My last of 3 shows in 30 days, complete! Now I can relax….sort of! More like, now I have a month to catch up on all the client work I’ve been juggling, plus work on my next book (Darkness In Her Reach). I finally feel like I’m returning to some kind of (relative) normal. Is this what May is going to be like for me, forever?
I’ve been on the waitlist for Anime North for a year and a half and I was offered a table in the merchandise section a couple of months before the convention. Now, I’d much prefer to be in artist alley, but I took the expensive booth just to get my foot in the door. I hadn’t done a Toronto show yet, and I’d like to do more Ontario shows in general, just to continue spreading the brand across the country. I’ve done well in Calgary, I’ve done well in Nova Scotia (where I’m from) and now I need to bulk up Central Canada.
But May was a crazy month. Since late March, I’ve been working non-stop, including most weekends, juggling all my client work and my Faery Ink Press work too: getting The Emerald Cloth ready for release and doing three big shows in a month with only a week and a half of “rest” (aka, work) in between, PLUS getting a cold—my body can only take so much!
This is the life I chose, though. So I worked, worked, worked, and hopped on a plane to Toronto, a place I haven’t been in eight years, since I graduated Humber College and started my publishing career.
What I imagined and what the show ended up being were two very different experiences. With all the regulations and the rules, I was expecting an experience closer to my craft shows: hands-on staff, fire marshals running around, friendly creative entrepreneurs. Instead, it was closer to my larger comic con experiences (get in, set up, get that show on the road). It was also the VERY FIRST TIME I was asked to verify my identity upon check-in. So…good on you, Anime North.
I was fortunate enough to have HELP for this convention! I rolled up to the building in style with my friend Brianne and her partner, Jake. YAY. There were no table numbers on anything, nor did I receive a map, so I had to ask exactly where my spot was. Set up, otherwise, was painless and took far less time than I expected.
Because I was in the dealer’s area, I had a 10×10 space with pipe and drape. And a table that had NO space on either side to enter or exit. So, like in Edmonton, I had to CRAWL beneath my table to get in and out. I basically only brought dresses with me to this convention, so that was also fun.
Nothing new here! Basically just copying what I’ve done for the past few cons.
I’ve seen people sharing my links around in response to those looking for unique ways to display their products! I will say, I’ve had this nesting wooden box set for a year now, and it’s taken quite a beating. The new shelving set my sister made has different paint that doesn’t scrape as easily, but still, you put wood in a suitcase and give it a tumble, and it will eventually break. The good thing about it is it’s relatively durable, in that it can hold the weight of my books, and they’re lightweight—when they’re empty, I can lift them easily. Remember that I put all of this in my suitcase!
We’ll be rolling out a smaller set of boxes for the next few conventions, which I think is better for book display.
I exceeded my minimum target for the con, though I was hoping to sell more! As I predicted, most of my sales were for single first books. The Violet Fox and Stars In Her Eyes were nearly neck-and-neck, but The Violet Fox beat out Stars In Her Eyes this time—in fact, it sold out! Fortunately it was within the last few hours, but still, I probably could have brought 10 more and sold them all. I even sold far more Violet Fox bundle sets. I expected more sales of the Sparkstone Saga, just for the artwork, which was admired by many, but I think the fantasy just beats out the science fiction with this crowd. The Violet Fox is really selling well, I need to remember to always bring way more than I expect so that I stop selling out!
Also, FYI, apparently DreamPayments is shutting down effective early July – that’s the news that’s been flying around the Facebook groups, in any case. Very glad I didn’t jump ship from Moneris a year ago!
“I’m out of money”
A familiar chorus that I’ve heard before—mostly, from Otafest. I haven’t done enough anime shows to know if this is a theme specific to anime, but so far, it seems that way. I had a woman at the end of the day who really wanted a copy of The Violet Fox but told me apologetically three times that she’d already exceeded her budget. I was pretty cranky for reasons I’ll get into below, so all I said was, “Okay.” My usual quip is, “I take credit and debit.” But I was really tired and very “over” anyone’s excuses. Either they want it then or they don’t. People give excuses to alleviate social anxiety, but I wasn’t interested in saying “That’s okay” a thousand times over to assuage guilt.
I’m usually pretty lucky with neighbours. They’re either quiet, or we become friendly with each other. And you have to in this business—you’re about to spend three or four days, sometimes 12 hours a day, with them.
