes covered in attractive (and matching!) cloths, while other build shelves for each show.  Remember that a display should have several features – be useful, attractive, easy to set up, and easily transported.  It is even better if it doubles as a carrying container, so there is no wasted space in your van.

If you have items hanging on the walls, you will want them to look nice.  Similar color and size frames put together helps, as does a straight line of images across.  While some artists are good at making attractive ‘clumps’ of paintings, it often comes off as just jumbled together.  Use your judgment, and ask opinions of others – sometimes you are too close to the project by this time.

INVENTORY:  OK, now what do we put IN this wonderful, lovely looking setup?  Well, I have noticed that putting one spectacular piece out front – I use a beaded shirt I made – brings people to the tent in droves.  What brings them all the way in is another spectacular piece at the back center of the tent.  In between is the affordable stuff, the items they actually purchase.  I usually have one each of my matted prints, though I bring 3-4 of my best sellers, and replenish when they sell.  If people are flipping through bins, and see lots of repeats, they usually stop flipping.  If they realize there is only one of each image, they often want to see each one.  You may want to consider whether you will frame/unframed on request at the show, and bring equipment accordingly.  My jewelry is an easier inventory solution – I just bring everything, and put most of it out.   Each piece is unique, so someone might like this one, but in that color.  Oh, I’ve got that right here!

Another inventory piece of advice:  Have something at several price points.  You don’t want to only have items that cost $100.  You will likely never sell anything at many shows.  I have handmade beads that sell for $1 each, gift cards at $3.50, all the way up to necklaces for $100, $200, and some items at over $1000.  Something for everyone, so everyone buys something J

PRICING:  The eternal question!  No one has a true answer to this, but I have some ideas to pass on.  I’m a tax accountant as well, and the formula SHOULD be as follows.  For anything you sell, take your costs of making it, your own hourly wage for creating it (times the number of hours spent on the project) and then add your overhead.  Double this for your wholesale price, double THAT for your retail price.  In real life, this isn’t always easy to figure out.

First, what hourly wage should I choose?  That’s up to you.  What would you be comfortable making, doing this for a living?  $10?  $30?  $50?  I find I charge less for items I do less ‘creating’ on.

Second, what’s overhead?  That’s the costs that aren’t directly related to creating your pieces of art.  It includes the cost of traveling to shows, the jury and art show fees, the cost of the tent and tables, your meals while at the show, advertising, business cards, website fees, etc.  It’s very difficult to figure out, especially when you are first starting out.  After the first year, you can add up all those expenses, and divide by the total hours you spent making art – and that is your hourly overhead fee.  During the first year, however, you need to estimate it the same way.

For instance, say you spent $600 on your setup (tent, tables, cloths, etc.).  Then you spent another $300 on framing prints, matting, making gift cards, and all your stock.  You plan on applying on 4 shows this year, and each one will cost $100 in fees, and $50 in traveling expenses and meals.  You spent $50 on business cards, and $50 in website fees.

So, your inventory cost is $300, and you kept track of what item cost what, so you don’t have to ‘apply’ a percentage.  Item A cost $10 and you spent 10 hours on it (at, say, $20 an hour), Item B cost $50 (and 20 hours @$20 an hour).

Your overhead is a total of $600+(100+50)*4+50+50 = $1300.  You estimate that you will spent about 500 hours making the art you currently have in stock, so your overhead cost per hour is $2.60.

Item A has the following costs:                                      Item B has the following costs:

Direct Cost       $10                                                       $50

Direct Labor      10X$20 = $200                                      20X$20 = $400

Overhead          10X$2.60 = $26                                     20X$2.60 = $52

Total Cost         $236                                                     $502

Wholesale         $472                                                     $1004

Retail                $944                                                     $2008

These are guidelines, of course, not set in stone.  They reflect absolutes and estimates, not the real world.  You also have to look at your market, your competition, the economy in your area, and your cash flow.  If someone next door to you is selling the same item for 30% less, you won’t sell much.

