To convention or not to convention? That is the question.

Pop Culture Conventions are still pretty new to me. In my 4 years as a published author I’ve been to exactly 4 of them, though technically you could say that I’ve been to the same one four times because I’ve only ever tried representing myself at the Sugar City Con right here in Mackay.

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My first convention was all about having fun and learning 🙂

Obviously I’d love to go to an actual writing convention because I’d be more likely to find my target audience, but the SCC is still a very new thing here in Mackay and I am still very much an ingenue when it comes to the publishing world, so this is definitely one of those “Think globally, act locally,” events for me.

I’m glad to say that I’ve been with the SCC since their inception back in 2014, and I am very thrilled to say that I’ve learned a lot in those four years- perhaps even enough to warrant me passing my advice along becuase I myself have been frustrated when it comes to researching how best to navigate these events, especially as an author.

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My first ever Convention set-up. Not very attention grabbing, is it? It looks like the booth of a beauty sales consultant.

The start of my convention evolution was a little bit embarrassing. I’d only been self-published for just over a year and all I had to offer potential readers was links to e-books and some brochures, which I tried hawking over a plastic-coated foldable table. I managed to raffle off a Kindle E-Reader that first year which at least gave some people a reason to come hang near my booth and jot down their e-mail addresses for me, but I’m not very good with being the pushy sales chick and I never actually used those e-mail addresses for anything so in the end, the most I got out of that event was a teeny tiny bit of promotion.

 

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Second year’s booth- hit the ground running 🙂

 

My second year was a little bit better. By then I had one book in paperback and I ordered in a lot of copies, in addition to getting business cards and better brochures, and I went to a lot more trouble with my booth. I made fancy decorations out of old books, had posters printed up to blow up my various book covers so that they could be pinned to my backing panel behind me, and actually took along my computer so I’d have something to do other than sit and stare at the people passing me by. That was a much better year, but the entire event was a lot bigger and better in general so it was pretty hard to steal attention away from the other vendors. I sold a lot of copies of my novels, but I chose my solitary YA title to print (because it was the smallest) and that definitely limited my reach because I am first and foremost an adult paranormal fantasy writer. I also printed out lots of samples of my other books and had a demo of a second novel ready  to place orders for, which did generate a lot of sales. I was learning but I was learning too slowly and I knew that I needed to plan well in advance the following year if I was going to have a hope of getting my name and my work truly out there.

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I’m still very proud of these home made decorations
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This was how I packaged the ordered copies when they came in. Sah cute, yeah?

Next came 2016, which was definitely my best year. The convention had grown into its larger venue and the crowd was twice the size of the year before thanks to the fact that we had some fantastically talented people front up for the SCC, including a well-known actor and an incredibly talented young writer, Will Kostakis. I was asked to appear on a panel that year, along with Will Kostakis and another local author, Sharon Johnston to talk about how we got into writing- Will being the award-winner, Sharon the one that had official representation and me- the poor man’s Indie. That was  lot of fun and a great experience, and although I don’t know if that got a lot more people heading my way, it certainly attracted the attention of one or two. I was much better prepared that year- I’d just produced my first original play so I spliced footage from that with my book trailers and played it on repeat on my computer so I had better visual aids, and by then I had 4 different paperbacks to sell and I happily almost sold out. I’d upgraded my brochures yet again, added in some book marks and printed out 18 posters while running a free promotion for several of my other novels on Kindle at the same time, so if there was anything that anyone wanted to read, they had the option of buying it then and there in paperback, or downloading it free.

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Me with star guest Tony Amendola 2017
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Me on the writer’s panel with Sharon Johsnton and Will Kostakis
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My 2017 booth- simple with lots of titles for sale!

Yes 2016 was definitly a successful year but like I said, the SCC was growing so by then there were 6 other writers present, so it was a good thing that I’d gone in prepared because it was much harder to stand out in that sea of faces.

I’ve just done my 4th SCC and although it probably should have been my best year yet, I found that it was pretty hard to top 2016. Not only because an economic downturn led to the event being down-sized in general, but because I didn’t actually make the decision to attend until 2 weeks before so I was grossly underprepared. I ended up having to order books at the last minute in bulk from Create Space which means the postage for each book cost as much as the titles themselves (and literally arrived the afternoon beforehand!), and I didn’t think of anything new to do with my booth so it was a lot simpler than it had been before. In fact, the highlight of this event for me was the fact that I finally got into the Cosplay spirit!

