Another weekend, another con! This time, I return to Ottawa, the capital, to do a business – for the third time!
Want MORE post-mortems?
I've developed a WHOLE NEW site where I go more in-depth with my post-mortems, including write-ups on online marketing activities! If that interests you, head on over to cmarshallpublishing.com.
I was tired and overworked leading up to this show. Today, Monday writing this after the Ottawa show, I haven’t had a weekend in weeks. Managing Faery Ink Press and juggling multiple clients is really becoming untenable. I’m seriously considering getting an assistant (very, very part-time, just a handful of hours a week).
I flew into Ottawa on Thursday, which takes all day, and my cousin Kathleen picked me up from the airport. We went immediately to the EY Centre to set up…after like 45 minutes of waiting for my bags. Sorry Kathleen!
My display was more or less the same as Calgary Expo! I brought my display boxies in my suitcases and I ended up bringing two banners on the plane with me. I taped them together with duct tape. So professional.
I brought my horizontal banner but since the space is six feet, not eight, hooking it on the pipe and drape was not an attractive option, so back into the suitcase it went.
Compared to Ottawa last year, my display is an improvement, since last year I didn’t have my table runner or the new banners I made.
I also remembered to put batteries in my little lights! I’ve also started displaying face-out books on my boxie shelves–thanks to Kate’s suggestion at Calgary Expo!
Ottawa Comiccon is a strong sales convention, especially for books. To prevent selling out of book one in either series, I shipped twice as many copies. This really helped! I didn’t end up selling out of anything, though Dreams In Her Head was close: I only had two copies left by the end of the show.
Gear and Sea was a standout seller, since it’s my newest book, but The Violet Fox and Stars In Her Eyes weren’t far behind. The Sparkstone Saga sold quite a bit more than The Violet Fox Series. I’m selling slightly fewer series bundles, probably due to my increased prices, but I am selling a lot of 2 for $30 deals. I think this pricing works for now, at least until September when I have new books to add to the mix.
I am noticing an increase in Sparkstone Saga sales—I’m wondering if the addition of Gear and Sea, and the similarity of appeal in the art style, as well as the genre similarity, is contributing to this. I’m excited to see if this remains a trend for the year, especially with the release of book fours in both the Sparkstone Saga and The Violet Fox Series.
Remember that the new book doesn’t just add more potential revenue to the table. It also adds an extra choice for the customer for my 2 for $30 deal, which lends more variety, which makes the deal all the more attractive.
I feel people resisted my upsells in Ottawa as well, though not as much as in Calgary. More people did pay cash than I expected. Perhaps now that I’m more cognizant of just how much bundles and deals accounted for my 2018 book sales, I’m pushing them more, which means I’m getting more rejections.
I beat last years’ sales, but I was just shy of my ideal sales goal. I’m not disappointed though!
Room for improvement:
I think I have enough bundles and deals to constitute a pricing policy. I am not sure where I would put this on the booth, since I have enough going on already, but I have run into a couple of rare pricing stumbling blocks, which are:
- Make clear that when buying three books that aren’t part of a series or bundle, the lowest priced books are counted in the two for thirty, whereas the highest price book is full price. Example: individually priced, the books are $16, $15, and $19. The $16 and $15 are counted as two for thirty, and the $19 book is full price, making the total $49.
- Clarify that series bundles trump a two for thirty deal. When buying four books, and three of them belong to a series, the total would be the series bundle price + the full price for the individual book. Example: if you buy a Sparkstone Saga (3 books) for $50 plus a $19 copy of The Violet Fox, your total is $69.
- Clarify that four individual books that aren’t part a defined bundle set defaults to two 2 for $30s, making the total $60. Example: buying The Violet Fox, The Silver Spear, Within, and Gear and Sea immediately defaults to $60.
I think these are fair and not an uncommon retail practice. When add up the totals verbally and tell them what they owe, no one argues with me, as I am transparent with my bundles and deals. In the odd situation where someone might argue a price, however, having a policy is beneficial. Displaying it so it’s not distracting and writing it up so it’s clear is a whole other issue that I will need consider!
Jennifer and I were walking down in the exhibitor area before the venue opened to the public. I had gone down to see if Justin (Chasing Artwork) was around, but he hadn’t gotten in yet, so we were wandering back towards Artist Alley. The show was slated to open in five minutes. We were walking down one of the aisles and we happened upon a clothing booth. They had a tall dress rack facing the aisle.
I took a closer look at the fabric, fanned out the dress, and was searching for a booth name and number when a Ottawa Comiccon staff member approached us and asked, “Hey, is this your booth?”
“No,” I replied, believing he was searching for the booth owner.
He then proceeded to “explain” to us that we shouldn’t be “in” the booth, touching another vendor’s things when they weren’t there. He tried to frame this as a “courtesy rule” that I should “know” as a vendor and surely *I* wouldn’t like it if someone were to touch MY product if I weren’t there?
This really put me off kilter and while I tried to stumble through a reply and leave to go start my day, I felt disrespected and unfairly targeted.
First of all, I get it. There’s a rash of thievery happening all across the continent at major cons. But this situation could have been handled WAY differently. If he thought we were potential thieves, he could have hung around and assessed our behaviour before jumping in. The only shopping time I get is BEFORE an event opens, because I don’t leave my booth for extended periods. We had barely been there for ten seconds—in fact, I was ready to move on and get back to my table, because again, the event was about to start. An effective method of preventing theft is interaction with would-be thieves. He could have chatted with us first or had some kind of regular human interaction instead of lording over us with guilt and “rules.”
