Look at our power stances! IT’S OUR SECRET TO SELLING A ZILLION COPIES OF EVERYTHING. Photo taken by Laksa Media.
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This is the biggest con of the year, and I made the most out of it! It was a strong start to 2016 and my many, many events. My location was pretty great; excellent compared to last year. I was in the BMO, not the Big Four, and it made a huge difference on my sales. I was close to an entrance, in the row across from the guest artists. It’s a double-edged sword being across from the guest artists/media, since sometimes they have little to sell, or they’re not always there. I was a little worried on Thursday because some of them hadn’t shown up to populate their tables. Fortunately this did NOT impact sales at all! Most of them had attractive, colourful displays, especially by Friday. I bought the economy/small press table, which came with a draping–this, I think, is key to increasing presence.
Upping My Game
Knowing that I would be in a higher-trafficked area and competing with larger, overwhelming displays, I brought everything to the table for this year’s Calgary Expo.
New horizontal banner? Check. We had to put the grommets in ourselves because I was dumb and didn’t order the banner WITH them. Turns out, the banner was slightly too long for the space and drooped a bit. I had to fix it with clips throughout the con. But overall, it was extremely effective, and I got a lot of compliments. It was also funny to watch people walk by and whisper “Faery Ink Press…” as they read it, like they were doing a quiet incantation. I only set up my tall banner the last day, because there wasn’t a lot of room until Sunday when our left-side neighbour vacated his space (more below).
Display items like flowers (from Michael’s), the purple chest (Value Village find!), and the mask (Kate’s) to communicate what I’m about? Check! Everyone loved the mask. I may have to start selling masks, from the number of people who touched it and asked about it.
Brand new tablecloths? CHECK CHECK! They arrived just in time. They are exactly the colour I wanted, and I got them from Amazon.com. Bye-bye raggity purple sparkly fabric!
Elevating my display to eye-level, so that my covers can do the heavy-lifting? CHECK CHECK CHECK. Everyone loves The Violet Fox and The Silver Spear covers, so I ensured they were extremely visible to the public to reel in reluctant customers.
Better signage? Check. I created “YOUNG ADULT SCIENCE FICTION” and “YOUNG ADULT FANTASY” sheets with the cover art and pull quotes from reviews on Amazon and Goodreads so potential customers could see that actual people have read and enjoyed the work. I could’ve had better display for my buttons, but people tended to notice them anyway.
We also had candy to entice people to visit; mostly we got sneaky young children (too young to probably enjoy my stuff) taking some when they thought I wasn’t looking. By the Saturday, it was hungry con-goers who just needed a sugar boast to make it through. I don’t think having the candy necessarily boosted interest in my stuff, nor did it really afford the opportunity to open a conversation. I suppose it did keep young children busy when I was pitching to the YA-interested parents, so I may continue to do have something sweet on the table.
Everything was on point. I’ve talked before about how my display is evolving from an author display to a publisher display, and I was definitely in the publisher camp this time around. That’s GOOD – that’s how I’m branding myself. I am Faery Ink Press, but Faery Ink Press is also something separate from me; it’s the immortal part of me that will still be here when I’m gone.
Things I can still improve upon: I think I need more book-specific bookmarks and take-aways, so that people have a clear representation of a book that they can get in the future. At this point, I need to think seriously about publishing a story with faeries in it, because I had a lot of questions about that. My potential serial, tentatively called DARKEST FAE, will probably be next on the list besides The Violet Fox Series and the Sparkstone Saga. I also had a couple of people ask about audiobooks, which I currently don’t have. I think I’m a little ways off to justifying the cost of producing them (I think I’d want to just hire someone instead of revenue-sharing to ensure quality and have more control over the finished product). I also need better book stands/shelving (and more of them). Lastly, I think I’ll consider getting a larger space for next year (especially if I share with Kate) to maximize my display and presence.
All of my work and preparation paid off; I had my best con EVER, purely from a financial standpoint. I sold a lot, and made more money than I was expecting. I’m glad I moved from the Big Four building into the BMO. Thursday was surprisingly busy; I broke even on the first day! I think that gave everyone in our row high expectations for the rest of the weekend. Everyone seemed to be expecting a larger Saturday and Sunday, sales-wise, but we didn’t see that weekend “bump” that’s common at cons (most people attend on the weekend and drop most of their money then). Part of the reason for the lack of surge in sales could be the economy; Calgary is not doing so hot right now. Attendance was only up slightly from last year (103,000 from 102,000, if I’m remembering correctly).
