And lo, I did enter the world of the con, and verily, it did assault my senses with much tumult and wonder.
Last weekend I got to sell books under the tutelage of my friend Lydia Sherrer. She writes the wonderful Love, Lies, & Hocus Pocus books. I highly recommend them. Lydia and her husband David were kind enough to allow me to serve as a sort of apprentice, learning how to sell books in a convention setting. Lydia usually has women helping her, so I got called “her lady” often enough, that I’ve accepted it. I’m a booth babe.
Anyway, I wasn’t there to be ogled. I was there to learn. And the biggest thing I learned was: I can do this.
I’m an introvert that can handle only so much peopling in one sitting. Three days solid of a lot of people isn’t something I typically enjoy, no matter how much I actually like the people I’m with. I find it all terribly exhausting. Too much exhaustion, and my depression kicks in. A large part of this experiment for me was simply seeing if I could do everything without falling apart.
Well, I didn’t fall apart. I didn’t lose a single limb in the process. I expected to have some down days after the end of the con, due to depression. I was incredibly exhausted, but otherwise fine!
And not only that, but I was able to sell books. I’m certainly not a master at it like Lydia or David are, but I was able to get out there and talk to people about books and convince them to buy. As a writer, that’s huge. If no one buys your books, you can’t make a living from your writing. Well, I was able to sell someone else’s books!
This lesson, that I can sell books in a convention setting and not fall apart, is huge for me. It’s a proof-of-concept moment. It doesn’t prove that my books will sell, of course. But it proves that I can do the work of selling.
Of course, that’s not the only lesson I gleaned this past weekend. Here are others, in no particular order:
- The product won’t sell itself. A lot of vendors wanted to sit and watch people walk buy, only speaking when spoken to. Lydia and David trained me to not do that. Engage with people walking by! “Do you like to read?” Talk to people! Be friendly, not pushy, but remember, you’re here to sell books. So sell books!
- Believe in the product. That was easy for me. I’m already a fan of both Lydia and her series. So’s my wife. If you’re convinced that what you’re selling is great, you’re not lying when you say, “Hey! This is terrific! Check it out!” People can tell when you’re excited for something, and it helps them get excited, too.
- People aren’t as scary as you think. Sure, some people were rude as we attempted to sell books, but many were either honest enough to say it wasn’t for them, or came over with great interest. Also, asking cosplayers for permission to take their picture often resulted in fantastic poses.
- Have a solid tagline. We would call out our tagline to those passing by. You can see it at Lydia’s webpage: “Magical adventure. Snarky humor. Talking cat.” I cannot tell you the number of people who’d pay half-attention at best until “Talking cat” and then would suddenly turn toward our table, asking to know more.
- Have a buy-through plan. There were a few artists at the con I wanted to support. I approached their booths and said, “All right. I have this and this. What should I get next?” And not one of them gave me an answer that wasn’t, “Well, you can check out this or this or this…” I was looking to purchase, and didn’t know where to go. Their answer didn’t help. Here, though, we had a solid plan for what to buy next and next and next. You’ve got these three books? Get this one. You bought the entire series already? Do you have the con exclusive?
- Make sure the display is shiny. I’ve been to smaller author fairs and found some people just had a stack or two of books on the table. It wasn’t attractive. If you’re going to sell, make your product look good! More than once, someone spotted one of the banners and slowed down to get a closer look. That gave us the chance to engage.
- Be friendly, but remember what you’re there to do. If you wanted to simply attend a con, you’re not a vendor. You’re there to have fun. But if you’re a vendor, you’re there to sell. So absolutely have fun, but keep your purpose in mind. I found myself complimenting various cosplayers (especially those who wore Star Trek or Gravity Falls cosplays), but they’d come over and want to talk about our shared fandom. That’s great, but it didn’t sell any books!
- Encourage other authors. We’re all on the same team. Before the con opened, David ran around to see what other novel-writers were there. He grabbed their bookmarks/business cards/ whatever and left ours behind. When we found someone who loved science fiction, we pointed them to go visit this booth over there. And when we found out they liked high fantasy, well, go check out that booth! We supported each other. We also went out for an author’s supper after closing up Saturday evening!
- Remember that you have a body. I’m so happy Lydia and David brought mats to stand on and stools to use. Staying out on that cement floor for hours and hours at a time was grueling. If your body gives out, you won’t be able to sell books!
- Do have fun. I was able to wander the convention floor and spend more money than I’d budgeted to support other writers and artists. Yes, I was there to sell books, but that doesn’t mean I couldn’t have fun while I did it!
- Laugh. It really is fun.
- Keep track of your sales. Especially since we had a number of different products to sell, we kept a pen-and-paper record of what sold. This helps with knowing what you need to order more of for future cons, as well as recording what the big sellers are. When writing books, pursue the series and characters that sell more if you want to be able to make more sales! Recording what sells is a huge part of that.
- While cons usually display certain patterns, covid has really messed up predictability. For instance, Friday is usually a lower sales day. A lot of people coming to the cons on Friday look around, figuring out where they want to spend money on the later days. That didn’t hold true this time around! We had some surprisingly solid sales! Of course, by the time I’m tabling for my own books, maybe things will have calmed down back to normal.
So… that’s a list! I know I forgot some things. I’m positive I did! But those are some of the big lessons I learned this time around.
What about you? Have you sold at cons before? What have you learned?