Category Archives: Interacting With Fans

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.

SLC Comicon – A Feast for the Eyes

SLCCC LogoSo far I’ve attended several comicons, and they are all tons of fun. I’ve been to Emerald City in Seattle twice, and loved it. I’ve traveled down to Dallas once, and my only regret is that I haven’t been able to make it back there again. Great people, and they buy hardcovers like candy.

My favorite con though is SLC comicon. Even though I live in Oregon, SLC has always worked well for my schedule. It’s usually in September, and although it’s a fair hike, the trip is always worth it.

Do I make a profit? Not yet. But I love the people we meet there, the other authors and vendors I’ve met, and the fun experiences working the Wordfire Press booth. Plus we have some family and friends in the area, so those visits are extra perks.

When I first considered going to conventions, I’ll admit I was worried. I had never attended one as a fan, so I didn’t know what to expect. And I only had one book released, so getting my own booth space didn’t make much sense.

SLCCC talking with fanThat’s why joining another group of writers or, in my case, signing up to work the WordFire Press booth, is such a good idea. I got my book on the table with a couple hundred other titles, learned how an effective booth should be run, networked with lots of other authors, and got to experience the convention without tons of up-front expense. Most importantly, working the floor is an unrivaled opportunity to meet new fans and spend a few minutes talking with them. Sean Golden already talked about Working the Floor this month in this post. He’s absolutely right. The experience can be intimidating, but is necessary for every author to understand.

The effort of working the floor is definitely a major part of a con experience, and I highly recommend very comfortable shoes because standing on that hard floor all day can be extremely painful. By the end of each day, not only were my feet hurting, but usually my legs hurt pretty badly. If you’re going to be behind the booth, definitely bring a padded mat to stand on. You’ll thank yourself for it!

Working the floor is not the only part of a con, though. You get to meet tons of great people, from other authors and artists, to fans and vendors. Then there’s the cosplay. People watching is such a fun part of any convention. The work many people put into their costumes is nothing short of amazing, and many of them are jaw-droppingly awesome. There are always a few that make you shudder, but the vast majority are impressive, and it’s fun to meet people and ask them about their favorite fandoms. Here are a few photos of my SLC comicon experience.

And of course there are the panels. As a vendor, working a booth, it can be hard to slip away to lots of panels, but I strongly recommend making time to attend at least parts of a couple each day. Seeing authors or celebrities you admire and hearing them in person is a big thrill. Plus, for us it’s a learning experience. Pay attention to how well the moderators manage the panel, and how panelists handle the questions. Are they well prepared? Are they courteous to other panelists? Are they professional?

Frank Morin Guest imageOne major goal in attending cons is to get onto the panelist list so you can sit on panels. It’s a great way to get seen as a professional and to connect with new readers. And it’s usually a lot of fun.

I’ve been on some great panels, from “Removing Blood From a Trunk and other Google Searches that Probably Got me Added to Terrorist Watch Lists”, to “Writing Humor”, to a fun panel on Assassin’s Creed. This year, I’m sitting on a “Magic the Gathering” panel and one on Minecraft. They both should be loads of fun.

The Stats: SLC comicon is one of the big ones.

  • Attendees – Over 125,000
  • Dates: September 21-23, 2017
  • There’s also a second FanX con in the spring. This year it was March 24-26. Attendance was capped at 50,000 for a more exclusive experience.

 

Working the floor…

This month I’m afraid I don’t have much experience to draw on for my blog post. I’ve attended exactly one writing related convention in my life. And that was Denver ComicCon in 2015. I was invited to participate because of my Superstars Writing Seminars attendance in February of 2015, and at the time I was living on a separation package from being laid off, so I had time to kill. I agreed, even though I had no books to sell and would mostly be doing the grunt work of hauling books, selling other author’s books and trying to get the public to buy books.

It was also a chance to network with some actual published authors, which is valuable in itself.

There is some work to do pre-convention to set up the booth, but that’s about as interesting as it sounds. So I’ll focus instead on the activities on the actual convention floor.