OTHER STUFF:  Oh, there are lots of other things to do to get ready for a show.  You will need many of the following items – get them ahead of time, and save yourself some worry.  This list is not comprehensive, but it should cover most bases.

Price lists or price tags

Credit card machine/knucklebuster/credit card receipts/MC Visa signs

Cash box

Receipt book

Business cards

Bags

Calculator

Pens (one will always go dry on you during a show, bring several)

Dolly

Chair

Flip bins

Hooks for hanging (I use curtain hooks and S hooks)

Business card holder

Sign with your name on it

Bungee cords

Tarp

Weights (concrete, water jugs, etc.)

Side walls (to close up at night)

Umbrella

Hand fan

Sunscreen

Bug Spray

Lantern (for after dusk or pre-dawn setups)

Hand towel (setup can get sweaty)

Mirror (you want to look nice after that sweaty setup)

Water

Snacks

Cooler

Change box and change (very important!)

Project to work on while the customers browse (reading a book makes you look uninterested)

Guest list for mailing and email addresses

Good attitude, smile, and sense of humor!

I highly recommend thinking about taking credit cards.  My sales have doubled since I have done so, and using a low-end service like www.propay.com means there is no investment in equipment.  I pay $60 per month and a transaction fee per sale, and use a $5 knucklebuster for my sales.

APPLYING:  OK, you are all ready for the shows, let’s apply to one!  Which one?  That’s the hard part.  There are several magazines and websites that list shows by area.  Sunshine Artist and Where the Shows Are are both good sources.  I also search the web for events in my area, and ask other artists.  I’ve found some gems by word-of-mouth.  There are promoter shows (such as Howard Alan or Amy Amdur) that have fairly high display standards, but they spend a lot of money getting people to the show.

I have learned a couple things.  More people at the show don’t necessarily mean more sales, but if no one shows up, no one will buy.  I have had light attendance shows that did well, and then the same promoter had another show where there were NO patrons – and no sales.  I’ve also learned that the more things there are going on at a show, the fewer art dollars are spent.  So if the show has a carnival, a seafood festival, a concert, a car show, a pet show, and an art show, very few people will be there to buy art.

Also, local is best for several reasons.  First, people are always more willing to buy from a local artist, and second, you have less travel expense if you don’t have to stay overnight in a hotel, or spend a lot in gas.  Starting out, I’d recommend only doing those shows you can stay at home for.  In my third year, I am just branching out to overnighters – but then I am blessed with many good local shows.

Most shows require that you apply several months in advance.  I apply for my fall shows in the spring, and vice versa.  They also require slides or photos of your work – and your tent.  Set up in your backyard on an overcast day (no harsh shadows).  Take the glass out of your frames (no glare), do a simple setup (not cluttered) and as professional as it can be.  Send that in with your application, and it should be fine.  There is a great debate over whether juries want a ‘real’ booth, or a ‘staged’ booth photo, but I believe in being honest, and each jury will have a different preference.

Once you’ve applied, you will have to wait for a response, usually several months.  You either get a rejection or an acceptance letter.  The acceptance letter is sometimes accompanied by a vendor packet, telling you where to go to check in, etc.  So now, we graduate to Part II:

 

PART II – THE SHOW ITSELF

BEFORE THE SHOW:  I collect data that is useful for each show.  Not just how many people attend, or how many artists are setting up, but also whether I will need to dolly in my stuff, if I can set up Friday night, what the hours of the show are both days, and if there are prizes and booth-sitting services available.

I keep that data in my database, and have it available for next year, when deciding whether I liked that show enough that dollying wasn’t too bad.  For instance, I just had a show in DeLand where I had to dolly my whole setup (by myself) and it took twice as long as normal.  However, sales were great and I won a prize – definitely a good show!

GETTING THERE:  Next question will be – how do I get my stuff to and from the show?  Well, if you have a van already, you are set.  If not, you may want to rent one for your first try.  What if you hate doing this?  No need to sink $20,000 into a van and then regret it!  Another option, if you have a heavy-duty car or truck, is to rent or purchase a trailer, and put all your stuff in there.  This has advantages and disadvantages.  Driving with a trailer is difficult, and more so in tight spaces (like setting up at the show).  However, you can disconnect the trailer and drive around town each evening without it, and you won’t have to unpack between shows.

