Last show of the year! PHEW! Time to “relax”…I mean, create more books for next year. Everything is fine!
I flew into Halifax on the Wednesday and Mom and I drove up to Moncton early Friday morning. We heard iffy things about the weather. Blowing snow on the Cobequid Pass. A woman from the show actually called me TWICE to ensure I was still coming! The roads were fine, though, so nothing to worry about for us.
Check-in was upstairs in an office overlooking the coliseum floor. The woman said, “Cutting it close, aren’t you?”
Was I? We arrived at 11:30am; load-in was from 8am to 12pm on the Friday. The show started at 2pm. Actual load-in might take twenty minutes or less, but then set up is about an hour or so – plenty of time before the show opens.
Again, I had been called twice – and both times I told them where I was on the road, and assured them I was coming. Why was I being chastised for being within the load-in window?
After check-in, when Mom and I were walking out to start load-in, one of the volunteers guarding a large dolly called to me, “Where are you parked?”
A little startled, I said, “Up on the hill there.”
He said, “Well I’m not going up there. Come down here, bring your car down.”
Uhh…I didn’t ask for your help, buddy – why do you assume I want it?
They were persistent, though. Bring your car down, park in front of the doors, unload.
It later became clear that these volunteers are at the entrance to HELP with load-in (not just stand there with dollies and give directions). This is a service the show provides. Drive up, and they’ll load stuff onto their large dollies and drive it to your booth. A good idea for a service, yes! BUT this was not clear to me in any way in the little documentation I had (there were no emails to vendors before the event), so how am I supposed to know this? I bring a dolly when I can, or I roll things in in suitcases, because I’m usually just one person. Also if you get volunteers involved, who is liable if they hurt themselves handling my product? Especially if they’ve forced their help upon me?
This is a thirty-year-old show. Many of the volunteers (and many of the vendors too) seem to be old-timers who have been there since the beginning. So I think the procedures might be clear to people who do this show year in and year out, but I only did this show once two years ago. I’m used to a very hands-off (comic conventions) or extremely strict (Festival of Crafts) load-in and set-up procedure – one that is communicated in advance.
Other than this off-putting behaviour and unclear communication, the rest of the show was fine.
I wish I had a second table (and a third…) to replicate my Festival of Crafts set-up, but as I didn’t have time to coordinate that, I went with a front-facing display. My East Coast banner has a lot of impact. I also brought my horizontal banner and my table runner with me – critical pieces of a complete display!
And because I’m in the East, I have access to my wings!
With any display element, I find it takes several shows to figure out its full potential. The wings work best when you can see them. I think I need another box set that’s level, so I can place them on top, giving them maximum impact. Here you can see they just disappear behind my shelves and stacks.
Moncton – you showed up in a BIG WAY for me this year!!! Sales from Turner’s was just $35 shy of beating my Festival of Crafts sales. Imagine – a three-day show in a Maritime city competing with my big four-day craft show in Calgary, where I pay twice the price for the same space.
I did this show two years ago, but I’ve grown a lot since then so I wasn’t sure what to expect. Would people remember me? Would I get the return customers, even though I skipped a year?
My price adjustments seem to be working out well. I sold many, many individual copies of The Violet Fox. I sold about equal amounts of The Violet Fox Series and the Sparkstone Saga. My 2 for 30 deal continues to perform well. I sold out of Within and I was pretty close to running out of The Silver Spear and The Emerald Cloth as well.
It was about a sixty-forty split between cash and card. Many people seemed to be on a cash budget. Because I took insert-debit (and not just tap), I made a couple of sales I wouldn’t have otherwise. I had no issues with my Moneris reader.
I guess there was a radio and/or TV interview about a girl who self-publishes in Moncton (or New Brunswick, at least) – but because of that, I had a lot of people ask me if I was that person. Nope! No one seemed to be able to remember their name. Regardless, though, this interview primed them to be interested in my offerings.
