Bestselling author and writer of comics and video games Sam Maggs returns to the podcast this week to discuss writing across different mediums and to share her expertise on speaking at conventions. Sam tells us how her multi-faceted career has evolved, how she prepares for both appearing on and moderating panels at various conventions worldwide, and she tells us who she would want to appear on her dream panel.
- Sam tells us what it’s like writing for different IPs over multiple mediums (books, comics, and video games), how she keeps her various projects organized, and why she hopes writing across different mediums will encourage folks out of their comfort zones
- Sam has released six books during the pandemic, and she tells us what challenges she faced pivoting to solely online releases, why online events are tougher for authors trying to build a platform, and why cross-promoting with other authors is a great way to reach new readers
- She talks about what it’s like being a female writer in the traditionally male dominated industries of video games and comics and the challenges of trying to bring more representation to her work in these fields
- Sam tells us how she got her start speaking on panels at conventions and explains how to pitch a panel idea to a convention and why more niche topics are more likely to be selected
- She shares her advice for both moderating a panel and speaking on a panel and how she prepares for both, and she tells us what her dream panel to moderate would be
- Sam talks about the return of in-person conventions after over a year away, she gives some great pointers for first time convention attendees, and she shares her favourite con memory
Follow Sam on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok
The Unstoppable Wasp: Built on Hope
The Fangirl’s Guide to the Universe
The Mighty Nein: Jester
Tell No Tales
Marvel Action: Captain Marvel
Call of Duty: Vanguard
Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands
Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart
Calgary Expo Costume Masquerade
The Pull of the Stars
One Last Stop
Gideon the Ninth
Harrow the Ninth
Captain Marvel Vol 1: Higher, Further, Faster, More
Sam Maggs is a bestselling author of books, comics, and video games. She’s been a senior games writer, including work on Marvel’s Spider-Man; the author of many YA and middle-grade books like The Unstoppable Wasp, Con Quest!, Tell No Tales, and The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy; and a comics writer for beloved titles like Marvel Action: Captain Marvel, My Little Pony, and Transformers. She is also an on-air host for networks like Nerdist. A Canadian in Los Angeles, she misses Coffee Crisp and bagged milk.
Transcription provided by Speechpad
Joni: Hey, writers. You’re listening to the Kobo Writing Life Podcast where we bring you insights and inspiration for growing your self-publishing business. We’re your hosts. I’m Joni, author engagement specialist at Kobo Writing Life.
Rachel: And I’m Rachel, author engagement coordinator at Kobo Writing Life. Today on the podcast, we speak to best-selling author Sam Maggs. Sam is the writer of a variety of different books from non-fiction to YA to middle-grade fiction. She works for huge IPs such as Marvel. She writes comic books. She writes video games. She is incredibly busy, and she is also my best friend.
Joni: Sam is very, very cool. She does, as Rachel said, a huge variety of different creative things. She does a lot of writing, and she’s awesome. And she’s super generous with her time probably because Rachel has bribed her with friendship. So it was really great to talk to her today. The last time she was on, she talked more about writing and about her book publishing journey. So this time we wanted to dive a little bit more into what it’s like to attend cons as a panelist, as a panelist moderator, and just generally what the experience of attending those events is like, particularly since we are now starting to open the world up again and those events are starting to resume. So that was really interesting for me. For me, this was very much an outsider’s perspective. So I find it fascinating, and I’m excited to share it.
Rachel: Today we are speaking to a best-selling author of comics, video games, books, pretty much everything, and also my best friend, Sam Maggs. Hi, Sam.
Sam: Hi. You can follow me around everywhere and give me that introduction. I love that for me.
Rachel: I can do that for you. Thank you for coming back. You have been on here before because you’re wonderful and generous with your time. But for those who are unfamiliar, would you introduce yourself to our listeners?
Sam: Yes, of course. So, yeah, I’m Sam Maggs. I write video games, comic books, and novels. Some games I worked on include Call of Duty: Vanguard, which is out on November 5th, Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands, which is out next year, Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, Spiderman for PlayStation. I’ve written books like “The Unstoppable Wasp: Built on Hope,” and “Con Quest!” and “The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy.” And I’ve written a ton of comics like “Marvel Action: Captain Marvel.” The next graphic novel I have out is actually a “Critical Role” origins, “The Mighty Nein Jester.” So if you’re a Crit Role fan as I am, that’s coming out soon.
So, yeah, basically I write a little bit of everything. And as part of that gig, I’m very fortunate, and since 2014, I’ve gotten to fly all over the world to go to different comic book conventions to set up my booth and sell as a writer at different publisher booths and speak on panels for different publishers. And, yeah, it’s really a perk of the job. So, yeah, I’m excited to come on and talk about that a bit today.
Joni: This is extremely cool. The last time that you came on…
Sam: Thank you.
Joni: Like, truly. The last time that you were on the show, you talked a lot about the books that you were writing specifically. And I’m interested… We didn’t touch so much on all of the other different mediums that you write in. Could you talk a little bit about your writing process and how it changes depending on what medium you’re writing in?
Sam: Yeah, definitely. And I also just want to apologize if you hear, like, little snores or grunts or anything. My puppy is asleep on me, and I feel that it would be extremely rude to touch or move her in any way.
Joni: I hope you realize that, now that you’ve put this into the podcast, we will need to include a picture for the show notes.
Sam: Okay, fantastic.
Joni: Of the puppy.
Sam: Yes, absolutely. I will send you 47 of them because I’m obsessed with her.
Joni: Perfect, thank you.
Sam: It’s funny. A lot of my work in all mediums is IP work, which means I work with properties that other people own. So, you know, Marvel, Star Wars, Transformers, Star Trek, My Little Pony. Tragically, none of these characters belong to me. They belong to other people. And what that means is that I have to get approval for basically everything I want to make at every step of the process to make sure that all the different stakeholders, and IP holders, and editors, and everything are down with what I’m suggesting for the characters that they own, which is totally fair.