On Thursday, I had a 5 eBooks for $10 promo, which went over really well. Even the regular con price (5 for $15) attracted a lot of people – it’s an opportunity to try everything without breaking the bank. I also knocked down the price of The Violet Fox and The Silver Spear for the day. I think I’ll continue to do that for subsequent cons.
Overall, I think my sales technique was vastly different from previous cons. Maybe it was the confidence from my display, or the amount of coffee I drank, but gathering the courage and the energy was surprisingly easy. Once I had caught their attention and interest, offering them a copy to interact with worked 90% of the time. Once again, The Violet Fox is a winner here because of the unique binding. It’s the most expensive product (singular) on the table yet it sells the most purely because of the quality of the production. Also I get very animated when I’m talking about it, and I’ve got that pitch down. That could be it too.
The Violet Fox and The Silver Spear pairing sold lots, and it’s a very good price point for me and the customer. The lil eBook bundle, even at full price, did very well for me too. People continue to buy the bundle and not individual eBooks.
People paying with credit cards made up 12% of my total sales, so about the same as Hal-Con 2015. Adam Dreece, who was next to me, managed to get a debit machine from TD Bank – it has a ~$15 monthly cost and it looks like a really old calculator, haha! I only lost $25 in sales because I didn’t take debit, so I’m still on the fence about getting a machine. I am doing quite a few cons this year, so that’s good to know that there’s a debit solution for Canadians that doesn’t break the bank for when I’m ready to take it on.
Many people said they’d find my book in bookstores: I told them where they could find it. I usually put little stock in follow-through, but I was more vigilant this time with making sure that people took my card or my bookmark. Because you never know!
It’s always awesome having people come up to you out of the blue and ask, “When is the third book coming out?” I had quite a bit of that for the Sparkstone Saga. Hunger In Her Bones doesn’t come out until later this year – date currently unknown, late summer maybe – hopefully before September. I loved hearing that people adored my little science fiction series. Even though The Violet Fox gets the most love sales-wise, there’s a large chunk of my heart in Stars In Her Eyes and Dreams In Her Head. At its core, it’s about being away from home, standing strong, finding common ground with the people around you, and losing and re-finding hope in the face of fear. Also surprisingly were the people who told me they loved Within. It’s a weird little book too that’s hard to categorize sometimes, and probably doesn’t represent my writing style now (2011 is a long time ago!) but hey, cool if you enjoy it!
Cons are Exhausting
Face-blindness kicked in pretty early on in the four-day run. It’s like part of my brain said, “Nope, too many people to process. BYE!” If you talked to me, said you were interested in buying but had to think about it, and then came back, it’s possible that I would not have realized I had talked to you earlier. Even trying to remember faces by particular characteristics (“Person with the short brown hair and glasses”) was impossible, because it seemed like at least a third of the people I talked to fit that description. Only if people said, “I’m back!” would give me a cue to NOT go into my pitch. I’d get this sometimes when I worked at Alexander Keith’s–because hundreds of people would go on that tour every day, I’d accidentally end up pitching the tour to people who I LITERALLY just sang at five minutes ago.
But Calgary Expo saw 100,000 people over four days. There were times when I’d even approach the neighbouring table persons as they walked by, as if I hadn’t seen them before. I don’t know whether this is just me and my brain having a low tolerance to face differentiation (I am already terrible at telling actors apart if they have similar hair, body weight, and roles in various TV shows/movies) or if there is scientific basis for your brain “switching off” in the face of overwhelming stimuli (seems plausible?). I’m just so in the zone at cons, that if I see someone who I KNOW but don’t see on a regular basis, I will blank on your face, name, and everything else about you until you tell me who you are. I even did this to Lizzy at Hal-Con last year, a FRIEND who I WENT TO SCHOOL WITH AND HAVE KNOWN FOR 10+ YEARS. Sorry!!