A lot of grandmothers (or older women, be they grandmothers or great aunts or guardians) did not know what would be the best purchase and relied on me to tell them what would be suitable. Not just in content appropriateness, but in what their younger relative would like based on their age and their interests. Usually I’d ask what their relative was reading. The issue here is they either didn’t know, or they couldn’t remember. This leads to them leaving without completing the sale (but still very interested) or debating for a long time, which makes them a more expensive customer. I’m wondering if some of this can be alleviated by introducing a gift card option. I think I’ve gathered enough brand awareness – or at least, brand goodwill – to give this a shot. There are some logistics to implementing it well but I think it’s a consideration for 2019.
My mom was with me for this show! She noted that when she tried to engage people, they were polite, but they mostly wanted to talk to me, especially when they realized I was the author.
A consistent trend at this show was people’s attitude shift upon realizing I wrote everything on the table. It was like I was an instant celebrity. And the fact that I sign everything I sell – that was a big bonus. On Sunday, passersby would stop to watch me sign and I could hear them whispering, “Oh wow, she’s signing it, she’s the author…”
I think out west, authors doing shows is a more common – there are more of us doing it out there! So there’s a novelty to me being there, promoting and selling my books myself.
On top of that, every single person wanted to know if I was local – or at least, if I was from the Maritimes. To be a Maritimer, born and raised, even though I don’t live there anymore – that was really important to them. They liked knowing that one of their own had succeeded at following their dreams. It’s a big reason I succeed at these shows.
New Brunswick is a bilingual province (and the only official bilingual province at that)! Maybe half the attendees were French, but they spoke English with me. A few who only spoke French spoke to me in French and I was able to get by with “Oui, les livres sont en anglais!” and “No, c’est l’anglais” and “Oui, j’ai écrit!” Again, this just makes me want to get bilingual and facilitate some translations! I understand far more than I can speak, so I know that the French people who didn’t want to buy an English book were impressed with the covers and the branding.
• A woman teared up when I offered to sign her book.
• Someone said, “Oh, if you’re published you must be good!” If only that’s how it worked.
• A LOT of people wanted to know how old I was. “I thought you were 15!” “I thought you were 21!” was a common refrain. I am a thirty-year-old BABY BIRD with some good Maritime genes.
A young woman who bought The Violet Fox returned the next day to say she was enjoying the book. She also told me about her aspirations to be a published writer, and the difficult time she’s had attracting a publisher. She asked me if I considered publishing other people. I told her what I’ve told others: not at this time, as I have no traditional distribution. I don’t want to be on the hook for selling another person’s book when I’m just one person travelling around the country with my wares. She then asked if I could publish her book, and then she would do the trade shows to help sell it.
I mention this for those who may have the same question (because this isn’t the first time someone has asked me this). The answer is always going to be no.
If you want to get into publishing books the way I have, it’s a hustle. You have to invest time (YEARS) and money (LOTS) in building an audience. It’s never one thing that grows an audience – it’s many things, done over time. Like any traditional publisher, I’m not going to invest in something unless I can see it making me money, and I’m going to choose the least risky investment. The least risky investment is always the author who has already done some of the groundwork (aka, they have a build-in audience). That’s not to say I wouldn’t ever publish a new author – but that’s not where I’d start, if/when the time comes for me to make that leap.
Will I Go Back?
I’d really like to! I think this is a situation where I can potentially work my way out East if I can line my shows up neatly.
It seems like from the renewal papers I got, Turner’s is stepping up their game in the future. They’re putting in a new section that allows for vendor lighting and they’re rearranging the vendors so things are less crowded (honestly, I thought it was fine?). I think this is a good sign. I am happy to attend and I hope to establish a regular appearance there year after year.
2018 Wrap Up!
As with the last two years, I’m including in this, the last show of the year, a wrap-up of the entire year.
