I’ve been keeping an eye on FanQuest since its inception – and when Dan, the founder, invited me to be a guest, I accepted! Being a guest at this show meant my airfare was paid and I had a free table.
Winnipeg was having some sunny weather during my visit – in stark contrast to Calgary, which is in its rainy season. I went to the airport with my fashionable sun hat, tank top, and shorts. It was like I was going on vacation!
And going to Winnipeg meant I got to stay and hang out with BFF Sam! WOO! Thanks for PUTTIN ME UP SAM!
I went a day early to co-work and also to hang out with my other Winnipeg friends, Chadwick and Wendy and Sherry! I also chatted with Scott Henderson and Nyco Rudolph.
I feel so lucky to have so many creative friends.
FanQuest was held on the first floor of Red River College in downtown Winnipeg. Sam and I packed up the car with all my stuff and lugged it down to the college. Dan welcomed us at the door and showed us to my spot.
Since it’s downtown and not a convention centre, street parking was the only option, so that was a bit awkward. We also noticed a man, potentially a street person, try to talk his way into the event BEFORE it started – yikes. Fortunately there were many dollies available and we managed to find one for many suitcases and many boxes. Sam had loaded in the previous evening – otherwise we probably would have been overloaded with stuff.
This set up is similar to how I’ve been setting up the past couple of times this year. But since I had more room, I placed the banners on either side of the table to catch people walking down the corridor some distance away.
Convention layout is an art and a science, and as the show was in the college, it’s not a typical convention set up. I liked how the tables ran along the hallway and into the atrium, which was bright and sunny. I was in a different area, across from the coffee canteen and the gaming room.
In one sense, your location doesn’t really matter at this show, since those who were there would walk through the event multiple times, but I think the better spot is the sunnier room, and it would be interesting to see a layout where the tables lead you into a bigger room, where there would be games and more artist tables.
As I was brought in as a guest, I wasn’t at FanQuest to focus on sales. I didn’t have a minimum sales goal to meet and I didn’t have to worry about losing money. I knew that even if I didn’t make the cost of shipping my product out to Winnipeg, it wasn’t a loss, as I’m doing the Signatures Winnipeg show at Christmas – any stock that didn’t sell would just remain with Sam until December.
So I just showed up with my books and set up shop!
The traffic was lighter than I expected, but for the size of the con, I didn’t do too badly. People bought a smattering of my other titles, but Gear and Sea was the stand-out seller. People came to me to ask for it by name!
The second part of my coming was me participating in a book launch for Gear and Sea!
This isn’t my first McNally book launch/reading. I had one for The Violet Fox wayyy back in 2013.
I was excited for this one though, as I have more of an audience now, coupled with the launch of this collaboration with Gregory and Justin, who are based in Winnipeg.
They got up to talk about the inception of their Silent Guardians Universe, where Gear and Sea is set. Then they asked me to come up, and I said a few personal words, and did a reading from the first chapter. I feel like my Wingtorn experience has made me a better reader, and someone in the audience commented that they liked that I did different voices for all the characters! ^_^
Thank you to everyone who came!
Small Show Thoughts
Those who have been following my post-mortems know that I stopped doing small shows at the beginning of 2018. I replaced most of the smaller shows with larger ones – there’s always a bigger fish. This resulted in more sales for more or less the same effort.
Therefore, this was the first small show I’ve done since instituting this rule!
On one hand – the experience was relaxing. I wasn’t “on” for twelve hours, babmintoning with my potential customers and readers. There were stretches where there were no customers, where I could sit and strategize. I had nowhere else to be. I practiced my speech for my book launch, made notes about what I was going to read, and turned my thoughts to near-future and far-future strategies.
And yes, I had this comfort because I was brought there as a guest, for which I’m thankful.
These days, I welcome blocks of time where I have nothing scheduled except waiting. Waiting time is a time for reflection, strategizing, and daydreaming. So yes, while the days can be long at small shows with lower volume traffic, I am never at a loss for things to do, even if from the outside it looks like I’m doing nothing.
My third commitment, besides showing up with books and doing the book launch, was doing a panel with Gregory and Justin. We did an informal chat about being creators and the writing process – perhaps eleven people showed up? And I think years ago, I would have been nervous about this. All I could think on that day was, how lucky am I to sit for an hour with my friends and talk about what I love to do the most? How lucky am I to have friends who can actually speak for the full hour with me, on this subject, without feeling like we’re filling time? How lucky am I to have this knowledge so I can provide value to the people who were there, to speak directly to their fears and desires?
Doing this show reminded me that progress isn’t immediate. The show itself is in its third year. Attendance is fairly small but the staff is committed and friendly. I was regularly tended to and checked on. If they focus on growing the show and emphasize what makes FanQuest different from the rest of the shows out there – I think they have a chance. It’s like I’ve said before. You have to keep showing up with new stuff, better than before, and that’s how people take notice of you. This is true for the artists of all mediums reading this, and it’s true for conventions too.
Since the announcement of C4’s demise, hopes have been high that one existing show would rise to replace it. Is FanQuest up to the task?
I suspect that Informa or another company may take a stab at organizing a bigger show. If they don’t or they fail to get that support, perhaps in a few years fans will seek out other options, and perhaps FanQuest may benefit from that.
