If you haven’t been keeping track, in the 2019 holiday season, I had an extremely busy show schedule: I flew out east to the Turners Christmas at the Coliseum Show (during which, my grandmother also passed away), I immediately flew back to Calgary and bussed up to Edmonton to the Butterdome Christmas Show, and now, here we are, the Tuesday before the following weekend.
Which would turn out to be not only the last show in 2019, but the last show I'd do for nearly an entire year afterwards....
The Signatures Handmade Market happened WAY BACK in December 2019 – I’m only getting around to posting this now, in the middle of the COVID19 pandemic.
This post talks about me being sick with a cold and trudging on with my work because I am a trooper. Obviously, don’t work or go outside if you’re sick, especially now.
I had a whole Cold Wellness Station that included hand sanitizer that I applied liberally after touching people and money, vitamin C chewables, tissues, water, breath mints, and fish oil. (The fish oil was also in chewable gummy format and was there to keep my hair pretty!)
In any case, I took every precaution I could to keep myself sanitized when I was at these shows.
Stay inside if you can, have a rest, practice social distancing – be safe!
The Arrival & Set-Up
I arrived back in Calgary from Edmonton at 4pm on Tuesday, December 2nd. This was the worst day of my cold—I’d finally accepted that I was sick. Sore throat, drippy nose, barely any voice—by the time I got off the Red Arrow, I was a croaky mess. Fortunately, Dave was there to collect my sickly form and my many bags and he whisked me right home to Indian food and some very excited kittens.
But there was no time to rest. I spent the evening repacking, doing laundry, and playing with the kittens before getting up the next day at 6am for my 8am flight to Winnipeg! I’d forgotten how horrible it is to fly with a cold. My ears took a while to adjust on the descent.
Fortuitous timing allowed my Butterdome pallet to be delivered and accepted back at the house by Dave on the 3rd, which I arranged when I touched down in Winnipeg while waiting for Sam to pick me up. Admittedly, this was kind of fun. I was wandering through the airport, phone in one hand, suitcases in another, Doing A Business. The life of a travelling entrepreneur!
Dave also arranged many house projects to be completed while I was away—fixing the guest bathroom toilet and installing pot lights in the large front room–as we hosted my family for Christmas. Very lucky to have him to arrange that! 😉
Meanwhile, there was no time to waste in Winnipeg! On Wednesday, Sam helped me set up for the show (THANK YOU!!), which went from Thursday to Sunday. Load-in was straightforward. We drove up the ramp and unloaded all my boxes, which I had shipped ahead of time to Sam, as well as what I’d brought on the plane. In retrospect, I could have sent my pallet from Edmonton to Winnipeg, though I’m unsure that the cost would have been worth it for this show. This is something I need to price out for the future, as it would make my life much easier to just show up, have my inventory AND display in the booth—and all I’d have to do is unbox and set up.
It took me an hour to untangle the lights. Why do I do this to myself?
They did look pretty when I set up! I need to get some more, however, as they only fit one side.
I didn’t have my horizontal banner, as it was sent home from Edmonton. That would have really brought everything together…but oh well. Look at the difference in warmth with and without lights on!
After doing the Butterdome, Winnipeg sales felt like a struggle.
Don’t get me wrong. I still did well here. It’s more about the difference of buying attitude between Edmonton and Winnipeg than actual sales numbers. I worked harder to sell a $15 book in Winnipeg than I did to sell twice as much in Edmonton.
There were also several down periods, which to be honest, I was grateful for—it meant I could rest a little.
Overall, I sold mostly single books and 2-for-30 deals. Stars In Her Eyes and Gear and Sea just about tied for first place for highest single books sold. In my 2-for-30 deals, people tended to buy The Violet Fox and Stars In Her Eyes together.
All this being said – I’ve found in the COVID era, Winnipeg has showed up for me. I have several customers from the prairies who bought from me at a Signatures show find me online to purchase sequels. Maybe that’s you!
