I’m joined by Alexis from Lunarian Press this week to give you some top tips for your first time doing a comic or book convention as a vendor! It can be an intimidating experience at first. But with the right setup, it can raise the profile of your book enormously.
Indie authors are always looking for ways to promote their books. Without the distribution and reach of the big five publishers, we have to learn to hustle. And let’s be honest, traditional authors have to hustle, too. Books, even when they’re beautifully written and edited, and have amazing cover designs, just don’t sell themselves.
I knew as soon as I decided to publish my first book, Sapience, that I’d love to get a table at a local book convention. I’d been to cons before, and there are always tons of science fiction/fantasy fans roaming about, enjoying the finely polished dice and the hilarious T-shirt slogans.
I’d loved being one of them. Certainly, an author with a good quality genre book could do well here. So my good friend and fellow author Sarah Mensinga and I decided to get a table in artists’ alley at Dallas’ Fan Expo 2019.
I also decided to get a table at ArlingCon 2019, the smaller comic con taking place a month later in Arlington, TX (Sarah couldn’t come to that one as she was out of town, but I did bring her books with me!). Having attended both cons now, here are some of the things I learned about selling books at a con.
1. Bring a Friend / Fellow Author to the Convention
If at all possible, get a table with a friend or fellow author. Book conventions are long, all day, intense affairs. When Sarah was with me at Fan Expo, we could each take breaks as needed and trust the other person to run things while we were gone. We both got to walk around the con a little, talk to other artists and writers, and take regular bathroom breaks.
When I went to Arlingcon by myself, all those things got much harder. I was lucky enough to have my husband stop by to bring me food and coffee, or otherwise I would have starved/suffered severe caffeine withdrawal. Having two or more people to man a table makes things so much easier. Also, you can split the costs and save money!
2. Bring Food & Coffee : Convention food is expensive
Con food is expensive and the lines are horrible. If you’re planning carefully and not say, bolting out of the house at the last minute, stop and pack a lunch/coffee drinks/snacks. Yes, I know they say “no outside food and drinks” but that’s for guests, not vendors and artists.
3. Have Some Way to Take Card
There are lots of people who bring cash to spend at a con, but then again, there are tons of people that don’t. At Arlingcon, over half of my sales were credit cards, and if I hadn’t had a reader I wouldn’t have been able to make them. The square reader we got was very easy to use with a little practice (I can swipe like a champ now!), and it made a huge difference in sales.
4. Pitch Like You Love It
I see lots of people working on pitches for events like #PitMad, or practicing pitches for agents at writing conferences. However, I wonder how many Indie authors have thought about coming up with a pitch for potential readers?
If you don’t have a simple, easy-to-remember pitch to give a customer about your book, you will definitely struggle. I actually sold more books at ArlingCon than I did on any one day of Fan Expo, and I think part of the difference was having a better pitch. I also noticed that other artists or authors would sit down at their tables, stare firmly at the carpet or a sketch pad, and generally ignore anyone who dared come up to their table.
Many of those people weren’t selling many books. I made an effort to have “open and welcoming” body language, smile, and if someone came to my table, gosh darn it I was going to talk about my books.
Did I sell a book every time I had a conversation with someone? No, but I introduced myself, got to know someone, and told them about my books. In marketing, there’s a truism that each customer needs about six contacts before they’ll buy something.
A pleasant conversation is a good starting point, and it can lead to both immediate sales and sales down the line if you’re kind, open, and friendly.
5. Cosplayers are your friends
I love cosplayers. I love the excitement and energy and creativity that goes into making a good cosplay. And at a con, cosplayers are your friends. They generally love having their pictures taken (I always ask politely to make sure), and you can post the pictures on your social media feed to generate publicity for your booth! It’s really a win-win situation for everyone, and it’s tons of fun. It also helps you make friends with people who can give you good word of mouth with the con crowd.
Should you do comic and book conventions?
I had a great time doing both Fan Expo and Arlingcon, and I’d happily do both events again. But if you’re just starting out and don’t want to spend a whole lot of money on a table, I’d start with a small, local con. My table at Arlingcon cost significantly less than our table at Fan Expo, and I made nearly as many sales there.
Like I said, some of that is that I’d refined my pitches, but I also think that smaller book conventions can have a more intimate, relaxed atmosphere that can make people more comfortable. They tend to slow down more, and are happy to talk to you, instead of rushing off to see a celebrity.
Stuff you need for your book convention table
So what do you need for a basic table set up? We got a tablecloth, some mini-easels to display books, a banner and a banner stand each, and some nice pens for signing.
Apart from printed copies of your books, that’s it. You could probably find fancier set ups on Pinterest, but for simplicity and ease of set up, our table worked great. You can print banners at most print shops or online, and we bought some cheap banner stands on Amazon that worked great.
Oh, and you also probably want some free promo things that you can hand out that have your book info, website, and social media on them–business cards, stickers, or bookmarks. We ordered a set of bookmarks that were very popular and gave people a chance to find our books online if they didn’t want to buy then.
The benefits of book conventions
Which brings me to another reason why I think more authors should do cons, especially small local ones. Remember that “six contacts” marketing truism I told you about? Sure, you can sign and sell books at a con, maybe even a lot of books. But even if you don’t sell that many, you can also dramatically raise your book’s profile.
Even people who don’t stop and talk to you could see your banner or your cover as they walk by. And even a brief glance like that might inspire them to click on your book if they see it on a website. Or maybe if they see you at the next con, they’ll feel more comfortable stopping by.
If you give them a good impression, and your book and your cover makes a good impression, that might be one of the best things you can do to encourage people to come back and buy. And perhaps those people will spread the word about how they met you at a con that one time and you talked to them, signed their books, and took a picture of their amazing cosplay! Those are the things that create not just customers, but fans. And maybe even friends.