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View Full Version : Selling at Conventions - Advice, tips, tricks, gotchas?



Dragonwriter
11-04-2015, 09:49 PM
I'm taking the plunge and have signed up for tables at two nearby conventions next year (and hopefully one more to come). One is kind of large (Silicon Valley Comic Con), one is FOGcon (a book convention aimed at genre writers) and the tentative one is quite small and one day only (Lodi Grape City Con).

I've never done a convention table before. I've seen plenty of them, and attended many cons as a "civilian," but never run my own table. So...I'm seeking advice from those who have. For example:

- How many books should I bring? My self-published urban fantasy series is selling fairly well in ebook form, and by the time of the cons will have four books available in paperback plus a free novella I plan to give out to anyone who signs up for my mailing list. What's a reasonable expectation to sell for a self-pub author who isn't well known?

- What are the most successful freebies? I plan to spend a fair bit on promotion - cards, bookmarks, candy, banners, etc.--I want to do this right. But I also want to focus my efforts and money on what works best.

- I got a Square reader (the kind that works with the chip cards) but haven't set it up yet. Anything I need to know? I'd hate to have a glitch in it during the sales.

- Anything else? My spouse, who cosplays Captain America (and does it very well) has volunteered to wander around the con and hand out cards directing folks to my booth. Do you think readers would be confused by the crossing of genres (superhero vs. urban fantasy)?

Thanks in advance! I'm excited and nervous about doing this.

Maggie Maxwell
11-04-2015, 10:03 PM
Can't answer most of what you're looking for because I have nothing to sell, but I thought I might be able to make a recommendation for successful freebies: no idea what the cost of buying or building one of these would be, but as a congoer, one thing that always gets me to stop at a booth is a wheel o' prizes. Get a variety of things for giveaway and a wheel that they can spin to win one of them, with a "grand prize" of a book. Candy, pens, bookmarks, and a 1/10 chance to win a free book? Yes I will stop and take a look. It makes your booth memorable too.

Dragonwriter
11-04-2015, 10:17 PM
That's a great idea. I'll look into that. Thanks!

MarlynnOfMany
11-14-2015, 09:35 AM
I've sold at conventions before! My best advice is to be interesting. And friendly. Greet passersby like you're happy to see them, not like a carnival hawker. And if you have Captain America The Booth Babe, excellent! You might try having him stand nearby and theatrically direct people toward you, extolling your virtues. Who wouldn't believe Cap?

(Oddly enough, my own husband owns and wears a Captain America hoodie, and he's worked as my booth babe. He's good at juggling random things and striking up conversations, which gets people at ease instead of wary that someone's going to hard-sell them.)

Anyways, as for what you actually asked about...

I'd bring a few copies of each book, though don't expect to sell very many unless you run into people who know you. (That's been my experience; I went to a local convention in September and sold four books along with other things, and the books were all to friends/acquaintances.)

For giveaways, I say bookmarks. Cool looking bookmarks. They work like business cards, only better since people will want to keep them and look at them every time they read! (A thread about the source I used is here (http://absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?310472-Good-source-for-bookmarks!).)

I haven't used the Square reader, but it sounds like a great idea.

I'd say definitely have Captain America pass around flyers/bookmarks. If the covers of your books are those in your signature, then they should be excellently eye-catching! And the genres are close enough. The more enthusiasm your husband can put into playing the part, the better! ("Greetings, citizen! You look bored. Might I recommend a fine novel to pass the time? It is every bit as exciting as punching Hitler in the jaw!") :D

Have fun with it. Conventions can be awesome.

Dragonwriter
11-14-2015, 07:22 PM
Thanks for the tips, MarlynnOfMany! I will chat with my favorite patriotic booth babe and see if he's willing to do this! :)

I've already got cool bookmarks (though I need to get them updated with the latest books on them), so I'm set there. :)

Super_Duper
11-16-2015, 09:41 PM
If you can hand out freebies such as flyers or bookmarks.

Also, be sure to participate in panels and seminars.

Interfaced
11-25-2015, 07:10 PM
I think another key thing (as a con goer) would be to offer a pretty good discount. I've found it kind of annoying how the days of deep discounts for products at cons seem to be in the past, as it was always great to go and see what kind of deals you could get. Con-exclusive discounts can go a long way to drawing people's attention away from the thousands of other things vying for it...

