Sam was with me all week leading up to this convention!
When the first day of the convention rolled around (Friday), I was already tired. Tired of the thought of having to participate in the local publishing scene for the fifth time. Tired of knowing that I had to spend three days just to earn what I could earn in one day at another event…or less.
It is hard not to be infected by a sense of hope when you enter the vendor’s room, when everyone is setting up for the weekend. Maybe this one will be different, I start thinking, as I arrange my books and my boxes. Maybe if I have a couple of drinks later, I shake off the nagging feeling that I could be doing a thousand other things instead of this.
From the tone I’ve struck here, you might think that this is not a good festival. You’re wrong. It’s perfectly fine…but after five years of doing the same thing over and over, I see through the cracks and I’m left feeling bitter.
This year I faced the right wall, as I did in a previous year. It’s not a terrible spot – better than the back of the room. People complimented my boxes. Every time I use them, however, I see the wear and tear, because of the kind of paint she used. I can’t wait until I get my new display from Jessie, which has a non-stick paint.
Something I’ve noticed about my boxes is I can’t effectively monitor the display from behind my table. Every once and a while I have to ensure that the books are upright and not out of place, and that there are enough book ones.
The only issue with the table arrangements were the tight quarters in the back and between the tables themselves. It was pretty difficult to get in and out without rattling the display next to me, or my own display! It’s one way to get friendly with your neighbour, that’s for sure.
One of the things I like about WWC is I get to see people. I live a pretty solitary life these days, so exercising my social muscles and talking about creative projects is fun. I ended up taking quite a few meetings at my table, because many of my clients are local or visiting creative types. I was happy to have them sit with me since about 90% of the time, it was a quiet room.
A couple of people asked me if I do better at WWC than at say, Calgary Expo. The answer is absolutely not. The big expos and the Christmas shows–that’s where I make major money (as long as I keep my expenses manageable, of course). In fact, WWC is one of my lowest earning shows, especially if you look at per-day sales.
To give you some insight: I make the same amount of money each year at WWC. Generally I have a new book out, so people will buy what’s new. The newcomers to WWC buy the first books in my series. Sometimes old-timers will buy if they haven’t before. I only made slightly more money this year because I didn’t run my usual sales on the Friday.
Next to me, the Mythhawkers bookstore seemed to be doing quite well, though admittedly I’m a little concerned about the expenses of their business model (travelling to conventions and lugging all that product is expensive – add staffing, your Moneris fees, accommodation, food!) since from what I gleaned, they’re only doing the small book-related shows. If they were the only bookseller in the room, however, I wouldn’t bet against them.
I kind of wish IFWA’s shared author table and Owl’s Nest/Mythhawkers would work out a deal. Each year the shared author table sprawls ever larger as more people take to self-publishing, and now with Mythhawkers in the mix, the competition between booksellers seems more intense. If there was one bookseller present that authors could consign with (perhaps even with someone from IFWA who acted as intermediary?), no one would have to take shifts at the table, the bookseller could build vertical with their display, and the extra space could be used to admit more creators–new blood–into the dealers’ room. Extra work and logistics? Yes. Simple? No–change is never easy. It just feels like something has to give here.
We had a party!
Sam, Sherry, and I booked a suite in the hotel, and wow, it was great. A highlight of the weekend was touring the entire space. It had TWO bathrooms–and there was a JET TUB!
Also, Sam and I had liberal use of the robes in the closet.
SUCH A FLATTERING PICTURE
We set up a little sales table. The intention of the party was not to facilitate sales – it was more of a meet and greet. We got quite a few people that I’d met over the weekend, people I’d never met before, which was great. We had a couple of sales and Sherry did really well!
We actually ended up kicking people out at after midnight, which is probably just as well, but we stayed up chatting until at least 1:30am. My mind was buzzing with ideas so I helped myself to the jet tub for a while to quiet my thoughts.
It was my 29th birthday!
It was a very low-key day. I woke up in the Delta suite hotel room after about 4 hours of sleep, got dressed, and the two of us hurried down to a breakfast meeting with a client. Then Sam went off to some panels, and I opened the table for business.
