2016 Convention Breakdown
I've had roughly 2 conventions per month, except for my trip down to Colombia, and while I still have 3 events left this year, I thought it was long past time to post a breakdown of how things have gone.
I started out the year with Capricon in the Chicago area, followed up with my event at The Source Comics and Games and a couple of local cons (Marscon, Minicon). It's pretty much impossible for me to do anything other than profit at local events, so those were all good. I made some new friends, made my way to Odyssey Con in Madison (also a good book-centered con), and then began my summer events in May. Planet Comicon and ConQuesT were both in Kansas City on consecutive weekends, followed by CoreCon in Fargo. And aside from the people being great at all these events, it's been an uphill sales battle. I suspected the election rhetoric of playing a part, and this was confirmed by others who have been vending for over 12 years--apparently every election year is lower.
I rounded out my summer with WorldCon (again in KC, where a friend was awesome enough to invite me to George R. R. Martin's "Hugo Losers" Party, pictured above) and DragonCon where I got to work with Kevin J. Anderson at his WordFire Press booth. More sales struggles, as well as some pricing confusion at the WordFire booth, but it's all fixed now and that was a great opportunity that I look forward to repeating in the future at other WordFire events. Next up: South Dakota Book Festival (Sept 25th) in Brookings, SD, ValleyCon (Oct 14-16) in Fargo, ND, and most likely WindyCon (Nov 11-13) in Lombard, IL.
Throughout the year, I've been encouraged by all the people who have purchased or showed genuine interest in my book. I've got hundreds of names and email addresses to blast out news of the next release, review incentives, and book promos. Considering I'm a profitable author in a down year, I'm encouraged to keep slogging away, and the feedback I've gotten has been phenomenal! I've been fortunate to make great friends and partners the whole way, including my room party co-hosts, Ivery Kirk and Luna Teague, who will be attending the next two conventions with me. They write a sci-fi erotica comedy series called Timebangers, which is exactly how it sounds. They're also great, fun, and funny people, and I'm stoked to see how our tandem "Pirate Bangers" parties work out.
I made a bunch of good friends at the WordFire event, and I'm finally starting to feel more like part of the larger author community. These guys and gals are just a great bunch of people, and that's always going to the the highlight of any event for me.
As for the conventions, I've learned a few things this year:
1. Get on top of joining panels early! I excel at panels, but I have not gotten out front of the programming schedules at most of these conventions. Panels are great opportunities for exposure, and I need to do better at getting onto them at out of state cons.
2. Don't underestimate small cons. Seriously Odyssey Con was one of my best events, and also one of the smallest. Go where the readers are and they will appreciate you.
3. Don't underestimate the value of post-dealer room socializing! Karaoke, room parties, "Bar-con" (hanging out with everyone in the hotel bars), talking to strangers in food courts (e.g. DragonCon), these are not only fun for those of us with a more social leaning, but they result in sales. I can't say how well it works for your intense introverts, but if you like people, you've got to go do it to some degree!
4. Beware too many conventions in one location. Seriously, Kansas City this year hosted Planet Comicon, ConQuesT, WorldCon, and Kansas City Comicon. It's more dealer activity than most wallets can handle, and the three of these events I went to likely all suffered for it. ConQuesT was reportedly the smallest it's been in years, WorldCon had about a 1/3 no-show rate, and Planet Comicon (while healthy in attendance) saw an uphill battle for your individual artists/authors as celebrity guests took the lion's share of attendees' savings. I loved going and being down there, but I definitely need to roll this point into my strategy.
5. Hosting room parties can work! I've seen Blake Hausladen sell books at his room parties, but he could sell make-up to the Amish. I wasn't able to get into any guest or dealer spots at CoreCon (which was pirate themed this year!), so I arranged to host a piratey room party and sell books that way. I wasn't sure how it would go, and the first 2 nights were pretty light. And then we stayed open late the final night, and the sales just ticked along, making it all worthwhile (financially of course--because the Fargo crowd takes the cake for awesome). There was a high cost to running the party. This was partly due to decorations and novelties, some of which were only a one-time purchase I can reuse in the future. The rest was the alcohol cost, but my co-host Stacey and I learned something about tip jars in the process (make them large, obvious, and above all transparent). With a little tweaking, this could work quite well for a while, though I've seen the need for the strategy to be eventually retired or rendered dormant. For now, I look forward to exploring it more, regardless of how much karaoke I'll miss while I host parties.
6. Double check everything you can. I was supposed to be at the Printer's Row Lit Fest in Chicago this year, but the organization gave out the wrong dates on their forms. Consequently, my friend Blake had to readjust his plans to do it at all, and I had to bow out due to my commitment to CoreCon. With 2 events a month, most of them fan run and non-profit, you can't count on there being no mistakes. Just have to watch for them and take them in stride when they happen, but it never hurts to ask a couple different people at each event.
7. As much as I enjoyed all of these events, I have to say after a solid year of them, the Fargo events stole my heart. They were well-run, well-organized, adapted quickly to needs, and had huge communities who were all grateful to see people like me there. If you want to attend a couple out of state conventions, either as an artist or an attendee, start with the Fargo events and you won't be disappointed. Just bring whatever alcohol you want with you, because it's about 25% more expensive there (and they don't have the fancy rum I added to my pirate rum punch).
I'll be more diligent with the updates on other events, but it's been a busy year. For all those asking, yes, my next book is in editing right now, and yes, I'm committed to getting this out with both rapidity and quality. Watch this space for crowdfunding promos, and know that this time you'll all be getting a much better deal on book 2 that way! For now, enjoy the reading. For those who haven't started my book yet, be advised, reviewers will receive the best discounts when book 2 is out!