My first convention as a seller

When I would go to conventions (the nerdy kind- supercon, etc), I would always hit up every panel possible that could possibly be helpful as a writer, whether they were specifically geared that way or not. If you’ve never been, there actually usually are a few geared towards writing/publishing/marketing.

This year, after having a novel, a novelette, and a couple anthos self-published, I decided to buy a table at Supercon and see what I could sell. Being a self-published author with no marketing skills and marginal sales, there were some (obvious in hindsight) mistakes I made that I’ll share now in case anyone who stumbles upon this might be considering buying a booth at their first con.

I was sharing the table with my cover artist, Katie Clarke. That’s okay, but the way I had it set up didn’t showcase my books at all.

The price of the table for a 4 day event was $200. They sold 70,000 tickets, so I thought, “Golly, I’ll probably need like 23887 books, at the least!” In actuality, I bought around 200, and if you are a self-publisher you know that is book price+shipping( no refunds) out of pocket. How many did I sell? 28, and 2 were ebooks.

Am I disappointed with that number? Nope! I’m some random person no one has ever heard of selling my little self-pub books at a convention catering more to the comic book/movie/video game crowd, and some people found them interesting enough to pull out their wallets, and that’s pretty cool.

Thursday I sat there all day and sold 1 book. I think I sold 2-3 on Friday. That was a little disheartening. But now I know that those days are slow, so I’ll not have much expectation for them in the future. Also, by Saturday, not only had the crowd changed, but I’d changed a few things myself.

When I first set up, Katie’s paintings and magnets were on half the table and were all presented vertically, while my books were laid out flat. Hers were easier to see, especially from a distance, whereas mine weren’t noticeable until you were right on top of them.

I borrowed Katie’s table easels and put my books on them, one of each, with the price clearly marked on them (with mini post-its), and they were immediately more attractive and easy to see. These ones work perfectly, and are very affordable Tabletop easels

The conventions give you signs with your name printed on them and the table number. They are all uniform and unimpressive. BUT you can flip it over and spruce it up if you have any artistic talent. It helps pass the time on the slow first day as well. If you want to stand out even more, you can get posters or banners on the cheap at vistaprint.

I had cards and bookmarks to give out and I ran out of both on Saturday, so definitely bring more than you think you would need.I did end up getting 2 ebook sales during the event and a message on my website, so I know at least a few actually used them 😉

By Sunday, I felt I was really ready to start selling. Too bad Sunday was the last day!

I cosplayed, which brought people to the table, but I didn’t ask them to look at my books when they were there! By the end of Saturday, I was just simply asking, “Do you like to read?” That little question was enough to get the ones who did to hover for a second. Then I followed up with, “What do you like to read?” I had scifi/fantasy, horror/bizarro, speculative fiction, and an Alice in Wonderland erotica, so I pretty much covered the most likely demographics for those sorts of conventions. Someone was bound to like ONE of them (if they liked to read.)

Another seller gave me a secret: Only bring 10 copies of each book to a convention. I thought, “No way! That’s surely not enough!” But, as it turns out, the one I sold the most of I only sold 9 copies. The rest were 1 or 2 behind. Turns out 10 of each would have been the perfect amount and way less to cart there and back. I would have covered the cost of the table, the books, and a marginal profit had I done that. Is this a big money-maker? Not for me. Not yet. Maybe in the future. But if you can cover costs and pick up new readers, I think it’s worthwhile.

Since I had enough books leftover to easily do more conventions, I went ahead and signed up for the Creator Owned Expo on August 8th in Ft Lauderdale, the Speculative Fiction Convention in Orlando at the end of September, and Ultracon in West Palm Beach at the end of November.

If you can muster up the courage to do a panel, I suggest doing one. It will drive traffic to your table. I’ve been to ones on subjects such as “how to write heroes and villains,” or “how to write erotica,” and plan on doing one on “Nanowrimo: writing a novel in one month.”

I’ll post updates after the conventions end, and if you show up at one and mention you read this post, I’ll give you a buy one, get one half off deal. If you’re the first sale of the convention, I’ll go ahead and throw that second one in free!