As for physical exhaustion, this con took the cake. I stood for 99% of the time for four days. Kate and I got smart and had a yoga mat, which helped A LOT, but because of the high traffic, and the height of my display, sitting down and being seen wasn’t really plausible. I’d come home sore and ready for bed…
…except that my brain wouldn’t let me sleep. My mind would be reeling, thinking of new selling strategies, thinking of ways to improve my display, thinking of what books to publish next, thinking of how I can improve my website further and oh yes, do I need more bookmarks, more business cards, more take-away items? It’s just part of being a entrepreneurial author, and I often harness this creative energy to get more done immediately after a con.
Young People, Again
Even more than last year, I noticed teens with their parents attending the Expo. Some even were exploring on their own. Man is it ever getting harder to tell what age people are, though that could be the aforementioned face-blindness. I had a lot of younger teens asking the parents to buy my books. Some had their own money, and spent it gladly at my table. I even had some parents buying for their absent children, physical or eBook – because some younger teens prefer the eBooks, and read them on tablets. Good to know!
Crash & Burn – The Queer Space Opera
My assistant/friend Kate has been a huge help to me and this year, she and her friend Finn have a brand new comic, Crash and Burn. There’s new pages on Fridays, posted for free online, but they had print copies of the first two issues done for the various cons this year. Kate asked if she could have copies on the table to sell, and I agreed. Tables are expensive at Calgary Expo, and it’s difficult to get into when you’re first starting (it took me two years of applying/being on the wait list).
All reactions fell into one of two categories:
1. “Queer Space Opera? SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY!”
2. “Space opera? What does that mean? Queer? I am confused but tell me more!”
To be clear, Crash and Burn isn’t about the LGBTQ experience, all the characters/alien races just happen to fall into one or more of those categories and they’re trying to survive being stranded on a planet after crash-landing. You can read it for free online!
Having it on my table made me doubly aware of how I interact and gender people. Lately I’ve become more aware of my language when addressing and interacting with the public, and I know that I’m still learning a lot when it comes to LGBTQ issues. One major change is how I explain who my books are for. I used to lean towards the “my books have young female protagonists, so yes, girls would probably enjoy them more” camp. But now I’m realizing that my books aren’t “for” girls–they’re for people. Your gender doesn’t make you like a certain story more than another. It’s the experiences of the protagonist and the themes of the story that speak to the individual.
The comic was on the table for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Finn came and helped me out and sold on Saturday, and it was nice to get to know them. They’re the illustrator. We bonded over our mutual love of Mass Effect and especially Garrus! On Sunday, the table to the left of us had to vacate due to a family emergency, so Kate moved the Crash and Burn stuff over to fill part of that table since the Expo staff didn’t want an empty table showing. Kate continued to sell fairly well, and Finn showed up again for support and to sign copies. At the end of the day, apparently three young persons approached the table, extremely emotional, because they had finally found a comic that represented them.
When we were cleaning up, Kate herself was almost in tears. It’s overwhelming when your sell your work to people for the first time, but to see her speak to and resonate with her community is pretty amazing. Also, did I mention that Crash and Burn is nominated for an Aurora Award? I’m really happy to have Kate on my team; she’s someone I can trust, and I’ve learned a lot from her these past few months. I’m hoping we can collaborate more in the future and it’s going to be fun watching this comic grow into something more powerful than itself.
Kirby Krackle (Kyle) came and chatted with me about indie publishing. His booth was almost directly across from mine. I hadn’t put two and two together and realized that he’s on Peter Chiykowski‘s Borken Telephone record that I backed on Kickstarter last year. Peter and I had our usual chats during the show and after. It’s nice to see his friendly face and hear about how his projects evolve.
Greg Chomichuk was there, being his old self, of course. It was good to hang out with him, however briefly, before exhaustion overtook me. I enjoy his energy. It’s nice to be around people who have similar brains to mine; who are always thinking about the next project. DO A BUSINESS GREG. We’ll have more time to scheme at WWC this August.
Thank you to all my Calgary writer/publisher friends who came and chatted with me throughout the show. It’s nice to see a friendly face to keep morale up.
Also I met Wolf Cop, and he licked my face! CHADWICK IS JEALOUS. Also, I’m like a grandma in this picture, clutching my purse so that the big bad wolf does not steal it. Also-also, I only noticed Peter in the background later being like WHAT.
Calgary Expo is a staple con for serious independent creators, especially if you live in the west. For as long as I’m able, I’ll go.
Check out my other con experiences here: