Before I started this whole author-thing, you wouldn't have caught me dead at a comic book convention. But as a self-published author, I realized very quickly that the best way to get my book in the hands of new readers was to go where the readers were. And as a science fiction/fantasy writer, that meant going to every comic book convention I could find.
Example of a poster I used to release my second book at Pensacon. So far, I've hit eighteen, and I'm about to hit my nineteenth this upcoming weekend. During that time, I've learned a couple things that have allowed me to sell anywhere from 10 to 100 books in a single weekend. While those aren't NYT bestseller numbers, they're enough to pay my mortgage. I will mention that this post is geared towards comicons, but the lessons can be applied to any convention. Also, since I do own my books, book covers, and book copyrights, I have free use of my images. If your publisher owns yours, check with them on limitations.
Find an EventFirst and foremost, find one! Believe me when I say that most every single city across the great US (and abroad, too) has some kind of comic book convention. The trick is to make sure that you find one that is big enough to make your costs, or make sure you're going into it knowing that you'll lose money. And don't do six money-losers in a row like some idiot author who shall not be named. There's pros and cons for going big and the same for going small. Big Cons with Big Celebrities bring Big Numbers of people. But you usually don't get the kind of one-on-one attention that turns passers-by into superfans. Also, they usually cost more, so if the event is a bust then you may lose money. Small cons are inherently riskier, even when you've only paid $50 for a table. I went to one three day convention where the only books I sold were to other vendors and the convention chair's mom. You want to do a little research before you put your money down. If you can't name any of the celebrity guests, don't pay more than $50. 9 times out of 10 all conventions need is your hard earned cash to get a table. Some cons do a little screening of their participants, so be aware if that's the case. The only one I've ever been rejected for was DragonCon, which is a BIG CON. Besides, it never hurts to ask!
Get Yer Swag OnOnce you've got a con and a date, it's time to focus on your booth. You'll be pulling people into your booth with your pearly whites and charm and charisma (right?), but you need to make sure your booth set up looks professional. Trad pubbed kids--talk to your publisher. They might even have stuff that they can send you to use and then you don't have to make your own. They can also send you books. For me, I have three eight foot banners that I hang behind my booth. Sometimes I use all three, sometimes just the Razia one and the Empath one.
My booth set-up at a convention. For my Double Life banner, I use quotes from reviewers whereas Empath simply was the dragon. Both banners pique interest from different sets of folks. I got all three from Vistaprint and they cost around $75 to print, including the holder (I made them myself). Don't forget a tablecloth, either. If you want to splurge on a printed table cover, you can, but for my money, the banners give you more bang for the buck.
How Many Books?As far as how many books I bring to an event, it really depends. The most books I've ever sold was 183, and that was when I was selling my second book for $5 more. You want to buy enough that you won't sell out (or if you do, you won't sell out at, say 1pm on a Sunday *cough*), but you don't want to waste all of your potential profit on books that won't sell. My own optimistic rule is to bring enough of my first book and standalone to break even (to include books themselves, flight, hotel, food, etc). Sometimes I'm sinking more money in than I could ever hope to make back, and in that case, I stick with at least a box of 40 for each.
The SchpielWhen a person comes up to my booth while I'm talking with someone else and reads the back of the book, I've yet to see them stay. There's simply too much activity going on at a convention for a person to comprehend what a space pirate bounty hunter is. So in order to sell the book, I sell the book. As in I look at them in the eye and convince them why they should give me their $10. I start by saying hello to every single human (and non-human) that walks by. Sometimes they look like I'm going to murder them, sometimes they ignore me completely. But sometimes, they return the hello. Then I ask, "Are you looking for a new book today?" Sometimes, a "No, thanks." But sometimes, that light goes off in their eyes and they come rushing over. Then I say, "I have two flavors: space pirates or anxiety dragons. Pick your poison." Quick and easy topic synopsis so I can gauge which is going to land. Then the schpiel, which I have memorized before the con even begins (but after saying it 10,000 times, I would have it memorized anyway): "Double Life is about a young woman leading a, you guessed it, a Double Life. Subtle title, no? (pause for laugh or eyeroll). In one life, she's Lyssa Peate, planet discovering scientist, and in the other, she's Razia--space pirate bounty hunter (the more interesting one is second to land the blow). Unfortunately, neither life is going very well (pause for laugh). As the bounty hunter, she's one of the least (emphasize) wanted people in the universe and as the scientist, she just got a new intern who is definitely (emphasize) spying on her. Then that intern is mistaken for her hostage by the universal police (pause for effect)." Blah blah, more about the other books, release dates, etc. "Empath is about another young lady with a dragon-sized avoidance problem. She's stuck in breakup hell until she hears a mysterious voice promising an easy escape from her problems. Transported to a new world, she now has the power to feel what others are feeling. Just one small (emphasize) problem: there's a dragon in the mountain that eats people like that, and oh by the way, she may be hearing it in her head, tempting her deeper into her own darkness (pause and add "dun dun dun!")" When I finish a day of a convention, I am physically and vocally drained from doing this bit on repeat. But I know with utmost certainty that when I do the song and dance, I make sales. And I see other authors who sit behind their booth and say nothing, and they don't make the sales that I do.
The TakeawaysYou are at the convention to sell books, but not everyone you talk to is going to buy a book. So you want to make sure that you have some kind of something for them to take away. My old standby is a business card (I also keep a stack in my wallet), but I have also seen people flip out for the Empath bookmark.
Complete with yarn. My Empath bookmark[/caption] I started off with having Double Life on one side, then S. Usher Evans and my website on the other. But after I published a few books, I switched it up to focus the business card on the free download of Double Life and the Razia Series on the back. I don't usually carry business cards for Empath, but I might consider doing that in the future. The other thing that I always do is make sure I have a sign up available for my newsletter. Since I have an old iPad with a keyboard, I keep that out with the Chimpadedoo app from Mailchimp. I may never speak to that person again, but if I have their email address, I can send them a monthly newsletter with all the pertinent information about new releases and general happenings. Consider your newsletter mailing list to be akin to your Facebook Page likes or your Twitter followers. It's not a silver bullet, but it's another tool in your marketing arsenal. Now that I have three books, I've started bringing small brown paper bags with my self-pub imprint stickers on them. Just one more thing to give away that has my info on it.
Care and FeedingDon't forget to bring a plethora of pens, and I would actually consider bringing something to eat and drink (and your favorite caffeinated beverage). I usually work alone, so I don't get to leave my table but to pee when absolutely necessary. Smoothies are a good option since someone always walks up to the table when you take a huge bite of a peanut butter cracker.
And of course, if you decide to eat this all day long...
SummaryWorking a convention is the most exhausting thing you might do as an author, but they also provide the biggest opportunity for making money and meeting new fans. I can't tell you how it fills my heart with joy when a fifteen year old girl runs up to your table and says, "OMG It's you! You're my favorite author!" Squish! Got questions? Need some help? I'm always available on Twitter @s_usherevans.
About the Author
S. Usher Evans is an author, blogger, and witty banter aficionado. Born in a small, suburban town in northwest Florida, she was seventeen before she realized that not all beach sand is white. From a young age, she has always been a long-winded individual, first verbally (to the chagrin of her ever-loving parents) and then eventually channeled into the many novels that dotted her Windows 98 computer in the early 2000’s. After high school, she got the hell outta dodge and went to school near the nation’s capital, where she somehow landed jobs at National Geographic, Discovery Channel, and the British Broadcasting Corporation, capping off her educational career with delivering the commencement address to 20,000 of her closest friends. She determined she’d goofed off long enough with that television nonsense and got a “real job” as an IT consultant. Yet she continued to write, developing 20 page standard operating procedures and then coming home to write novels about badass bounty hunters, teenage magic users, and other nonsense. After a severe quarter life crisis at age 27, she decided to finally get a move on and share those novels with the world in hopes that she will never have to write another SOP again. Check her out at www.susherevans.com.