Phew! I am finally rested after my first "real" three-day con, Ancient City Con here in my hometown of Jacksonville, Florida. I had so many cool things happen that I just had to blog about it! I'm not an expert at marketing...in fact I think it's the worst part about writing books...but I definitely learned a lot about selling yourself and your product at cons. Not only that, but I learned the important lesson that comic cons are for a WHOLE lot more than selling your books.
Friday, I'm not going to lie, I was sitting at my table with my books piled high and a giant eager smile on my face. That smile quickly faded a few hours later when I hadn't sold a single book. I got the "Friday Comic Con Blues" really fast. Of course people work on Fridays and I knew it wasn't going to be the best day, but I still couldn't help but feel a little disheartened. Even the curls I spent an hour ironing and hair-spraying were barely there anymore. But we always have a negativity bias, don't we? It's what helped our ancestors survive. Whenever I feel like that, I take a step back and check myself. I began to list all the things I was grateful for in that moment.
One was SaLydia, my best friend and my book's biggest fan. She had painted herself green, cosplaying as the political science student named Eela from the book. And if that wasn't supportive enough, she had even made note cards for her talking points, and printed out bookmarks that were fake flyers for the political conference that was going on between the midaki and humans in my book. She stood from her chair when two young cosplayers passed by our booth.
"May I have a moment of your time?," she asked. "I am holding a petition for equal right for intergalactic exploration. Don't you think humans should have the right to travel freely in space?" She held out the clipboard and I laughed as the two girls signed their name, albeit confused, on the piece of paper that read "Say No to DSO." She went off by herself and talked to the people at the convention. One guy even told me the only reason he was buying the book was because of her enthusiasm for it.
R.J Jojola also gave me a pep-talk and helped me put things into perspective. She has had way more experience than me and I wouldn't have even been there if it weren't for her encouragement, support and insane organizational skills.
With a little attitude check and heeding advice from the more experienced, I stood from my chair and walked in front of the table. Now I was out, standing in the aisle, and ready to just let the experience come as it may. The weekend wasn't about selling books, but about putting myself out there and meeting people. It wasn't five minutes later I sold a book! And then another!
As R.J said, no one was going to walk by our table and think we were special for writing a book. We needed to constantly engage and make them believe that their $10 was well spent. I asked everyone that passed if they loved to read. That one sentence was probably responsible for half my sales that weekend. There were aisles and aisles of creators and artists that had booths much more visually stimulating than a table piled high with books. But pulling them in with a simple question was a way I could initiate conversation. I didn't lie, verbally push, or emotionally manipulate; I just talked to them, made them understand where I was coming from and what my book was about. Most people are happy to support a local author of a book that sounds, to them, even remotely interesting.
Here is my advice to others selling their work at comic cons:
1. Be visually appealing. There's no need to sex it up, but you also don't want to dress down either. Cosplaying as a character in my book was a huge conversation starter and it made our booth much more interesting.
2. $10 books as opposed to $15 books. It's hard to get people to buy a book these days, and even if they do a lot of people can get books for super cheap on Kindle. I sold a lot of books when people found out my book was $10. It's a nice even number, and I am still making a 45% profit from the wholesale price. Also, no charging for pictures or autographs. A lot of writers do that, and I don't know why. It takes an extra 15 seconds to sign a book and take a picture and you get a lot more worth out of not penny pinching every customer. They will remember it in the long run and help your word of mouth marketing.
3. Don't sit at your booth. That's boring and impersonal. You need to be at eye-level with your customers. Like I said, I was standing up in front of the booth, which I think is the best option. Of course I got tired and had to take a break and sit down but you shouldn't be sitting the whole time if you want to engage the most people.
4. Personality matters. I'm glad I am not an introverted person, because Comic Cons are an incredibly social event. But people respond to positive energy and if they take a liking to you as a person, they are way more likely to buy your book. Some people only bought my book because they liked me :)
5. Make friends and connections. I can't even list off the amazing people I either met for the first time there, or saw again from other events. You make lots of friends at Comic Cons. Awesome, nerdy, interesting friends that help you spread your story and hope you do the same for them. Who simply want to nerd out with you for the pleasure of embracing their nerdiness with people who share similar interests. The people side of comic cons is my favorite part! I got two interviews, an invite to be a sci-fi video game consultant, and tons of pictures and social media shout outs. Next month I'm going to St. Augustine to hang out with a professional pirate on his monthly dinner tour for creators. So cool! I am so grateful to all my friends, old and new, who are helping me. SaLydia, R.J, J.C, Mica, Fragged Nation, Ted...love you guys! You are only as strong as your support system.
6. Always be yourself, believe in your product, and be natural. I don't run into much non-authenticity at comic cons, which is a good thing. But if you put 100% into the product you are selling, selling the product won't be hard or fake. You don't need to practice a bunch of one-liners or selling points (although these naturally arise after you've talked for six hours in a day). Like I've already said, people will want to help you if they can feel who you are.
7. Social media. Ugh, my least favorite, but I am improving. These days, you have to have a facebook page, twitter, a website and an instagram...although I can't figure out how to use the last one yet. Social media is free marketing and it's a way to connect with people who want to know more about you and what you are doing. I really shouldn't complain about it, because it is something to be grateful for.
8. Never put down others. There are millions of books from self-published authors now. You can't think about statistics, or let money and attention be your motivator for doing this. You have to do it for the love of it, and you have to realize that there are many others like you with the same dreams and aspirations. Competition between peers can be good as long as it stays healthy. Never do anything that purposefully hurts another writer's credibility or sales. R.J Jojola and I work as a team and support each other 100%. That is why we can share a booth and use it to our advantage. We sold the same number of books this past weekend working together.
And that's what I have learned from my first real comic con! It was a blast and I can't wait for the next on!!!!
Ashley L. Grapes