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Look at that vertical action on the display. I’m wearing a pretty dress! My hair is a mess, but that’s FINE.

Check out my other convention write-ups here:

Calgary Expo 2016
Hal-Con 2015
Edmonton Expo 2015
When Words Collide 2015
Calgary Comic Expo 2015
Hal-Con 2014
Keycon 2014
Hal-Con 2013
C4 Winnipeg 2013
When Words Collide 2013
KeyCon 2013


General Impressions

Most of my impressions of the con are below in the “First Con” section, because there are a lot of them.

This was my first extended stay in Red Deer. I’ve driven through it to get to Edmonton. It’s about what I expected–as if someone chopped off a piece of MacLeod Trail and dumped it in the middle of the prairie. Sorry for the unromantic description. My Nova Scotian heart, used to oceans and lakes as natural city boundaries, doesn’t quite feel right in cookie-cuttered, constantly expanding metropolises. How does one know when the city ends? It doesn’t. It keeps on growing.

I stayed at Kate’s house on Friday night (and became integrated into her clan of kitties!!) and we drove up very early Saturday morning. We had to be ready to sell by 9:30am. That timing worked out (just barely!) because the two of us are pretty good at organizing ourselves, which is why we work well together. But it ended up being a very long Saturday. I’m also off coffee at the moment, which made the weekend even more long and stressful. I had to rely on sugary hot chocolate and green tea to keep me going instead of potent Starbucks caffeine. Big thanks to Kate for getting me through, being my brain when my brain wouldn’t brain the details, and just generally being there!! 🙂

We stayed at the Travelodge on the cheap (thin walls, but a decent bed) on Saturday night (it was good we didn’t drive back and forth to Calgary), and we got to have a late dinner with Avery Olive, aka Madison Avery. So that was nice. Though it’s worth noting that even she didn’t know that the expo was happening, and she LIVES in Red Deer.

Display

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My display was about the same as Calgary Expo, on a smaller 6×6 table. Kate occupied a piece at the end to promote Crash & Burn. Unfortunately, because the artist alley table didn’t come with backing, and because it’s too long, we couldn’t use the horizontal banner. I’m also getting to the point where 6×6 is too small for an impressive display, but that size table is an attractive price-point for me to make a tidy profit.

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People really appreciated the new postcards I made – they contain all book information (including Hunger In Her Bones) so people can look them up at their leisure.

Sales

I had quite a number of people finding me, telling me they really enjoyed the Sparkstone Saga. More people than I thought had gone to Calgary Expo one year or another, saw me, and returned to buy from me at Red Deer. I even had two girls who said they saw me at Hal-Con!! That’s the benefit of going to multiple cons in a year – people see your books around, and eventually they’ll stop and talk to you if they haven’t before, or buy more if they’ve enjoyed their first taste. Everything you do is a brick that adds to your castle in your publishing empire.

I didn’t have a clear stand-out seller. The Violet Fox Series and the Sparkstone Saga sold about equally, and most people bought bundles. I did the $15 Violet Fox promotion on Saturday, and I think that encouraged some to buy that wouldn’t have. I could have pushed Hunger In Her Bones pre-orders a little harder, but I didn’t get promo materials ready in time. For Vul-Con, I’ll be ready.

Credit card sales accounted for 42% of total earned – I had a number of higher price tag transactions: people buying all the books, or multiple bundles. No one asked to pay with debit. ATM machines seemed to be readily available and most had ample cash to cover a $25 or $35 purchase.

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I also sold out of Within – not a surprise, I only brought three copies. I tend not to bring as many since I’m writing mostly in the Violet Fox and the Sparkstone universes right now, and selling the first couple of books in that series is more of a priority. Yet Within continues to catch people’s attention. It’s an odd little book. I think I need to write more YA horror because the people who like it like it a lot. I usually describe Within more as a supernatural thriller, though the supernatural element is pretty light, and it’s more creepy than outright terrifying.

