Hens Lay Eggs

food for thought

The 2024 Show Season Has Begun!

Last year, my calendar was jam-packed with events. I hardly had a weekend free from May through November. It was a lot of fun and a lot of work, but exhausting.

Each year imparts lessons learned. As I get older, I realize I can’t do or endure what I did even five or 10 years ago. This getting old stuff ain’t for sissies!

One of the lessons learned was to track expenses, revenue, and mileage for each event. I track my “hard” expenses: the vendor registration fee, expenditures for food and beverages, hotel accommodations, etc. I do keep a record of money spent on inventory and other stuff (e.g., table signs, table coverings), but those are categorized as other costs. I don’t keep track of how many copies of which books I sell at each event, although I probably should.

Mileage is a different category of expense. I track mileage when I’m driving. As I go to most events with my best friend, artist Cindra Phillips and she has the larger vehicle (i.e., more cargo room), she does most of the driving. When we take her car, she’s responsible for tracking mileage.

I don’t count hours either. If I assign an arbitrary rate to my hours, anywhere from minimum wage ($10.45 per hour) to my freelance contract rate ($65 per hour), then I’m definitely not going to show any sort of profit for any event.

This year, I’ve scheduled fewer events. I’m participating as a vendor at some new-to-me events and returning to other events that have proven profitable without being onerous. I did go to one show last year that was profitable, but the hours were grueling.

The more experience I get at doing shows, the more particular I become when it comes to deciding to register. If an event is a first-time occurrence, meaning it’s never been held before, and doesn’t do particularly well, I’ll generally give it a second chance. I did that with Lust in the City. Its inaugural show in East Lansing, Michigan suffered from some unfortunate circumstances, so I registered for the second one in Owosso, Michigan. Although the organizer did a wonderful job in arranging everything and promoting the event, I failed to cover my hard costs. That made it a no-go for any subsequent years.

Another return trial is Art on the Hill in Mantua, Ohio. For the second time in its 11-year duration, we had rain. Because books and paintings don’t hold up well to wet weather, Cindra and I left early. However, we both thought the event deserved a second chance, so we’re going back this year. We’ll keep a close eye on the weather and bring her canopy just in case. (Her canopy has sides; mine doesn’t.) We’ll need to sell a lot of paintings as well as books to make this one profitable. Fingers are crossed.

I haven’t yet registered for any of the Beech Grove Artist Collective’s First Friday Art Walks in the Indianapolis, Indiana area. Event registrations open three months prior to each scheduled date, so there’s nothing yet available for registration after June—and that weekend in June is already scheduled. Cindra and I enjoy the BGAC Art Walks. They’re generally profitable because registration has been free and we bunk down at my brother’s house for the night. (It’s great to have family upon whom we can impose.) We really enjoy patronizing the 5th Avenue Grill; they have a good selection of local craft brews and good food.

This year’s show season kicks off in Urbana, Ohio on Saturday, April 6. The Urbana Chamber of Commerce is hosting a monthly “Second Saturday” street fair, although the city’s attempting to capitalize on the solar eclipse by scheduling the first event of the year right on the first Saturday of April. The forecast shows chilly weather and a stiff breeze. We’ll layer-up to keep warm.

Our next show is Art on Vine, hosted by Rhingeist Brewery in Cincinnati, Ohio on Sunday, April 14. Our first foray to Art on Vine introduced us to a well-heeled and eclectice crowd. A second registration took us to Washington Park for an outdoor event; that didn’t turn out nearly as well as the first. We’ll see what happens this time and reserve judgment until afterward as to whether we’ll return a fourth time.

At the Springfield Antique Show & Extravaganza in 2023, the vendor next to us imparted some wisdom. He stated that it was the event organizer’s responsibility to bring in the crowds and his responsibility to sell his products to attendees. I thought he had a good point.

So, if you’re out and about, check my calendar of events. I enjoy going to craft shows, arts and music festivals, and book-oriented events, so if you come across one that looks like a good venue, send me a message with the event information. I’m willing to travel to Indiana, Michigan, Kentucky, and maybe even Pennsylvania.