SETTING UP:  Let’s say you had or have rented a van.  Pack up the night before, and head on out Friday evening, hopefully.  The shows that have Friday night setup are higher in my book than those that don’t, as I don’t care for waking up at 4am to do all that setup myself.  In addition, my husband will help me set up the night before, but not if he has to wake up and go with me in the morning J

You arrive to your show, find the check in booth, get your spot assignment and go.  Do everyone a favor – unload everything first, go park your vehicle, and then come back and set up.  Ask a neighbor to watch your stuff while you do so.  Most will be glad to, as it will cut down on traffic and congestion within the show, which is chaos at this point anyhow.

I usually set up tent first, then walls, then framed prints, then tables (so I don’t have to lean over tables to hang prints), tablecloths, and mesh boxes on the tables.  This I do Friday night, if possible, close up my booth with the white walls, and come back the next morning.  I roll up the side walls (makes it easier to take down again Saturday night), set up my matted prints, my jewelry, my sales area, and I’m ready to go.  Without help, it takes me about 3 hours start to finish.

SHOWTIME!:  It’s 10am, the patrons are starting to filter in.  One by one, they look at your booth – they see the spectacular piece out front, ask you how many hours it took, stand amazed at your beautiful pieces, tell you they should be in a museum… and then walk out without buying anything.  It is very frustrating, and all artists go through this.  Do not despair!  Do not take their unwillingness to buy to heart – someone will buy your stuff.  Just this weekend, a patron loved a necklace, but didn’t buy it.  Next Wednesday they emailed me, asked if it was still available, they wanted it shipped to them.  It happens!  Having a website is a good backup tool, as well – I hand out my card as they leave, saying ‘most of my stuff is available on my website’.  I’ve gotten several after-show sales this way.

I also get commissions after the fact, and have had last minute sales while breaking down.  One gentleman came in to my booth at 5:15pm.  Show had ended at 5, most vendors had started breaking down earlier (a local race pulled all the crowds away at 4).  He came in, asked how much a piece was, and bought the $200 piece on the spot.  Can we say last minute birthday gift? (It was a necklace).

The most important part of the show is talking to the customers, smiling, enjoying your conversations, learning things about people.  To me, this is my shining social hour, and I love it.  I’m not a hard-seller, but I give information about pieces people are looking at, such as ‘that piece is based on an old Russian beading technique’, or ‘I took that photo this summer in Ireland’.  It gives them a chance to continue the conversation without having to start it.  If they are interested, they may ask more questions, if not, they will nod and keep looking.

If you are shy, this isn’t easy, but having something to talk about may help a lot.  Talk up your work – mention that the prints are on archival paper, or on canvas, or that you created that work for a Breast Cancer Charity Event.  ‘Let me know if you have any questions on a piece, I’ll be happy to answer them’; ‘If you wish to try a piece on, I’ve a mirror over here’; ‘Are you looking for something in particular?’  I never used to ask this, but this weekend I sold three pieces just by asking that.  The first said he was an O’Brien, and I realized I had a photo of a castle that was his ancestral seat; he bought it right there.  Another lady said she collected dragons – I directed her to one of my dragon drawings, and it sold.  A third couple had stayed at a cottage in Ireland near where one of my photos was taken – they bought the framed copy right away.  Information is powerful!

While you sell items, make sure to keep records of what you sell, as well as the sales tax charged (very important!).  I keep a running tab of my sales for the day, so I know where I stand at any point.  Most artists are cagey about letting other artists know their sales, but I have no problem saying that, three years into the business, I’m averaging about $700 a show.  Some folks who do higher-end stuff aren’t happy with a show under $2000, but then again, they are frequently traveling more than I am.

