During the last week of Septemter 2012, I had the pleasure of attending Scarefest as a dealer. My booth was proudly displayed on Celebrity Row and I got to spend the entire weekend staring and chatting with the likes of Nicholas Vince, Doug Bradly, Tony Todd, Denise Crosby, and much more. It was a fanboy’s dream come true — with benefits! The benefits being that I was there to sell my books.
Out of this experience I learned a great deal, and I have decided to share what I have drawn from Scarefest, so you too can make the most out your convention. So, if you think you might be attending some sort of convention to ply and plug your wares — read on. I believe what I have to say will help you out a great deal.
When I first arrived at Scarefest, I was a nervous wreck. I felt like I was way out of my league — setting up with convention pros and sitting across from celebrities. That feeling would very quickly dissipate and my eyes would open to the magical world that is the convention. Here is what I took away from that experience.
Bring more than you think you need: I’m not just talking product, I’m talking everything. Pens for autographs, cash for change, headshots for signing, and — of course — product. And as for product — if you have, say, a book series, bring double the amount of the first book in the series. What you could run into is that everyone scoops up the first book in your series and then you’re left with only the second, third, etc. If you don’t have a copy of the first book to sell, the likelihood of people buying next books in the series is low.
Be able to take credit cards: This was something I tossed back and forth for a couple of weeks before I arrived. In the end, I would have sold quite a few more books had I been able to take credit cards. There are plenty of services that offer this (Intuit has one, Paypal has one) and the fees are generally quite low.
Visuals, visuals, visuals: At the BARE MINIMUM, you must have a nice color banner with your logo, your face, and your name on it. I opted for my name, logo, and cover art for my zombie series (as well as the address of my website and twitter account). This banner needs to draw attention FAST! Remember, you’re going to be competing with big names and shiny things. You have to be able to draw the eyes of the consumers to you immediately. Just your books on a table won’t do it.
if you’re at a convention like Scarefest — where you and your product are NOT the majority (there were three other vendors selling books), know that the majority of attendees are not there to buy books. Because of this, you have to find interesting ways to grab their attention. Next year, I plan on having promo videos for all of my books and play those promos on a loop on a television at my booth. People want immediacy and you will be competing against an ADHD nightmare. You need every advantage you can possibly have.
Draw a crowd: The more people you have at your booth, the more people you will have at your booth. I know that sounds crazy, but when people think something is popular, they’ll flock to it. Find a way to draw people to you — even if it means you perform arias related to your work, break dance, or whatever. Okay, the break dancing might not work — unless your book is a true urban story. When I had my booth babe and my wife with me behind the booth, more people stopped by. One person alone in a booth looks less inviting.
Careful layout: When you set up your booth, you must take the time to not only set it up professionally, but keep it looking professional. Always have plenty of books, neatly stacked and displayed and ready to be touched by consumers. Have tear sheets and business cards as well as any other related collateral. Do not leave food or trash on your table at any time. As well, make sure to display your books (or whatever) in a way such that they can be seen from across the isle. Don’t just stack ’em flat!
Be available: Always be at your booth. If you can’t be at your booth, have someone sitting there to tell people you will return. You don’t want to leave your booth unmanned for a moment. And do NOT just sit there. Stand. When you sit you disappear — unless you are signing autographs.
Personalize it: Do NOT just sign your name on your books and do NOT charge for those autographs. The only people able to charge for autographs are celebrities. Sign the books for free. And make sure you ask the person their name so you know who to make it out to and put a fun quote that is related either to your interaction, or your book. Make sure the person buying the book knows you listened and remembered.
Be accessible: I spent the majority of my time at my booth standing and chatting with potential customers. Even if I knew they weren’t going to buy a book, I chatted. Say “hello”, be friendly, be the person at the convention everyone wants to chat with. Be friendly, outgoing, and always reaching out to others. Here’s a tip for this: Have a hook for your books. Let me give you an example. When someone was looking at any of my zombie books, I connected with them by saying “Have you ever wondered what it was like to become a zombie?” That got their attention and I could jump into the “sell”. Make them WANT to know more. Even if you don’t reach out and speak to passers bye — smile and nod. A pretty smile will catch their attention.
Freebies: You need something to give out. Bookmarks, tearsheets, themed lollipops, underpants… something. Have a little gifty for people passing by to grab or be handed. These little gifts are best served if they have your information. If you have tear sheets or business cards, make sure they are well designed and eye catching.
Represent your brand to the fans!: This one is difficult, because it is so multi-layered. First and foremost you must represent yourself as a writer (or whatever it is you are selling) in a way that ensures the fans you are a professional in your industry. Be prepared to answer questions and give (and take) advice to (and from) others in your field. Add to that, you most likely have a genre association. Because I work within the realm of horror, the crowd I play to is a darker crowd. I have to represent myself to them in such a way that I will be appealing. No one wants to buy zombie books from a guy in a business-class suit who knows more about stocks than publishing.