Here are the shows I did in 2018, ranked from highest sales to lowest:
1. Festival of Crafts
2. Turner’s Christmas at the Coliseum
3. Calgary Expo
4. Fan Expo Canada
5. Edmonton Expo
6. Anime North
12. Christmas at the Forum
13. Make It Calgary Spring
And here’s the rank by per-day average sales, highest to lowest:
1. Turner’s Christmas at the Coliseum
2. Festival of Crafts
6. Anime North
8. Fan Expo Canada
12. Christmas at the Forum
13. Make It Spring
The second list is important for determining which shows I book for the following year, as it evens the playing field between two-, three-, and four-day shows.
Between all of these shows, I met an ambitious sales goal for this year. I doubled my sales from 2017!
Notes about the list:
1. I made a rule at the end of last year: no more small shows. The two “small” comic cons I still did were Hal-Con and Saskatoon. As you can see, this reflects in the total sales list – bigger show (for the most part) means bigger sales. The exception to the rule would be Christmas craft shows.
2. I increased my average sales per-day number by 63% since 2017. This number is influenced by the product I have on the table (which increases each year) as well as sales at the show – helped by the fact I only did large shows.
3. Saskatoon was a two-day show. I set a per-day record sales figure here, only to be broken by Edmonton and Festival of Crafts and then Turner’s.
4. Make It Spring Calgary was a big outlier on both lists. We had a really cold winter this year that lasted nearly until the end of April. Because Make It Spring Calgary was the beginning of April, in -20 C weather, I feel like people just weren’t in the spring mood. I’d like to give it another try some other year.
5. I ended up trying a lot of new markets this year! I nixed half of last year’s markets in favour of larger, more established shows. I think Montreal, while low on the total sales list, has a lot of potential – don’t forget, a lot of the attendees there are French! Fan Expo Canada is a staple con that I’m willing to try one or two more times as well before passing any kind of final judgment on it.
6. I also had way more website sales this year than any other – from all across the country. The year isn’t up yet, but so far, my website sales in 2018 are the equivalent of my sales at Fan Expo Regina 2017.
7. Growing pains – I had a lot of expenses this year. I had to reprint pretty much my entire catalogue! My print runs were pretty modest (300 or 400 at a time) because I lived in a small basement, among the books. Those runs don’t stand a chance against the frequency at which I’m doing larger shows. Now, I have a real house and proper storage, so when I reprinted I went for larger runs (500 or 1,000 depending on the title). I also had the printer send a percentage of the run out east so I have to ship less across the country when I’m doing Eastern shows. Printing more now costs more, but it saves me from shelling out each year for each title, and brings down my unit cost significantly.
8. My sister proxied Hal-Con and Christmas at the Forum. Hal-Con I’m keeping for the foreseeable future as it’s my window into the Nova Scotia audiences, but I’ll give Christmas at the Forum a pass until I can do it myself to assess its viability.
• I have to produce more/faster. I keep saying this, I know – but next year I’ll actually have an opportunity to test that out. I’ll have a minimum of two new books FOR SURE!
• I’m continuing to test the craft show and Christmas markets. There is no shortage of them, that’s for sure! It’s just a matter of getting in and holding on to the biggest and best ones.
• While small shows are out, I think it might be worthwhile to test local, sustained markets – weekly craft or farmers markets.
• Create and improve my eBook strategy. If you look me up on Amazon, you’ll notice my sales there are squat. That’s because I haven’t turned my eye to it. Yet.
• Improve in-person to online sales conversions. With the organic growth of my website sales, I want to ensure I’m making it easy and convenient to order from me directly after meeting me or seeing me at a show. Thank you to everyone who orders from me directly – you are directly contributing to my growth! 🙂
I’m working hard on Darkness In Her Reach, The Midnight Tablet and another book project I’m doing with Greg and Justin! It’s going to be a busy winter but I’m excited for my 2019 shows.
I heard somewhere once that it takes 10 years to make an overnight success. I’ve been publishing as Faery Ink Press since 2011. I feel like every couple of years I’ve doubled down or made a major change that has boosted the brand and the business. A momentum is building – I feel it – so I just have to keep on keepin’ on with what works and ditch what doesn’t!
See you all next year, Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and Happy New Year!