Saturday night, I usually take my little items (jewelry) that are more expensive, and box up my matted prints (to keep them from getting damaged by dew or rain), and leave the framed ones up on my walls.  I put my walls down and close up the booth, but it would add another hour to setup the next morning to take down the framed items – and with photos, none are originals.  If they are stolen or damaged, I can reprint them.  It’s a matter of cost vs. benefit, and usually I err on the side of laziness J

Sunday morning, since I live in the Bible belt, shows usually don’t get swinging until after noon.  However, I find a lot of patrons wait until the second day to make their purchases, so it makes up for early light activity.

PRACTICAL MATTERS:  If you are doing the show with a friend, spouse, or partner, these matters may not be as difficult, but what if you are alone?  I usually am, and things like eating, going to the bathroom, and getting my vehicle are items which require assistance.  I usually ask a neighbor if they would mind watching my booth for me while I run to do whatever – most are helpful.  You may return the favor for them in an hour, after all!  Some shows have booth sitters, but you usually have to sign up ahead of time for them.  Sometimes I see a friend at a show, and ask them to grab me some lunch.  There are several solutions to these matters!

LODGING:  So you’ve gone and done a show that’s 2 hours away from your house.  Do you drive back or do you rent a hotel?  Well, think of the price of gas.  With your van, does it cost more to drive back and forth each night than a $50 hotel room will cost?  Usually.  And the time lost, and the fatigue while driving after setup and a day’s work will cost, as well.  So, I usually use the 2 hour mark as my guideline – anything more than that, and I stay overnight.  I search online for basic, cheap accommodation.  For instance, I found a Suburban Extended Stay room in Daytona last weekend for $45 a night – about 20 minutes from my show site.  Score!

There are other options for the adventurous.  You might have a bed in the van, or bring a tent to camp out, or have an RV.  However, I prefer to bring less and sleep more. J

BREAKING DOWN:  No, I don’t mean a nervous breakdown, though you may be ready for it!  I mean breaking down the tent after the show ends.  I caution highly against breaking down early, even if the crowds are light!  Not only is it usually against the show rules, but I’ve had many last-minute sales over the years.  Often it is because I am one of the few tents still open!  Yes, it is very tempting when the crowds have gone for the day, but resist the temptation if you can!

When you have packed up all your stuff, then go and get your vehicle – again, this cuts down on traffic and congestion in the street or park.  My breakdown (alone) is usually only about 1.5 hours, much less than setup, as I have a system of what items go in what boxes, and have them labeled.  The prints go in here, the framed items go in those, the jewelry on those T-bars goes in this box, etc.  Everything to its place, and it goes quickly and efficiently.  Then you go home, relax, and procrastinate your unpacking J

PART III:  PAPERWORK AND AFTERMATH

AFTER THE SHOW:  You’ve done your first show, yay!  Now you are exhausted, but hopefully you’ve made some profit.  Remember, a no-sale show is not necessarily a wash – you can make a lot of contacts, get your name out there, and start getting an artistic reputation in the area.  And you learn something each show; my display changes a bit each show, as I think of better or different ways of doing things, packing things, displaying things.

As soon as I get back home, I do the following things;

  1. Enter my credit card sales online (faster done, faster paid)
  2. Go through my cash, take out the amount over my ‘bank’ of $100, leave the rest for next show
  3. Take out any checks for deposit the next day with the excess cash
  4. Enter my sales (and sales tax) into my sales spreadsheet, including keeping track of my inventory
  5. Replenish my inventory for sold prints

I usually unpack the next day, after I’ve recovered a bit physically from the show, the packing, and the drive home.  Of course, if you have a trailer, that step isn’t necessary!

TAXES:  Oh, that dreaded word!  There are a couple to pay attention to, though.  Sales tax needs to be paid in, either quarterly or monthly, and income taxes.  If you are making a profit (and you will know that if you are keeping good records!) then you may need to make quarterly income tax payments to avoid penalties at year end.

So, now that you’ve come through the roller-coaster, did you enjoy it?  Sure, it was hard work, but was it fun?  I personally truly enjoy the chance to meet people, share my visions and artwork, and make some cash as well.  I started out doing 3 shows my first year, and have done 15 in the last 12 months.  I haven’t quit my day job, but I am definitely making enough money to start thinking about those estimated tax payments, and it’s still early days.

