Ho boy. What a weekend. What a WEEK! At least I am on the mend from my cold. Just as I had gotten used to Regina, I whisked myself away to the capital of our great country: Ottawa.
I have tons of cousins in Ottawa on both sides of the family!! From the Monday after Regina until after the Ottawa Comiccon, I stayed with relatives in the Ottawa suburbs. Thank you so much to my cousins Rita and Bruce and their daughters Kathleen and Jennifer! Rita baked me many tasty treats while I worked and enjoyed the city. Kathleen took me around downtown and showed me the sights. This was just after the flooding, and the river was HIGH! She also stayed with me on the harrowing day that was Friday (she is now the Faery Ink Press morale officer!). Jennifer helped me out on Saturday and Sunday and I was so pleased that she got to take in a bunch of panels and experience the con! On Sunday evening, my cousin Kevin (other side of the family) took me out to supper with his fiancé. What a nice way to cap off a very eventful week!
Me at the parliament building at noon. The clock sang to us, how cute. It was such a nice day!
I arrived Friday morning at the EY Centre to set up. I had one box of books from Regina that I brought with me. I was expecting two more to show up. I was already worried because according to my tracking information, only ONE box was out for delivery that morning. The other was set to arrive Monday morning—too late for convention times!
Why two boxes, sent out at the same time from the same location were not shipped together on the same truck, I’ll never know.
I set those up, and we waited for the ONE BOX to be delivered. I checked the delivery bay several times. Nothing.
That was when I checked my tracking information again.
The box had gone out for delivery at 8am. At 8:10am: address incomplete. Box returning to sender.
Returning to sender. IN CALGARY.
No, no, no, no.
I called up Canada Post, and after about an hour on the phone, I got to the terrible, dark bottom of it all.
The address I’d put on the boxes? Not incomplete, per se. “Incorrect.”
When I was looking up official exhibitor shipping information on the Ottawa Comiccon site, I couldn’t really find much. I found it difficult to find an address for the EY Centre (though in retrospect, I now see it in several places on the site), but more difficult was finding reassuring information about WHERE I was supposed to send my product, and the procedures surrounding this. The EY Centre is a HUGE place. I’d never done this before. I take everything with me in my suitcases, or I ship to friends.
Which is what I SHOULD have done in this case.
The information I found in an official looking document on the site was about exhibitor services. Exhibitors could ship items c/o a third party company and they would take care of it. Mostly it seemed to be about large display items (hanging banners, etc), but at least there was a ship-to address, instructions about putting your booth number there, and be sure to put “Ottawa Comiccon” on the box! That felt right to me: it was spelled out in a clear manner, it made sense that the con would have a company handling the onerous task of turning what is essentially a warehouse into a comic-con friendly environment, including handling exhibitor arrangements. Otherwise, in the exhibitor PACKAGE document only said to ensure your package arrived Thursday or Friday, because it wouldn’t be received before or after that (in and of itself, stressful)—they had no spelled-out address or clear instructions that would ease my mind.
I even called the official Ottawa Comiccon exhibitor manager about shipping, and confirmed that as long as I put the address on there, my booth number, and “Ottawa Comiccon” on the box, that it would arrive and even be delivered to my table. So, feeling confident, I did up my boxes, and prepared them to be shipped.
But I asked the wrong questions. I didn’t notice that the address I put on the box was for this third party company itself—which was not where the convention was being held—it was a different address than the EY Centre. I did not put two and two together.
So of course the address wasn’t exactly wrong. It showed up at the “right” place, but there was no one at this address to receive the box, no unit number—so it was returned to sender. And no, there was no way to drive to a shipping warehouse to retrieve the box. It was stuck in the mailing system and I would just have to “deal with it.”
I bet another language would have a word for this, but I’ll attempt to describe. When you are positive you’re dreaming, and you want to wake up, but your brain tells you that you are firmly planted in reality? That was me for the majority of Friday.
I was so angry, mostly at myself. How could I have been so stupid? I should have double checked it before sending it away. Shoulda, woulda, coulda. And what made me more frustrated is, if I’m unhappy at all, I cannot sell efficiently. Happiness = business. Anger = lost sales. And I was already in several hundred dollars for this convention. The travel alone was nearly as much as the artist alley table. I was going to lose. Big time.
I was hurting, and I was in the middle of the country with very little product and low morale. I had to take my lemons and squeeze them for as much juice as I could, no matter what my true feelings were. This is the lonely part of entrepreneurship.
Within the first 45 minutes on Friday, I made $100. The customers were decisive! This lifted my spirits, though I knew this momentum wouldn’t last. I didn’t have enough stock to keep up the demand. One box. That was it.
I was going to sell out, that was inevitable. I had just enough to cover my expenses, maybe, if I took a couple of orders and upsold my eBook packages. There is a certain relief that comes with lowering your expectations. Instead of hitting my high minimum target goal, I told myself, as long as I make back the $450 table, it would be okay. The travel was very expensive, but at least I got to see my family. I could eat that if I had to. I had learned a lesson. This mantra relaxed me, and as Friday came to a close, I felt better.
Kathleen kept my spirits high, distracted me by asking me questions about my business, helped to keep me caffeinated, helped me focus on the positive. Selling out is not a bad thing, she said. People will understand.
That night, I was debating what to do. My stock was dwindling. I had one copy of The Violet Fox left. A handful of the others. I could sell the last six books, leave, and work on other hourly projects so at least I could make my clients happy. But my cousins encouraged me to take orders for the entire weekend. I slept on it, and decided they were right. I was already in Ottawa. I had to at least try. If I couldn’t get orders on the busiest day of the con (Saturday), then I’d just leave. I set new dollar targets for Saturday and Sunday that I would need to meet to make my time spent worthwhile.
