Category Archives: Business

Treat Yoself to a Dragon*Con

First, if you haven’t seen Parks and Recreation, do that. Do it. All of it.

Next, go to Dragon*Con.

This year was my first Dragon*Con, and can I just say “wow”? Wow. While it has a reputation as being a party Con, I found Dragon*Con to be one of the best. There’s something about being in a place with thousands of other people, taking up a lot of space, and being there for the same reason: to geek out together! I especially loved that I could look at anyone and smile. I felt the excitement and camaraderie almost immediately.

Dragon*Con has a few unique aspects. The panels and events are held in six hotels and buildings in downtown Atlanta, Georgia. Also, because it’s such a big Con, the organizers put the events and panels along a number of tracks. You can access the schedule and information about these panels via the Dragon*Con app. For example, if you are particularly interested in Anime/Manga, the organizers have a proposed schedule for you for each day. Some of the tracks include: Animation, BritTrack, Comics and Pop Art, Costuming, Fantasy Literature, High Fantasy, Horror, Military Sci-Fi Media, Paranormal, Podcasting, Sci-Fi Literature, Star Wars, Table Top Gaming, Urban Fantasy, Writer’s Track, Young Adult Literature, and many more.

But what’s in it for you as a writer? Lots.

I attended about 13 panels at Dragon*Con this year, most along the Writer’s Track. I loved the YA panels – it felt like we were all there together, laughing and geeking out over YA literature instead of an audience watching writers talk about writing.

I especially liked two panels over the weekend. The Magical Mavens of Fantasy/SF panel included Laurell K. Hamilton, Sherrilyn Kenyon, Mercedes Lackey, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, and Jane Yolen (I’ll save you the play-by-play of my geek-out over Jane Yolen). Hearing these women talk about the industry, the people who told them they wouldn’t make it, and how they paved the way for the rest of us really made an impact on me. The sister (brother?) panel to Magical Mavens of Fantasy/SF I attended was Magnificent Men of Fantasy/SF with Kevin J. Anderson, Jim Butcher, Larry Correia, Peter David, and Larry Niven. I wasn’t expecting to laugh that hard, nor come near tears when they told touching stories.

Each night, the Westin hotel hosted a Writer’s Bar where professional writers could go to meet fans and fellow writers. I spotted and/or talked with Myke Cole, Sam Sykes, Jim Butcher, and Delilah Dawson. The cast of Wynonna Earp also showed up to hang out, which blew a lot of our minds. The accessibility of writing professionals at this convention seems abnormal, especially compared to other bigger Cons like San Diego. But nothing will light a fire under your ass to get published more than talking with professional writers and wanting to be on panels with them.

I’ve attended smaller conventions and a few huge conventions. Dragon*Con was my favorite. The Writer’s Track, High Fantasy Track, Sci-Fi Track, Urban Fantasy Track, and the Young Adult Literature Track provided multiple choices of panels each hour, and I didn’t attend one panel that I didn’t love. The access to professional writers was unlike any other convention I’ve been to. You’ll find that price of admission is well worth it to attend Dragon*Con. Oh yeah, and you’ll have a blast, too.

Back-Up FTW

 

Cons are an interesting phenomenon. The vendor area is made up of too-skinny aisles that somehow funnel thousands of nerds through them on an hourly basis. Rows and rows of six foot tables or ten foot square booths line the sides, each with their own unique wares-art, crafts, scrolls, swords, costumes, novels- to draw the masses toward them. Sometime in the middle of day two the smell sets in, and then on day three it goes away, because you’ve become part of it. The vendor hall is noisy and claustrophobic, and getting people’s attention with books is often a challenge.

I live near Salt Lake City, and have done the Salt Lake Comic Con half a dozen times as an author. I started out sharing a table or a booth with other authors. Sometimes sponsored, sometimes not. The out of pocket cost wasn’t much when we were sponsored, so making my money back wasn’t a big deal. I was there to have fun and meet potential readers.

I remember one year, there was a couple sitting across from the four-author-table I was a part of. It was just the two of them. They looked fresh and excited, surrounded by piles and piles of what had to be his first published work. The one sign they had said that the book was $20.

Just a note: most readers don’t go to a con to pay MORE for a book than they would on Amazon.

The guys at my table and myself tried to be friendly. Talk to our neighbors. Greet people going by. Ask them what they like to read. Offer them a free bookmark. It’s simple but it helps draw people over to the table. One of our guys would even grab a copy of his book, turn it around and hand it to people to read. This also helped sales.

