Going to a convention for the first time as a vendor can be intimidating for an author. What do you bring? How will you take payment? How many books? What should the table look like? Signage?
After attending about fifteen conventions, some total failures and others great successes, out of state and local, I feel like I’m at a point where I can dole out legitimate advice.
First, before I say anything, let me say this: conventions are not about making money. Do not go into one thinking you’ll be walking out with fat stacks of cash. For most of us, while it’s certainly possible you could turn a profit at one of these things, especially if’s a local con, there’s a possibility you won’t. It’s pretty simple: after you add the cost of the table, cost of books, marketing materials, food, parking, transportation, lodging, and random stuff you buy at the con, a lot of money has been spent.
Why go, then? To network. That word scares me because it means social interaction with people, putting myself out there, and being “on” for many hours at a time. This comes naturally to some people. For others, it doesn’t. I’m in the latter category, but after enough of these and going in with the right mindset, you’ll come to enjoy them.
Here is my mindset going into a convention:
– I have no expectation on how many books I will sell or how much money I could/will make. If I break even, sweet! If I make a profit, amazing! If I lose money, no problem!
– I am excited to meet up with other authors I know and haven’t seen in a while, to talk shop or just have fun. Being around other creative people, who have good advice and are inspirational, is good for me.
– I’m going to try and connect with new authors/artists/people, because you never know where that connection could lead or who you will meet.
– I will put my best foot forward and stay positive, because hot damn, if I don’t then I’m screwed!
Tables typically need to be secured months in advance. They range from $150 – $500+ depending on the size of the convention. I highly suggest splitting a table with another author if at all possible, ideally with someone you know or are familiar with.
Advantages are that it reduces table cost and provides someone who can watch the booth while you take a break. It may help you meet new people, etc. If the con is at a low point, it’s better to be talking to your tablemate than to be glued to your phone. It’s easier for an attendee to approach you if you’re talking to someone instead of looking down, oblivious to what is going on around you.
Disadvantages are that you will be limited on space (I have 5 books as of writing this and half works for me, so this isn’t likely). Your tablemate’s aura might not jive with yours.
If you write romance with not a lick of horror, a horror convention might not be the right place for you. Attend the right convention for your work, that will likely have the correct demographic.
The cost of flying to a convention really ads up. After airfare, hotel, and food, you’ve already spent a lot. However, there are some amazing conventions worth going to if you can swing it! Check in with other authors or vendors who have been to the convention and ask them about their experience. Splitting a table and sharing a hotel room will help you save money on these.
Here is what I bring to all conventions for my table, no matter what.
– Books. If you’re comfortable doing this, ask other authors who have attended the convention how many books they generally bring. For smaller conventions, bring fewer books. For bigger cons, bring a medium amount. Just because 10,000+ people are at a con doesn’t mean even a fraction of them will buy your books. Be realistic.
– Business cards/bookmarks/fliers. You need to have something to give to people who won’t aren’t going to buy your book but might be interested in you. Above all else, these marketing materials must have your name and website or social media outlets.
– Petty cash. If you’re selling books for $10 each, have a lot of 10s to give out as change. If you’re selling them for $15, have 5s. Pretty simple.
– Card reader. This isn’t always usable as conventions can be subterranean and without wifi or reception. However, it’s a good thing to have on hand in case it does work. PayPal and Square readers are free, but do have a transaction fee.
– Pens. People will want you to sign your book.
– Book stands. I like the wire variety that fold down. Make sure they are small enough to fit the trim size of your book.
– Pricing signs. This one is slightly debatable. Sometimes I do it, most times I don’t. You can have a little sign that outlines the cost of your books or products. If someone is interested in your book, even if you have a sign, they’ll probably ask you how much.
– Food and water. You wouldn’t like me when I’m hungry. Keep your blood sugar up. The second you crash, the con will start sucking. You need energy. Drinks and protein bars. Chips. Whatever. Just eat.
If you want to get fancy, you can bring some signage. Even a 8×11 piece of paper with your name on it to pin/tape/set on the table would be good. I have a pop-up vinyl banner I carry around. You can get these in varying sizes. Not an end all item, but can be helpful to make you look more professional.
Ok, how do you set up your table? My favorite configuration is to stack books as shown in the photo on the left, and put a copy on top of the stack on a stand. This gives the table some height and is a good use of space. Put books in the same series near each other.
I put a few books from another series stacked in the center (Pulse) and some bookmarks and business cards wherever they’ll fit from there. It isn’t shown, but on the left side of my table, I have the next book in the Pulse series stacked how I have the Cyrus series.
Behind all this (not pictured) is my vinyl banner stand on the ground, identifying who I am with a couple of my book covers on it. In retrospect, I should’ve made it a timeless banner without my book covers. Why? Because I have two more books since I made it and so it is no longer current.
There was a time when I only had one book. In this case, I followed the same principal; a couple stacks of that book with a display copy on a stand people could pick up and look through. I had business cards and some fliers that had information about the book and me. It helps to have some kind of sign (even a small one) that says who you are. I’ve seen people use a self standing acrylic photo holder (pictured right). This is a great way to have some signage without breaking the bank or taking up too much space.
I avoid letting garbage build up in my area (food wrappers, drinks, etc.). The space needs to look tidy and professional.
You have your table set up, you’re ready to go. Now the real work begins. How you present yourself makes a huge difference in how people receive you, no matter what. You’ll have to discover what works for you best. However, here are three things I always do that I think most people can and should apply.
– I nod and say hello to everyone who makes eye contact with me. If they linger, I politely ask if I could tell them about my work. Sometimes people don’t understand that you’re the author (despite the signage, your vendor badge, etc.) so this is a good opening line.
– I show respect and kindness to anyone willing to stop at my table, whether I think they’ll buy a book or not, because you never want to seem like a jerk, and if you are that’s how people will remember you. Plus, I’m just grateful people are showing interest and I show it!
– Even if the con isn’t going well, or I’m not feeling it, I try to reset my mindset or I don’t let it show. Cons are very karmic; if you put bad energy out, people will shy away from you. I’m here as a professional and part of that means setting aside my personal feelings for the betterment of my brand.
You can still be super chill, fun to be around, and the badass author you are while still remaining professional.
Okay, you’re still here! Sweet! Let’s talk about how to sell your books, because moving books is still an important part of a con. Fixating on making money, not a part of it. Getting your books into the hands of new readers, definitely part of it.
The Holy Spiel, the Thing That Will Sell Your Book, is vital! A spiel is the sentence you say after, “Can I tell you about my work?” and you get a yes. I point to The Undead Situation and say, “Zombie apocalypse from a sociopath’s point of view.” Then if they’re nodding, seem to be interested, I will point to Pulse and say, “Mutated parasite that turns people into murderous psychopaths.”
If you have an accolades, like a significant review or you made it on a top list, toss that in. You have seconds to pitch your book to a potential reader, don’t waste it!
I’ve heard other author’s spiels so many times, I could confidently try and sell their books. They’ve heard mine so many times they could do the same for me. As a matter of fact, we’ve done this before.
At the end of the day, each convention is unique. If you come prepared with the right mindset and basics, you can make it through anything. Conventions get better as you gain more experience on how to handle them, so if your first experience is bad, don’t write them off forever.
I hope this blog helped you new convention goers even a little bit, and if you have any questions please let me know! I would love to share any advice I have.