Also, when I didn’t have any physical copies of Within, but mentioned I had a horror/thriller book in eBook form, I’d hold up one of the lil eBooks. I keep them behind the table now. I had a few people ask if they could just “have” the little eBook – not understanding that the professionally printed little card IS the product – it’s literally a code that lets you access the eBook! So I probably won’t make a big deal of it, just mention I have it, show it briefly, and not let them touch it. Continuing the trend, barely anyone buys individual eBooks, just the bundle, which is quite profitable for me. Eventually I may offer eBook bundles per series, but I also like keeping it as simple as possible.

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On Kate’s end, I think she was able to get the word out about Crash and Burn to new people (with BRAND NEW PRETTY POSTCARDS!), and she had a couple of people come back the second day who either a) brought a friend to buy their own copy or b) had people gush about the story, and the improvement of the art across the two issues. Yay! There are only two issues currently, and I think once she has three she’ll see a bump in sales.

Questions

I always have at least two or three people approaching my table and asking me for writing and publishing advice. Looks like I’ll have to bust out a blog post about that sometime soon. I like getting these questions, and I usually talk up WWC if they’re local.

But at this con I got a question that NO ONE has ever asked me before. This person read my bio on the back of The Violet Fox, looked up at me, and asked, “Huh. So…where is Nova Scotia exactly?” I can’t rag on him too much because he did end up buying! But I don’t think I met anyone who didn’t know it’s one of the easternmost provinces in Canada.

First Year Con

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Red Deer is a town of about 100,000 people. Calgary is a city of over a million people, and Calgary Comic Expo draws about 100,000 patrons each year. Just from those numbers, I knew going in about what to expect, sales-wise. My first worry of the whole affair was, “Is Red Deer big enough for an expo-sized convention?”

I don’t know what the final head count was – I was told to expect 10,000, which I halved because I’m a conservative guesser. Maybe two thousand people showed up – I feel that might still be a generous estimate. Westerner Place is a HUGE convention centre, and there were two other events happening in different buildings on the grounds. When you have a smaller event in a larger space, it magnifies the problem of “not enough people.” Although, I will say I was surprised that Red Deer had such a large convention space in the first place. It was conveniently located off the highway, and Kate and I had no problems with set-up, getting in and out, etc.

Show hours were from 10am to 7pm on Saturday, and until 5pm on Sunday. But the Concierge (special line-skipping weekend passes) holders could get in a half an hour early–meaning, we had to be open at 9:30am. This is standard practice at larger cons, but it seemed largely unnecessary here. Maybe it was because I was near the back of the large room, but I didn’t see customers until closer to 10am anyway. It just made the day much, much longer.

The busiest times were between 11am and 2pm. The aisles seemed packed with eager customers, pictured below. Also, see that window there? From time to time, random people would be up there, watching over the proceedings. I found that a little creepy, especially when it wasn’t busy.

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Aside from the aforementioned times, the vendor floor was mostly dead. The same people walked around and around the vendor floor. This frustrated me. From 5-7pm on Saturday, there was NO ONE. Kate dubbed those hours, “Vendor-Con” as all of the vendors started walking around, catching out the other booths. I liked meeting my fellow vendors and chatting business with them, but I don’t like when my time is wasted. Especially when I have a lot of work waiting for me when I return to the computer. I feel I could have used those extra two hours more wisely instead of being forced to stay–because there was a penalty if you packed up early.

Lack of Vendor Vetting

I’ll start by saying that yes, it’s a first year con, so filling the tables is important. But filling the tables with curated content seems more prudent than just letting anyone show up and fill the space. It seemed like there were some comic and artist vendors, but not as many as I would have expected.

Besides what seemed like every radio station in the Red Deer area (I had no idea there were so many!), there were also a couple of independent consultants for makeup/beauty products. This surprised me. It’s not that people who attend comic conventions don’t like/wouldn’t buy beauty products. There might be some that would. My issue is, I overheard one beauty consultant say, “Everyone needs to have healthy skin.” As in: everyone walking by should be interested in my product.

