We went to BreakoutCon which was a gaming convention a few weeks ago to try to sell some books. It’s a board gaming convention local to Toronto, and since tables were very cheap, we figured we’d try it out.
Let me save you the trouble of scrolling down if you’re wondering how it went – badly. We sold 7 books in total which meant we didn’t even cover our table cost, nevermind the time cost.
Now, why did we do it? Well, as some of you might realise I’m always open to just testing new marketing approaches out. So long as it doesn’t impact long-term viability, I’m willing to see how things go.
That means everything from testing out wide distribution to creating our own websites to in-person sales like this.
However, doing sales at conventions is not something entirely new to me. We did an in-person sales day last year in Vegas for 20booksto50k’s last day of the event, with sales roughly the same (though, I have to admit, we ended up selling mostly to other authors. Hah!).
Mostly though, my experience with convention sales have come from my old business where we once did 7 different conventions in a year. Or was it 9? I cannot remember, nor do I care to. It was not fun. Profitable, but not fun.
So on that note, some vague overall thoughts:
- You cannot base success or failure of doing conventions as a whole off one convention. Some conventions just do NOT sell well. Others will do incredibly well for you. We used to do VCon in Vancouver, which was a science fiction and fantasy convention. We used to pull in $7-9k in 3 days from 400-700 people, nearly the same amount ($7-11k) on a big anime convention in the same city which had 2-4k visitors.
Sometimes, the only way to know is testing it out.
- Your booth and how it looks is very important. Stacking up vertically so people can see you from a distance with something eye catching will help. Dressing up / being pretty / etc. can draw attention.
The longer people are in your booth, the more chance they have of buying.
- Make sure you can take cash AND card.
- Doing cons in your local city first and making sure you can and are willing to do them is important. Realise that the first time you go outside of your home city, new cost will crop up (hotel, travel, moving your product to the location, lost time going to/from the convention, etc.)
- Often, success comes in being at the convention multiple years in the row. If you sell 10 book 1’s this year, next year you might be able to sell 7 books 2 and 10 book 1’s. And then the next year, 5 books 3, 7 book 2’s and 10 book 1’s….
This happened to us too, where loyal customers who knew we were coming back with their favourite games would save up to see us, just because they knew we were there each year.
- Consider if you might be better off just writing. Depending on your nature, depending on how fast you write, depending on your base sales… it might make more sense to be writing another short story in the 3 days you’re at the con to sell for the rest of your life, rather than doing in-person sales to another 50 people.
- Conventions are draining. If you’re doing the sales, being ‘on’ the entire time and having a pitch at the ready is going to drain you, especially if you are an introvert. It’s why you need to test doing it in a local convention first.
Also, watch other vendors and how they sell. Copy the ones who are doing well to get better.
Anyway, I’m sure I can think of other thoughts… but really, I’m not sure I’ll ever turn doing conventions and selling at a booth into a thing. I CAN do them, I used to do them a lot as I mentioned.
I just don’t really want to. See the part about them being draining?
I put my time in. Nowadays, I’d rather just do panels and see the con rather than stand there, smiling and being cheerful, pitching my book again and again.
It sucks the joy out of this, and at the end of the day, writing and being an author is a fun career.
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