Combining discounts with the wheel of prizes idea could be a good option :)

zmethos
06-10-2016, 02:49 AM
I'm also looking for advice on this! I'll have my first author table at a conference this fall (and will also be participating in a panel). I have bookmarks, and I've heard badge ribbons are big these days? I have an idea for incorporating badge ribbons with my YA fantasy series . . . Another question: how do you handle sales? Cash and check only or do you have ways of taking credit cards? I'm really a newbie at all this, so thanks in advance for any info!

Maggie Maxwell
06-10-2016, 03:54 AM
I'm also looking for advice on this! I'll have my first author table at a conference this fall (and will also be participating in a panel). I have bookmarks, and I've heard badge ribbons are big these days? I have an idea for incorporating badge ribbons with my YA fantasy series . . . Another question: how do you handle sales? Cash and check only or do you have ways of taking credit cards? I'm really a newbie at all this, so thanks in advance for any info!

Most people at cons take credit cards using the Square (https://squareup.com/reader) these days. Get you one. :)

Lissibith
06-10-2016, 05:32 PM
Yeah, I rarely take much cash with me to cons anymore, so if someone can't take my card I can't buy their book (and I buy a LOT of books at cons).

Other advice I'd have - rehearse your elevator pitch. Things will be less awkward for you and for potential buyers if you have something concise that feels natural when you respond to questions of what the book is about.

Also agree on being friendly, but try to read body language (and it can be difficult). Some people are happy to come over and have you start giving your pitch. Some people are uncomfortable with a hard sell though, and you're more likely to drive them off than anything else. When helping at my sister's booth, I found eye contact to be a good indicator of who was which sort, but it's hardly foolproof.

Tazlima
06-10-2016, 06:22 PM
As someone with no experience on the selling side of things, but who has attended various events, something to do draws me in every time. Someone already mentioned a wheel of prizes, and that's a good one. I'd much rather spin a wheel, or try to get a ball in a basket, than simply stand around looking at pamphlets or whatever. On an episode of The Office, they showed a booth once where they were running a competition to see who could make the best paper airplane. I've never seen that in real life, but it looked super-fun. I would have been all over that game.

zmethos
06-10-2016, 08:46 PM
I was thinking of having a drawing for various prizes (Amazon gift cards, etc.) . . . Would people go for that, do you think?

Maggie Maxwell
06-10-2016, 09:26 PM
Yeah, the whole "join our mailing list, enter a drawing" is a common thing at cons. People are always down to win free stuff in exchange for their name and email.

ajkjd01
06-10-2016, 11:11 PM
I tend to do a drawing; have done convention specific deals, and have done package deals. If I do a drawing, it's generally for ebooks or an Amazon e-gift card so I'm not tracking someone down at the end of a con.

I tend to take 25 copies of the first book in a series and at least 10 of each of the sequels, and have more stashed in the car in case I get lucky.

I ordered a metric ton of bookmarks, and people don't take them quite as well as I'd have thought. Business cards, however, they've taken. I have pencils, buttons, candy, temporary tattoos, and business cards for people to take with them, as well as the bookmarks that I can't seem to completely unload. I do tend to attach the pencils and candy to the business card...so that they will walk away with my card. I have signage for my booth, and table coverings that all work together; have been doing this for a few years now, so it's all coordinated, and can have it set up pretty quick. I also have t-shirts that go with the books, but those haven't sold fairly well; I'm glad I got them really cheap.

I tend to prefer PayPal's credit card processing over Square, but have seen people who prefer Square.

I write about fairy tales in my first series, so I buy caramel apple suckers and tell people they can't talk fairy tales without an apple. I have a talking frog, so I give away frog ribbons and temporary tattoos and pencils and buttons. Is there some candy or small giveaway that would make people think of your books? The frog is a big deal, and highlighted on my covers, and tied into my booth decor, so it's all part of marketing.

ajkjd01
06-10-2016, 11:13 PM
Also check with the con and with the state that the con is in about sales tax and/or a transient vendor's license (Ohio requires this, not all states do).

Bring something (a notebook or something) to keep track of your sales. Have a buddy go with you to spell you for bathroom breaks, etc. Have a price list for said buddy so they can sell stuff while you pee, or get lunch or whatever.