Despite my insanely compressed schedule, I managed to squeeze in some visits with my Winnipeg friends! But only because we SCHEDULED THEM IN ADVANCE. On Saturday evening, we invited Chadwick, Perry, and their friend Frank over for some Star Wars roleplaying games. And you know what? That was really fun. I’ve wanted to do that for a while and even though my nose was honking every fifteen minutes, I felt like a regular person with regular hobbies, just hanging out with my friends who also enjoy the same passions as me. I know that’s weird for you to read, but as a busy creative entrepreneur who works alone in her house all day, I don’t often get out or pursue group activities unrelated to my business. I need to make that a priority. Because DnD and roleplaying games are super fun and it’s been more than ten years since I’ve had a steady group of friends who also played.
My friend Sherry Peters, who readers will remember accompanied me to San Diego for my Entrepreneur Experience, came to help me out on Saturday! I’m so grateful to have her as a friend. We visited, we sold books, we engaged with readers!
On Sunday, after take-down and load-out with help from Sam and Peter, we went to Peter’s parents’ house for a sushi dinner. Mmm, sushi. It was very tasty. I wish I hadn’t been so congested, I would have enjoyed the fish more, but eating a regular meal and not just snacks really did wonders for my cold.
- A young man and his friend came into my booth and browsed my wares, but was particularly caught with Stars In Her Eyes. He eventually explained to me that English wasn’t his first language, he was seeking to improve it by reading fiction and English books in general, but he didn’t want to read children’s books as they weren’t challenging intellectually. This was exciting to me, and I replied that teen fiction might be a good fit for him, as the text is sometimes easier to read, but the story could be just as complex as an adult novel. He decided to buy the book—it was his first English novel purchase. He even came back later to get a picture with me!
- An elderly woman passed my booth, took it in, and looked me square in the eye and said, “I know nothing about science fiction.”
- In my notes, I wrote down that someone approached me and asked, “Is this where you get your fortune told?”
- A man came to my booth for a chat, left, and later returned to buy a book “because I was looking lonely.” I WAS VERY SICK AT THE TIME AHHH
- Also, I blew my nose so hard I got dizzy and almost fainted. Fortunately (?), no one noticed.
On either the Thursday or the Friday evening, I took a taxi back to Sam’s. There’s no Uber in Winnipeg, and the cab was sitting right outside, so I decided to take it.
Everything was quiet until about five minutes from Sam’s house, when the cab driver began to chat with me. Honestly, I don’t mind chatting, though usually I’m dead tired—at least I’m warmed up from speaking all day. He veered the conversation into a story about the Taj Mahal. We turn a bend in the road and we’re nearly to Sam’s. The story seems to draw to a natural conclusion. We pull into Sam’s driveway. But now he’s talking about 9/11. And how maybe, it didn’t happen for the reasons we were all led to believe.
For at least FIVE MINUTES I sat in that cab—even after having PAID—as he keeps explaining to me his Very Serious Thoughts about how I should look up this Particular Person on YouTube and consume his opinions about this American tragedy. Finally—FINALLY—I opened the door and let in the frigid Winnipeg air and told him I had to leave now. And just as politely, he acquiesced. There was no reason I had to remain, except out of a strange politeness to let him finish. Which never would have happened.
Why Am I Doing This To Myself
As the hours turned into days and the money trickled in, I was haunted by a deep fog. This wasn’t just the brain-fog of my cold or any other physical ailment.
Every time I found myself alone in the booth, a question would rise from my inner self, from this thick mass of SOMETHING, and ask two questions:
First, “Am I a person?”
And then, “Why am I doing this?”
Those are really deep questions to ask when the speakers are blaring Sia’s Christmas album and a new family has rolled into your booth to begin the selling cycle anew.
This intense three-week, huge craft show tour of the country was incredibly hard. I don’t often reflect on how hard everything I do is. I just get it done, and then I death-march on to the next task.
Which is not the healthiest way to go about your life.
For those weeks, I had eaten away at all of my inner reserves and I was running on fumes. I may have acted like a person and said person-things and made person-money, but inside I was an empty shell with no new words or assets. I was more robot than person. I automated each conversation, having already had it before, but maybe not in this city at this time.
