Two months without doing a show at all…and it was kind of nice! Not that I wasn’t busy. I finished and produced my 9th book, Darkness In Her Reach! Which should arrive from the printer…any day now?? I had hoped to have it before Edmonton Expo, but I’m not sure if that will be in the cards.
I ubered to the airport at around noon for my flight and met Sam at the airport. Her flight path was Winnipeg – Calgary – Saskatoon, because a good way to get where you’re going is to do a loop.
Once we touched down in sunny, warm Saskatoon, we jumped in a taxi with all our luggage and drove to Prarielands, the convention centre, to collect the rest of our product and do set up. Big thanks to showrunner Chris for being a great host, AND for accepting our packages and transporting them to the venue!
After setup, we walked to our Airbnb. That’s right, we walked, just down the road from the convention centre. From the pictures, we were expecting a two-bedroom basement apartment – but what it actually was, was a two-bedroom tiny house! The pictures don’t do it justice BECAUSE it’s so small, it’s hard to photograph and capture the light. It was perfect for the two of us to escape after long days of being around people.
Friday evening we watched the Dark Crystal movie, which I had never seen, and then we went to bed at like 10pm to wake at 7am to get ready for our two-day con.
I’m always thrown off my the 8ft table, in a good way. So used to cramming all my titles into 6ft. Eight gives me more room to play with. It’s cleaner but it also feels far emptier!
Gear & Sea continues to get some prominence on the table and the banner does a lot to attract people to the title. Many people recognize Justin’s artwork on the cover and/or have seen it before.
Gear & Sea continues to lead the charge for single sales, as it’s my newest title. I sold about the same number of Violet Fox Series and Sparkstone Saga bundles, and even my 2 for $30 was on the level with my series sales.
I admit, I was a little disappointed with my sales this year. I didn’t meet my desired goal and I was down from last year. Not by much, but it was noticeable. I didn’t lose money. Here’s why I think I was down.
- People were on cash budgets. I only had a handful of card transactions and my upsells weren’t sticking.
- My mindset. I haven’t done a show in two months. There were times I could have went harder on the sale, or softer, or gone for the upsell instead of letting the sale be.
- Gear & Sea, is $15, not $20. Normally, my newest book is chonky enough to sell for $18-$20. Those couple of dollars can add up when you’re selling a pile of them.
- Competition for attention, see below.
Competition and Sales Tactics
I was directly across from another author at this show. Normally, this isn’t really a problem. I’ve written multiple times about vending at a book con, or being in the same row as other authors, and the pros and cons of being next to your direct competition.
I hesitate to even use the word competition in this context. Readers can read more than one book, after all. Usually, the more books there are, the more excited they become.
We’re competing for attention, immediate sales, and the consumption of cash in the wallet more than the actual value of our titles. I see other authors at conventions as my colleagues, not necessarily the competition. We are all fishing in the same boat.
Books are an active sell. When a bunch of authors are actively, aggressively going for a sale, this can create a lot of tension for the customer, and not always in a positive way.
This section is about analyzing these situations and how we can all show up in the best way possible. I also recognize that I have a LOT of experience selling books at trade shows at this point – usually more than my fellow authors. Everything I say here is what I’ve learned from years of standing behind tables, hawking my wares, and refining my own tactics.
The young woman across from me, also selling her title, engaged in some aggressive sales tactics. By aggressive, I mean she was more often than not calling out to cold, unengaged potential customers. To her credit – this did result in some sales. She was doing a lot better than if she’d just sat there and did nothing. She was friendly and excited about the book and her family was also there, supporting her. Reaching out and engaging with people does generate interest.
However, you have to be extremely careful how to handle your potential customers, especially around other vendors with similar products to you – and I think this is where many authors can become trapped.
In a row of book sellers, one misstep or bad experience from the vendor can turn the customer off from exploring the aisle further. To the customer, we’re just a bunch of authors or booksellers, and at first glance, we are all the same. One author can represent us all in this context. I have to show up even more when I’m next to another author: I have to be more vigilant, more sensitive to the customer’s needs, and extra sensitive to how they react to my neighbours. Was that reader interested in my neighbour’s books, more or less than mine? How much of their behaviour in this row is politeness and how much is genuine interest? Are they a fan of my neighbour? How can I direct their taste in a respectful way to my table? Were they caught off guard by my neighbour, and do I have a chance at all?
People have barriers up when they’re walking around a vendor floor. Most don’t want to speak to you and they certainly don’t want to part with their precious money. As a vendor, I have to respect that, because I would feel the same in their position. I don’t want to have a sales conversation. I don’t want to be trapped into buying – or feel pressured to buy. No one does!
You have to meet people where they’re at. If they’re warm, you are warm. If they are quiet, you are quiet. If they are boisterous, so are you. This is not about acting false or disingenuous. Everyone has the potential to be all of the above qualities. This is about being sensitive to the customer and creating a comfortable environment for them to browse, pressure-free.