I hope my ruminations have helped you on your own path towards art shows.  Remember, it’s not for everyone, but if it is for you, go for it and have a wonderful time!

Listening to your Muse

Listening to Your Muse

What is Digital Art?

What is Digital Art?

We are in a relatively new world, the Information Age.  The days of Pony Express, telegraphs and hand written letters are over.  So what does this mean in the art world?  It means that we have a wonderfully flexible, complex, and sometimes abused new tool to help us create art – the computer.

Many people confuse the two definitions, and this article will try to de-mystify the process of digital art, and allow folks to understand the way it works.

Before I get into an explanation of digital art, I’d like to set out some definitions.

  • Digital Art:  This is a broad term that encompasses many different methods and work flow.  Some people apply it to anything that touches a computer, even scanned copies of oil paintings from which prints are made.  Others apply it only to pieces that are painted entirely using the computer.  Many others have definitions that fall in between.  For many folks, digital photography could easily be considered digital art.  The DAPTTF (Digital Art Practices & Terminology Task Force) official definition for a digital fine art print is:  “A fine art print made by any digital output process conforming to traditional fine art qualifications and requirements.”

 

  • Computer-Generated Art:  This would be art actually created by the computer, with little or no input from the artist.  Some programs, such as a fractal generator, can create such things using random numbers and a command.  They are often complex and pretty, but have no composition, line, contrast or design considerations.  Most artists who create art with fractals use these as a base.  They then take those computer-generated fractals and do so much post-work to it that it is now their own creation, and bears little resemblance to what the computer originally created.  The DAPTTF official definition is:  “A misnomer that implies that no human, artistic control is required to produce artwork. In general it may mean having come through a specific kind of device, but essentially it is understood that computers do nothing without the input and control of human beings.”

 

  • 3-D Art:  This is art created in a 3-D program like Poser, Bryce or Daz Studio.  It takes a base figure or prop that someone previously created (either the software company, the artist themselves or another artist), and allows the artist to position it in different ways, apply lighting to it, changing perspective, etc.  Many artists take a base figure and customize it, making a ‘character’ that they can then use as a figure in different settings, situations, etc.  Again, this is taking a previously created piece and customizing it to the artists’ own creative vision, like in the fractal example above.  The computer doesn’t do the creative part, the artist does.  Trust me, a figure straight out of Poser, with no post-work done, looks bad!

As an example of Digital Art, I will explain my work flow and process.  This is not, by far, the only way to do things – just the way I like doing them.  I think everyone can agree that it qualifies as Digital Art.

  1. I draw something.  It could be a complex composition with background, details, and shading, or it could be a quick sketch of an outline of a figure.  Pencil drawing is my favorite type of art, so I don’t want to give that up!  I could do it on a Wacom tablet, but haven’t gotten used to that medium yet… so I draw.
  2. I then scan that drawing into my computer, and open it in Photoshop.  I don’t have a high end scanner, this is just to provide an ‘under drawing’ that I then use as a guideline to paint over.
  3. I then paint, using Photoshop, over the areas I have drawn out.  I      choose the size and ‘edge’ of paintbrush I want to use, and paint, using the mouse, in the different areas.  Sometimes I layer several colors, and ‘smudge’ them together.  Often, when I am painting hair, I’ll have 4 or 5 layers and pull very thin, fine smudge lines through them, to draw the individual hairs.
  4. Usually I will zoom in on particular detailed areas to paint them, such as the eyes or the mouth of a figure.  This way I can draw details such as individual eyelashes, the folds in the eyelid, the speckles in the iris, etc.  I then zoom back out to see how it looks from normal distance.  Often it looks completely different, so do this often!
  5. On any one portrait, for example, I have several layers; one or more for skin, a couple for hair, one for the eyes (which later gets collapsed into the skin for blending purposes), the lips, any adornment like jewelry or clothing, etc.  This allows me to adjust individual layers for contrast, color, shadows, etc.
  6. I then have additional layers for props, background, etc.  Sometimes I will do an over-layer to give everything a color cast, like golden light at a sunset, or cool blue for a night scene.  I will paint these colors in, but a      uniform layer over everything helps tie it in better.
  7. After I am done, I will save it in a collapsed form for printing, but I always keep my original layered file.  Usually these have take anywhere from 30-40 hours to produce, and it is really the only proof that I created it.