Sam rejoined me later after our various panels for another quiet day of sales. As we sat together, she gave me a precious gift–her honest advice. I have often been vocal about my desire to “eventually” become a traditional publishing house. There is a voice in the back of head that responds to this each time, saying, “Well, why aren’t you doing that?” (Multiple reasons: lack of traditional distribution, cost, risk, etc). She gave voice to another subconscious concern: the two of us work hard to help realize other people’s dreams, so why would I take my Faery Ink Press, something uniquely mine, and open that up to others? Why would run myself ragged just for the hope of making a profit in an industry that has such a high cost, emotionally and financially, by burdening myself with the responsibility of other authors? Isn’t it enough to put the work in to realize my own art instead?
It’s easy to dismiss or be defensive when someone gives us advice–we all think we know best, that we’re the exception to the rule. With Sam, I don’t dismiss her advice lightly, because she speaks from experience. She managed ChiZine Publications for a while and I know how hard she worked. Neither of us are romanced by the idea of being in publishing for the love of books and reading.
My drive to form the Faery Ink Press brand came out of the desire to something that will outlast me–and I think that’s the underlying motive to becoming a future traditional publisher. There will become a time when I’ll have to fully own that Faery Ink Press will only publish my works OR commit to being a traditional publisher. I can’t walk the “maybe” line forever. For now, I will continue to innovate in my field and build my audience.
It’s not enough anymore
When I first started vending, and specifically at WWC, I wanted to fly my flag high to show the readers that I’m here to stay for life–that I’m “legitimate.”
I’m long over that insecurity–and yes, that’s what it is. I don’t have to go to a writing conference to prove I’m a writer, or a publisher, or to prove…anything. Guess what–you don’t either. Seeking external validation is not the answer. Don’t buy a table and flaunt your wares solely because you want to prove you’re a player in the market. Do it because you have something of value to offer. I know I have value and I have a lot of confidence in my products and my business. It’s that confidence that allows me to try new things, learn from failures, and let go of FOMO.
WWC is a good convention. For the most part, it’s well organized, and it attracts many creative people with ambitions and dreams. I read a lot of other write-ups about the festival from first and second-time attendees. They’re getting a lot out of the experience, and that’s awesome. In a way, I’m envious. I had to take the beginning steps of my writing journey alone–friends and writing colleagues didn’t come until later in the game. It’s taken me a long time to meet people who are similar and feel similarly to me. At first, I was happy to be surrounded by a community of writers. Then I sought out creators who made a living with their art. That intersection excited me more.
I see the potential in all the writers that attend and I see how some can do better–including myself. But that’s just it: one can’t just be better, it’s a journey to get there.
And as Marshall Goldsmith says: “What got you here won’t get you there.”
I’ve reached a saturation point. I’ve done the same convention for five years and achieved the same results each time. With the festival the way it is, I can’t get much more out of it, financially or from a knowledge perspective. I’d consider giving a presentation, but it’s hard to justify spending time on something I won’t be compensated for. I know, it’s a cringe-worthy sentence. But my time is valuable. I also don’t relish the thought of spending another birthday weekend behind the table, or giving myself away for free.
It’s time to try something else to get somewhere else. The best way to advance is to thoughtfully experiment within your field to see what works and what doesn’t.
Randy has mentioned that he has no intention to grow past 750-800 people, nor does he seem interested in changing the 100% volunteer model (I thought that the guests were paid, at least. Nope – travel, accommodations, and some food are covered though). While I understand why on a logistics level, I can’t help but feel that’s a sign that the convention isn’t going to have a real shakeup.
The lack of desire to change, grow, take risks, and experiment bothers me. Since the festival is unlikely to grow, it’s hard for me to justify participating.
Am I Going Back Next Year?
No, I don’t think so. Or, if I did, it wouldn’t be in the same capacity.
I recommend this convention wherever I go, no matter what province I’m in, because it helps facilitate a community. It’s a good place for beginning writers, for people starting to figure it out. My advice to the first and second-time attendees is:
• Think critically about the advice you receive. Be willing to accept it–but also take a hard look at who is giving it. Who are they, and what reasons might they have for saying what they do?
• Publishing a book isn’t the be-all end-all – neither is winning an award. Publishing is just one stop in the long road to building a meaningful brand that will have a positive impact on people. Be humble and willing to learn.
• If you’re going to pitch a publisher in the designated time slot, don’t make it a performance. Just be straight and honest. It will not help your chances (that’s from Sam, and yes, some people treated the pitch the publisher sessions like Dragon’s Den).
• No one is going to care more about your book than you do.
Your post-mortem really makes me think. Thank you for your willingness to share your honest and unflinching reflections about the conference. I found them enlightening.