So when I’m with a customer – one that I’ve engaged, or one that has come naturally to the table – my focus is determining where they’re at. How interested are they in the product? Are they here because they’re a bibliophile? Are they a shy, young teen? Are they looking for writing/publishing advice?
Determining their type and delivering what they want (books, silence or bubbly conversation about books, and free information respectively) results in a positive interaction with the brand, which often leads to a sale.
But none of this happens if you’re engaging cold customers with zero interest in your product.
I’m not looking to engage absolutely everyone who goes by. You have to be selective with your power. You want to select your audience from the crowd and invite them over to see your product. If you invite and entertain those who aren’t your audience, then you’re just wasting their time and yours. They’ll walk away thinking, “That person was aggressive. I didn’t want their book.”
What happens when you sell to a cold customer who has a lukewarm initial reaction to your brand? They’ll take that book home, put it on the self, and every time they look at it, they’ll remember the awkwardness of the interaction they had to buy it, and they’ll never read it.
How do I know? Because I’ve been on the receiving end of those kinds of interactions. Where you say “yes” to a sale but you really mean, “I don’t want to, but you’ve backed me into a corner.”
“But Clare,” you’re thinking, “I want that sale. I want that $15 or $17 or $20 for my book.”
You might earn $15 today from that one customer if you push hard enough—but you could lose a lifetime of loyalty.
And that’s the power of branding. Branding is the relationship your customer has with you—your company. It’s a feeling. If the feeling is “yikes” then…that customer will never spend money with you again.
That’s the real risky game we play. You can push, but you don’t want to push so hard that they never shop with you–or any other independent author–again. I want people to walk away excited, even if they only take my card.
As a publisher, my whole business is built to create repeat customers. I want readers coming back to me again and again for my newest work. Most of my work is upfront – creating the book, sure, but also creating that first impression. Ensuring the banners are attractive. Making the display accessible and pleasing. Creating signs to easily display relevant information. Everything I create and the way I act during our interaction must be considered so that the customer feels safe and comfortable enough to decide to exchange their hard-earned cash for my product, then and there.
No matter which bookseller catches the customer’s attention first, or invites them over first, that FIRST interaction drives the customer’s mood of the other bookseller going forward. A positive interaction can result in a sale and/or a willingness to engage with another author. A negative or lukewarm one drives them away completely. Both can also exhaust the customer.
We have to be respectful and mindful of the customer and our neighbours when we’re selling, because long-term, that’s what creates loyalty and sales.
I was excited to be next to my friend Abram again this year! He had a giant Ninja Turtle canvas that really caught the eye and sparked a lot of table-side conversations with customers.
On Saturday night, as is usually the custom, Sam and I went out to eat with Gregory, Justin, and Drake. Had a really tasty lamb biryani, which I think is my new favourite Indian dish. I mean, besides butter chicken, which is a standard. And you gotta have a mango lassi, c’mon.
At the end of Saturday, I was so incredibly tired, I could barely think straight, but at least I was full of tasty food.
Thank you to everyone who came back to purchase new books or sequels! You are awesome!
On Saturday, I had a pleasant conversation with a man about writing and publishing. He proceeded to Abram’s table, looked back at me, and asked if I liked the Avengers.
I said, sure, I like them.
He bought one of Abram’s postcard prints of the Avengers and wrote me a very sweet note on the back about how inspirational and beautiful I am!
Now, I can already hear you wondering. Is this creepy?
Creepiness in these situations is defined by the receiving party. He was a respectful man, who bought me a gift that held no obligation, wrote me a complimentary note thanking me for the conversation, expecting nothing in return – and then he went about his life.
Could this have been creepy, in differing circumstances? Certainly. Inquiring parties, note the “no obligation” part. Creepers give with the expectation of reciprocation, and when nothing is reciprocated, things can turn ugly or awkward.
But as this was tastefully done, it really made my day! ^^
Will I Go Back?
Unfortunately, Ottawa Comiccon has switched its 2020 dates from May to September – the very same weekend as Saskatoon. As I’m already committed to Ottawa, I won’t be in Saskatoon for 2020.
But would I go back for the following year?
Possibly. I’m in the process of re-evaluating all my shows. I’m really tired of my stop-start cycle. I’m usually just getting used to being home and back in a routine – when suddenly I have to pack up and fly somewhere else for an intense three or four days of sales. It’s really hard on the body and the mind, and increasingly so, now that I’m more settled in my house with my fiancé and my two kitties.
Ideally, I’d like to fit the majority of my shows into September to December and go full throttle. Is this harder on the body? Perhaps. But it also gives me more creating time. I mean, I can write books between shows, but your mind is always half in the booth, so to speak.
So I can’t really speak for me two years in the future, as a lot can happen between now and then.
Saskatoon is a great show in a pleasant city, with kind people. If you are local to Edmonton, Calgary, Saskatoon, or Winnipeg, it’s a well-run show that cares about its vendors and the attendees.
See you in Edmonton!