 

It takes me just as long to create a piece of Digital Art as it would an acrylic or oil painting – but there is no mess, it is flexible enough to allow me to change the composition halfway through, and I can undo what I just did.

Digital Art is still art.  It is created using a tool more flexible than a camera or a canvas and paintbrush, but the computer is still just a tool.  It is the artist that provides the inspiration, the creativity, and the talent and technique to turn that inspiration into a beautiful piece of art.

Sources:

dpandi.com

Glossary of Digital Art and Printmaking

 

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How I Write a Novel

How I Write a Novel

This is my methodology. Feel free to use it, borrow it, smash it, mangle it, fold it, staple it, do whatever you like with it to make it work for you, even toss it out and do your own thing. Everyone writes in a different manner, and that’s what makes reading wonderful.

 

Some people are Pantsers, writing scenes from the seat of their pants, all over the place, and then stringing them together. Diana Gabaldon, bestselling author of the Outlander books, says she does it this way. Others, like me, are Planners. As an accountant, I’m a methodical person. I set things out step by step and, for the most part, follow that plan.

 

Step 1: Concept

My first novel was easy. I was, in fact, inspired to start writing the story long before I actually gave it a go. The story of my parents’ love, interrupted by 30 years, and finally married because I, the result of their first affair, found my father. But often the concept is difficult to come up with. There is a misconception that the concept needs to be unique, unusual, never done before. Maeve Binchy wrote many wonderful books about people in everyday life, going about their business. Buying houses, losing jobs, going to night school, going to college, whatever it was, she wrote character-driven stories in normal plots.

Other novels are plot-driven, full of adventure, betrayal and alien worlds. Neither is better, nor worse. It’s simply a different market.

My second novel was a bit more difficult. I knew I wanted to write about Ireland, as that is my soul’s home, and I’ve been there many times. There are many areas of history in Ireland that I love, and I felt needed to be highlighted. For instance, the Great Hunger of 1846, when half the population died or emigrated, was a great example. So, what would happen if someone went back, instead? Someone, descended from a prior immigrant, returned to Ireland to find her family, only to discover she was in the midst of a genocide? Also, I wanted to add in some fairy magic, as this was, after all, Ireland, a land of myth and mystery. This became the concept for my second novel, Legacy of Hunger. “A spoiled young lady travels back to Ireland in 1846 to discover her family and a lost magical heirloom.”

 

Step 2: Synopsis

Once I had the concept, I used something called the Snowflake Method. It’s what I use – not everyone will love it, but I do. The basic idea is that you start with your concept, and write one basic sentence about it. Then you expand that into three sentences, adding a few details about plot and character. Then each sentence becomes a paragraph, and then again until you have a 2-3 page synopsis with subplots and minor characters. Sort of like a snowflake gets more details as it gets larger. Get it? Of course!

 

Step 3: Characters

The synopsis then gets set aside for a moment and I work on characters. The same thing holds true. Start with a name, add some physical and mental characteristics, a couple of motivations. Make sure to add both flaws and virtues. Maybe a nervous tic, or a bad habit or two. Find good names. A basic rule of thumb is not to have them too similar. In fact, keep the beginning letters different if you can. If you have a Tommy, don’t have a Todd as well. Make him a Robert. Or better yet, a Roberto. And Tommy might be better remembered if he’s Tomas. Does Tomas have a cowlick? And perhaps a hook nose. Maybe he has a habit of running his hands through his hair, or clicking his fingers on a surface. And he gambles. But he’s a good guy, after all – all he wants is to help our heroine find her lost cat. As you work on the characters, you may add some subplots to the main synopsis. That’s OK! Go back and add them in.

