Some humble advice for convention organizers...

Conventions!

For many indie authors, conventions are our lifeblood. Without selling our books at local comicons and other such events, we wouldn't be making enough money to keep producing books.

As an author and huge fan of conventions, I've been to tons of them. Some massive, some tiny, some new, some established, and everything in between. I've pretty much seen it all.

But one thing has been a constant of many conventions, especially the smaller ones, which makes little sense:

TOO MUCH PROGRAMMING

What do I mean? Too many panels, too many discussions, too many contests, movie screenings, gaming hours, celebrity meet & greets, etc.

But Stu, isn't that why many fans go to conventions? Why of course it is. The programming brings in fans from around the country. Especially the celebrity stuff.

So why limit it? Well, we don't need to cut it back much. But here are some of the complaints I've made and heard over the years of attending conventions:

  • Panels with large interest overlapping (common concern at big conventions)
  • Panels drawing 0 audience members because other panels take it all at the same time
  • People waiting in line for hours to get an autograph and missing programming
  • Vendors complaining about people always being consumed by programming and not making it to the vendor hall. This is a huge complaint.

A few conventions I have attended have also had poor floor plans. Hosting all of the panels / contests, etc in a room adjacent to the vendor hall means many people never even see the vendor hall. That's an issue.

How do we fix it? I have an idea I've tossed around to a few vendors and organizers over the years: make a vendor hour an event in the programming.

Make from 7pm - 8pm (or whenever, just not in the morning) a vendor hall hour. No programming, no contests, no dances (yes, some conventions have dances), no celebrity sessions, no screenings, nothing but vendor hall time for an hour. 

Vendors could offer promotions during that time, sales, free stuff with purchases, all that jazz. It gets people to enter the vendor hall, probably spend some money, and see things they might not otherwise see if their day is full of programming. It also lets people grab some dinner (depending on timing) which is never a bad thing.

Just some food for thought.

So you booked your first live event. Now what?

Marketing, Marketing, Marketing... Part 2!

Actually, let's back up a step. If you don't know where to look to find a place that will host you as an author, you (obviously) need to do that first. Is your book available on Barnes and Nobel? Call them, speak with a manager, and ask to do a signing. Offer them a cut of each book you sell. Offer to sell them store copies at a big discount. You could also get a table at a convention that specializes in your genre such as fantasy, sci-fi, horror, etc. Want to try something with a cheaper table cost than comicon? Find a local art festival and grab a vendor booth.

OK, now you have a live event booked. What do you need? You can check out the first Marketing, Marketing, Marketing... post here if you want to get an idea of what my personal setup usually looks like. Bring some sort of stand to vertically display your books. Bring promo materials like bookmarks, cards, etc. If you have a banner, set it up behind you but don't block it. Put it a little off to the side. Lastly, bring tons of books! You need to have at least 6 copies of each title sitting on the table at all times and another 30+ of each in a box under your chair. Never run out. Plus, having so many copies will motivate you to sell.

Dress professionally. If you're at comicon or a similar event, feel free to cosplay. If you're at a church book fair, leave the Cannibal Corpse shirt at home. Especially if you're young, you need to look like a pro.

So you're sitting at your booth and people are walking by... but no one is stopping to look at your books. Guess what? That's your fault. At one of the comicons I attended last year, there was a guy selling a really cool children's book. The event was very family oriented, so there were tons of little kids with their parents. I sold more horror titles than that guy sold children's books. He sat behind his booth, worked on his laptop, and never interacted with potential customers. That's a fine way to lose money, get discouraged, and fail.

I can't tell you how many people have said things like, "I just don't feel comfortable promoting myself." That's like saying, "I'm a really good wide receiver on the football team, but I'm terrified of catching the ball." Suck it up, put on your salesman hat, and start moving books!

The Pitch: you need to have a solid pitch down that conveys the atmosphere and general idea driving your book. No one wants to stand at your booth and listen to the entire plot of your novel. Get something concise and poignant that will drive a sale. It might take a few tries to nail it down, but once you do, it will sell books for you. The legendary bookseller Tony Acree has a wonderful pitch that I've heard several hundred times. When a potential customer shows interest in his series, he describes it like this: "The first line of the book is, 'It was 6pm when the devil walked into my office and had a seat.' The Hand of God is about bounty hunter Victor McCain. His only brother has sold his soul to the devil and he has 24 hours to find a certain girl before the brother goes south. It has lots of action, dark humor, and ends on somewhat of a cliffhanger. The Watchers is book 2 and you can find the rest of the series on Amazon and Barnes and Nobel."

That pitch is great. In 20 seconds, Tony conveys the atmosphere of the novel (it helps that the cover says supernatural thriller on it) and gives a brief overview of the plot themes. He lets the customer know that it is a series, that more books are already released, and that all of his stuff is available online as well. 

Want another example? Here's my pitch. When people come up and are interested in fantasy, I tell them something like this: "The Goblin Wars series is non-Tolkien fantasy from the perspective of goblins. I don't have elves in trees shooting bows or dwarves in mines with hammers. My races are goblins, humans, orcs, and minotaurs. The goblins are a hive-mind controlled by a single goblin queen until one of them is born free. He leaves his mountain home and adventure ensues. My books are $12 each or 2 for $20." Most people will ask more questions after my pitch and I try my best to answer them. For whatever reason, fantasy fans like to know a lot about the lore of a world before they buy the book. Personally, I like to give the price in the pitch since I hate asking people for prices myself.

So you have your pitch, but how do you get people to listen to it? When you're standing behind your booth (never sitting) and someone glances at your stuff, ask them a simple question: "Do you like to read?" If they shake their head, let them walk on. If they say yes, ask them what they read. If they respond with your genre, hand them a copy and dive into the pitch. If they say the classic 'everything', hand them a copy and dive into your pitch. If they tell you they like to read western cross-species bunny-themed erotica with a sci-fi twist, kindly inform them that you don't write that smut but you do write (insert genre here) if they're interested.

I'll leave you with one final bit of advice. I'm sure I've mentioned it somewhere else in the blog, but I'll say it again:

If your seat at a convention is warm, you might as well leave.

People want to look you in the eyes when they talk to you. Stand up, hand them a book to check out, and deliver your pitch. Oh, and watch those profits soar.

 

Want some help with your own pitch? Post it in the comments with a link to your book and I'll give my two cents.


Looking for your next favorite book? Click here.

Indy Wizard World ComiCon Recap

Indianapolis ComiCon this weekend was a blast! I loved getting to meet some awesome fans and hang out with cos players and celebrities alike.

Here are a few pictures from the event:

 

The booth. I shared space with  Tony Acree ,  Violet Patterson , and  C. Bryan Brown.

The booth. I shared space with Tony Acree, Violet Patterson, and C. Bryan Brown.

Awesome Pyro (TF2) cosplay

Awesome Pyro (TF2) cosplay

Na'vi is one of my favorite Legend of Zelda characters. Very rarely done as cosplay.

Na'vi is one of my favorite Legend of Zelda characters. Very rarely done as cosplay.

Incredidlbe combo.

Incredidlbe combo.

Very good zombie.

Very good zombie.


The best part of the entire event happened on Friday night. A few of us were hanging out in the hotel bar when David Del Rocco and Michael Rooker walked in! Rocco didn't come over or even acknowledge that we exit, but we bought Merle a drink and he gave us half an hour of his time. Getting to hang out and chat with Merle was a once in a lifetime experience. 


Want to see more cos play pictures? Click here!