Selling at Conventions Part One

I’ve had a few new authors ask over the last few years…what do I need to put together to sell from a table at a convention, book event, author fair, or other non-bookstore event? What do I need to prepare? I say non-bookstore event, because bookstores are awesome. Most of the time for a bookstore, you just have to show up with your favorite signing pen. For an independent bookstore, you might want to bring your own banner, and might need to bring your own stock, but they provide the table, and probably have it set up the way that works for them. Don’t dictate to a bookstore, but ask lots of questions to make sure you’re on the same page.

For comic cons, book fairs, art events, and other non-bookstore events, here’s where to start…

  • Do your research. In more ways than one…

Talk to authors and see what conventions or events give the best bang for your buck. There might even be a Facebook group in your area of writers who share this kind of information; ask.

You’ll, in most cases, have to pay for your table. Some events offer free tables to authors. Some events are reasonable, and some are wicked expensive. Some are just not worth it. Be smart and ask around before you plunk down the money for a table.

My rule of thumb is that I’ll try just about anything I can afford. My first year at an event I need to have enough in sales (not profit, but sales) to cover my table cost. The next year, I better sell more. If I’m not bringing in that much, the event isn’t a do again. You’re NOT going to make back your costs for your expenses by selling at conventions. It’s a promotional expense. You are, however, going to be getting your name out there, selling books, and giving out bookmarks and promotional material. You may see a sales bump after the convention. If you do, your marketing efforts are working.

Over the course of the year, I have some free or low cost events, I have some local events with little or no travel costs, and I have some with hotel fees, expensive tables, and also the potential for new readers. If I make enough in profit to cover all of my expenses, I’m ecstatic. I normally do 10-12 events per year. Remember that the profit at the low cost, local events will make up for some of the losses at the bigger, expensive events, but the bigger events further from your home help get word further out about your books. I do a mix to cover all of my bases.

Is this a juried show? Do you need to be approved? Start the application process early; don’t wait until the last minute, as last minute might cause issues if they are full, and getting a last minute no means there isn’t enough time to look for another event to fill the weekend.

Once you’ve signed up, you also need to figure out what you need to do to report/pay sales tax and/or have a vendor’s license. The convention should have someone you can ask about this.

Get a credit card reader. I spent the money to get a chip card reader because I do enough of these events to justify the cost and minimize the exposure; that’s a decision that you’ve got to make on your own. PayPal and Square are the ones I see most often. I use PayPal, because I also have a PayPal business debit card tied to the account that can help with travel emergencies. I also run some of my writing income through PayPal, so it makes sense to have all if it in one account, but your mileage may vary.

Plan ahead. Understand the Load-In and Load-Out policies and ask questions. No question is stupid if you’re new to this.

 

 

The Pursuit of Busyness

It’s a little weird right now not to have a contracted deadline. But that’s probably a good thing.

I took a bunch of time off from having book events and such in the last half of pregnancy, and after The Girl was born, and for the first year of her life, I didn’t do anything that involved tons of travel.

This year will be different. I’m doing more travel. The Husband is going with me to some events; and will stay home with the Kidlings for some events. I’m actually branching back out to some of my previous haunts, to Cleveland, to Indianapolis, to Louisville, and actually getting some travel time outside of a one hour radius from my house. I’m looking forward to it, and to be honest, I think the Husband is, as well. We haven’t had a weekend out of town together since well before The Girl was born. We will be using some of my book events to get some time for just us.

I’m also way behind where I wanted to be on the DEMON book. Mea culpa. This is the first night in a long time that I’ve had the Kidlings in bed, the Husband otherwise occupied (he’s working late some nights, working on some projects for sidework…even if he’s in the house, he’s occupied), and not ready to drop from exhaustion myself or working on deadlines for the side job. I did get a short story out, and it will be published in June.

IT IS RELATED TO THE DEMON BOOK.