Step 4: Scene list

This is when I begin to get down and dirty. I write out all of the scenes of my main plot, and then the subplots, and mix them like a salad. Each scene should advance the story, the character, be a bridge, or be removed. Sometimes I have difficulty, but I try. I use an Excel spreadsheet to list out my scenes. Just a short description (and often this gets cut and moved around later). I list the location, date and point of view, to help me keep track of timeline and who is currently in the center of the scene. Here is the example from Legacy of Hunger, though I’d cut out the first 10 scenes in editing.

Capture

I also use the spreadsheet to keep track of my daily word count, my themes, subplots, etc. I color each one once I’ve finished writing them.

 

Step 5: Writing!

Yes, it’s finally time for me to start writing! While I could, in pure time terms, write up my first four steps in about 6 hours, it usually takes a week or two, as things percolate in my mind. But once I’ve got the scene list down, I write. From scene 1. Now, this doesn’t usually end up being scene 1 in the final draft, but it’s there. Then scene 2, etc. I often move things around a bit, cut a scene, combine, add a scene, sometimes add a whole new subplot while I’m writing, but I’ve got the plan, and it’s my plan, and I’ll change it if I want, so there!

I try to set a minimum each day. 2000 words is normal for me, and I’m pretty good about catching up if I slack off one day. I’m better about writing a couple hundred words extra so if I do slack off, I’ve got cushion. Again, as an accountant, I’m all about the deadlines, so this works for me. One novel, Call of the Morrigan, I simply couldn’t get 2000 words a day out, so I adjusted my minimum to 1000 a day, and that worked fine. That novel fought me tooth and nail, but I finished. The next one (The Enchanted Swans) is working out at 2000 again.

It normally takes me about six weeks to two months to write a 100,000 word novel. As I get near the end, my daily word count increases. I’ve done 10,000 word days before, near the end. It’s like the sprint towards the finish line, no longer a measured marathon.

 

Step 6: Waiting

Yup! Now we wait. If you go back to edit your first draft right now, your mind moves past the bits that aren’t right, filling in the blanks with the images you have in your mind and haven’t gotten on paper. If you wait, a month, two, even six, your mind is clearer, and you are reading it with fewer preconceptions of how it should be. It is then easier for you to see your holes, your bad grammar, your purple prose, and edit it.

 

Step 7: Percolating

Like a good wine, stories usually benefit from sitting in your brain. You think of things. You realize that the ending scene would have much more oomph if the cousin comes to kill the evil step-brother, just as the heroine is about to shoot him, so she isn’t accused of murder. Or that the beginning scene should be of a fire in Pittsburgh, not a drawing room in Ohio. You chew on your opening lines, to make sure they have good impact and hook. You decide that the protagonist is TOO good, she needs some flaws and bad habits. I email myself these notes as I think of them, and then add them to notes in the draft itself (I use Word). Then, when I sit down to do edits, they are all there, waiting for my attention.

 

Step 8: First edit

This is usually when you realize the first three chapters are just story setup, and can be done in flashbacks or recalls. The real action starts in chapter 4. This hurts. Yes, it does. It hurts a lot. Those three chapters were a lot of work, damnit! But it’s worth it, in the end. Read through the whole draft. Subvocalize or read out loud, you will catch more errors. You may move entire parts around, cut out the mushy middle, make the evil twin a greater adversary, all sorts of changes. You may change characters’ names, combine two weak characters into one stronger, more detailed one. You may spend a lot of time with this edit. It’s here that you start taking that lump of clay you created and throw it on the potter’s wheel. You also want to make sure your grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc. is all kosher and up to snuff. Here is a great list of self-editing tips!

 

Step 9: Feedback – Alpha

Alpha readers are gold. Many people call them beta readers, but really, after your first major edit, the folks that read through your manuscript and offer feedback at this stage are alpha readers. They can pick out major plotholes, inconsistencies, unrealistic characters, etc. for you. If you have someone you can go to for this, reward them kindly. Often, other authors will swap with you. AWWC has a great resource thread for readers. DON’T use your friends and family for this. They are too apt to be kind, rather than helpful. You need brutality. You need someone who doesn’t care about your precious feelings, that aren’t here to coddle your child.