After I set up, I noticed my neighbour had waifu pillowcases hanging like a backdrop behind cartons of comics. The chest areas were covered with pieces of paper. I thought, “Okay, interesting, I kind of wish that wasn’t there, but my display is pretty great and that’s all that matters.”
It wasn’t until later that I realized he didn’t just have waifu pillowcases, but erotic comics and collections, organized in white cartons—and that that was his business.
Hmm, I thought. Everything is covered, and it IS an anime show—you wouldn’t see this at a Fan Expo convention, at least not so blatantly advertised—so it shouldn’t be a problem. Sellers with adult content have a lot of rules to follow, and it seemed from our initial conversation that he was following them. After all, people who buy erotic content are generally decisive. They go there, they pick out what they want, they complete the transaction, and then they leave—usually discreetly.
During my conversation with the seller, a direct middle-aged man, he said, “We’re pretty loud. If we’re too loud, just tell us and we’ll quiet down.”
In my mind, I was thinking, we all have to talk loud just to be heard over the din, but I politely said sure, no problem.
Then the con started—and I began to hear what he meant by loud. He started carnival barking, “Step right up, get your smut!” and “We have hentai, we have yaori!” and
“Ladies, you need some men in your life!” (yeah…..that was unfortunately one of his lines) and various other things. After about five minutes of this, I looked at him and said, “Yes, that’s pretty loud.”
“I warned you,” he said, shrugging. “We have to sell.”
“Do you know what I sell?” I said, pointing to my banner that clearly read, “Young Adult Fiction Publisher.”
“Uh…romance?” he guessed.
“It’s teen fiction,” I said. “Young adult means teens. Adults buy it too, they have the buying power, but there’s going to be kids here.”
He got the idea and quieted it down after that. There was always a crowd around his table—no carnival barking necessary to sell what he’s peddling! And to be fair, whenever the teens from my table started eying his wares, he told them they needed ID and chased them away.
He also said that he would help me move if I didn’t want to be next to him. There was a vacant spot across from me, inviting me to switch. I considered it thoughtfully as I made my sales on Friday.
Ultimately though? It didn’t matter. I sold exactly what I expected on Friday—maybe even a little more—and so I decided I wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of moving. My display was attractive enough. His waifu pillow cases might draw the eye and earn some giggles, but the attendees were genuinely interested in my wares too. I was in a good spot and I wouldn’t give it up.
Saturday went fine. My sales were strong (even though I wanted to sell more Sparkstone Sagas!) and I got along with the neighbours. Things were looking up. I could do this.
On Sunday though, the energy changed. No matter how much caffeine I drank, it only fogged my brain and filled my bladder. It’s not an exaggeration to say that my soul was tired. Doing these shows takes tremendous energy—energy I have in abundance. But this weekend, whether it was because of the number of shows I’ve done in the last month, or the constant sexualisation of women for capitalistic consumption, or all the client work I have to do, or all of the above, I felt defeated.
At some point, the neighbour struck up a conversation with me—he invited his customers to haggle with him, which was part of his sales strategy that I was admiring.
“Sometimes you have to challenge them a little,” he said to me.
I don’t disagree with the sentiment. “Sure,” I said.
He continued, and made a strange comparison: he likened being an aggressive salesman to dating a man who is confident and desirable versus dating a man who begs all the time and is weak.
I didn’t think this conversation was appropriate. I really didn’t know what to say. After two days of straight stimuli bombardment, I was beyond tired. “They buy or they don’t,” is all I could think of.
“Yes, but,” he said, “you prefer the guy who challenges you a little, right?”
I mulled over this, because again I was struck dumb. What did he just say to me? Why did that make me feel so weird? Only a few minutes later did my brain really decipher the words: by making an assumption about who I’m attracted to and trying to discuss it, he was crossing a professional boundary. This was not a conversation that I wanted to have. It made me feel sexualized and uncomfortable. Remember: my fellow table neighbours are my co-workers. If this were in an office space, that interaction would be inappropriate too. After all–my preferences are no one’s business, certainly not his.
Later, a cosplayer had an interaction with the neighbour—I witnessed many cringe-worthy interactions over the weekend—but this one in particular left a sour taste in the cosplayer’s mouth, for they walked away, muttering under their breath, “I would never buy my porn from that [bleeping] misogynist anyway.”