My brain wanted my body to cash these cheques while I’m young and I’m hearty and I have plenty of energy and stamina. Yet my body doesn’t always have the resources to fulfill what my brain envisions. It’s really important for me to remember that, especially as I write these post-mortems and when I’m making plans.
The second question—why am I doing this—rang long after I finished the day, and is the culmination of months of sensing that something was coming to an end. Or rather, that I needed to make a change if I wanted to seek out a new level of mastery.
I can’t get stuck in the cycle of show after show, book after book. It’s a strange addiction. I’m in the middle of the show, dissociating with my sense of self, wondering why I’m doing this in the first place, subjecting my body to all of this stress and travel. Wondering, is this really worth it?
And then when I finish for the day, what do I do? I sit in bed, looking up next year’s markets.
Seriously. I’m sitting in bed with Google at the ready, thinking, what’s the biggest market I could do? Oh, a three-week market in Toronto? That sounds fun! Imagine the display! Imagine the readers I could satisfy!
WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME??
On Monday, at 9am, Sam and I rolled up to Thermea Spa and surrendered to well-earned massages and time in the thermal pools and saunas. I’d been looking forward to that massage for WEEKS! You really don’t know how much tension you’re carrying around until someone massages it out of you. At the end of the session, I sat up, more relaxed than I’d been in so long. My body finally remembered what it was like to be a regular person with nothing pressing to do.
And that was it! 2019 shows complete!! I arrived back in Calgary December 10, in the evening. I spent all of the 11th cleaning and preparing the house for my parents’ arrival on the 12th. It was really nice to have them in our home for Christmas!
2019 Year Round-Up
Here it is! All of my 2019 shows, listed from highest to lowest total sales:
- Signatures Winnipeg
- Festival of Crafts
- Calgary Expo
More importantly, here’s the same list, but with my per-day average sales (which evens out the playing field between two-, three-, and four-day shows):
- Signatures Winnipeg
- Festival of Crafts
Observations & Impressions:
- The Butterdome delivered, as prophesized! I broke all my sales records at this show. Granted, this is my first year, so I have no marker to compare it to—another year will give me better information about the performance overall. HOWEVER, comparatively, Turner’s made a very good showing in both total and per-day average. This is really important. Turner’s is a three-day Christmas show in Moncton that I fly across the country for that probably many of my western-based vendor friends haven’t heard of. The Butterdome is a four-day show in Edmonton, and it’s (arguably) the most coveted craft show in the west, if not the entire country. Yet, only $100 separates the per-day average. Between Turner’s and Ottawa, there’s a fairly large gap.
- When looking at it in both lists, Festival of Crafts doesn’t seem that impressive. Don’t get me wrong—I still did just fine at this show, and I live in Calgary, so I’m really only worrying about my booth cost. Yet it ranked fourth out of four in my Christmas shows. This could be a symptom of Alberta’s economy—and the number of Christmas markets in Calgary alone. Seriously, I could go to one every weekend if I wanted!
- In addition, Calgary Expo’s per-day average is just below my total average per-day sales number, unhelped by the snowstorm on the Saturday. It’s not that I’m losing money or doing poorly here, it’s mostly that I’m having trouble growing the show (aka making more money than the previous year).
- Hal-Con just wasn’t great for me this year, and that bums me out because I don’t want to drop it from my line up. I believe I’m going to have to for 2020, as I’ve been accepted to another market on that weekend, and my sister may want to run her own table with her own wares! I may give it a rest and then re-evaluate in two years, to see if I can physically go.
Improvements and Lessons for 2020 Future Shows:
Optimize my Fall/Xmas Show lineup. The Christmas shows are far more expensive to do but they are worth it. If I could hire someone to help me locally during the busy days – even better. I may add one or two larger craft shows to the line-up and price out a travelling pallet. Honestly, I’m getting past the point where I can ship to a friend or bring stuff on the plane.
More new books does not necessarily mean more sales per show per year. In fact, some people don’t return until two or three years later for new books, and then they may purchase $20-$40 worth of product. It’s not because they didn’t like my books, it’s because it fell off their radar—they couldn’t remember who I was, they read the first book in the series ages ago, etc. This is why it’s vitally important for me to be focusing on getting my fans and customers onto my mailing list so they can stay in touch!