If you attend an event where I’m participating, stop by my booth and say hello! A friendly face is always welcome.

The publishing process

Yes, Virginia, there is a process to publishing.

Whether you pursue traditional publishing or self-publish the process begins with the same first two steps:

  1. Write the story. That’s self-explanatory. If you don’t write the story, there’s nothing to publish.
  2. Edit and revise the story. This is the self-editing phase during which you review what you wrote and revise to make it better. I suggest the following during this phase:
    • With a pen and notepad at hand, begin reading your manuscript from the first page.
    • Jot down those major issues (reference by manuscript page number) that will require substantial revision and/or rewriting and/or redevelopment.
    • Correct the small problems and errors as you go through the manuscript.
    • When you finish, go back to the beginning and start working on those big issue items you noted on paper.
    • When you finish that, go back to the beginning and repeat the process until the manuscript is as good as you can make it.
    • During the self-editing phase, you may wish to enlist the assistance of beta readers or hire an editor to provide you with a manuscript critique or assessment, then revise further based on their feedback.

At this point, it’s time to decide: will you pursue traditional publishing or will you self-publish your work?

If you decide to pursue traditional publishing, you’ve got a lot of research to do:

  1. Find publishers and literary agents that handle material like yours.
  2. Verify whether they are accepting manuscripts.
  3. Check out their submission guidelines.
  4. Follow those guidelines exactly.

Many publishers and agencies do not accept unsolicited manuscripts. Many publisher don’t accept manuscripts from authors at all; they require the author have agency representation. That means sending them your manuscript without first being invited results in automatic rejection. So, you follow the process which may require a query letter and a synopsis or book proposal. You’ll have to learn how to write those documents so they’re effective. It’s not easy. You’ll also have to know what “standard manuscript format” is an master it.

The process is slow and may be discouraging.

Publishers and literary agencies accept only 1%-2% of the manuscripts they receive. They don’t reject manuscripts for no good reason and only accept manuscripts they think will generate profits. In exchange for ownership of the work and the lion’s share of royalties, the publisher assumes all financial risk and the responsibility to produce a high quality product.

If you decide to self-publish, the publisher’s financial risk and responsibility for quality fall on your shoulders. Therefore, it’s time to proceed with the process in diligent fashion:

  1. Hire a professional editor. This may be the most expensive part of publishing. You many need multiple editors for developmental, line, and copy editing. Many editors combine editing levels. (For instance, I offer substantive editing which combines line and copy editing with a smidgen of developmental editing.) Your manuscript may require multiple rounds of editing. It’s a truism that the better your manuscript, the less editing will cost.
  2. Hire a book designer. Unless you’re competent at page layout, you’ll best serve your book by outsourcing book design to a pro. There’s more involved in page layout than filling the pages with words.
  3. Write the back cover blurb and hire a cover designer. Your back cover blurb—the hook that persuades potential readers to buy your book—needs to be well-written and free of copy errors. This is copy writing, so you may want to hire a copywriter to craft effective sales copy that converts. The cover designer may or may not be an artist, too. If not, you may also need to hire a graphic artist who’s familiar with your genre and audience expectations. Beware of designers/artists who substitute AI-generated images for human creativity.
  4. Hire a proofreader. A proofreader reviews the nearly final formatted book and the front and back covers, including the blurb, and notes the necessary corrections—not just to spelling, punctuation, and grammar, but also with regard to formatting inconsistencies and other issues. The book designer and cover designer are then tasked with implementing the corrections specified by the proofreader.
  5. Publish your book. Each self-publishing platform has its own process and will require you to enter personal data for the payment of royalties. If your files do not meet the platform’s specifications, you’ll have to adjust them. Your book designer and cover designer should be willing to make the necessary adjustments for not extra charge.

Self-publishing gets expensive, but not because you pay to publish. In fact, I generally recommend you do not pay to publish, although there are a handful of nonexploitive, one-stop shops that offer the full spectrum of author support services including publication. Such services tend to be expensive.

The costs of producing your own book vary widely. In many cases, you get what you pay for. For an up-to-date guide on what you may expect to spend, go to the Editorial Freelancers Association’s rates guide.

