Con Artists: The Art of Working a Convention

Comic Con

Mornin’, Creeps.

It’s con season!

After the seemingly wild success my friends had at conventions this past weekend (sadly, none of which I attended), there has been some discussion about how to make the most of a convention. In fact, my friend and publisher, Nicole Kurtz from Mocha Memoirs Press, has asked on behalf of the press for advice on how best to work a convention. I’ve been doing it for years, so when asked to offer my advice, I thought I’d do it this way.

I should pause here and say this: Conventions are when I make the most money on books. I order lots of books, and I sell them. The months following cons are usually when I have my best ebook sales as well, because I go all out. I make sure that every person who walks past my table knows I’m there.

I’ve been to events where sales are easy, and I’ve also been to ones where the sales suck. I’ve seen author-centric events where everyone is happy, but I’ve also been to events where authors are less than second-class citizens. One event last year was a complete bust, I realized, when someone actually had the nerve to say something along the lines of “This ain’t a readin’ convention.” NOT GOOD.

The best piece of advice I can give authors attempting to build a con presence is this: No matter the event, don’t let you frustration show through (because yes, you will be frustrated!). Keep smiling, because your smile and your good humor are going to go a long way.

Now, for your reading pleasure, I offer up a list of twenty rules I live by for public appearances:

  1. Imaginarium LogoGet a table. It showcases your work and gives you a base of operations.
  2. (Alexandra Christian will agree with me on this one because we’ve talked about it repeatedly.) Bathe. Dress appropriately. You’re selling yourself as much as you’re selling your books. Oh, and if you plan on cosplaying, don’t just slap on a dress and walk out the door. Fix your hair and makeup too.
  3. Overstock your books. Have lots under the table, but only keep three or so of each title on top. What you don’t sell at this show, you can sell at the next, or offer signed from your blog/website.
  4. Go to Wal-Mart and buy the $.97 photo stands. Having your book standing up means people will see it. It also means they’re going to stop and look. Make sure you have extras. You’ll want to take one or two to panels with you to stand your books up on the table.
  5. Have swag. People respond well to free stuff. Bookmarks, postcards, book plates…these are easy and fairly inexpensive options. People also enjoy stickers. Higher-end swag such as pens, keychains, armbands, etc… those things are very nice, but you want to reserve those things for people who actually stop to talk to you. If you plan to put things in people’s hands, use the paper products. If they stop and talk, offer your deluxe stuff. If you’re the crafty type, make something to give away. I crochet beaded bookmarks. People love them. I stick one (attached to a business card) in every book I sell. Your goal is to give out every piece of paper swag you bring with you.
  6. Take one of each book and bunches of swag to panels. Let people look at the books. Give them the swag. Don’t be afraid to sell that book on the spot and tell others if they want it that you’ll gladly take them to your table where you have more. If you do pick up a friend, talk to that person on the way back to the table. Be charming and they might buy more than one book.
  7. Stand up. If you have a booth rather than a table, get out from behind the table. Don’t be afraid to engage people. Say “good morning” and “good afternoon”. Ask people how they’re enjoying themselves.
    ConCarolinas Logo
  8. Talk to people who stop. Ask their names. Ask them questions about what they like to read. Find out their favorite books and make recommendations on your books based on what they say. If you don’t have anything they might like, point them in the direction of another author who does. This is called networking, and chances are the reader is going to remember you because you were helpful and friendly.
  9. Don’t be afraid to talk about yourself and your accomplishments. If you’ve won awards for something, let people know it.
  10. Make sure you put a business card in that person’s hands before s/he leaves. Let people know how to find you and keep up with you.
  11. Have a booth babe. It can be your girlfriend, husband, neighbor, best friend, WHATEVER. Have someone there to keep your table open for business even if you aren’t there. Make sure this person can and will talk you up. It’s actually a lot of fun to have someone in the wings to tell people you’re the best thing since sliced Beatles while you aren’t there.
  12. Don’t overload yourself with panels. 8 panels should be sufficient- two on Friday, four on Saturday, and two on Sunday. That gives you time to eat and be at your table to sell books. You want to be accessible.
  13. Print up quick postcards with a book cover on one side and your panel schedule on the back. Give them out to everyone on Friday and Saturday. You want to run out of these first so people know where you are.
  14. Invest in a Square account. The card reader is free if you open the account and the rates are reasonable. You don’t have to turn people away just because they don’t have cash. Make a sign that declares your acceptance of credit cards.
  15. Embrace the QR codes. If you have eBooks, put QR codes with direct links to the books’ Amazon and B&N pages. Find out what your reader owns and give her the appropriate card. Make sure the cards have the cover, genre, title, blurb, and your web address. You also want to mark whether the code is for Amazon or B&N. I do them for iBookstore, Kobo, All Romance, and any other site that might have my books as well.MisSouthCon
  16. Make your display interesting. Bring a table cloth in case one isn’t provided. Have posters, banners, or other attention-getting media. If you’re selling eBooks, create a scrapbook of sorts that houses your book covers, your blurbs, your contact information, and buy links. Put QR codes on them in case people want to scan it and look them up. Make sure your table matches the theme of your writing. Dress up your set and create an atmosphere. Invest in literature stands. Stand your merchandise up so people can see it. It declutters your table and makes you look organized and professional.
  17. Be focused on the crowd. If you’re sitting behind the table (and I’ve learned this from experience) doing something else, people are going to blow right by you like you aren’t even there. It’s because THEY CAN’T SEE YOU. Con-goers are notoriously overwhelmed by the goings-on. It’s like a circus without the elephants.
  18. Keep a pen and a sharpie on your person at all times.
  19. Make sure your badge is where people can easily see it all the time. You want people to know you’re an author, not just another pretty face in the teeming mass of con slaves. Also, don’t be afraid to talk to other authors and make friends. They’re your competition, yes, but they’re also your allies. Us indie authors are all in this together.
  20. Attend a con as a person before you attend as an author. You need to understand convention energy from the front of the table so you know how to work it from the back.

AtomaCon Header

And just in case you’re interested, my next public appearance will be at ConCarolinas in Charlotte, NC this May. I’ll also be at Imaginarium in Louisville, KY and AtomaCon in Charleston, SC later in the year. Come out and see me in action!



Scream at Me!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s