I overheard a fantasy convention veteran say to another vendor, "if you think you're here for the sales, you're doing conventions wrong." As a few hundred sci fi and fantasy fans milled about the various rooms of the SeaTac Hilton, I wondered to myself, what then, are conventions for?
It's clear that unless you're selling high cost items you're unlikely to make much of a profit. Selling books to cover the cost of the three-day weekend is nearly hopeless. There's the hotel room, the gas for the some-odd hour journey, and the cost of the booth itself, which typically runs around $150 for a smaller convention.
Being a vendor at a convention isn't a luxury position. You have to actively engage with the group of convention goers and make them interested in what you have to sell. And if you're not going to cover your costs, why bother?
I had an insight as to what the convention vet was getting at.
You're there to build your potential sales.
You're developing the one key element to selling books and building an audience of raving fans.
Your email list.
This is the golden ticket.
Because it's a lot easier to nab 100 emails than sell 100 books to a group of about 300 strangers.
And selling to your email list is the proven strategy best-selling indie authors to shift thousands of books into the hands of their fans.
Of course, you have to run a cost/benefit analysis on the convention.
A few hundred dollars for 100 emails isn't a great deal.
But if you attend a massive convention where you can grab hundreds of emails, the higher cost may be worth it.
Staying close to home cuts costs, and though the convention may be smaller, you're pitching to a local audience, and that can offer great value if you also plan events that you can invite people to.
To get the most people to our booth we held a raffle for a free book and gorgeous poster. Here's an image for ya of that poster:
And heck, since I like ya, I'm offering a FREE high res pdf download for you!
Then we coincided the giveaway with a storytelling. This way, we ensnared the listeners with the story, and when the rest of the attendees didn't win the raffle - they desperately wanted to buy the book!
Here are my key points for making a convention successful.
1 - Dress Up Your Booth
At our first convention, the booth wasn't all that decked out. But after seeing the amazing draperies and signs that most people had up around their booths, we got wise.
Create an inviting space for convention attendants to enter into. Entice them in whatever way works with your book. Nothing says stay away more than a blank table with your books on it.
Here's a shot of our booth after setting it up. None of us were in costume yet, but the booth sure looks pretty!
2 - Raffle an Item to get Emails
Again, building your email list is the #1 way to make book sales. Offering something of value for free entices people to stop by your booth and sign up. Make sure that what you're giving away suits your book's theme and the convention. We knew fantasy lovers were into art - so we offered not only the book but a stunning poster of original art from Ella Bandita and the Wanderer.
Coupling the raffle with a storytelling performance allowed the attendees to preview the story while listening to an engaging performance. Who could resist?
3 - Engage with the Attendees
For us, that meant getting decked out in Renaissance garb and connecting with other vendors.
Vendors make great customers too!
The more you talk to your potential fans, the more interested and engaged they become. You need to make yourself accessible at the booth.
Don't hunker down into the rabbit-hole of your phone.
Stay active and engaged with whoever is walking by. Smile. Offer a compliment. Not everyone will stop and talk to you, but don't lose out on those who will by closing yourself off. It's okay to feel bored sometimes!
4 - If You're Not Having Fun, You're Doing it Wrong
It may be hard to keep spirits up at a convention when you're not making sales. Focusing in on chatting it up with other vendors and attendees is a great way to stave off boredom. And even if you're not making direct sales, each email you get is a little victory.
Remember, you can take breaks! Just post up a little sign saying "back in 5" and take a stroll to check out other booths and events at the convention.
Bring a friend along to help you. It does wonders having another body in the booth to keep you alert and happy. Plus, they can rave about your book so you don't have to.