 

There were no other authors this year, but I didn’t rate that as being an advantage because it meant that the people that came were mostly drawn in by all of the sci-fi and cosplay stuff. I sold quite a lot of books still and managed to generate some great publicity for my upcoming shows and a collection of local ghost stories that I’m writing, but I definitely wish that I’d been better prepared and had had something new to offer people. That’s definitely the issue with being a small-town writer; if you don’t keep evolving, you go stale.

So here are my personal tips and tricks for representing yourself as an author at a convention- especially if you’re not attending an author-only convention and are competing with the special guest artists and cosplayers that the atendees are lining up for:

  • Go to some effort with your booth. You’ll likely be supplied with one table, one chair and a backing panel just like everyone else, so be prepared to make it all it can be. Table covers, covers for backing panels, posters, props- make the space look eye-catching. Please try to theme it or keep the colours simple though, because people do judge books- and authors- by their covers.
  • Find out if you have power and use it accordingly. I definitely wish I’d upgraded my PC display this year because I’ve found that it gives potential customers the chance to drift your way without being forced to have to look or speak to you if they don’t want to. All of the vendors are selling something and selling hard, and most atendees will do their best to maintain a safe distance between themselves and the desperate sales person eyeballing them until they’re as interested as you’d like them to be. A lot of people would advise you to call out to each one or do the ‘hard sell’ but I wouldn’t recommend it. When it comes to books someone is either a reader or they’re not, and readers know what they like to read. If your cover doesn’t hook them, then trying to talk them into it will scare them off more quickly. In fact whenever anyone drifts my way and starts eyeing my book covers I always test the waters first by saying: ‘Are you a reader?’ If the answer is no, then I know to tread carefully and offer them a pretty book mark. If the answer is yes, I ask them what genre they like. If it’s not something I write, I’ll talk to them about what they’re interested in instead and let them decide if they want to know more about me. Once again, I’m not going to waste my time or anyone else’s trying to convince a hard-core fantasy reader to buy a book about zombies.
  • Keep yourself occupied without actually going too far and making yourself look unapproachable. I take notebooks to doodle in because I can get a lot done without shutting myself off or getting overly distracted by technology.
  • Have things to sell or give away- I cannot stress this enough. Running a bunch of free books on Kindle might seem like a great idea, but a lot of people won’t go to the trouble of looking you up once they get home if left to their own devices. And be prepared to sell too: have a lot of copies on hand, change, bags, bookmarks and I would highly reccommend that you have one of those personal eftpos machines or at least have your internet banking details, a means to connect to the internet and an invoice book on hand. This year the thing that handicapped me the most was the money thing: the venue had one ATM that died in the first hour, leaving people with only the cash they had and their ATM cards. I’d learned from 2015 to get a portable card reader so I had that as back up but unfortunately, the signal on my phone was too weak to hook the thing up with the app and so I lost a lot of sales that way, as did all of the vendors. Next year when I go back I’ll take a portable wi-fi device to be safe.
  • Have something to give away to keep you in people’s minds, but if you can’t afford to go big, don’t. Giving away a Kindle loaded with my books was a great idea, but that only really appealed to e-book readers and in a town like mine, that cuts out 70% of your potential customers. Giving away an iPad is expensive and not likely to pay off for you because everyone will enter into that, so you could waste your time trying to hook the attention of people that want the iPad so they can use Instagram, not so they can read off it. If money is no option then by all mens, raffle off an elephant if you’re so inclined, but I’ve discovered that personalised bookmarks are the best way to go. They’re cheap, they’re relevant to the sutomers you want to make a connection with and a lot less likely to be thrown out than a glossy brochure will be.
  • Link your social media to your event- run competitions using your pen name as a hashtag and get yourself some authentic likes. This year I did a few things- I used my booth to take ticket bookings for my next play, offered a special discount off my next book for people that pre-ordered it before midnight, and tied my appearance at the Con to a cover reveal for my next book online. Just be careful to walk that fine line between self-promotion and spamming, whatever you do.

And last but not least,  get into the spirit of things! Pop culture conventions are all about the cosplay, so find something to wear that’ll make it clear that you’re there not only as a vendor but as a fan of the experience in general. I’ve heard some authors say that they rate dressing up as a character from their own books, but mine aren’t really distinctive enough for that yet, so I decided to dress as Ariel, given that I have three books out about mermaids. It meant that I had to get up a lot earlier and was a lot less comfortable than I had been the prior years, but it was a lot of fun!

So here I am, hoping that 2018 is gonna be the year that I get it right, so if you have any tips for me, please share away!

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