Conventions Part 1: Mental Prep and Booth Etiquette

The-Light-Side-of-the-Moon-Final I’ve had a request for my links on these posts I wrote back in 2012, but when reading them, I decided  to do an updated version series. I do A LOT of conventions–anywhere from 12 – 20 a year. I’ve done large cons such as WorldCon, Comic Con International, ECCC, On the smaller side, I’ve done Jet City Comic Show and Rusty Con. Over the course of the next few weeks, I’ll talk about running a booth, being on/moderating panels and other topics that I hope folks find useful.

Part 1 will go over mental preparation of being a Dealer/Exhibitor. Next week, I will write out how to pack for as a Dealer/Exhibitor. Part 3 will focus on participating in and moderating panels. Part 4 will focus on being a good guest of the convention. While there is some overlap, I feel the different parts all have different rules.

Here I am at 2015 Jet City Comic Show
Here I am at 2015 Jet City Comic Show

Part 1:

First of all, until you have actually exhibited at a convention, you do not understand the stress factor. There is a major difference between attending a con and exhibiting at one. You are probably nervous, excited.  You may have a variety of stomach upset.  I do. It’s natural. But first things first….

Step 1: Fill out the form, pay the fee, and see if you get in.  

This happens six months to a year in advance. At major shows, you might get waitlisted, they might have a full list of exhibitors going in to it. So plan to do a variety of events in a year. Don’t plan your whole year around one event.

Step 2:  Prepare a basic PITCH for each title.

Some people complain that having a pitch means  I am selling. You are correct. I am selling my books. There is no purpose to spend anywhere from $100 up to $800 on a convention booth, if I’m not selling my books. However I consider the pitch a basic tool of informing the customer what the book is about. And it helps me because I know within fifteen seconds if they are interested in hearing more or not.

Right now, the first thing out of my mouth is something like, “So I write comics and realistic sci-fi, what would you like to hear about?” OR “This is the adult side of the table, this is the All Ages Side, what would you like to hear about?”

Notice, I’m letting the customer tell me what they want. If they say nothing and walk, then I didn’t waste anyone’s time.

Then I start pitching. My pitch for Other Systems and The Light Side of the Moon goes like this:

Set 1000 years in the future, we have discovered planetary colonization is extremely difficult. Our colony on planet Kipos needs more people. The Kiposians head back to Earth to get some. However they are shocked at the state of the homeworld and to protect their new paradise start passing horrible laws. Other Systems follows an Earthling to a promised utopia where she ends up being enslaved… (Normally the person knows the rest, and they’ll say something like: Utopians  are never real.)

If they continue to show interest: I say, “The Light Side of the Moon is the story of those who stayed behind. Inspired by Kipos, they restart Earth’s space program. The book follows a girl who follows rumors of good jobs to the moon. She ends up finding a prison colony.”

Now I’ll let them lead me. Do they want to know more? Sometimes I talk about the main characters. Do they want to read the back cover copy? If so I let them. Know the price? Do they want to shout at me for writing a book with violence. Do they want to tell me that I suck? Or that I am great?

Well, it all happens…And this leads me to step 3.

Step 3: Prep for soul-crushing and uplifting comments.

Prepare for positive and negative comments.  I will never understand why anyone who has no interest in what I am doing approaches my booth, but they do.

True Story: More than one snotty jerk has called my comic,  Famine Lands completely redundant and derivative, because it is about elves. They haven’t read it. They don’t know. It sucks when I have to hear why my artwork is all wrong or I am no talent hack–but that’s part of the gig. When someone says something rude, have a few polite comments ready.

My favorite reply: “Well, art is subjective, perhaps you might enjoy Wayfarer’s Moon. They do a fantasy comic which has highly detailed realistic artwork. Almost a European Style”

Pick out another book/comic that the jerk might like. Usually I try to sell something one of my friends created. After all, this person is obviously not going to buy from me, but if  I can help a friend get a sale, I will.

Also and most important: it gets the jerk away from your table.

On the bright side, prepare for people to love your work. Some of those folks can’t afford it, but will give you a nice complement anyway. Tell them to request it from the library. Some will probably purchase your work. When people give you a compliment learn to look them in the eyes and say, “Thank you, I really appreciate that.”

Prepare for some fans to buy everything you write. I know I have superfans and yet I’m still surprised that they follow my work.

Step 4: Find Help

At most cons, you get 1-4 free badges for the con. Friends and family often assume that you get as many as you want.  Be firm and clear with people. You can not just bring in random people. It gets expensive really fast.

This is a retail job. You have to shove your shy author part of you deep down into your chest and lock them into a tiny jail and get ready to engage with people.  And you want your minion to do that too. So choose your minion wisely.

I tend to take my pals with retail experience or aspiring authors who want the experience. These are the people who understand if I send them out for coffee, they need to bring back a receipt, because I’m a f****** business.

Step 5: Create some booth rules

Your booth minions might think you are over the top by having booth rules. More than one of my friends backed out once they realized I looked at this as work. However I also have had plenty of people who were happy that I laid down a few ground rules.

  • No Swearing.
  • No Complaining.
  • Always try to make eye contact and smile with the customers. Shake hands if appropriate.
  • Learn the basic pitch for each book and my basic bio. When someone asks a question outside of basic info, they reply, “I don’t know, let me get Elizabeth.”
  • Rules For the Author: Be nice to your minion. The ones that work hard are worth their weight in gold. I PAY for breakfast, lunch, coffee. I make cookies and bring lots of fruit to munch on. I also tell them to enjoy the convention and attend some panels that interest them.

Step 6: Make a realistic sales goal.

People have different equations to come up with a good sales goal. Here is a really basic one: The cost of the con (including travel expenses) X days the sales floor is open = sales goal. Hopefully your inventory is priced fairly enough to sell, but high enough for you to turn a profit, by using a basic formula for sales goal.

Another formula is 5% of estimated attendance X the average cost of your product line.

While I have a sales goal, generally  I also try to look at it also as a marketing vehicle. In 2012, I handed out sample chapters of Other Systems. I need to hand out to prospective readers–not just every random passing stranger. While I hoped this would lead to sales, I found it actually led to people remembering the book at other conventions, which led to sales. Sometimes it’s about the long game.

Step 7: Prep for on the spot interviews with bloggers

More than once, I got an interview specifically I said yes and I am ready now. Have some stock answers about the kinds of writing/artwork you do. Inspirations. Basic bio. Practice with a mirror or with a webcam.


Next week, I’ll discuss what to pack for a weekend convention…

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November 2, 2015

Conventions Part 2: Dealer/Exhibitor Necessities

November 2, 2015

3 Thoughts on Conventions Part 1: Mental Prep and Booth Etiquette

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