So my process regardless of the medium actually looks really, really similar, which is I start out with a really high-level outline. So that would be, like, a one-page, kind of, synopsis of what I want the story to be, a description of the characters and their individual arcs, kind of, what I want the theme or themes of the story to be. And I start there, and that will go off to my editor, the different IP holders in video games that will go to, like, the studio head, that kind of thing.
Once that gets approved, if it gets approved, with changes sometimes, and eventually, like, a more in-depth outline. So in comics, that would look like an issue-by-issue breakdown. In a video game, that would look like working with the level designers and different, like, folks who are responsible for different parts of the game, working to figure out how we’re going to deliver that narrative and where. And in a novel, it would look like a full breakdown. I use a program called Plottr. It’s really great, and it’s kind of like the computer version of having a bunch of sticky notes on your wall. I tragically don’t have the wall space for the sticky note adventure, but it allows you to, kind of, visualize your story like that and break it down into three acts. And then I have to get that outline approved, and then I can start drafting.
So because I do that so much with IP work, I, kind of, stick to that process when I’m doing my original work as well. And I don’t know. I think people who are pantsers are incredible magicians, and I don’t know how they do it. I need an outline so bad or I would just be all over the place.
Rachel: So what you’re saying is that you’re not at all busy and writing all the time.
Sam: Yeah. No, totally. I have a really good work-life balance. I’m really healthy. I work out all the time, and I eat really well. So it’s great.
Rachel: Yeah, sure.
Sam: Uh-huh. No, all I do is sit on my computer and write, and that’s a huge problem, and I’m working on it, so don’t be like me, kids.
Rachel: Because I know you. I know that you work on multiple different projects at once. How do you keep them straight in your brain? How do you switch writing for, like, Ratchet & Clank, and then jumping on to Captain Marvel? Like, how does that work in your brain?
Sam: Yeah, it’s interesting that you should ask that, because I think an even more, like, hilarious example of that is I’ll write Captain Marvel, a kid’s comic in the morning, and then in the afternoon, I’ll go write, like, Nazi murders for Call of Duty for, like, several hours. It is a lot of jumping around, but I think the fact that it’s all different mediums is actually what makes it really doable. If I was writing six different novels all at the same time, I don’t think I could handle it. Like, I don’t think my brain could handle that.
And because it all is in different mediums, it feels like I’m doing something really different. Even though technically I’m always just sitting at the computer and writing, they feel like very different exercises, and, like, they use different parts of my brain, and they all have different tips and tricks. I mean, listen, none of it is rocket science. You, kind of, learn the rules and tips and tricks for each different medium but you do have to, kind of, know what works for what genre, and that helps me make it feel different enough, I think, that it doesn’t feel like I’m doing the same thing all the time.
Joni: You talked about the conventions and the in-person events, which I want to come back to, but on that, kind of, topic, you had six books come out during the pandemic, which is incredible. We’ve been in this for far too long, but I’m interested. What was the process like compared to how it normally is where you’re doing a lot of in-person stuff and engaging with readers and going to these conferences and stuff? And I imagine during the pandemic, maybe it’s a bit better now, but it would have been quite different.
Sam: Yeah. I mean, look, it’s far from the worst thing that happened during the pandemic, and I feel very fortunate that I had a job that was so easily transitionable to remote work. But I’ll be honest with you, it was kind of a bummer to be releasing so many books that I had put so much work into over the years, and they, kind of, felt like they came and went without a lot of fanfare because normally you’d go on a book tour and you’d go to different bookstores. And, you know, “Con Quest!” was supposed to have a big release event at San Diego Comic-Con, and there were all these, sort of, grand plans for stuff. And it was a big transition for the whole industry, and we were all, kind of, figuring out how to release books long-distance while people couldn’t even get into bookstores really to see them, like, on tables on an Indigo or like a Barnes & Nobles the case may be.
So what ended up happening was we did a lot of online events, which was very cool, especially because it meant that people who couldn’t usually make the trek to these live events were able to come see them, which is awesome. But it’s just really, really different especially if the author… Like, I don’t know, maybe this is because I’m like a raging narcissist, but I really feed off of that energy. Like, it’s easy as an author to feel like you’re, kind of… You write something in isolation, and then you send it off, and you’d forget that anyone reads it or that it has an impact on anyone. You just, kind of, move into the next thing. Whereas, being at these events in person where people come up to you and are like, “I really loved this,” or, “Thank you for writing this. This made a really big difference in my life,” like, that can, kind of, keep gas in the tank to keep you going or reminds you of, like, why you’re doing the things that you’re doing.
Also, the online events really benefited folks who already had a really big following or a really big audience. It was easy to kind of… You know, if you already have a million Instagram followers or whatever, they’ll come to your Insta Live. But for a lot of, like, debut authors or up and coming authors, I think it made things a lot more challenging because you were just, kind of, speaking to your existing audience in a lot of cases. And so it made it hard to reach beyond that to find new people. That’s what I really felt was the big challenge for me was, like, reaching out beyond my circle of people who would already buy my stuff anyway, and I love them, and I’m grateful for them, but, you know, I want to reach as many people as possible who would be interested in my work. So that I found really challenging without physical events and, like, physical bookstores.
Rachel: Was there anything in particular that you did to reach new readers or that your publishers did? Like, what kind of events and marketing stuff did you get to be a part of?
Sam: One of the most successful tasks or, like, marketing, I guess, ideas I found was hopping onto other folks’ Instagram Lives, so other authors with established audiences. Like, we would, kind of, trade back and forth, and they would be on my Instagram, and I’d be on theirs. And the same goes for publishers. I got a really big boost when I did an Instagram Live over on Marvel’s Instagram account. And so, you know, a lot of their followers were able to find me, and so it was, kind of, about this audience cross-pollination that I found really helpful.