And your clothing will speak volumes to possible fans! Your fellow dealers and celebrities will help to dictate the flavor of dress. Next year, ima bringing spooky, smexy back to the writer clan!
Representing yourself to your fans doesn’t just mean how you dress — it’s how you relate to your fans. You need to know your work backwards and forwards, know your genre, know the language of your genre, and know those in your genre. Within the realm of horror, you best know how to talk about horror movies. And don’t even, for a second, pigeonhole yourself within the realm of books. Fans are going to want to talk to you about everything related to your genre. If you write thrillers, know about the hot programs on television. With that information at your ready, you can really engage fans in a discussion.
Also, I was given some bad advice. I was told not to take Shero, since that series doesn’t well represent horror. Big mistake. Based on the attendees (their attire and their attitude), Shero would have been a HUGE hit. Know the type of consumer that will attend your event and fit your booth line up accordingly.
Great Covers sell: This has never been more clear to me now. Time and time again people passed by, saw my shiny covers, and stopped to look. Of the four current books in the I Zombie series, My Zombie My and Lie Zombie Lie drew in the most people. They then found out it was a series, and turned to the first book. I hardly had to say a word about Screampark — the cover alone sold the book. It helped that Weasel the Clown (the clown that is in the book and on the cover) was there at the convention and people could see the connection. But above everything else — eye candy sells!
Booth babes: I know, I know — its appalling, but the truth of the matter is, booth babes draw attention. There was a booth next to me that no one had ever heard of (in the film industry). But they had a tall skinny model in PVC and leather and a bunch of muscle bound men and people flocked to their booth to get their pictures taken. I had an undead booth babe. She was AWESOME and curvy and dressed to the nines. Everyone wanted their picture with her which drew people in to me. Use it.
Interact: Because of the nature of Scarefest, there were a LOT of people in costume. Instead of waiting for them to come to me, I went to them. I was constantly telling people I loved their costume. People LOVE attention… give it to them. Best of all — they may not know you’re not a big name in the business… but on the off chance you are, they’ll be tickled pink you reached out. There was a young lady who fancied herself a Victorian Goth princess. On the second day of the con she was sporting a gorgeous black corseted dress and parasol. I wanted to draw her in and say something. I hesitated. By the third day I had lost all inhibitions and, as she was pushing her Victorian pram complete with two zombie babies inside along, I stopped her and complimented her on the dress and the pram. I took it even further and asked if I could put her in one of my upcoming books. She gleamed with pride and allowed me to take some pictures (so I had some detail recorded). She’ll remember that and remember me for it.
Network: The single most important thing that will come out of conventions is what? No, not book sales (not even close). The most important element of a convention is networking. Even though I wasn’t at a writing convention, I knew tons of possible marketing opportunities were there. And I worked them hard. I now have connections for promo video music, connections to celebrities, paranormal investigators want to market my work… all sorts of interesting opportunities have arrived. Why? Because I got creative and sought them out. Conventions are a mixed bag of awesome if you just open them up enough. On the last day of the convention, I really got brave and mentioned to one of the celebrities that my current WIP had a role perfect for them (should it be made into a movie). The celebrity told me to send it to him at which point he gave me his email address. Will I send it? Hell yeah I will!
Don’t fret sales: First and foremost — you can’t judge the success of a convention based on immediate sales. I had plenty of sales at the convention, but also had a lot of people say they would buy digital copies of the books. But even with good sales at the convention, I only came close to breaking even. I’ll give you numbers. I dropped one thousand dollars on paperback books (including shipping) for the convention. I made nearly nine hundred dollars in sales. So you add the missing one hundred dollars, the cost of the hotel, gas, and food, and you can see that I was short of breaking even. But when you think of the connections and the marketing I pulled off… the convention was a total success. Concern yourself more with furthering your brand than selling your books.
Think big: As I said earlier, at first I felt way out of my league. It wasn’t until I realized I was not only qualified, but could be seen as an equal to all of the others in booths that I became comfortable enough to really dig in deep and pimp my wares. If you think small, you’ll be small. If you think big… you get the idea. I thought big and wound up getting interviewed by two different radio shows, hobnobbed with celebrities, and found that people were talking about me as much as they were talking about anyone there.
Sell digitally: I am working on this. I am determined to either find or create a solid solution for getting digital sales at conventions. I will report back on this when I have more information. Until then, at least make sure you let those that are hesitant to drop full freight for a paperback know there are other, cheaper routes to enjoy your work.
Not all conventions are created equal. I was very lucky I happened upon one of the largest horror-themed conventions in the midwest. Will I go back? Hell yeah I will! Will I improve both my showing and my sales, based on what you’ve read here? Hell yeah I will! I cannot wait to attend another convention. Next time I plan on being the talk of Scarefest!