With any smaller iteration of a larger-scale thing, you should look to a small or medium-sized version, not the big versions, for direction and inspiration. So FanQuest might look to Hal-Con and Saskatoon Expo (~15K attendance each) for inspiration – not Fan Expo Canada or Calgary Expo. The danger of desperately wanting to grow and expand is that you spread yourself too thin and attract a smattering of people who aren’t really your ideal customer. You really have to ask yourself: why am I holding this event? Who do I want to attend? Families with children? Talented cosplayers? Gamers? Sci-fi fans? Robot enthusiasts? And sure, the answer might be “all of the above, duh Clare”…the answer is actually, Choose one, and others will follow naturally.
Case in point: my ideal potential customer is likely a mother of teens or pre-teens (or aunt/guardian to a pre-teen), who is VERY into YA fiction – and loves to fill her shelves with books, even if she never reads them. Does that mean she’s my only customer? NO! A lot of men buy my books – they are attracted by my covers and my stories too! Choose one person, build your brand to attract them, and you’ll attract others too.
With smaller events (and craft shows too), you have an opportunity to connect personally with the attendee (which I saw Dan do, on multiple occasions throughout the weekend). With FanQuest’s brand, it could easily forge an entirely new path – encouraging workshops and more hands-on experiences. Throughout the weekend there were spontaneous performances from dancers and geek choirs. That was kind of neat! Though I think that could be regulated a little, as a choir in front of your table isn’t exactly welcoming to a potential customer.
I think that FanQuest has all the makings to become a larger show – provided they commit to going deep on their target attendee and tending to their desires, attracting bigger talent that appeals to their target attendee, and integrating themselves into the Winnipeg geek/nerd/spec-fic community. That takes money and time.
The Glass Ceiling?
At one point during these many years of travelling and selling, I wondered where the ceiling was for conventions – do I have a limit to how much I can sell? This weekend, I realized, maybe the ceiling isn’t necessarily my sales.
The ceiling is the fishbowl I’m ramming my head against.
The more time you spend in a community, the more you learn its structure, and what everyone is ultimately striving for. In the artist alley community, the goal seems to be, for an artist (in the most traditional definition of the word) to make lots of money off their art – sometimes this is fan art, or fan art is a gateway to original art, or art is a gateway to developing books with your art in them. The other part of this overall goal is usually to get into bigger shows, catch the eye of larger companies that would hire you, and eventually, become a full time artist.
I’m in a unique position here – I’m not an artist, in the strict definition of the word. I don’t worry about prints versus books, I don’t have to worry about fan art versus original pieces. My customers come for me and my work, and that’s it. The reality is, conventions aren’t the only place to get my things out there, but I’ve made it a large part of my business because they allow me to easily access a portion of my audience.
What I’m getting at here is, I’m a fish in this fishbowl, but I could never figure its shape. I am also a content fish in the bowl because I have all of my fish friends and we’ve formed a travelling school. But now that I’ve swam around the bowl several times, now that I’m no longer a small fish, I have a sense of what my life cycle is and, well, what the endgame looks like for the big fish in this contained glass fishbowl of ours.
The “endgame” for a seasoned convention artist seems to be this:
- You are extremely good at knowing what your audience likes OR you have a specific audience that likes specific fandoms/art that you can cater to;
- You have a regular printer and have min/maxed your production;
- You are a regular at all the big shows;
- You have considerable financial success – perhaps this IS 100% your income;
- You have other, large companies approaching you with work and/or collaborations.
Now, all of this is fantastic.
But the reality of that is, you spend your weekends going to shows, lugging your product around the continent for your audience. That’s a HUGE time commitment, besides being a financial one. And if you stop? Well, there’s always someone willing to take your place.
If you don’t have that client work to fall back on, or online sales to make up for fewer or no conventions…you kind of become reliant on the convention lifestyle.
I’m not saying that conventions are bad – far from it, they are an amazing way to connect with your audience and you really can make money there, if you’re smart about it.
What I am saying is, yet again, that conventions aren’t the only way to success, and even if you feel they are, there is a ceiling and a maintenance cost. If you’re willing to stick it out and play the game, that’s great. But like anything else, it takes lots of time, and lots of investing to make this lifestyle – and yes, it’s a lifestyle – to make it worth it.
I contemplate this not to criticize, but to remind myself that there is a bigger vision I’m working toward – a bigger fish bowl. For me, the endgame isn’t “make tens of thousands of dollars at a show.” The endgame is, “Build something that will outlast you.”
Ultimately? Faery Ink Press has to, at some future point, run without me. To have it run without me, the business HAS to be scalable. If my business model is heavily reliant on conventions, then I am not scalable, not one bit.
The more I think about that deeper “why” – the more I return to my initial goal of turning Faery Ink Press into a traditional press, and the more I realize just how possible it is. How being an author is just great, and it’s what I’ve always wanted – but…besides having bigger contracts, more sales….you see, there’s a ceiling there too. And it doesn’t completely satisfy this deeper desire to make the biggest impact I can.
There are children’s book publishers who also do teen fiction, and larger publishers with teen imprints, and Can-lit publishers with spec-fic arms. But there are no independent teen speculative fiction publishers in Canada.
I could be that.
To me, it doesn’t seem like there’s a ceiling there. No glass bowls. Just…a lot of thick, rainy clouds, covering up a sparkly sky.
Will I Go Back?
Since I’d have to come in from Calgary, probably not. Given the expenses and the size of the show, I don’t think I’d make back my investment with the show as-is.
If I were local to Winnipeg? This is a good show to cut your teeth on. It’s only two days and the hours are reasonable. And remember – no matter how many people show up, you serve THEM – not the people who didn’t bother.
See you at my next show – Montreal Comiccon!!