Joni: Yeah, I think this is something we hear from a lot of indie authors as well. Cross-promotion is a really great way to… Because, kind of, like, we always talk about how there’s more than enough books in the world, you don’t really need to worry about competition. So if somebody likes this author’s books, and they’re similar to the kind of thing that you write, then you’re going to find that the audience is bigger than you think it is.
Sam: Oh, my God, 100%. Oh, absolutely. Yeah, that’s exactly right. If someone likes my book, they’re probably going to also buy Mackenzi Lee’s book or, you know, vice versa. So there’s no reason for us to compete with each other. You know, we should always be cooperating, I think.
Joni: Do you find that your readers read you across all the different genres and mediums that you write in? Or, do you have quite distinct audiences between different books?
Sam: That’s a really good question, Rachel. Have you ever played any of my video games?
Rachel: This is a callout that I am not here for, and I’m a little offended. But, no, I have known Sam for, what, 20 years, and I have never played a game that she has written on yet.
Joni: Is that true?
Rachel: That is true. Yes. I’ve read every book and most of the comics, but I’ve…
Joni: I’m appalled at you.
Rachel: No. Okay, first of all, I don’t have a PlayStation 5 to play Ratchet & Clank. So if anybody out there wants to gift me a PlayStation 5 so I can play Ratchet & Clank. But, no, I’ve never played Sam’s games. So, yeah, thanks, Sam, for that.
Sam: So there’s an answer for you. Yes, it totally depends. I do have some lovely folks who follow my career across whatever I may be doing, which is great, but I think that, like, ultimately a lot of folks are really more into one genre than another. Like, either you’re really a book reader, you’re really like a comics guy or really a video game person. And that’s totally okay, but it is, kind of, my hope especially with, like, YA readers, young readers, you know, girls, young women, especially non-men, non-binary folks, that, I think, the traditional publishing market really reaches out to them and it’s harder for them to get into comics and video games, so it is, kind of, my hope that I can be a bit of a crossover pull for those people who maybe would read “Unstoppable Wasp” and be like, “Maybe I can read comics,” or, “Maybe I’ll pick up Ratchet & Clank” or something like that. So I don’t know.
That’s my hope because I think that a lot of folks now especially are really trying to get into comics and don’t know really where to start because admittedly it’s like a deeply complicated industry with, like, 10 billion #1s. Yeah, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. So, yeah, I would love to be that crossover person. That would be cool.
Joni: A question that came from our other co-worker. She wanted us to ask, what is it like being a woman writer in the boy world that we think of as comic books? Is that something that comes up or do you find that it’s less of a boy’s world now? And are you often the only woman writer in the room or is that becoming less a thing?
Sam: Yeah, this is a problem I run into actually way, way more in video games. Your co-worker is correct. These may be outdated statistics, but the last time I looked this up it was something like 16% of comic book writers are women and about 23% of video game creators are women. The last video game studio I worked at full time, their big goal was to get to 20% female staff. That was like their… They were trying to get there.
Joni: Wow, really setting the bar high there.
Sam: That would have been a big hit for them. Yeah, which, you know, is better than nothing, but it’s also like that shows you, you know, how it is. So in games, I am quite often the only girl in the room. And you do run into this kind of situation often where places will, I think, hire you because they’re like, “We want a different voice. We want a different opinion. We want something fresh.” And then you’ll get into the room and suggest new, fresh different things, and they’re like, “Oh, well, we don’t do that,” and you’re like, “Okay, I’m not really 100% sure why I’m here then but cool.” So I do find that problem a lot in video games.
Comics is changing really, really rapidly especially the, sort of, outside of the Big Two, being Marvel and DC. I work a lot specifically for IDW, and almost every single person I work with at IDW is a lady or a non-dude, all my editors, most of my artists, colorists, letterers, even the IP folks over at Marvel that I would work with. So it’s been pretty awesome. Maybe I am isolated, and I’ve been very lucky in my career, but, yeah, I work with primarily women in comics, which has been really, really cool. I think overall the industry is still struggling to balance representation and opportunity behind the page, but, yeah, I’ve been very fortunate.
Rachel: And you mentioned wanting to, kind of, be the bridge from across different genres and different IPs. Have you run into a lot of difficulties with things that you want to change to bring more representation? Anything you’re allowed to talk about as far as that goes? Like, what kind of battles do you find you’re, kind of, waging the most behind the screen or behind the page?
Sam: Yeah, definitely. I mean, just representation in general, you know, I’m a queer woman and so trying to get more queer representation is a big passion of mine. I include it in basically every project I write that I’m allowed to include it in. Sometimes I have to include it subtextually instead of textually, depending on the IP holder. But, you know, most of the companies that I’ve worked for have been totally open to that and, like, excited about it and fine with it, which has been great. But that is something that is an ongoing discussion is trying to convince… You know, I think we all know that in publishing, especially in YA publishing, queer representation and diverse representation is, like, a huge selling point. Other industries have lagged in that and so it is more difficult to convince them that it won’t alienate consumers or buyers and that, in fact, there is, like, a huge audience for that just waiting to throw their money at you for good representation.
A lot of my fights in video games have revolved around, like, visual representation. So like, you know, just making sure that a variety of body types are represented, that we’re not falling into stereotypical or unnecessarily tropey, sort of, visual representation of women or queer characters, which can sometimes be difficult because tropes exist for a reason and visual shorthand exists for a reason. And so, you know, art departments make a good point when they say like, “Well, you know, having a girl in this game is a huge selling point. We want people to look at the poster and be able to say, ‘Ah, that’s a girl character,’ ” and, you know, shorthand for that in our patriarchal society is eyelashes, lipstick, boobs, like whatever the case may be, you know, in our very like cis-gendered society. But fighting back against that is a big battle, but then the question remains like, “Well, then how…” You know, there are lots of different sides to consider there, so it is something that, like, I’ve had to contend with a lot, but it’s always worth it.
