Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Lessons learned as a dealer at cons

The Red Adept table at Farpoint
It was around this time last year that I first started cooking up cockamamie marketing ideas. Artificial Absolutes had been out for a few months, and the obvious promotional venues – bookstore signings and blog spotlights – were getting me nowhere. Especially the bookstores, in which many a reader, upon hearing my pitch, responded with an apologetic, "I don't read sci-fi." Well, fair enough. I don't read memoirs. Everyone has their tastes.

So where would I find the right audience? The answer: Sci-Fi/Fantasy conventions, of course! Hundreds of die-hard fans of the genre packed into one hotel for a weekend – not to mention the chance to chat with fellow spec fic authors. And, in my case, to fangirl out. I've been to eight conventions as a vendor and/or panelist in the past nine months or so, which may sound like a lot but is peanuts compared to what some authors do. In the convention world, I'm still a total nov. But here are some lessons I've picked up along the way:

Your audience might not be who you think it is
This was actually a tip I heard at my very first convention, from the jewelry dealer across the aisle. When she first started selling at events, she imagined her customers would be mostly young women. However, she eventually found that it was the older ladies who picked up her colorful stone baubles.

Similarly, I thought that my book, with its pretty sunset and prominent heroine, would mostly attract young, female readers. Nope! The majority of my paperback sales at events have been to grown men. Meanwhile, the young ladies who stop by the Red Adept table seem to be drawn to either the girlish young adult titles (expected), the angels-and-demons urban fantasy (not surprising), and the hardcore horror (wait, what?!). And the technothriller, which is on the lighter side of sci-fi because it takes place in contemporary times and features mostly real-world technology, has been picked up by die-hard sci-fi fans rather than mystery/thriller readers.

Greet everyone, but don't push too hard
Me (center) with horror author Stephen Kozeniewski and
fantasy author Elizabeth Corrigan, at Central PA Comic Con
It's tempting to pitch to everyone who looks your way, but the fact is that many con-goers just want to browse – without being bothered by an obnoxious author trying to be a salesman. And you don't want to scare them off. At the same time, you don't want to miss an opportunity to be persuasive. I've seen extremes at both ends – people who keep going on and on and on to uninterested parties looking for any excuse to escape, and people who do nothing, believing the books will sell themselves. The thing is, there are many different kinds of readers out there. Some like to be greeted by the author and have a nice conversation, and others just want to judge for themselves.

So I find the best way to gauge who's who is to say "hi" to everyone but only engage in the whole pitching routine if they genuinely seem interested. Of course, I'm still very new to this whole salesman thing (if you'd told me two years ago that I'd be a vendor at anything, I would have laughed and then crawled into a hole), so I'm still figuring it out. But the thing to keep in mind is that there's no one-size-fits-all greeting. And that the worst thing you can do is to sit sullenly behind your table and without even saying hello to someone who picks up your book.

There will be dead periods
Especially on Sundays. In fact, Sunday is almost always dead as a doornail, because many attendees have either already gone home or blown all their spending money on other products. Sitting behind a table in an empty vendor hall is one of the most depressing things in the world. So if you decide to set up shop, be sure to keep ample entertainment handy to get you through those long, boring hours (otherwise, you might find yourself questioning your life). And remember, even if you don't end up selling that many books, visibility is important. Someone who sees you at one con might pass you by for now, but check out your book next time they see you.

Beware of con crud
A funny thing happens when you put a crap-ton of people under one roof: germs spread. So don't forget to wash your hands. Also, if possible, keep the Monday after a con free so you can spend all day sleeping. Because cons have the magical ability to turn otherwise energetic people into zombies…

1 comment:

  1. I've thought of hitting sci fi/fantasy events too. This inspires me to do so.