And then I was like: Holy mackerel. You are totally right. He has been inappropriate to me, to a lot of people, all weekend, and I have put up with it to be “nice” at the cost of my well-being. And you know what? Just because he was polite to me, just because we had some pleasant conversations, that doesn’t excuse his other behaviour. This isn’t the Sims. A relationship isn’t a point system in a thermometer, where good behaviour = increase and negative, inappropriate behaviour = decrease.
Things slowed down considerably towards the end. When it was time to pack up, I began my routine: piling books, readying them for the inventory process. The neighbour then struck up a conversation with me by asking, “Can you be arrested in Canada for calling someone by the wrong pronoun?”
It spiralled from there, everyone. It went from a discussion about pronouns to, well, about where you would expect, with him saying such gems as, “Well if that’s true, then I can say I’m six-five and Chinese!” and “Well looking like you do right now, of course I’m going to assume you’re a woman!”
I was really upset. All I wanted to do was leave. One thing was clear now that I couldn’t deny: he was inappropriate, and I had to report him.
He left, and I finished packing, and I steeled my nerve and marched to the vendor check-in table, which was within view of my table. I wasn’t even sure what to say when I went over there. Am I going to sound dumb? What am I complaining about exactly? Is me feeling uncomfortable “enough” to complain about?
It was enough, though. My feelings matter, because I am a human being, and that in itself has inherent value.
Despite my trepidation, the words came to me as I spoke to the staff there—one of them was a woman who placed the vendors. As soon as she said, “I completely understand. I’ve been dealing with men speaking over me all weekend,” I felt so much better. Granted, there was “nothing she could do” because the convention was over and he was gone, and “had I come earlier, maybe something could have been done” (what though? I’m not going to risk his anger when I’m in the middle of doing my job and potentially lose my own nerve), except “ensure I’m not next to him next time”—I couldn’t help but think, what about the NEXT person who finds him distasteful? Why are we dealing with band-aid solutions instead of more decisive surgery?
Speaking up about it did soothe my frustration, but writing about it again has me angry. Even waiting a week and coming back to this does nothing to ease the wound. Even a MONTH later, writing THIS sentence, editing this post, my stomach is in knots. Sam and I recorded a Calgary Expo Post Mortem a month ago and I’ve finally released it for the podcast, and going back through it, I even hear stories from my own mouth about how I was treated that make me cringe.
Since I have decided to chronicle my experiences as a creative entrepreneur selling her own works in this environment, I guess it’s inevitable that I’d end up writing an account of harassment and bigotry. But just because something is inevitable, doesn’t mean it’s ignorable. Writing about negative or traumatic experiences is tough because I didn’t want to be perceived as using them to sell books. But I’ve also come to realize that NOT writing about them is obscuring the full truth of my experience. This business of making things and handselling them is HARD, everyone. Sometimes I feel like an eroded island as ships pass in the night. This is not the first time I’ve had to deal with harassment – last year at Calgary Expo, I had to deal with an even worse harassment incident that I recently spoke about on the podcast. I decided to write about this one because it’s the first time I’ve had a bad neighbour experience on this level, but also as a reminder to my future self: This is your workplace, your feelings have value, and therefore it is okay to speak up if you feel uncomfortable.
I was very lucky to be able to stay with my friend Brianne and her partner, Jake!
They were incredibly hospitable—Brianne even made me LUNCHES! I don’t think I’ve ever eaten as much as I did in Toronto. I’m very used to foraging for food, even at home, eating a little when I feel hungry, but I enjoyed so much good food when I was in Toronto! I was ready to hibernate afterward.
Also, check out this 10pm ice cream – peanut butter cups in vanilla and chocolate ice cream sprinkled with Reece’s Pieces and dark chocolate!! Now, normally I try to avoid eating after 8 or 9pm because of my weird digestion, but I could not pass up this ice cream opportunity.
The day after the convention, we strolled around downtown Toronto, went to many craft stores and even the Harry Potter store! It was nice to talk business and creativity with Brianne—she’s seriously talented, everyone. Click through and look at her paintings. And yes – those are her PAINTINGS.
Will I Go Back?
Yes, I think so. I exceeded my Ottawa numbers (just barely), though I paid for an expensive spot just for the privilege of attending (and being harassed). So next year I might see about getting a much cheaper (and more appropriate) spot. What I love about anime shows is the devoted fan base—I didn’t get to do Otafest this year, yet I had SO MANY people who’d seen me at Otafest come up to me at Calgary Expo and buy.
Time to rest up and prepare for my very first show in Montreal!