If you’ve read my short story, “Welcome to New York”, you’ve heard of Andrew and Gregory. They are two characters in that short story, and they are also secondary characters in the DEMON book. In both that short story and the novel, they are adults, with careers and a propensity to get involved in demon fighting. (“Welcome to New York” has appeared in two different anthologies, please click on BIBLIOGRAPHY above to get the links).

The short story coming out, “The Dragon Made Me Do It” will be published in the Origins Game Fair anthology, entitled DRAGONS! on Father’s Day weekend. It’s a wicked fun story about Andrew and Gregory as pre-teen altar boys dealing with a demonic presence that takes the form of a dragon.

LOCAL PEEPS…YES it does take place in Urbana. I didn’t make it obvious in the short story. But it is Urbana, Ohio. AND THAT’S WHERE THE DEMON BOOK IS SET. If I ever get it done. And I plan to. It’s turning out awesome. No, seriously…I’m in what writers normally refer to as the saggy, soggy, middle of the novel, the point at which most writers think anything they are working on sucks…and I still think it seriously rocks. That’s weird. Most of my writer friends will totally get what I’m saying. I cannot wait to share it with you. But first I gotta finish it. And then I gotta sell it.

And the brain worms for the project I have AFTER that are also intruding. I always have a million and one ideas…but this one is starting to get insistent. Better get the DEMON book done, so I can write the CARAVAN book (Working title, THE CORPSE BEHIND THE CARAVAN).

So…even though you haven’t heard much from me because I’ve been in the sleep-deprived new mom stage, doesn’t mean that the wheels aren’t turning. The problem hasn’t been the ideas. It’s been the time, and the exhaustion level. But The Girl is now sleeping through the night (and she’s turning into a big fan of books, but more on the GOODNIGHT MOON level than on Mum Mum’s books level), which means that I get to be Writer Girl again from time to time.

This Year

Okay, so most of you know that I had a baby in January. I go back to work for the day job here in a couple of weeks, and I’ve been struggling to schedule author events and balance the day job, the part time job, The Boy’s activities and keeping in mind a baby (who will be known here as The Girl) who is still technically a newborn.

IMG_0684The Girl, contemplating another nap…

So I will say that I’m not scheduling much in the way of travel this year, and what is scheduled will likely not be terribly far from home, and will likely not start happening until June or so.

So far, I’m planning the following…

Origins                                       Columbus, Ohio            June 15-19, 2016

Art Affair on The Square      Urbana, Ohio                  July 16, 2016

Art on the Beach                     Indian Lake, Ohio         August 6-7, 2016

World Fantasy                         Columbus, Ohio            October 27-30, 2016

There are more on my list that might get added, but these are the ones I’ve committed to so far. I may (or may not) have The Girl with me; the Husband and The Boy may make appearances as well, as we do tend to combine writing events with family events when possible.

I may also be planning a couple of giveaways in the next year, so stay tuned for more information.

As for the writing?

Are you a fan of Bert, Janie, Aiden, Mia, Jonah and the rest? Book Five is headed for the publisher soon, wrapping up the series.

I will be diving into two projects when that is complete, the sequel to Shades of Gray and Girl versus Demon; Demon Deadly Sins. Both have been on the back burner for a while, and will be headed toward the front burner for completion this year.

I do have a short story coming out in the Origins conference anthology entitled “The Stupidest Robot”. It’s really cute, and I hope you check it out!

 

 

Upcoming Appearance at Origins Game Fair!

SO very looking forward to going back to Origins this year! I love going to this convention, and can’t wait to see what all is coming out new…what all is going on in the gaming world and meeting new readers and old…as well as writer friends!