Joni: That’s awesome. And when it comes to attending events and going to cons and all of those things that are now starting up again as we hopefully keep those COVID numbers down a little bit more, we’ve talked to a lot of writers about attending writing conferences, but we haven’t really spoken much about paneling on events like cons. Can you tell us a little bit about how that started for you?
Sam: Oh, yeah. So the first book I ever published was called “The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy,” which was all about being a geek girl and in fact had an entire chapter devoted to attending conventions, and how to go to your first convention, and what to pack, and what to expect, and how to prepare and all that. And my publisher for that book, Quirk Books, who I am still a big fan of, I put out like five different books with them. They’re absolutely wonderful. If you’ve read The Southern Woman’s Guide to Slaying Vampires, that’s one of their books. They’re just, like, super wonderful.
And they had a presence at all of the big conventions. So they would always have a booth at, you know, New York Comic-Con, San Diego Comic-Con, C2E2, Emerald City where they would set up a big table and sell all of their products to people on the floor who wander around and their books are all really, really well-designed. They all look like great gift books. So they’re kind of easy sell on the con for. You know, they grab the eye.
And so after my first book came out, a big part of their publicity cycle for me was just, kind of, sending me around to these different conventions where they would be and having me do signing times at the booth where people could come and meet me and I could sign copies of Fangirls’ Guide, and this continued with all the rest of the books that I wrote for them.
And eventually, you know, I started to… As I realized I was going to be at these cons, you know, they would pitch me to publishers who they knew were going to be putting on panels at those conventions, or I would begin, sort of, rounding up my friends in the industry and pitching my own panels to conventions because anybody can pitch a panel and, you know, they accept lots and lots of them. They’re always looking for interesting and new things for their convention-goers to hear about.
So I would pitch panels like, you know, writing queer women in comics or writing YA novels. You know, I did lots of those kind of things at comic-cons, and it was a lot of fun. And the great thing about that is a lot of people attend your panels maybe for a different author that they’re excited about, and then they hear you talk, and then they’re like, “Oh, I think that’s really interesting. Like, I never would have found you before, but I’m going to come buy your book at your table afterwards.”
And then you get a lot of really, like, organic, word of mouth, kind of, sales and fans that way. I mean, you’re never going to sell, like, a billion copies at the convention or anything, but it’s not really about that. It’s more about those individual connections and the hope that then they’ll tell their friends who will tell their friends and that, sort of, more authentic connection.
Rachel: I actually wanted to ask you about pitching panels for a con. How does one go about doing this? What’s the process like? And do you have any advice for authors who are, kind of, looking to pitch their panels as cons start up again?
Sam: Oh, my gosh. Yes, 100%. So every convention will have a submission, like, guidelines on their website for submitting panels. There’s a cutoff date that’s usually a couple of months before the actual convention itself. So make sure you have your eye on that. Places like San Diego Comic-Con will have their own PDF that you can print off, that you can fill out with like lots of rules in terms of categorizing your panel, whether it be books, or games, or comics, and then you know what to include in the description.
Some great tips that I have found are successful for getting my panels accepted, the first is already have a group of people who are willing to do this panel with you. It’s a lot easier to sell the panel to the convention if you say like, “Look, I already have, like, five authors who want to do this with me who will be there and who are, like, willing to show up for this, and they have a big audience too,” or like, “They have a lot of knowledge or something interesting to say.” So having those people on board when you pitch is really important.
The other thing is just coming up with an interesting or unique thing to talk about that you think folks haven’t heard or seen before. Rachel and I were at New York Comic-Con last weekend, and we ran into a friend of mine who is a physical therapist and personal trainer. And she runs a program called Keep Girls Strong, and one of her panels was doing, like, an in-person chair exercise session for folks who spend the whole day writing at their computers. And, like, that was really, really interesting and something I’d never seen at a con before.
Lots of folks talk about really, really niche stuff. Like, my last panel was about how to write the same story across a video game and a comic book. You can talk about writing fairy tales or writing adaptations or, you know, how to indie publish or indie publishing romance. Like, all of these things are really interesting. So the more niche and, sort of, cool, and interesting, and unusual I think you can make your panel, that you think also sounds interesting to folks who would be there, the more likely it is to be accepted. You know, just like writing a book is not a super interesting panel. We all have heard that advice before. Like, what is the, sort of, unique or interesting thing that you can talk about and your friends can talk about that maybe nobody else can and nobody else has maybe ever heard about before? So, yeah, that’s my advice.
Rachel: Excellent advice. And before we delve more into paneling and being on panels, before you started on panels, you moderated a lot. And I was just, kind of, wondering if you have any advice for people who are moderating panels or who are interviewing guests on a podcast. Any good tips? Because you are a very good moderator.
Sam: Well, that means a lot to me coming from another very good moderator and interviewer. So thank you. It is a skill, I would say. Like, moderating panels is a very particular skill. It does take practice, but there’s a couple of things, I guess. The first is that if you are moderating a panel, you kind of have to remember that nobody is there to see you. You’re just there to facilitate the discussion about people who are more interesting than you. And that’s totally okay, and you’re kind of lucky to be there. That’s how I feel a lot of the times that I’m moderating panels. So it’s about ironically not being super narcissistic in those cases and keeping the focus on your panelists, who the folks in the audience have come to see specifically.
Another thing is not getting too caught up… I mean, you’ll obviously prepare questions ahead of time. You know, do your research. Look at other questions that those authors have been asked, that they’ve given good answers to in the past that you’d like to emulate in this panel. But have your list, but then don’t be beholden to it. Actually, like, active listen to the answers that your panelists are giving so that you can facilitate a more organic conversation, because it becomes very clear if you’re just, like, reading down a list of questions quickly but, like, your panelists are going to say really interesting stuff that you’re probably going to want to have follow-ups to. So be willing to kind of veer off of your prepared script and delve more into the things that your panelists are talking about that seemed really interesting.
And the third thing is to remember that your audience is there to ask questions and those folks, you know, they paid to be here. They’re excited to be here. They want to have the opportunity to talk to these people that they’re a fan of. So try to save time to let the audience have their time for questions, too, because, again, it’s not about you. It’s about the person you’re interviewing.
Joni: And keeping what you said in mind about having the flexibility to go with the flow and respond to what panelists are saying, what do you do beforehand to prep?
Sam: Oh, yeah. So I usually watch a lot of other interviews or read a lot of other interviews with the person I’m going to be interviewing to, kind of, get a feel for what kind of questions they’ve been asked before, what they like to answer, what maybe they’re less comfortable with answering, what I wish they would have elaborated more on. That’s, like, my favorite way to come up with new interview questions is watching or reading existing interviews with that author and then of course being familiar with, like, their work. So reading their book or, you know, watching their show or whatever the case may be is really important.
And then also, kind of, being a fan mouthpiece. So just doing a little research into, like, what are they saying on Twitter right now, what are the fans asking of them a lot on Twitter, like, what questions do their audience really want to know so that I can maybe try to get that answer out of them.
Rachel: Have you ever been, like, genuinely star-struck by anybody who you’ve moderated a panel for?
Sam: I try really hard not to because it’s, like, my job. I try to be, like, very cool and chill, but Hayley Atwell, I’ve moderated panels with her several times now. And every single time, I’m just, like, struck by how insanely perfect of a human she is and, like, so eloquent and pretty and like… Every time I see her, I’m just like, “Wow, it’s Agent Carter.” That one for sure. Yeah, that’s probably the big one, I think, unless you can think of others that I’m missing.
Rachel: I was just going to jump in and say, I watched you moderate a Hayley Atwell panel, and Sam and I are both very big fans of Ms. Attwell, and you did a great job even when she took her hair down from a bun and like shook it out, and it was, like, slow motion, movie theater moment. You nailed it. Professionalism.
Sam: There’s, like, photos of me watching that happen, and it’s so embarrassing now. But, like, yeah, totally, thank you so much.
Rachel: You’re so welcome.
Joni: You’re going to have to include a lot of pictures in this podcast’s audio experience.
Sam: Absolutely, absolutely.
Rachel: All right. Going from moderating panels to speaking on panels, what kind of prep do you do before you appear on a panel? Because you, correct me if I’m wrong, usually do, like, two to four panels at every con. How do you prep?
Sam: Great question. I also want to say…I just remembered I did moderate a panel with Matt Smith once, and he complimented my shoes. And he’s like a very cool, hip dude, and I was like, “Wow, I feel so hip at this moment.” Anyway, that’s my other answer. He’s my favorite Doctor.
So I prep for being on panels, I try to remember to bring my book to the panels so that I can set it up in front of me while I’m talking, so it’s kind of like a live advertisement. Sometimes I don’t do that, and the poor person that I’m attending the convention with has to run across the convention center, back to my table, and get them for me. Thank you, Rachel, or my mom, depending on who’s there that weekend. But, yeah, so having the book in front of you while you’re speaking is great, works as an advertisement, and people will associate your book cover with you.
And then additionally, I just try to have my talking points down for my book. You know, the key to any interview in any field is answering the question you wish you were asked and not the question that you’ve actually been asked. So just being able to say like, “Okay, these are the things that I want to talk about, that are important about my book, that I want to get across to this audience,” and being able to kind of mold your answers to any questions to include those things. That’s really important. So, yeah, have your talking points.
Rachel: Is there one particular question that you really like to be asked or that you don’t like to be asked?
Sam: Oh, I don’t super like to be asked about, because I don’t answer questions about, like, online harassment or, like, the negatives of online culture, because I think we all talk about that enough. I really like to talk about the positives of online culture, and fandom, and friend-making, and transformative works, and that kind of stuff. So that’s one thing I don’t really touch on too much.
And I really like being asked questions about, like, smaller works or things that I don’t usually get asked about. I find that this also works on big celebrities where if they’re there and talk about, like, whatever, some big DC movie, and you ask them about like an indie film that they were just in. This also goes for, like, if you’re getting an autograph with them or whatever, and you’re like, “Oh, my God, I really liked you in blank indie film that not a lot of people have seen.” You can see them like instantly light up and become, like, really interested in talking with you because those are usually like passionate projects of theirs and so they’re usually really excited to talk about it.
Joni: That’s a good tip. It makes a lot of sense.
Rachel: Do you have any advice for people who… Like you said, speaking on panels can be a form of, like, free advertising for your book, but a lot of people get scared when speaking on panels or public speaking. Any advice on getting over that kind of stage fright?
Sam: Yeah. I mean, I’m a huge introvert like a hardcore introvert, and I have had to overcome that kind of, like, fear and awkwardness over the years myself. And I will say it’s not easy, and I super sympathize with anyone who struggles with that. I think that, for me, the answer to that is really just, like, forgetting that there are people in the audience as much as possible and just think about it as talking about your book or your work as this thing that you’re really passionate about and think about speaking directly back to the moderator or to the other panelists that you’re talking to and, kind of, ignoring that there are other people in the room.
At the end of the day, it really is just a normal conversation that you’re having. You just happen to have a microphone in your face. So you want to try to keep it as, like, this is just the thing that you’re talking about that you’re very knowledgeable about and that you’re passionate about talking about with this friend who you’re on this panel with. Maybe a new friend. But, yeah, that’s kind of how I try to think about it, or else I would just get too nervous.
Rachel: That’s very good advice especially, like, I don’t have a lot of stage fright because I don’t have a lot of shame, but I think that that’s really, really good advice. Another part of appearing at cons is you sit at your table, you do signings, you interact with fans. Has there been any interaction that, kind of, stands out to you as something that just, like, warmed your heart and has stuck with you?
Sam: Oh, yeah, I’m going to kind of answer your question a different way, but my number one, like, con memory or moment of an interaction was I was actually hosting the costume masquerade at I believe it was Calgary Expo many years ago in, like, 2016 or something. And it was the children’s portion, and so the kids would come out and you’d be like, “Wow, look at this great dragon costume.” And they’d be like, “Rah!” and went off stage or whatever, and it was great.