Super_Duper
06-16-2016, 01:58 AM
Most people at cons take credit cards using the Square (https://squareup.com/reader) these days. Get you one. :)

everyone should have one! they are free!

SBibb
06-16-2016, 08:20 AM
My main suggestion is not to hard sell people who stop by your booth. I went to a con recently where many of the authors were trying to hammer their pitch on anyone who so much as glimpsed at their booth. After a while, people started avoiding the vending room.

Anyway, one tip I heard from another author was having bookmarks ready so that if someone looks your way and catches your eye, you can offer them a bookmark (it's longer than a business card, so you can reach further from your table). If they take it and start asking questions, then you can give them the shortest version of your pitch. If they still seem interested, then you can move into a longer version. If not, they have your bookmark, and maybe they'll come back later.

I've only done a couple book signings, but I've found that being friendly and approachable does seems to help. In my case, I have a stuffed dragon who rides on my shoulder at signings. Might not work for all personalities and genres, but she sold me a book once (someone asked about the dragon, which led to a conversation about the book). Also, standing, rather than sitting at your booth, can help you look like you're open to talk.

As a side note, I use Paypal Here, not Square. But you have to have internet access with the Paypal Here, so if you have spotty connection, you might be better off with the Square, which I think stores your data for 24-48 hours (can't remember the exact details off hand).

Good luck! :-D

greendragon
07-27-2016, 08:54 PM
If you do get a 'wheel of prizes', please, for the love of the Old Gods, get one that isn't loud and clicky! I've been next to that guy. He spun it every five minutes all weekend. It was loud enough that it drowned out my conversations. SILENT WHEELS!!!

I usually engage by saying 'do you like historical fantasy?' If they say no, I say, 'what about Ireland or fairies?' Usually that gets most of them. If not, I smile and offer them a card anyhow. Usually they won't take it, but most will have said yes to one of the previous questions, and I've engaged them with my elevator pitch.

Square you can work in offline mode if you don't get signal, and some cons are in in convention centers or the bowels of hotels, where signal might be spotty. Dragoncon is like that - the art show is blocked off of signal for most carriers.

zmethos
08-31-2016, 03:32 AM
So I have bookmarks, business cards, some badge ribbons . . . I've got a clipboard ready for people to sign up for my newsletter . . . I'm planning to bring about 40 books (15 of one older title, 25 of my newest) . . . The conference has set up a deal with a bookseller, so I don't have to handle my own sales (in fact, I'm not allowed to) . . . I'm on two panels and I've been told I should bring a water bottle in case my mouth gets dry, and I still need to buy a table cover and print some kind of tabletop sign (any suggestions for what it should say? My name and ???). What else? Am I forgetting anything? The conference is about a month away now and I'm starting to have stress dreams about it!

Dragonwriter
08-31-2016, 07:39 PM
Banners are nice (and not that expensive) - you can get a nice one from VistaPrint.
I always put out a little dish of candy. When people come in for a piece, you can engage them about your books. :)
For the tabletop sign, a price list is good (especially if it's got some kind of deal on it: (Conference Special! 20% off retail price! or something).

Write On Pal
09-01-2016, 12:28 AM
Another give-away you might want to consider is a magnet with a picture of your book cover on it. You can have them made (for a price) or make them yourself. I used some business-card sized magnets that had one sticky side to attach a photo. I printed off business-card size covers of my book on glossy paper and attached them to the magnets. A lot of people stick magnets on their refrigerators so they become long-term advertisements. Anyone who goes in those people's kitchens will see the cover of your book. A little more expensive, but much better than a bookmark which get hidden inside a book and only the reader will see it. Magnets are less likely to get thrown out than bookmarks.

Old Hack
09-01-2016, 10:36 AM
Another give-away you might want to consider is a magnet with a picture of your book cover on it. You can have them made (for a price) or make them yourself. I used some business-card sized magnets that had one sticky side to attach a photo. I printed off business-card size covers of my book on glossy paper and attached them to the magnets. A lot of people stick magnets on their refrigerators so they become long-term advertisements. Anyone who goes in those people's kitchens will see the cover of your book. A little more expensive, but much better than a bookmark which get hidden inside a book and only the reader will see it. Magnets are less likely to get thrown out than bookmarks.

I don't think I've ever bought a book because I saw it on a fridge magnet, but there's a first time for everything. You're very inventive. I hope it works for you.

