Expect Superman: Working the SFF Cons

You’ve just gotten your first speculative fiction work published, and now you need to get it out there to potential readers. Whether you are self-published, published by an independent press, or published in New York, marketing your book is up to you. Since you are a writer of speculative fiction (SciFi/Fantasy, or SFF), you have an excellent option to get your book directly into the hands of your niche market: SFF Conventions.

Fantasy conventions occur nearly every weekend somewhere in the USA, so it all depends how far you want to travel and how much you want to spend marketing your book. Over the past two and a half years, I’ve participated in many SFF Conventions (Cons), art shows, Celtic Festivals, and Renaissance Faires to promote my fantasy novels and my Steampunk romance novel.

SFF cons can be a lot of fun for a working author if one sets their expectations at the right level.

Superman. Expect Superman: at least one middle-aged Superman in sky blue spandex and a very tight red speedo.

No kidding.

In fact, you will see many amazing costumes at SFF cons. These people take their fantasy seriously, and that’s exactly the kind of person you want to be passionate about your book(s). It would behoove you to dress up in a costume as well, especially if you write Steampunk. It’s still new enough that you will get countless people stopping at your table just to take your picture or ask you about how you are dressed. Perfect opportunity to pitch your book and hand them a bookmark full of your information and social networks. I’ve sold more than a few books just because of my corset and bustle.

Expect long hours. Most SFF cons run 10-12 hours a day, and that’s not including the parties in the evenings, where much of the networking takes place.

Expect little time to eat. Bring snacks to nibble on because invariably as soon as you take a bite a customer will magically appear.

Expect to barely break even on expenses, if you’re lucky. Fantasy conventions can be expensive to do, but a working author must look at them as a marketing expense. You will have to cover travel (air or gas), hotel, and the table fee. Table fees in the Artist Alley (for artists and authors) generally run anywhere from $25 to $200. If you break even, you’re doing very well. If you make a profit, assume it is an anomaly and don’t expect it to happen again.

TIPS

Signage & Table Display

  • Make sure your table is attractive and professional.
  • Bring a table covering, as many cons do not provide one. This can be as simple as a few yards of black velveteen.
  • Having some sort of poster, vinyl banner, or a window shade-type display is essential, and they are well worth the investment for all your marketing events. A window shade display can be pricey and a poster can be bulky. Vinyl banners are great because they pack well. If you can make some sort of collapsible stand (I have one made from copper pipe & connectors), a vinyl banner can work well as a backdrop. Check out etsy.com for handmade displays and support other independent artists.
  • Create a vertical display on the table itself with a book stand or easels, as it’s much more eye catching.
  • Have a lot of books. I mean it. You want stacks and stacks of books. You do not want to sell out. Selling out looks really great on a press release, but selling out means you could’ve sold more books had you been better prepared.
  • If you can, have something other than books for people to look at. It’s very easy for people to see a table of books (especially if it’s all just one book) and say to themselves “I’m not looking for a new book.” If there are other things to look at, especially if they relate to your book in some way, it slows them down enough to look. Then you can pitch. Also, if they all relate to your book, then you have a great segue. Create some art or buttons or something. If you aren’t artistic in that way, then team up with an artist friend.

Engage Potential Fans

  • Make eye contact.
  • Have something ready to stop them if they look over at you for more than one second. Many people need to be engaged to stop. They don’t know you, so you have to introduce yourself and tell them who you are.
  • Start with something, perhaps a question. I’ve heard authors ask “Are you a reader?” or “Are you familiar with Steampunk?” If they are in costume, start by complimenting their outfit. They likely put a lot of work into it. Even ask if you can have your picture taken with them. Then you can hand them a card and tell them you will post the picture on your blog.
  • Then pitch your book. Have your pitch down. You will say it a dozen times an hour, if you’re lucky. Short, to the point. You want them to pick up your book and look further.
  • Tell them that you will happily sign it for them. Most celebrities at cons charge a fee for their autographs, so many con-goers are thrilled to get an author-signed book for no extra charge. People LOVE author-signed books. Several times I’ve had a new reader tell me that it was their first author-signed book. They will never forget that.
  • Hand out business cards, or preferably, bookmarks. Bookmarks are less likely to wind up in the recycling or on a pile of other cards on someone’s desk. Bookmarks will at least end up in a book, which ensures that the reader will see your information more than just once. One side of the bookmark should have the cover art of your book(s), the other should have your social networks (including Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, etc,), you website/blog, your email address and a short synopsis. Even if they don’t buy a book, make sure everyone walks away with one of your cards. I use NextDayFlyers. Their prices cannot be beat. I find their 1/8 page “club flyer” and “bookmarks” work quite well for this.
<This post first appeared on The Best Damn Creative Writing Blog on January 10, 2011>

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Where is your favorite place to market your book? What has worked for you? What hasn’t?

4 Comments Add yours

  1. B.J. Keeton says:

    One of the best tips I read was to forego bookmarks and cards completely in lieu of chapbooks. If you get the right paper and plan it out, you can make some ridiculously inexpensive handouts that give all the same information as a bookmark/card but end up as so much more because they actually contain whole sections of your writing.

    Include a short story that fits within 5-7 chapbook pages (which turns out to be around 2 sheets of blank paper folded over and taped/strung), and the reader now has a very small (translated: easily held onto) momento that works as both a contact form and an advertisement.

    And if you sign it? Right into what you were talking about. Sure you’re out more time, especially if you’re making them yourself, but from what I’ve seen and experienced, they are the kind of handouts that last far longer than bookmarks. I still have stories I was given at cons years ago.

  2. Christine says:

    This is a great idea, B. J. Perhaps we’ll put something together like that. Although it seems quite expensive by comparison. Bookmarks/club fliers are about $0.04 each.

  3. Great post. I’m new to cons and they can be very overwhelming. Thanks for the thoughtful, practical advice. A

    1. christinerose says:

      They can be, but they can also be FUN! 🙂

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