It was in the, like, Calgary Stampede grounds, and it’s like a massive, massive stadium that was filled with people. And this one little girl came out with her dad, and she was dressed like a dinosaur. And I knelt down, and I was like, “What are you dressed as?” And she grabbed my microphone and she started to, like, kind of, babble essentially on…you know, unintelligibly into it like, “Blah, blah, blah,” which was, like, adorable. The whole audience was like, “Oh, my gosh, this is so cute.” And her dad looked, like, totally shocked and in awe that his kid was basically talking to this huge audience, and I was like, “Wow, you should have my job. Like, you’re really good at this.”
It was really, really cute. And she babbled on stage into the microphone for a few more minutes, and I had to take it back from her. And I was like, “Thanks, you look great.” And she went off stage. And, you know, it was adorable and a cute interaction. I didn’t really think much of it beyond that. And then the next day, myself and the con organizers got a message from her dad. And he said that she is actually completely nonverbal autistic, and that was the first time that she had ever, like, spoken out loud any, sort of, like, words or anything was at that moment with the microphone in front of the whole stage.
So, yeah, that was like a really moving moment to be a part of. There’s like a little video of it that Calgary Expo posted that you can still find. Yeah, that was really, really cool. So that’s my favorite con moment. But in terms of sitting at my table and meeting folks, it has to be just any time like a teen girl or like a tween or even a kid comes up to me and is like, “I love Captain Marvel so much,” or like, “The Fangirl’s Guide made me feel like I’m not the only person who feels this way,” or like, you know, “I’m a big nerd and I’m dressed up as Wonder Woman and people make fun of me, but here, like everybody likes me,” or whatever. Like, it’s any of those moments where the people who, like, are my biggest target audience, which is, like, young girls, young women are able to, kind of, express that they liked something that I wrote.
I always told myself if I ever got like one email from a girl that my work made a difference to, that it would all be worth it. And I’ve been very fortunate to have many, many more than that both online and in-person. So that’s what makes my whole job worthwhile.
Joni: That’s really amazing. I’m trying to think if I was, kind of, nervous about going to a con. Like, what would I want to know that you haven’t covered? Is it okay to go on your own? How does that work?
Sam: Well, for first of all I would say pick up “The Fangirl’s Guide to the Universe” because there’s a whole chapter in there dedicated on going to conventions. Not to plug my own work obnoxiously but because I do [crosstalk 00:33:55]…
Rachel: You did write the book.
Sam: Yes, I literally wrote a book on it. But, no, tons of great advice. So totally okay to go on your own. In fact, going to conventions on my own is one of my favorite things in the whole world, and I encourage it as long as you’re safe, you have a cellphone, you have a portable charger so that you’re, like, always able to be in contact with people that you need to be in contact with. Nobody knows where you are all the time. Like, it’s so great because you can just do whatever you want to do all weekend. You don’t have to be relying on this huge group of people who are like, “Oh, I want to see this panel and I want to do this. I want to do that.” And then you’re like, “Ugh, I’m not going to get to do anything I want to do.” You can just do whatever you want the whole weekend. You can go wander around Artists’ Alley for a whole day if you want. You can go to whichever panels you want. You can sit in one room all day and just watch any panel that happens in there. Like, it’s great. It’s super, super freeing.
The wonderful thing about conventions is that you automatically know that every single person there, you have something in common with right away. You’re all there for the same reason. You’re all passionate about the same stuff. So if you’re going to a panel by yourself and you’re standing in line alone, you immediately know that the person in front of you and the person behind you likes this thing that you’re there to see, that you also like. So it’s like an instant icebreaker. It’s super easy to make friends. Everybody there is super friendly and open and willing to chat. And, like, you don’t have to worry about finding that thing to talk about. If you’re in line for a Wynonna Earp panel, you can immediately be like, “What was your favorite episode? Who’s your favorite character?” And you like immediately have that conversation starter which is so great.
Wear comfortable shoes. You want to look cute obvi. But, no, it’s way more important to wear comfortable shoes. These are usually, like, big concrete convention centers with a ton of walking. You will regret it if you don’t. And also bring lots of layers. They’re usually really, like, weirdly air-conditioned, so cons have inside and outside portions. So you’ll want to, like, have a jacket that you can, kind of, take on and off over the course of the day, depending on how you’re feeling. Bring lots of snacks and water, because it’ll be a long day. Sometimes the lines for food are really long. You want to bring healthy stuff that’s going to give you a lot of energy, so like granola bars, apples. Yeah, a big bottle of water is always great because those convention centers are also very dry. You know, lip chaps, stuff like that is a great call.
Of course, now you’ll always have to wear a mask, and you will want to come prepared with your proof of vaccination. A lot of cons do require that now. However, I have noticed that a lot of panelists on stage will remove their masks for paneling just so that it’s easier for the audience to understand what they’re saying. That’s totally a personal choice. I felt comfortable doing that in New York Comic-Con last weekend because they did know that every person there was vaccinated and all the audience members were wearing a mask, but again, totally personal preference. It is mask mandatory to be inside the convention, which is great and feels really nice.
And, yeah, I think it’s great to go on your own. It’s fun to bring a friend if you guys have really similar interests. And also remember if you do submit to a panel and it is accepted, you will be given a free badge for the entire weekend. So you don’t have to pay to get in, which is great. You can get in early. You can usually get in at, like, a separate entrance just for speakers, and press, and guests, and exhibitors. You don’t have to stand in big lines, but what they will not do is pay for you to go to the con. So if you’re not local, you’ll need, like, a hotel, you’ll need to pay for your flight to get there, stuff like that. So that’s something to consider. That’s why it’s great to submit for panels at your local con, and there are local cons basically everywhere now.
So I encourage you to start there. And then if it’s something that you find is really worthwhile, or you really love doing, or you just really want to go, you’ve always wanted to go to a comic-con or whatever, you know, submit for a panel. It would be a great way to get a badge and also to sell some of your work.
