Since publishing The Fermi Paradox: Breaking Point, I have been attending quite a few conventions like Comic Con and local markets to help expand my reach as an author. Since doing so, and posting about it on social media, I have had a lot of authors reach out to ask questions about it and even come speak to me at conventions to learn more. As such, I thought a blog post would be in order to share my experiences and give all of you thinking about doing similar things a head-start to avoid mistakes I made.
So, first things first is to point out that these opportunities will cost you. Depending on the size of the event and expected throughout, the price will fluctuate, starting quite cheaply for things like local markets to a significant cost for stands at large events like Comic Con in major cities. You will need to scope the price and work it into your budget. Also keep an eye on application windows. For larger events, you will have to apply months in advance to secure a place, whereas smaller ones can normally be done much closer to the date. Make sure you plan all this out early and work it into your budget.
Flowing on from this is the largest risk I want to highlight. There is no guarantee you will make sales. While there are things you can do to increase this chance (which I’ll get to very shortly), you need to understand your break-even point and accept the risk that you may fall short. Each event will have a different break-even point depending on the cost to attend. Smaller events like markets may seem more appealing due to the lower cost and hence lower break even, but you will rarely have your exact reader demographic coming through. This is very important to understand when calculating the risk of attending events and before booking anything in; ensure you know who your readers are and whether they will be at the event. This may sound like a bit of doom and gloom, but that’s all about how you approach these events. Understanding break-even is important from a financial perspective, but you need to take these events as opportunities to reach readers that you would never otherwise meet. If you take this mindset in starting to attend conventions, you will be successful regardless of sales.
But what do you need to make sales at a convention? How much will that cost me? Great questions and the answer is, it depends. It depends on both the type of event you're going to and how much your budget is.
Smaller events such as markets will require you to bring everything yourself, such as gazebos (for outdoor markets), tables, chairs etc. Each market will be slightly different so have a read of the requirements for those you are thinking about going to and calculate what you will need to get. The upside of investing in things such as this is you will be able to use them for multiple events and even personal use. In this way, the one-off costs can often be worthwhile in the long term.
Larger events such as Comic Con style events will normally supply a lot of the larger items when you book a stall. Again, just double check what is included, they should be very clear with what’s provided. If these are the only type of events you intend to go to, then the cost to get starter should be quite minimal. You will also generally be given a velcro backing wall on which you can stick promo material onto.
Which leads me to the most important part. What kind of promotional material will you need? Like pretty much all the answers in this blog post, it depends. You guessed it again, based on your budget, but also your style. Here are what I use, where I get them from, and other handy tricks I have learned both from my own experience and advice from other authors.
The number one thing I recommend getting is a stand-up banner. These are useful regardless of the event you are attending because of the ability to put up your banner anywhere - no backing or wall required. I use these during markets as my main large banner due to having no walls to put posters on and position them during larger events to display my poster from a different angle. In terms of making them, they are relatively cheap to have printed and made at places like Officeworks. I used my book cover as the main artwork on mine and used the Canva app to fill it out with other promotional material at the right size for the banner. The only limit here is your imagination and what you can fit on the banner.
Another useful thing you can have made at Officeworks is good old-fashioned posters, just like the good old Blockbuster days. I have made posters of both my books to take to the larger events. Some velcro tape on the back of them is all you need to put them on the velcro backing walls to be a easy to see magnet to your stall. With a bit of design work in Canva, you can also add things such as QR codes so people can easily get linked to your website. I have had multiple people scan codes off my posters on the way past to learn more about my work, with many coming back after learning more about my work. Although these are not particularly useful in smaller events, you can give them to places where your book is available like local bookstores.
Aside from the larger magnets, there will also be smaller things you will want to do at your table to provide information about your work. The first and most obvious is pricing information. I create A4 sized posters of my books with the price of the books on them. Again, these are very cheap to have created at Officeworks where you can also pick up plastic display stands to put them on for your table. Other clever ways which I have seen people advertise their prices are small blackboards on stands, light up displays to stick to walls behind them, or even small cards placed in books to show the price above them. Which way you go will depend on whatever aesthetic works for you and your budget. To go along with your price signs, you will also need a way to display your books. Books stands are available in many different forms, so pick one that works for you. I go the minimalist approach with a simple wooden stand per book with the remainder spread across the table to make it easy for people to pick up and have a look.
There are other, smaller things you can do to help your experience. One that I have found particularly successful are bookmarks to give out to people. Along with cover art from my books, I also add QR codes to these which take people to my website. These are useful things to give out to people who buy your book so they can remain connected with your work as well as to give to people who don't buy books but are interested. Again, it’s an easy way to help make connections with people you otherwise would never meet. A useful tip I was given recently was to also have a signup sheet to your newsletter on the table. Although giving people access to your website and signup through the bookmarks is useful, people often forget to do this after events. Therefore, giving them an immediate opportunity to sign up has proven highly successful for me and allowed me reach out to the people I made connections with much sooner and more reliably. You don't have to be fancy with this, just a simple printed sheet telling people what it's for will suffice.
The limits of how you present yourself at events is purely up to you and how much you wish to invest. Other authors I have attended events with have created things such as table clothes with their branding on it, and even large full wall material banners to hang behind them.
After going through all of this, the final thing I will leave you with is this - remember that these events are about making connections with other readers and authors. Don't be the guy that badgers people into buying your work. You may get a sale but won't generate any real connections or long-term fans. At the end of the day, the money you make is the secondary purpose of these events. It's about the people.
Keep writing. Keep reading. And keep working towards your goal.