The couple across the way started out smiling, but after an hour or so, with only a few people stopping and none stayed to talk, the smiles waned, and the looks of desperation began. The wild eyes, searching the passing crowd, looking for anyone who glanced their way. Or even mostly glanced their way.

I don’t think I saw more than three or four people that stopped all day.

The next day, the price for the book had been lowered to $15. Better. Not great, but better. However, it didn’t help. While we plugged along, selling a book or so an hour, they got more and more desperate. I saw them with their heads together, talking. They started to send nasty looks into the passing crowd, as if the people were to blame for their lack of success.

By the end of day two, they walked away with their shoulders slumped and their eyes down. The next morning the price of the book was $10. Halfway through the day it went to $7. Then, during the last hour, 2 for $5.

I’m not sure they sold a single book. The four authors at our table probably totaled 45 books. So not great, but since someone had sponsored us, it wasn’t a big loss for any of us.

I’ve never seen that couple come back. And who can blame them? They had a horrible experience.

But what made it a horrible experience?

Let me tell you, after four or five times sharing space, how I did the first time I went on my own. I got a six foot table and paid extra to be on the main walkway as well as on a corner. The corner was for ease of getting in and out more than anything else, because on a table you don’t get an end cap or anything.

By this point I knew I was horrible at pimping my own books, so I called for backup. My sister-in-law is a huge fan of my books, as well as a huge geek. So is my brother-in-law. So I got them vendor badges (generally less expensive than the regular passes) and they agreed to help me sell books. They aren’t afraid to talk to people, and they didn’t hesitate to chat with anyone who walked by. They would ask people if they liked to read and if so what. At that point they would grab one of my books that resonated with what the victim-potential reader-had said and tell them about it.

I brought 150 books with me and we sold 125 of them. Not the greatest showing ever at a con, but much better than I’d ever done before. And basically, I sat behind the table, looked pretty and signed books. I tried my hand at drawing people over, and got better at it, but my minions did most of the work. I made a tidy profit, and that was that.

A few weeks later, I took them to a nice dinner and we talked about selling even more books the next time.

I’ve learned that you get out of a conference what you put into it. If you’re willing to get out there and sell your books, then you will sell a lot more books than if you simply sit behind your table and watch the crowds go by. Maybe your covers or your posters or your decorations will draw people over. Or maybe enough people know your name to drop by, but until then, be prepared to work your butt off. And if people aren’t responding to you, bring in back up. Bribe them. It’s worth it.

Tricks of the Tradeshow

A lot of authors and publishing insiders talk about the importance of going to conventions — which is great. It’s a wonderful place to meet agents, editors, to sell your books directly to fans, and a lot of other great things. However, there’s another resource that tends to get overlooked. Tradeshows.

Tradeshows aren’t just for air-conditioner salesmen in bad suits, and overpriced cars and speed boats. There are multiple shows across the country throughout the year for the book business too. Except instead of it being a show for salesmen or the average reader, these shows are just for bookstore owners, event coordinators, book buyers, and librarians — the very people you need to know to make sure your book gets on the shelves.

These shows range in size. The biggest is the BEA (Book Expo America) but giant shows are pretty much out of reach of indies and hybrid authors like myself. So I’m going to focus on the smaller regional shows like the PNBA (Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association) fall tradeshow.

As you can imagine, in the Pacific Northwest there are a lot of indie bookstores and libraries, which is why this is such a great show. It’s usually two or three days in early October. The night before the show opens there’s a mixer for the attendees that’s also a massive book signing. There’s usually between fifteen to twenty authors and the books being promoted run the full gambit. There’s cookbooks, photography books, outdoor guides, YA, kids picture books, middle-grade novels, adult novels…pretty much everything. During the actual show there’s classes for the booksellers and librarians, and a sales floor for publishers and sidelines vendors, but the big attraction are the meals. During the show there’s an author breakfast, author lunch, and author dinner. At each of these meals there’s between five to eight authors and each one gets about fifteen minutes to talk about their new release while the booksellers and librarians eat a catered meal. At the end of the meal all of the booksellers and librarians get a gift bag with the books that were plugged — which is the show’s real draw.

This is the sort of show that attendees don’t fly to, they drive cross-country to it so they can fill their car with all the free books. If you think your Worldcon haul from the free table was impressive just wait till you see what is given away at book tradeshows. The last one I went to I was only able to be there one day because we were short handed at the shop, but just in that one day I came home with three large cloth shopping bags (the bags themselves were gifts from the publishers) full of ARCs (advance reader copies) and first editions! If I’d stayed through the rest of the show the book haul would have been three times that!

