ConnectiCon 2016 was the first convention where I had gotten a booth for myself. I was very nervous beforehand. A lot of it was new to me, and there was always that nagging feeling that I didn’t quite belong among the many excellent artists who made their livings going from convention to convention.
Fortunately, it all turned out really well. In this post, I’d like to generally recap the experience.
I spent a lot of time planning my booth, with some excellent advice provided by Ashley Riot, the artist who did the banner for my booth and this website. I met her about four years back at Anime Boston. I had spoken with her a while back about the possibility of one of my artistic daughters having a booth, but this year I figured I’d have a go. She gave me some great advice for booth setup.
As July approached I began to get things ready. The thing that needed the most preparation was my stock of books. Every once in a while Blurb has a sale on books of up to 40%, and I waited patiently for one to happen. Sometime in May it did, so I was able to order most of my books at a much lower price than they would normally be. Shipping and handling charges per book were lower with a big order as well.
Then came the other supplies. I quickly—much too quickly—whipped up a design for my business cards, and got a bunch of those printed. (More on that later.) I made square prints from the book covers to hang on the mesh wire crates Ashley had recommended I buy. I packed up my books into lots of boxes, counting and organizing them as I went. The last remaining bit was the banner.
I had made a banner quite a while ago, but when Anime Boston rolled around I figured it would be much better to commission a piece from Ashley for it. (I was planning on commissioning something, anyway.) June was a very busy month for her with conventions, though, and the banner came worryingly close to not being done on time. On Wednesday morning, however, I got the final art from Ashley and delivered it to Staples that morning. Luckily for me, they said they would be able to finish it by noon. They did, and everyone there was really happy with how things turned out. (Apparently, it got a number of positive comments from other customers at the store.) I decided then to get a few prints of it to use as incentives for people to buy both trilogy sets.
Thursday came. My daughters Allison and Jamie and I loaded up the van for the hour and forty minute drive to Hartford. We checked into our hotel—the Residence Inn at Hartford, which I recommend highly—and then left to do the load in at 6 p.m. Traffic was horrible. We could have probably walked to the convention center more quickly, though carrying the books and booth setup made that impossible. Finally we got there and checked in.
An embarrassing note: I was listed in the program as “Blurb Books, Inc.” Way back when I first registered, I asked them what I should put there as the company name, not realizing that it would be the name put in the program. Whoever it was advised me to put my publisher’s name. Next year it will be different! Lesson one learned.
We got to the booth and took down the “Blurb Books” sign, replacing it with the banner. I was just tall enough to hang the banner myself, but a step stool would have made things much easier. Lesson two learned.
The table for the display was not as big as I had expected; if I had set up the wire frame display as I intended, there would be almost no room for me to interact with customers or place the books. So instead I set the displays at 45 degree angles, which was probably better because it gave more room for the books to be displayed and also gave us a nice little workspace behind the display. Win win. Lesson three: don’t be afraid to change plans to something that works better.
Setup took perhaps half an hour. We then left and attempted to find a place to eat for the night. Lesson four: next year, we are just cooking dinner in the hotel room. It’s cheaper and easier, because one of my daughters becomes very pessimistic about finding food she likes when she’s hungry.
The next morning we arrived about an hour and a half before the exhibitor hall opened. We set up the books for display, which took maybe ten minutes, and then waited. Finally the hall opened up and lots of people came pouring in.
We were in a relatively bad location, in one of the far corners of the Artist Colony looking at the wall. I’m not sure if that was because I didn’t have an idea of how the Colony was set up or just because that was what was available when I signed up. Next year I’m hoping for a better location. Lesson five learned.
It took about forty minutes for me to get my first sale. These were forty very long minutes. My books represented pretty much the sum of my productive work over the past decade or so, and this was the day of judgment. Would I sell a single book? Would anyone take interest?
Someone did. A lovely young woman dressed in some lovely cosplay approached, saying she loved dragons. After a very short pitch, she bought the first trilogy. I was thrilled. Jamie was thrilled. Allison, in what would become the teasing joke of the conference, was somewhere else. It was a great high to finally be able to sell one of my books.
The second customer was memorable. He was a young man, probably late teens. He apparently was drawn to the artwork and was very enthusiastic about it, and even more enthusiastic to learn that the artwork was on books. The conversations with his friends (who were offering to lend him money) led me to believe that he bought the first trilogy with his last twenty dollars—this at one-thirty in the afternoon of the first day of the convention.
The day went pretty well. I sold nine books in total that day, which made me feel great. Lesson six had to do with how to sell the books. My plan was to describe Jana’s situation as being on the run from Westvalia because magic had been banned. At some point I added that she was on the run because of her role in assassinating the former king. It was incredible to watch how people’s faces lit up at that point—knowing that our heroine was not some purely virtuous hero, but had a bit of a nasty streak to her. “That would do it,” was a common response.
Lesson seven had to do with what books would sell. Before the convention I recognized that getting people to buy something other than The Dragon Kaseraak or the trilogies would be a hard sell. After one day of the convention, I recognized it would be impossible. A very few people would buy the first individual volume rather than a trilogy at twice the price. No one would start with the second individual volume. In my mind, the trilogies made a lot more sense, but for some reason I didn’t realize that they completely foreclosed the possibility that someone would buy Runaway Necromancer or the later books. So now I have a small stock of the individual volumes that I will probably have to give away rather than sell. I think I have to display them, but most people will buy the trilogies instead. $20 is not a lot to pay.
Saturday came and with it some validation. The day started very quickly. My first customer came back, said she had finished the first five chapters and she wanted to buy the second trilogy. I gave her a poster. People seemed more inclined to buy the entire series on Saturday. In all, Saturday was the most successful day—I sold thirteen books that day.
There was, of course, a lot of downtime during the con. My standard for success was to be able to pay for the booth with sales of the books, and on Saturday I was well on my way to making that goal. But that still meant a lot of quiet time with no one approaching the booth. A lot of booths had a lot of things for sale. Depending on how you looked at it, I had eight, or six, or even just one. I didn’t get many browsers, but I felt like most of the people who were browsing were very interested in buying.
On Sunday I attempted to goose the sales of the individual volumes. Rather than selling them for $10 each, I put them up for buy-two-get-one-free. This did absolutely nothing. For the whole convention, I didn’t sell a single individual volume other than the first book. Sunday was a little slower than Saturday, but it was good enough to push me past the pay-for-the-booth goal. I was happy.
I really felt validated by the convention. People actually were interested in my work, liked my artwork and liked my writing. I had a few people come back on Saturday telling me that they liked the book I had sold them on Friday. It was fun to talk about the characters.
There was one big screw-up, though: my business cards. It’s very easy to imagine them as much larger than they actually are when designing them, and when I got them back, they were rather difficult to read. I had put too much information on them. But the most egregious error was to cede control over the link I had given. I had put on there a link to my book listings on Amazon. There, someone might want to buy the books, or might not, but they would have no way of interacting with me beyond that point. I look at the business cards as a major failed opportunity to build a brand. I should have had a website ready. Next year will be better.
And yes, I think there will be a next year. I plan on signing up for a booth for ConnectiCon 2017 as soon as they are available, hopefully getting one with a bit more traffic. I’m going to go with better cards; probably bookmarks, instead. I hope to see some people returning and also meet some new people then.
Hope to see you there!