My schedule is as follows;

THURSDAY JUNE 4

10 am Time Management and the Author

12 pm A Writer’s Group is not Just a Group of Writers

1 pm More than Black Hats; Creating a Villain

6 pm Story Hour (reading)

FRIDAY JUNE 5

1 pm Writing from a Feminist Perspective

SATURDAY JUNE 6

12 pm Learning to Tell Stories through RPGs

1 pm Social Media 101

4 pm Flash Fiction

SUNDAY JUNE 7

10 am Researching Your Story

11 am (Upgraded Game Play) Wordariffic!

1 pm Humor in Fiction

ALSO…there’s going to be a pretty darn cool giveaway in the Library for all who buy books from our authors…stop by and check it out in the Dealer’s Hall.

When I’m not on a panel or playing a game, I’m likely to be at a table in the Dealer’s Hall, selling books and talking to writers and readers. If the Dealer’s Hall is closed, I’m probably in a game or stuffing my face at North Market…Don’t be shy…come say hi!

Conferences on the Cheap

Someone on a writing forum I’m a member of asked about how to go to conferences when you don’t have much money.

I’m a BIG proponent of conferences, writers groups, and workshops. I think you should definitely go if you’re at all serious about writing.

Okay, look, I’m a small press author, and I go to a TON of conferences, book fairs, art events, comic cons and workshops. I think I did eleven last year, and I’ll do twelve this year.  I have TONS of expenses for going, but I also sell more print books when I’m there in person than I would by just having them sit on a shelf (partly because my contract with my former publisher did not involve distribution of print books). AND I’m definitely one to see how much I can do for as little as possible.

BUT my reason for going is WAY different than a beginning writer.

I go to network. I go to promote my stuff. There are some cons I go to for the sheer number of attendees, I get a booth, and try to sell stuff. That’s more and more lately, as there seem to be fewer and fewer actual bookstores in my geographical area than ever before.

A beginning writer should to go to a conference to learn about the industry, to learn about writing, to learn about genre, and to learn about submissions and self-pub and all the ins and outs that get talked about. They need to start learning and networking and all those other crazy and incredible things.

Networking has done more for me than straight slush pile submissions, but that’s because I network A LOT. It’s gotten me leads, friends, connections, and all kinds of wonderful fun memories, as well as a network of writers and editors and artists that I can contact for questions.

I’m also a government employee, so I’m not getting rich anytime soon, regardless of so many people (including several governors, but that’s another rant for another day) seem to believe. I also do some part time work, in part to cover my travel expenses, in part to pay down my student loans faster, and in part to do extra work on my house. That’s not a solution for everyone. One writer friend of mine has suggested doing the 52 week challenge to save money for conferences. It’s a great idea.

So how do you attend a conference on a budget?

Geographical location.

Depending on where you live, there might be a local conference or workshop within reasonable driving distance and you might save yourself a hotel fee. If a convention is within an hour’s drive, a lot of times, I will drive back and forth to save myself the money in a hotel. I can then eat breakfast at home, see my guys, pack a sandwich for lunch if I want, and take my own water bottle to keep from buying water at a hotel. If there isn’t one within a reasonable driving distance, look and see if there’s one within a reasonable driving distance of a friend or relative’s house.

I live 45 minutes from Dayton, Ohio and 50 minutes from Columbus, Ohio. My brother and sister in law live in Cincinnati. Any of those three cities are ones that I can either stay at home or with my brother, and save hundreds. My only cost then is gas, parking, and food, unless there’s a badge cost, but a lot of times, I don’t have that cost because of the amount of work I do at a con.

Volunteer.

Some conventions will allow you to earn a free or discounted badge if you volunteer some time helping with the logistics of the con. This could be anything from stuffing conference bags, to working the registration desk to running schedules and paperwork to picking up guests at the airport. It’s a great way to network, it’s a great way to see what goes on behind the scenes, and most of the time the staff of a conference are way overworked and pulled in four hundred million different directions by the time the conference actually starts.