What does guarantee at least maintaining a status quo is constantly re-evaluating my prices and adding bundles that appeal to my customer base.
Revamp my lil eBooks system. I thought I’d phase out my individual eBook sales at the table as I sell more eBook library bundles, however, I’ve sold more individual eBooks at the booth this year than any others. This actually makes sense when you think about it. I have far more selection than ever before—while it’s still very appealing to buy everything in eBook format as a package, people are asking for eBook bundles by series, or they don’t want to commit to nine titles when they only want one or two.
More library markets. The number of librarians that found me this year and bought piles of books for their shelves! Unfortunately the Alberta library conference is the same weekend as Calgary Expo…yet I really want to go. Can I make this work? I have no idea.
Improved POS: I may switch to Square for all my in-person sales, especially with the new terminal. Their systems are more user-friendly, they have built-in inventory, and everything is just cleaner looking on my set up. I do love my trusty little Moneris calculator though. It has served me well.
A 2020 UPDATE
Dave and I cancelled our wedding plans on July 4 back in April…and then we decided at the beginning of August we wanted to get married in three weeks.
So on August 20th, we got married at Dean House in Calgary, Alberta. My parents and sister flew out for the occasion. We had 11 people in attendance and a tasty dinner—and that’s it! It was lovely.
But Clare—what will you do now that THE FUTURE IS UNCERTAIN?
The future has always been unknowable. But yes, we have lost some of our ability to feel certain about what comes next. Now that it looks like I won’t have a “harvest season” this Christmas, I am cautiously planning my 2021 and I’m currently not booking any more shows until I feel confident they’ll be worth it.
So….how have I been marketing and selling my books and making money, now that in-person events are, for the most part, a no-go?
Well, I still have some of my freelance work. But I’ve been making some large shifts for Faery Ink Press internally, and I’ve started to see the results. Not having to go to shows every month has given me the space to take a step back and re-evaluate EVERYTHING. This year, I’ve:
- Released The Midnight Tablet
- Planned and executed an entire pre-order campaign
- Engineered a social media strategy where I’m seeing some small, but promising initial results
- Revamped my customer emails & new subscriber sequences
- Finished Wingtorn, Book 2 (Listen here!)
- Created the Wingtorn, Book 1 eBook version (Download here!)
- Optimized my pen and paper + digital planner system so I’m even more productive
- Sat down with myself to come up with more realistic business goals for 2020, 2021, and beyond.
I’ve been writing these post-mortems since 2013. I’ve come a long way since then. Selling in-person has taught me a lot—and I mean a lot—about marketing, branding, and sales. Things that I couldn’t have read and internalized by just remaining at home. More than that, it’s given me the confidence that what I make is worth something to people. Because I kept showing up, even when it was hard, I now have a steadily growing audience that anticipates and enjoys my work.
Here’s what’s going to happen now.
It’s pretty obvious these post-mortems are their own thing—and have been for a while. I enjoy writing them. You enjoy reading them. The whole reason I started this was because I wanted a way to document my progress from one, two, three books to a full-fledged publishing business. Reflecting on my practices has helped me grow–and reading about my experiences is a window into my world and (I hope!) a helpful collection of advice and inspiration for those looking to build a career similar to mine.
I’m doing a whole lot more than just going to conventions to market and sell my books and I think it’s important I write about the online marketing too. When it comes to marketing books, a lot of authors (and likely publishers too) get a little lost and overwhelmed and what works and what doesn’t—myself included. I have a lot of room for growth here and I want to share that journey with you.
Next month, in October, I’m planning to launch an all-new blog dedicated to these new post-mortem write-ups. Each month, I’ll release a new blog post about a specific online marketing challenge, productivity hack, or any other book writing, publishing, or marketing strategy, in a similar post-mortem style you’ve grown to anticipate over these many years.
Before you ask, all the blog posts that are on Faery Ink Press will stay here, nothing is changing or moving! But new post-mortems will be on the new blog.
Want to be informed when the new post-mortem blog launches? Sign up for my newsletter below to be the first to know!
Thanks so much for reading – I’ll see you at the new blog launch in October! 😉