Marketing your book begins before publication. Ideally, you’ll start promoting it about six to eight eights prior to its release to the public. Regardless of whether your book is traditionally published or self-published, marketing is the author’s responsibility.

So, where do you find these pros to whom you can outsource that work? Hen House Publishing offers the author support services: ghostwriting, editing, proofreading, and book design. If you need e-book formatting, I’ll be happy to refer you to another pro who’s an expert at that. If you need marketing, I’ll be happy to refer you elsewhere. I don’t offer the services that I don’t do well.

Popular romance tropes

It’s said there are only a finite number of story plots or archetypes, so there’s nothing really new under the sun when it comes to literature. In genre fiction like romance, readers find the same themes or tropes repeated ad nauseum. A good writer can refresh an old, tired trope and make it exciting again.

Romance in all its various flavors offers a steadily published selection of these most popular tropes:

  1. Fake relationship
  2. Forbidden/impossible/taboo love
  3. Billionaire (including duke/prince/king/alpha)
  4. Amnesia/mistaken identity
  5. Marriage of convenience/arranged marriage
  6. Stuck together/forced proximity
  7. Blind date
  8. Enemies to lovers
  9. Friends to lovers
  10. Love triangle
  11. Office/work romance (including boss romance)
  12. Opposites attract (e.g., sunshine-grumpy romance)
  13. Surprise pregnancy/secret baby
  14. Childhood sweethearts
  15. Second chance
  16. Soul mates (e.g., “instalust,” “instalove,” and love at first sight)
  17. Holiday romance/fling
  18. Slow burn
  19. Age gap (i.e., May-December romance)
  20. Secret identity
  21. Best friend’s brother/sister
  22. Jilted or betrayed bride/groom

Some tropes tie into longstanding themes, such as the billionaire trope. If you read a story featuring a kinky, jealous, misogynistic hero who controls, dominates, and often degrades and humiliates his submissive heroine, then you’re probably also reading a billionaire romance. This common BDSM add-on comes courtesy of E. L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey, despite memes noting that what the hero did was only sexy because of his obscene wealth. If he’d been poor, then the character would have been castigated as a deviant predator.

Any trope may be flogged to death by the writer’s heavy hand. As author Evie Alexander notes, “Tropes should serve your story, not the other way around.” This means that in genre fiction like romance, outside events don’t drive the story, the developing relationship between the characters does.

Many tropes arise naturally from the basic folk tale that inspires the story. For instance, beloved fairy tales Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast reappear again and again in various iterations. I believe most romances harken back to either of those two folk tales.

The presence of one trope doesn’t exclude the presence of other tropes in the same story. Many popular tropes appear in combination in today’s literature. One will find childhood sweethearts whose love is forbidden and who become enemies then later lovers. You probably won’t have to look very far to find the secret or surprise baby trope topping off that combination or a similar combination.

Some of these tropes may encapsulate other tropes within them. For instance, the forbidden love trope may include the enemies-to-lovers trope as well as the age gap trope. One sees these tropes lumped together in romances featuring relationships that, on the surface, appear incestuous, such as between stepbrother and stepsister. In such stories, the stepbrother is inevitably older (sometimes by a decade or more, hence the age gap) and a successful businessman (hence “billionaire” or even “boss”).

In some ways, tropes work a bit like stereotypes. There’s an entire set of assumptions when one sees “billionaire” or “grumpy-sunshine” in the keywords of the book’s subtitle or description. Despite the assumptions, a heavy-handed writer can make a beloved trope ring falsely or fall flat. Although the reader might be prepared to accept the hero’s immediate fascination or obsession with the heroine (the soul mate trope), it must be made plausible. Why would the hero fixate upon a particular woman? What qualities does she have or show that sustain his fascination and justify his pursuit of her?

The trope serves the plot. The plot should not serve the trope.

What are your favorite romance tropes? Let readers know in the comments.


Hard boiled, scrambled, over easy, and sunny side up: eggs are the musings of Holly Bargo, the pseudonym for the author.


Karen (Holly)

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