As a published author, I volunteer to appear on panels; this is an easy way to get a comped badge at a local conference or convention, but that doesn’t work so well at the big ones unless you’ve got a great hook, a big name, or some reason why you would be a draw to the attendees.  This is probably not an option for a beginner, unless it’s a fan run topic (like a popular television show) and you can somehow pitch yourself as knowledgeable enough to be an authority. Keep in mind that this normally also involves more than one panel. I’ve been known to do as many as ten in 48 hours, but I like doing them. I can hear the introverts shudder from across the interwebs.

Con Suite.

Check and see if the conference you’re looking at has a con suite; sometimes it’s a great place to grab a sandwich, a bit of caffeine, and a place to sit down and take a break without feeling like you’ve got to buy something in a coffee shop or a bar. Not all conferences have them; when they do exist, they’re awesome.

Get a conference buddy to split costs.

If there’s nothing in your area (and if you’re in Ohio, I beg to differ on that one), then you might not be able to get out of hotel costs or travel costs. Then it’s about finding someone interested in joining you that you might be able to split your hotel costs and travel costs. Obviously you can’t split an airplane ticket, but if it’s within reasonable driving distance, splitting gas and parking costs is a great way to get there. Splitting hotel costs is another way to keep costs down. You might also be able to see if there’s a way to bring some of your food along as well, to have cheaper things on hand (peanut butter, granola bars, your own pack of Coke Zero, etc.).

I’ve got a friend of mine that I’m attending a couple of conferences with in order to keep costs manageable. We will split a hotel room at Origins in Columbus (despite being close enough to drive, because we enjoy it and want to stick around for some of the later activities). We’re going to Chicago later this year (6-8 hours drive, depending on where we leave from, her house or mine). We’ve split the table fee for putting our books out for sale. We’re splitting the hotel room. We’ll split up the gas, parking, and tolls. We’ll probably pack things to take to keep some costs down. Total cost will be still a bit pricey, but about 40% less than doing all of this by myself. And…since we’ve done cons together in the past and are good friends, we’ll have a great time.

Miscellaneous tips…

  • Ask friends and family to give you gas cards for your birthday and Christmas to defray driving costs for conferences.
  • Ditto for gift cards for chain restaurants near where you’re going (if nothing else, makes a great gift to the person who might be letting you couch surf).
  • Doing the $52 week savings challenge is a great idea to get yourself a nest egg and a budget.
  • SET A BUDGET. Don’t blow your credit card for a great weekend. Budget for what you think you’ll spend…and give yourself a 10% cushion for “just in case”.
  • Remember to take good notes and make it all worthwhile; going and then not writing anything down is kinda meaningless…
  • DON’T forget your cell phone/charger/camera. You might meet some really cool people and want to share pictures.

Upcoming Appearance at Cleveland Concoction

I will be at Cleveland Concoction March 13-15, 2015, which is being held at the Sheraton hotel at the Airport in Cleveland.

This is my panel schedule… (I think they rather took me seriously when I said to use and abuse me on panels. Good thing I really like doing them!) I do have one or two meetings in between all of this, but those details are still getting finalized.)

Friday 2 pm Publishing Standards Q&A

Friday 3 pm Twisted Fairy Tales

Friday 7 pm Autographing Session

Friday 10 pm Crafting Villains Readers Love to Hate

Saturday 1 pm There are No Saints in Fiction

Saturday 4 pm Writing for YA versus Adults

Saturday 9 pm Humor in Science Fiction and Fantasy

Saturday 10 pm The 10 volume Trilogy

Sunday 9:30 am Author’s Breakfast

Sunday noon Reading/Author Showcase

While I’m in Cleveland, I will be handing out promotional GOT FROG? Buttons, bookmarks, and other swag-a-licious stuff…and this sounds like a truly wonderful conference. I’m so looking forward to it! If you’re into books or writing or publishing at all, you should really considering attending.

ALSO stay tuned….publishing news coming soon with regard to THE GRIMM LEGACY series…but it’s not finalized yet, so I don’t want to start celebrating just yet.