Write On Pal
09-01-2016, 05:14 PM
Hack, I've never bought a book because of a magnet either, but I figure it's that old marketing strategy of making something visible multiple times in front of a potential customer before they get around to buying it. First they see your book on a refrigerator magnet, then they see an advertisement for it on the internet, then they see it on the Best Sellers' list. For sure at that point they'll say, "Hey, that's the same book I have on my refrigerator! I must buy it!"

At least in my dreams something like that happens.

Write On Pal
09-01-2016, 05:16 PM
These are the kind of magnets I'm talking about:

https://www.amazon.com/s?ie=UTF8&page=1&rh=i%3Aaps%2Ck%3Abusiness%20card%20magnets

Maggie Maxwell
09-01-2016, 05:25 PM
As much as I'd like to agree, and I have book magnets on my fridge, I think I have to agree with Old Hack. Just try to think about the magnets on other peoples' fridges. Unless you're a collector, you may think of one or two that stand out, like the lobster with the jiggly antenna or the restaurant you went to together on vacation, but that's probably all you can remember.

That's not to say magnets are a bad idea. They're portable and useful, and they may work for the person who's curious but won't buy today. That person has had a face-to-face interaction with you and the magnet will help them remember and maybe, eventually, you'll get a purchase from them. But don't expect their friends or family to notice your magnet on someone else's fridge. For friends and family, the bookshelf's the most successful advertising location. :)

christopherdschmitz
09-20-2016, 05:48 PM
some good advice here. and yes--get square! some people don't carry cash.
I'm going to make a separate post, but you should definitely check out an article I wrote on exactly this topic!
https://authorchristopherdschmitz.wordpress.com/2016/09/15/10-important-things-when-pitching-books-at-conventions-festivals-trade-shows-etc/

Old Hack
09-20-2016, 06:14 PM
some good advice here. and yes--get square! some people don't carry cash.
I'm going to make a separate post, but you should definitely check out an article I wrote on exactly this topic!
https://authorchristopherdschmitz.wordpress.com/2016/09/15/10-important-things-when-pitching-books-at-conventions-festivals-trade-shows-etc/

Christopher, I've had a look at your article and don't see anything there which would help people more than the SEO Dweeb thread we already have running.

I can't recommend some of your selling techniques, I'm afraid. Especially the bit where you suggest putting a copy of your book into the hands of people walking around a convention as then it's so much harder for them to say no to it. Doing things like this might get you a few sales in the short term but it's no way to build a good reputation. For the people who buy your book as a result of this you're forever going to be "that pushy author who wouldn't take no for an answer", and they won't buy any of your subsequent books.

Think more about engaging with your potential readers, and giving them what they want, instead about working out ways to pressure them into buying your books. It's more successful in the long run.

zmethos
09-21-2016, 11:29 PM
Thanks, everyone! I'm about two weeks away from my first conference as a guest author and my first signing table. Starting to hyperventilate a little. The sign I've made for the table has the two books I'm selling on it--cover image, cost, and a little blurb of what each is about. Of course, I guess the readers could pick up the books and turn them over, too . . . Should I put something else on the sign instead?

Bolero
10-31-2016, 07:08 PM
I'd definitely have at least title + author + price visible from a distance probably plus genre/a tag if you have one "BEWARE THE PINK ELF!". Back cover..... maybe. Could also have it on A5 fliers for people to pick up.
How big is the print, how far away can you read it from? How high up off the table will you stand it?
If you have throngs around the table (:D) would someone be able to see from a distance? (Or throngs around your neighbours table blocking half the view of your table.)
Just thinking that some people like to cruise along the tables, far enough out not to be snagged in, then either move in to one they can see is interesting (already seen from a safe distance) or return back down the row. Can you put a poster on a stand, or a wall, up behind you so it is head high?
Another tactic is putting A5 fliers in the con pack, or bookmarks, if the con does it - but the convention is likely to charge and many folks do just tip straight in bin. Some don't, some will tip the pack over the bed and skim read.

Regarding fliers, I was told by someone who does marketing for a chain of shops (food and clothes), that all you want to have on a flier for a mailshot is what can be read in the two seconds between the potential customer picking it off the doormat and escorting it to the bin. I said that I liked a lot more info - so combined approach is having an attention getter at the top, then the book blurb. Double sided can land attention getting side down when letterboxing.