The first thing I was asked to do was to distribute leaflets directing people to the booth itself. The meant walking the line of incoming attendees as they waited to get inside, and handing out the leaflets. For a natural introvert like me, that was stressful enough, but I managed to get through it.

Then I was back behind the booth, using an iPad with a card-reading device to take orders. That wasn’t too bad either. Then I was asked if I would be willing to “work the floor.” Which meant moving out from behind the booth, into the milling mass of feverish fandom. Right there with the cosplayers and the hardcore fan base.

So I waded in. Again, my natural introversion makes this sort of thing very difficult for me. On top of that, I tend to dislike being approached myself in such situations, so I felt more than a little hypocritical even attempting to engage with the public.

But I try my best to fulfill my obligations, so I buckled down and did my best.

“Excuse me, ma’am, I couldn’t help but notice your Star Wars T-shirt. Are you a fan? You are? That’s great, I remember standing in line for the first one back in 1977. Say, if you like Star Wars, you would probably really enjoy these books set in the Star Wars universe…”

Or

“Hi there, that’s an awesome steampunk outfit you’ve got there. Do you like steampunk novels? You do? Well, come on over here, because I think you’ll like this.”

Over and over, for hours. Sometimes you get the cold shoulder. Sometimes you get the “are you flirting with me” gaze, but mostly people are willing to check things out and over time, the sales accumulated. It was amazing to see how well it worked. But that’s mostly because the product I was selling, was a solid product. In many cases the author of the books I was directing people toward were behind the booth, so I could increase the effectiveness of the pitch with:

“Oh, you like the look of this one? Well, if you have any questions, the author happens to be right here, and I’ll be glad to introduce you.”

That leads to signed versions of books being sold, and that usually makes everyone happier.

I’d like to do more convention work. I’d like to sell my own books at a convention. Unfortunately I still haven’t been able to get away from the reality of a day job that is still paying the bills.

But someday. Hopefully soon. 🙂

Tampa Bay Comic Con

 

Tampa Bay Comic Con (TBCC) is a family-friendly convention held in the Tampa Convention Center the first weekend in August. If you like your Cons sweaty, this one’s the fandom sauna for you. All joking aside, TBCC is hot when you’re standing in line, but you get to cool off inside the Convention Center. It’s got a strong vendor presence and attracts top-notch celebrity guests (including best-selling authors like Kevin J. Anderson, Terry Brooks, and R.A. Salvatore). The panel schedule is crammed with celebrity appearances, fandom-specific topics, and even quite a few writing panels. Let’s talk about the whole panel thing in a little more detail.

I’ve hosted and participate on TBCC panels for several years. The process to get into TBCC programming hasn’t been very hard. They start taking panel submissions in the Fall and make decisions during the year to fill out their three-day schedule. The key is to have a compelling, popular topic, and a description that will grab an audience. Watch the website for details and submit early.

As I stated before, the Con is family-friendly with guest ages spanning eight months to eighty years. I’ve always found the crowd pleasant, if not a bit snarky (not that I bring that out in people. At all. Ever.) and welcoming. The vendors I’ve worked with, both at my own table in the Artist Alley and while volunteering in the WordFire Press booth have been easy to work with, always willing to watch your table when you need a bio break.

Parking can be a bit of an issue, but you’re all set if you get there early. As a vendor, you can enter the Vendor Room an hour before show opening, so grab some coffee, arrive early, and get a choice spot in the parking garage across the street or connive your way into the Marriott parking lot.

Book sales have been strong. I prefer to partner with a few other authors to have more titles on the table. The different, vibrant covers and multi-genre offerings draw more interest.

Overall, I love TBCC. It doesn’t hurt that it’s in my backyard, but it’s a solid, fun Con and I will continue going back as long as they’ll have me.

By the Numbers:

  • 2017 Attendance – Approx. 60k
  • 2018 Dates – Aug. 3-5

Cost:

  • 6’ Artist Alley Table – $250 + 3% Paypal fee (includes two entry badges)
  • 10’ x 10’ corner booth – $575 + 3% Paypal fee (includes badges, but not sure how many)
  • Parking (how much depends on where you find a spot)