Second, we were not in the booth. We were in the aisle, next to the rack. I hadn’t taken the dress off the rack and I was only interested in the feel of the fabric and the brand, since you know I’m always in the market for a new dress—and I was trying to determine if the dress was handmade. In fact, the owner could have been there and I wouldn’t have known, since the rack was tall and blocked access to the booth itself from our side of the aisle, and everything was uncovered.
Third, I cover my things when I go for the night, so it’s unlikely that someone would flip through my books in the morning before I get there. But even if they did stop to look when the display is up and I’m not present? A book needs to be flipped through before you buy, so as long as you are respectful of it as a piece of art, go ahead. Start reading.
Fourth, Jennifer and I couldn’t shake the feeling that this man was taking his staff “power” a little too seriously. Did he really think we were potential thieves, or was he having a bad morning and decided to take it out on us? Perhaps both? All I could think in the moment was, what if this situation escalates? What if I’m reported or blacklisted because of this man’s word, regardless of its accuracy or basis in factual events? What I’m really trying to say here is, it didn’t make me feel good to have a man try to assert condescending authority over me in a situation that didn’t warrant it.
Regardless of what he thought or what I say about it, it put a bad taste in our mouths on 9am Saturday morning. When you’re made to feel guilty for something that you weren’t even doing in the first place, it makes you feel pretty gross for the day. And I don’t want to feel gross. I want to do the job that I’ve paid money to be there to do.
The only other weird interaction I had during the weekend was a customer who picked up one of the books and remarked, “Oh, Faery Ink Press. Is that your company?”
I gave the standard rundown: yes, it’s my imprint, I’ve been publishing my own books since 2011, etc.
He then asks, “So what was your revenue in 2018?”
I get asked a LOT of questions during the weekend, but that really threw me! I politely told him that I do not disclose my revenue (and why the hell would I tell a random stranger?), but I told him that I doubled my book sales from 2017 and my business overall had a very strong growth in 2018.
Mr. CRA then asked for a business card and I gave him my standard postcard. Unless you can prove to me that you are a business or person relevant to writing and publishing, you don’t get a business card—that’s the rule—and he offered nothing in return. My conspiracy mind, of course, wonders what kind of “your-revenue-must-be-this-high” opportunity I’m missing out on because I gave a non-answer. My best guess? He’s a curious author looking for a large-ish Canadian publisher to rep his work.
Writing and Publishing
A young writer asked me this weekend, “What’s your favourite part about writing?” And I had to pause, because the answer on my tongue was, “Publishing and selling what I want.”
But publishing and selling aren’t part of the writing process.
These last two weeks, I’ve come to realize how much I enjoy the business part of creation—I’ve always known that I love where creativity and business intersect. This plays into the future of the business as well. Way back when, I was teetering on whether or not I should even make Faery Ink Press a traditional press. It’s expensive, it’s time consuming, you have to deal with other authors and their expectations and potential drama…all reasons to not do it.
But now, in 2019, I think I’m back on the other side of it again. It all comes back to WHY I started publishing in the first place. I want to create a legacy—to leave something behind for when I’m no longer here. And if you’re running your business as a single-author press, it’s likely that your business will die with you. I don’t want my business—this brand—to die. There is something deeper I’m working towards that I don’t have words for right now, but the more I publish, the more I travel around the country, the more I learn, the more I want to become a leader and represent all that is good and possible in the speculative fiction, cultural landscape. The more I improve and learn, the more confident I feel, the closer I feel to my ideal self.
Being a traditional press isn’t the immediate future for Faery Ink Press, but it’s back to being a far-future milestone…for now.
The beginning writers I speak to are so concerned about publishing, getting published, making it a career. These are good concerns to have, but many of them haven’t even finished their first novel or story. Finish writing first. Worry about everything else later.
One of the best parts of going to Ottawa is hanging out with my cousins! This is the THIRD year that Kathleen and Jennifer and Rita and Bruce have hosted me! Without their help and support I do not know what I would do. THANK YOU! We went out for food, dished on Game of Thrones, WATCHED Game of Thrones, and had a Game of Thrones debrief about what we believed was going to happen in the final episode! ^_^
I also got to see cousins on my mom’s side of the family too! I visited with Kevin and Andrea and little Violet, who is really not that little at one and a half! Thank you for having me over 🙂
Thanks to all my friends who stopped by the booth! And EXTRA thank you to all the people who came back to my booth to tell me how much they LOVED my books. I really appreciate that! 🙂
Will I Go Back?
When I set out for Ottawa this weekend, I knew this would be the deciding year. I’ve done Ottawa three times now (though really, this is my second NORMAL Ottawa Comiccon!). Three times is enough data to determine if I have grown the show year after year. And I’m happy to report that yes, my sales were up 30% this year with little to no increase in expenses. Having a new book, implementing display improvements, and continuing to show up WORKS! I rebooked my table.
I talked briefly with the showrunners during my renewal transaction, and it was interesting to hear their perspective. They said they are hearing more and more from people who are taking a year off to “focus on their online sales” and weren’t going to do any more shows, anywhere. They mirrored my thoughts exactly: conventions, as long as you have a strong brand and appropriate products for the venue, can drive traffic and exposure to your business in a way that online marketing alone can’t. The two work together to grow your business, even if conventions alone aren’t as scalable.
Next year though will be interesting. I’ll have many more new books, but the same physical space. I’m going to have to get creative if I want to remain at one artist alley table. Yes, I could double my space, but I’m hesitant to do so for a show that’s not local. Next year will be telling for whether or not my revenue will increase enough to justify the extra cost.
I leave you now with a picture of a Dalek family that toured the entire hall! (Their human selves came to talk to me later, they are part of the Doctor Who Society of Canada!)
My next convention is FanQuest in Winnipeg, where I’m a guest! Can’t wait to return to Winnipeg again, visit with my friends, and talk about writing and publishing. See you all there!