I created a strategy: I’d operate the table like my website. If the customer spent more than $X, I would ship to them for free. Finding the right number took some consideration, but I settled on $35. This is $10 cheaper than the website, currently. I chose it because I sell the two current books in The Violet Fox Series for $35 (a deal, they’re $20 each usually). The average person drops around $25-$30 at my table anyway. So this was not a huge stretch.
I was nervous. What if no one took me seriously? I put my “SOLD OUT” sign on the table. Changed my pitch. Chatted with people. I felt better than I had the previous day. I couldn’t change the past. I just had to make lemonade.
I was expecting maybe one or two orders. But no. My impromptu mail-order business was a success. As I ran out of books, I took addresses. People could take home the books I had, and I’d ship them the ones I didn’t. That was fine. Books are heavy. Who wants to carry them around the con, even in a bag? Silver linings to everything.
I managed to exceed my initial high minimum sales target for this con – a target I made assuming I would have all of my stock—with essentially six books, my eBooks, and a smile.
I’m not sure why I didn’t put two and two together before, but this city has money, and loves supporting its own—even if you’re from away. Almost every person I talked to, when I told them that some of my books were set in Canada: “Oh wow, I LOVE that. Everything is set in New York/the US nowadays.” And guess what—that led to sales.
I also had no issues with my Moneris reader! A lot more people than expected paid cash. Thank goodness for these small things. I also found that there weren’t many sales after 4pm. Once the celebrities and main festivities in the vendor hall had cleared out, the money dried up.
Where my strategy failed was, a couple of people only wanted the first book in a series, but because I had to charge a shipping fee on top of that, it deterred them from buying at all. They didn’t want to spend $35—after all, what if they don’t like the first book, what would they do with the second one? Understandable, 100%. So I probably lost a few hundred dollars here just from single-book purchasers. This gave me valuable insight into my website. Unfortunately there’s not much I can do about shipping rates in Canada. While I can eat the shipping costs if you spend $X, shipping is at least $10, sometimes closer to $20 if I’m shipping across the country. The more I ship in a box, the cheaper it is.
This experience was affirming for me. My books are attractive, the blurbs are enticing, and I am good at interacting with people. That even when I think I can’t, I can. That I’m going to make dumb mistakes, but I also make pretty good lemonade.
Unfortunately, because of this whole debacle, I didn’t have a chance to test out my new sales strategies. I’ll have to do that next time.
So THANK YOU to everyone who ordered from me at the table! Your confidence in me is inspiring and I won’t forget it!
Because I didn’t have much to work with, I was disappointed with my showing at this convention. I don’t like it when I can’t present my best. I worked with what I had. My cousins insisted that it was fine, that it still presented nicely. And I will say that people STILL slowed down to look, even though I only had six books on the table and some signage.
So instead of bemoaning my table display, I want to share some pictures of a project my sister Jessie and I are working on! She wanted to sink her teeth into a new challenge: designing lightweight, functional display items for my convention tables. And um, if you think I’m talented? Jessie is a craftsperson. Not only does she draw/paint, but she blacksmiths too. Yep. She has what our family calls “the Holman gene”: she enjoys working/making things with her hands, taking things apart, discovering how they work, putting them back together, working with minute tools with precision and in general being a creative person! She works as a jewellery designer currently for a medium-sized jewellery company in Nova Scotia, where she also designs packaging and display items.
Soo when you put the two of us to work on something, cool things happen!
These are just mock-ups, but we’re hoping they will be ready for my events in August. She’s shown me the prototypes, and once we work out some more details, I’m giving her the go-ahead to produce a couple of sets.
The boxy bookshelves:
The book ends:
An update on my newsletter. I haven’t sent it out in a while, but I am collecting email addresses with each con I go to. I don’t currently offer an incentive to sign up—I just have a list on a clipboard on the table. In retrospect, I suppose I should be the one writing down the emails so I can decipher them later, as I do have trouble with that.
Everyone was so friendly and professional at the con. Even when I was running around like a chicken with its head cut off trying to figure out where my books got to. One woman who I was dealing with at the exhibitor services booth recognized me each day as I punched in: “You’re back?” Yep!
As in Regina, I had customers recognize me, even though I’ve never been to their city before. People recognized me from Hal-Con! Once again, my cross-country travels are paying off. It also occurred to me that in this year, 2017, I’ll be vending in MANY Canadian provinces! What a better way to spend Canada 150? Thank you to all who stopped and chatted with me!
I got to meet in person one of my long-term clients, Joanne Lecuyer, of Topsy Books. She came and sat at my table and we had a great chat about publishing and the future of her company. What I like about Joanne is her commitment to quality and her publishing schedule. Nothing can get her down! Someday soon you might see her at a convention near you. 😉
I caught up with my friend Bill, who I met at Hal-Con: he was working the convention. I was so pleased to chat with Justin Currie of Chasing Artwork and Drake, another artist friend I met in Edmonton and again in Regina.
Phil LaMarr also stopped by my table! We met at Hal-Con when we were both guests. He is such a lovely man. We had a nice long chat when it wasn’t very busy. He asked after my sister too, how nice!
Will I go back?
When I arrived in Ottawa, I thought, this will probably be my only stop at this con. The expense is enormous, and I am but one person. That sentiment grew on Friday: I thought, I’m never coming back again. But, after turning things around on Saturday and Sunday, I realized that while yes, it’s expensive, I could maximize my profits here, in a place where there is true demand. So I already put a deposit on next year’s table (much to the surprise of the exhibitor services staff!). I’m not sure if I’ll go myself, so I may rope (and pay!) my cousins to run the table for me. In any case, going forward, a presence in Ottawa will be integral to my cross-country strategy!
My next convention isn’t until Canada day weekend—Otafest, in Calgary.