Rachel: It’s all excellent advice. And the only thing I would add is bring band-aids because even if your shoes are comfortable, sometimes things happen, and you need a band-aid.
Sam: Rach has been a provider of band-aids for me on many an occasion, yes, because I never have any. So, yes, she’s right and she should say it.
Rachel: I think it’s interesting that you mentioned… I haven’t even thought about it because I don’t even know anymore what’s going on, but regards to, like, attending cons and big events in times of COVID, how did you find it? I assume the capacity was limited. Did it feel like a strange pandemic event or was it just really great to be back and around your people and having fun again?
Sam: I would, kind of, be interested to hear Rach’s answer to this question too, because we’ve both been to two conventions— Awesome Con in Washington, D.C. and New York Comic-Con in Manhattan since those were both the first cons that I’ve been to since COVID and since all this happened. They do limit capacity, so usually to, like, a third or a half capacity, which is kind of nice. Obviously, you sell a little bit less, but it feels very safe.
Also, I’ve noticed that, if you had been to a con pre-pandemic, you were probably pretty used to feeling like a sardine. The aisles are always really, really small. You’re packed in really, really close. You can barely see the floor. Now all the aisles are super wide. And because capacity is less, it, like, feels like a very humane, chill experience. So I don’t know. It’s almost worth, like, selling a little less for me to feel safer and also just, like, to have that personal space at a convention is pretty nice.
It does feel a little post-apocalyptic in the way that the entire world feels a little post-apocalyptic at the moment. But, gosh, like these cons, especially for an author are the way that I only see, like, 90% of my friends because we all live all over the world. We’re all scattered. And basically the only places we’re ever all in the same place at the same time is, like, at these conventions. So I’m really looking forward to getting back to it because, yeah, I miss, like, my community.
And also as a writer, which I kind of said before, I feel like for two years I’ve been putting work out into a void, and I forget that people are interacting with it or reading it at all. But someone at New York Comic-Con this weekend brought my original graphic novel, “Tell No Tales,” to my table, which again I feel like a lot of people did not read or know about because it’s hard to get the word out during the pandemic. And so for one person to bring that to my table and be like, “Wow, I really loved this. Thank you so much for writing it. I want a sequel,” was like, “Oh, my God. Cool. Like, that’s amazing.” It felt really good. Yeah, that was how I felt as an author. How did it feel as an attendee, Rach?
Rachel: Along the same lines like pretty much the same. It was really nice to have more space. Like, you could actually walk down an aisle instead of having your face pressed into somebody’s back.
Sam: Or backpack.
Rachel: Or backpack, or cosplay, whatever it may be. Like, I’ll admit that when we got to Awesome Con in DC, it was the first convention that I’ve been to since 2019, I think. Fan Expo in Toronto of 2019. And we walked out, and we’re like upstairs and you could see the entire convention floor where all of the vendors are set up, where all of Artists’ Alley is set up. And I got a little emotional because, like you said before, when you’re at a convention, especially like a fan convention, a comic book convention, it’s such a warm and welcoming place because everybody is just so passionate about the reason that they’re there and they’re so excited to be there. And so to be in that safe place again where I can talk about Buffy the Vampire Slayer and guarantee that people have seen it… unlike this workplace where nobody has seen Buffy.
Joni: This is a recurring theme of the podcast now. We’re going to get called out every time.
Rachel: Yeah, it’s my bit. It’s my entire brand.
Sam: Until you watch it.
Sam: [crosstalk 00:41:13] you until you do the thing, and then you’ll be like, “Well, I’m glad I did that.”
Joni: I told her I will watch it. When it’s cold enough outside that I don’t want to leave the house, I’ll watch it.
Sam: I respect that 100%.
Rachel: Perfect. See you in a month. It was really interesting. And of course everybody’s wearing masks like Sam mentioned. And everybody was really respectful of the mask mandate. There was, like, no shenanigans at least that I saw really of people being disrespectful. Some attendees will have little things on their tables when they’re signing saying like, “Hey, super happy to see you. Not comfortable shaking hands yet.” And people are really respectful of that. So I think it was really cool to be able to go to a con and have personal space and have personal space respected, which is like, you know, conventions are crowded. They’re sweaty. They’re gross.
Sam: I think we all smell bad.
Rachel: Yeah, everybody smells weird. Yeah. So it was really nice.
Joni: Man, I will say everything about the pandemic is terrible, and wearing masks does suck, but I do not miss crowds. I never want to be in a crowded space again.
Sam: I got to tell you, too, and this is in Fangirl’s Guide, but like after convention, it was just known that you would get something called con crud where you would leave a con and you would immediately get sick because you’ve been in this huge convention hall with a bunch of random strangers breathing their germs for four days and you’d leave and you’d be like, “Here comes the con crud,” and sure enough, a day later you’d be like laid up in bed, sick with the sniffles, like, just miserable and especially, like, if you’re traveling on planes, too, like, germ city, like all this stuff.
But now we all wear masks on planes and at convention centers, and I don’t get sick after conventions. And I’m like, “Oh, my God, we should have been doing this the whole time.” Like, I think back to not wearing a mask the whole time at a convention, I’m like, “What were we doing?” It was just accepted that we would get, like, gravely ill.
Joni: It’s like kids starting daycare.
Sam: Oh, my God.
Joni: All the unfamiliar germs in one crowded space. That’s funny.
Sam: What were we thinking? Like, I think about getting on a plane now without a mask and I’m like, “Yeah, but why?” I feel so much better now. I’m not getting randomly sick all the time. So, yeah, it’s actually kind of nice, I’ll be honest. Also, I only have to wear makeup on, like, the top third of my face, which slaps. Getting ready is, like, way easier.
Joni: But glasses and masks.
Sam: Yeah, they do fog up. Yeah, not ideal. Yep.
Joni: That sounds like it’s a really great experience, and I’m very happy that we are starting to be able to do things like that again.
Sam: Same. It’s really meaningful.
Joni: And do you have a dream panel in your head that you would love to do? And who would be on it? What would you want to talk about?
Sam: This is such a good question.
Joni: This is a Rachel question. I cannot take credit for this.
Sam: Oh, such a good question. I would love to do a panel where, like, I could moderate and just ask questions of folks who write, kind of, like creepy fantasy. Like, I’m thinking of like Victoria Schwab, Leigh Bardugo, like, all of those kinds of authors where I just get to find out how they come up with their world-building and their characters because they’re geniuses. And I want to steal their secrets. I would love to moderate a panel like that.
Rachel: So pitch it. Make it happen.
Sam: Okay, I’m going to make it happen. I’m gonna make it happen.
Rachel: Cool. And then get me a badge so I can come watch. Thank you.
Sam: Perfect. Yes. Absolutely. Anytime.
Joni: Amazing. All right. Should we finish with some rapid-fire book questions?
Rachel: I think so.
Joni: Let’s do it. You want to kick it off, Rachel?
Rachel: Yeah. So, Sam, what was the last book that you read and loved?
Sam: Gosh. I have been reading a lot of books lately, which has been nice for me. I don’t know if you guys go through, like, phases where you don’t read so much and then you read a lot, but I have been going through that. I go through those sort of phases. But the last book I read was “The Pull of the Stars” by Emma Donoghue, which is a pandemic book about childbirth, which are two things that, like, I would not normally think that I would enjoy, but I really, really liked it. I read it at Rach’s recommendation actually, and it was delightful, but I also want to shout out… Just because I have been reading so much lately, I just read “One Last Stop” by Casey McQuiston, which was also amazing, and I’m obsessed right now with “Gideon the Ninth” and “Harrow the Ninth” by Tamsyn Muir, which are, like, lesbian space necromancer books and they’re so good. And if you haven’t read them, you absolutely have to read them. They’re like absolutely bonkers.
Joni: This is the most varied book selection we’ve ever had. That was a great spread of genre.
Sam: Thank you. They’re all super gay, so that’s your connecting thread there.
Joni: That’s the common link.
Sam: Yep, mm-hmm.
Joni: Amazing. Okay, we’ll share those links. And is there one particular book or author that made you fall in love with reading?
Sam: Yeah, Tamora Pierce, her Alanna books, and then her Wild Magic books. I found them when I was like 11 or 12 and just devoured them as a fantasy genre fan. Finding books that were about women and girls was huge for me. I still reread them, like, once a year. I’m a huge fan of hers. I did get to meet her at a con once, and I did flip out. I have, like, a tattoo of Daine and stuff. Like, I’m just a huge fan. So, yes, those books, still a huge fan. She’s an icon.
Rachel: And is there a comic series or an original graphic novel that you would recommend to somebody who’s looking to get into comics but is wildly overwhelmed?
Sam: Oh, yeah. I always recommend Marvel’s Runaways, the Brian K. Vaughan one. That’s what got me into comics. This is, kind of, dated now, I guess, but like 10 years ago, I… And of course it became a TV show, but I really, really loved that book. I also always recommend trying to get into graphic novels first because that can be a little bit easier. They come pre-packaged and just set so it’s super easy. If you want to get into superhero comics, I love Kelly Sue DeConnick’s “Captain Marvel Vol. 1: Higher, Further, Faster, More.” It’s really great. It’s such a great intro to Cape comics.
Joni: Is there a particular story or IP or universe that hasn’t yet been adapted that you would like to work on?
Sam: Oh, 100%, the Tamora Pierce books. I saw that a studio recently had bought the rights to develop her books into a TV show, and I instantly emailed my manager. And I was like, “I don’t care what you have to do. Please make this happen.” So I don’t know. Nothing has happened. No one’s called me. Please call me. Someone call me, please.
Joni: I’m sure they’re listening to this podcast.
Sam: [crosstalk 00:47:39].
Joni: Oh, that’s cool.
Sam: Let me make “The Witcher” but Tamora Pierce.
Joni: We will keep an eye out for that happening. It’s the right time though because we’re really leaning into nostalgia of stuff that people in their 30s read as kids. We’re now redoing all that and repackaging it.
Sam: And, like, we love Game of Thrones. We love The Witcher. Like, we love all of those sort of like high fantasy stuff. So why not with girls? Like, let’s go. I’m ready.
Joni: Amazing. We’ll put it out into the universe, make it happen. All right. Well, thank you so much. This was really great. Thank you for taking the time.
Sam: Oh, my gosh, it’s always such a blast talking with you guys. Thank you so much for having me. And, yeah, I hope to see all of your listeners at a convention sometime soon.
Rachel: Thanks, Sam. Oh, and where can people find you online before we say goodbye?
Sam: Oh, yeah. I’m just my name, @SamMaggs on Instagram and Twitter. I’m @SamWritesALot on TikTok where I spend way too much time. And you can find all my books and video games and comics on my website at sammaggs.com.
Rachel: Thanks so much for joining us. And I’m sure I will see you very soon.
Sam: I’ll see you at Fan Expo.
Rachel: Yeah. Thank you for listening to the Kobo Writing Life Podcast. If you are interested in picking up Sam’s books, comics, video games, or seeing her con schedule, we will include links on our show notes. If you are enjoying this podcast, please be sure to rate, review, and subscribe. And if you’re looking for more tips on growing your self-publishing business, you can find us at kobowritinglife.com and be sure to follow us on socials. We are @KoboWritingLife on Facebook and Twitter and @kobo.writing.life on Instagram.
Joni: This episode was produced by Joni Di Placido and Rachel Wharton. Music is provided by Tear Jerker. Editing is by Kelly Robotham. And big thanks to Sam Maggs for being a great guest today. If you’re ready to start your publishing journey, sign up for free at kobo.com/writinglife. Until next time, happy writing.