That’s just unrealistic. Your target market isn’t everyone–just because they have skin doesn’t mean they will want to buy your skin care products, just like if someone likes to read, doesn’t mean they’ll want to buy my books.

More on point: when people attend comic expos, they’re looking to buy merchandise from their favourite shows or franchises, sometimes they’re into cosplay and armor and want something handmade, and sometimes they look for original art–be that books, comics, prints, etc. It’s possible they’d be in the frame of mind to purchase something else, but a lot of people who attend bring about $50-$100 cash for their favourite items, and once that’s gone, so is their desire to try anything new. Perhaps from a exposure perspective, the advertising might be worth it. But maybe not. These brands would’ve had to buy booths–artist alley tables were only for people who created/sold their own stuff. Booths started at $349 (sale price) – $420 full price. And if my guesstimate is right, and less than two thousand people attended – that seems like a high cost-per-person ratio. And I can only imagine that the cost seemed doubly high when you’re staring down empty aisles.

I’m NOT saying that non-geek/local business vendors shouldn’t be there. What I AM saying is it seems like an unintuitive decision for businesses to spend money to advertise to people who are less likely/not in the frame of mind to buy their product.

Concession notes: The only food on site (other than Lemon Heaven, and a girl who sold GF cupcakes) was the centre’s concession stand, which was manned by seemingly inexperienced teens. Some were eager to serve, some were lethargic, but mostly there seemed to be a seven to one ratio of teens to customers at any given time. There were no alternatives on site, which sucks for someone who has food allergies (like me) or someone who really just doesn’t want to eat fast food all weekend. I wished there was a food truck or two, even if it was just for the peak meal times. Maybe Brasco didn’t want to (or couldn’t) compete with the expo centre’s concession. I brought some snacks, otherwise I would have starved/been forced to eat gluten and get sick.

It seems like I’m being negative here. But I can’t NOT be honest – that’s what these post mortems are for. They’re for future me to read to remember what to improve upon, and for other creative professionals like me looking to make cons a source of income – so they know where to go, what to do, and what to avoid.

Cool People

Met a lot of people who were friends-of-friends at this con. On my left, a guy named Jason who was selling jewellery for his friend knows my friend Lesley, who runs Pandora’s Boox in Olds. On my right, Ink’d Well Comics–Jay Paulin–I DID met him before at Hal-Con 2013. He’s friends with Peter. Very cool to get to chat and get to know him better.

This guy named Mike across from us was selling his wife’s art, and it was so pretty! Kate was helping him out during the weekend since he was by himself, so we got to chat with him quite a bit. Apparently in the October-December months, he travels from BC across Western Canada to as far as Winnipeg doing large craft shows and Christmas markets–he called it his harvest season. That switched a light on in me–of course, CHRISTMAS MARKETS. Some of them have pretty strict rules though (like, handmade art only, etc). Since I’m going to be in Nova Scotia during that time, so I think I’ll have to see what I can do about that to create a “harvest season” of my own. 🙂

Will I go back?

I’m interested. I made more profit than I thought I would. I think they’ll have to attract larger guests to get the draw they want, and re-think the vendor hours to make me excited. It’s only an hour and a half from Calgary, so the commute isn’t such that I have to sacrifice my display quality. I just hope that their equivalent expo in Vancouver won’t turn me off of the idea completely. That I’m more wary of. I really hope that Red Deer Expo itself makes enough money so that it is able to make it work next year while improving on the missteps and hiccups.

Here’s a picture of two of Kate’s kitties making me feel like part of the pack.

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Check out my other convention write-ups here:

Calgary Expo 2016
Hal-Con 2015
Edmonton Expo 2015
When Words Collide 2015
Calgary Comic Expo 2015
Hal-Con 2014
Keycon 2014
Hal-Con 2013
C4 Winnipeg 2013
When Words Collide 2013
KeyCon 2013