 

Step 10: Adjusting for feedback

Oh, yes, more editing! Listen to your alpha readers. Change the things you agree with. Sometimes it takes a while to realize you agree with them. Sometimes you won’t agree with them, and you leave it in – but note that someone has a problem with it. When you have someone else read it (the more, the better!) if they also have an issue, maybe it is better to change that bit.

You may rearrange everything again. Often alpha readers point out a basic plotline hole, and requires a lot of rewriting. Don’t be afraid – do it! Then do a re-read and make sure everything fits after your rewriting. I go through and do minor edits, too – have the same spaces between scene markers, whittle down words you overuse, make sure my grammar and spelling is fixed again, etc.

 

Step 11: Feedback – Beta

Beta readers are a little more refining than alpha. The major plotholes should be fixed, but perhaps you’ve moved things around so that there is a time inconsistency that you couldn’t see yourself.

Sometimes an alpha or beta reader will make suggestions to make things better. You may take their advice, or you may not – that is up to you. But if their suggestions makes a huge improvement, let them know how much they’ve helped. In fact, any time someone takes HOURS of their time to help you with your novel, thank them profusely. You may want to acknowledge them in your book, even. Or send a nice gift. Even if you are reciprocating by reading their novel in return, thank them. Even if you don’t agree with their advice, or are hurt by their critique, thank them. And get over it. They are helping!

 

Step 12: Final edits and read-through

Adjusting for the beta reader suggestions is sort of like the almost final touches on your novel. The final ones are that last read-through. Again, subvocalize or read aloud. Polish it. Make those beautiful touches that make it shine and glitter. Then, and only then, should you consider sending it into your agent, publisher, or editor. Since I have a relationship with my publisher, I send it to her, and she sends it on to the editor.

 

Step 13: Wait and more editing

The waiting is hard. I shan’t sugarcoat it. Often it’s a couple months before your editor has read through the book and decided if they are willing to take a chance on it. But when they do – there is more work ahead! The editor will send back several rounds of edits. Usually the first is the harshest – lots of changes! Each one after (usually around three rounds) gets easier, until your lump has become a sparkling diamond!

 

Step 14: Pre-release

During this time you will work with a cover artist, and work on marketing. Your publisher might send you an ARC  (Advanced Reader Copy) of your novel – get that thing out there! Send it to reviewers so you have some reviews when it’s released! Do marketing and promotion NOW. It’s never too early to start the buzz! If your book is available for pre-order, even better – get those people buying!

 

Step 15: Release

This is it, your big day! Promote and market the HELL out of it. Make sure everyone knows about it. Social media, live signings, anything you can get. Your publisher may do some promotion, but this is YOUR baby. You are the person who benefits most from this, get out there and WORK. Why would you spend months creating a novel, and then do nothing to sell it? It’s like having a child, and release day is the day you are sending it to college. You may not be doing any real work on the novel any longer, but you have to pay for college, and help support your child emotionally while they are learning to live on their own!

Chase reviews. The more reviews you have (at least decent and positive reviews) the more people will buy your book. Also, many promotions require a minimum number of reviews on Amazon to be eligible for their promotion, so court them. Go on a review virtual blog tour. Ask people to review the book. Often!

 

Step 16: Keep going!

The work doesn’t stop when your novel releases. Keep the buzz going. The best way to sell your novel is to release another one – so have another child. Have eight! The buzz from one will spill onto the other.

It’s a long and arduous process. Most people never even start that novel they always think they should write. Most who do start never finish. Many first drafts are sitting around, waiting to be edited. If you actually complete and edit a novel, you are special. You are wonderful. But the work never actually finishes… it just gets better!

 

I’ve now written two travel guides and five novels, and am halfway through my sixth. The two travel guides and one novel have been published, and a second novel is submitted for publication. I may not be an expert, but this is how I’ve done it so far. I hope this helps!