Herein lies the tricky part. For the regional shows like this there is an application process for indie authors to come promo their books, either at the big meals or as a vendor on the sales floor, but you can’t sell your newest book to the attendees. You have to give them away. All of the attendees come with the expectation that all of the books are free and anytime the booth staff say otherwise, it’s met with sneers. I realize that this means these shows are out of the realm of possibility for a lot of indie authors. I can’t afford to give away 500+ copies of my book. But if you can afford it, and your pitch is on point, you can make back that investment. You’re pitching directly to people who will stock, and hand sell, and promote your book to readers that may not hear about you and your work any other way.

So when you’re planning what conventions you’re going to go to, be sure to ask yourself if it’s better to spend $1,000 on hotel, airfare, and a badge for a big convention, or if it’s better to spend that on an appearance at a regional tradeshow.

Speaking of books, there’s a fantastic deal going on at StoryBundle. Their annual Epic Fantasy Bundle is currently available and this year’s selection has some great titles by R.A. Salvatore, Brandon Sanderson, Michael Stackpole, and three Fictorians! Gregory Little, Scott Eder, and myself all have novels in this bundle.

 

For $5.00 you get four DRM-free ebooks and for $15.00 you get all fifteen books! That’s a dollar a book! Plus, at checkout you have the option of donating 10% of your money to The Challenger Foundation, which helps fund science programs in schools across the country. Yay science! It’s only available until September 21st! You can buy it and even find out more about each of these titles here. You don’t want to miss out on this deal. It’s a lot of quality fiction for a small price!

Readercon

Back in 2014 was when I attended my first (and to date) only true convention: Readercon. At the time I just had crossed into the ‘serious’ phase of my fiction writing. It was now something I tried to work on every day and attending a speculative fiction writing convention seemed like a good next step.

Readercon is a Boston-area science-fiction and fantasy convention that is pretty exclusive in its focus on books as opposed to the other forms of media. It is heavily attended by regional writers and readers of the genre, and at the time was being held in Burlington Massachusetts.

So even though I had signed up of my own free will, I was pretty nervous to attend. At that point I had written a grand total of two things: a 130k word fantasy novel and a 8k short story. I had also submitted a grand total of zero things, to say nothing of being published. While I had plans to attend a writing course, that had not happened yet – so I didn’t really even feel like I knew what I was doing. I also knew no one in the writing community.

In every sense of the word I was a neophyte. I suffered from a problem I think many new writers have: I didn’t think I ‘deserved’ to be there. Yet, I was going anyway. Getting myself to do things that make me a little nervous had certainly worked out in the past, and as I’d find it was about to work out well again.

My plan was simple, if lame:

  1. Get in
  2. Learn things
  3. Talk to no one
  4. Get out

I did learn a great deal, much more than I expected.

PANELS

The panels were lively and engaging and I learned a lot from the content. I also learned how different authors behave when they are on a panel. Some were respectful and appreciative, responding kindly to questions and were effusive in their praise of other authors. Others … were not. Both left impressions on me, teaching me what to do and what not to do.

BARCON / HALLWAYS / SELLER’S ROOM

Yes, there was a barcon. I don’t drink and I have pretty bad tinnitus so I can’t hear that well in those environments. I avoided the barcon.

I did see some authors I recognized walking the hallways, but I never approached them. I wanted to be respectful of their privacy and allow them to enjoy the Con too.

In the seller’s room though I found I had a great time. All of the authors there really wanted to talk about their books, but also their process and just speculative fiction in general. I think the big lesson I learned here was that enthusiasm sells. I bought more books from the folks who were excited to be there and excited to talk to me.

“TALK TO NO ONE”

Yeah this didn’t go so well, and that was a good thing! I was at a reading and signing (Brian Staveley and Max Gladstone) and sitting by myself and some of the other attendees just started chatting me up. They were both Viable Paradise graduates and got me to come out of my shell and talk about my writing. It was a really great experience, finally I was with people who I could talk to about my speculative fiction passions and they got it, because they had the same passions!

SUMMARY

It is worth mentioning I have not been back to Readercon since that time, nor have I attended any other conventions. This is not due to having a bad experience, but more to me moving farther north and just being too far away from the Cons I’d like to check in on. Maybe someday.

So in the end I had a great experience and I learned a lot about how I want to act in the future, both as an author and as an attendee. There’s a great community of fans, readers and writers out there – not everyone is nice but the vast majority are. I’m very glad I attended and I am sure it benefitted me greatly.