Tuesday, March 15, 2016

How we sold 170+ books at one convention

How we sold 170+ books at one convention.

I typed this out as a response to a question on Facebook. After finishing it I thought this might be helpful to other authors that are trying to move books at a convention. There are many facets to this, so I doubt I'll cover them all in this one post but let me try and throw out a few pieces. 
I guess the first thing you need to do is, be a unique island in a sea of similar. Most conventions, like that of Comic Cons, have an exhibitors area, and an artist's area. There are other areas, but these two sections are where you tend to find authors. The artist’s booths are typically one table, 8 to 6 feet wide, and are arranged end to end like parallel parked cars. Unless of course you’re a featured artist, then you’ll have a much larger space. Typically, the exhibitor’s booths can be purchased in 10’x10’ cubes and are laid out in 40’x40’ sections with walkways in between. We could have gone into the artist alley, which would have been cheaper, but we chose the 10’x10’ exhibitors booth (~$400) because we wanted to draw as much attention as possible. To add to your uniqueness, you’ll want to come up with a terse description that immediately paints a mental picture of your book or novel series. We described ours as: "Star Wars meets 300" You can see this at the top of our booths on the links below. http://intotheeast.org/2015/05/07/indiana-comic-con-2015 
http://intotheeast.org/2014/01/04/our-first-comic-con If you love Sci-Fi (which EVERYONE at a Comic Con does), then “Star Wars meets 300” immediately paints a picture of what the book series is all about. We made sure to put this in large letters and up as high as possible for everyone to see. There is a height restriction at some of the Cons, but the higher and bigger the better. They call this a UPOD (Unique Point of Difference). Obviously there is nothing new when it comes to genres, but if you want to stand out in a “sea of similar” then you need to find your books uniqueness. For example, our book isn’t just set in a futuristic world, it’s set in a futuristic world that still practices customs like that of ancient Rome. Therefore, we thought of two well known and beloved movies that quickly capture that idea. Something to be very aware of at a convention is that, most conventioneers don’t just walk up to an author’s booth. In fact, they don’t seem to do that at most venues. They need a reason to want to walk up, or at least a reason to pause for just a moment to look at what you’re offering. Therefore, presentation is extremely important. Remember, there is several thousand square feet of stuff that is vying for their attention; therefore, why would they want to come to you and spend their limited dollars? I guess this would be the second thing to consider; have a booth that captures the crowd's attention. Since Comic Cons center around art, then you’ll want to have plenty of eye catching art in your booth. We had several conventioneers and exhibitors comment on the layout of our booth. Several of the other authors at the convention came over to see how we constructed the stand; wanted to know where we got our vinyls from, along with cost, design, layout, etc. We even had another Con representative (Indy Pop Con) visit our booth multiple times, at one convention, to invite us to their upcoming convention because they liked how our booth looked. One thing I noticed when we meet a few other authors at the conventions was that they only had a few books on their table and typically just a small to medium sized placard. They said that they had only sold a few books for the whole show and couldn’t understand why no one was visiting their table. I think much of this had to do with, not understanding their target audience. You absolutely need to be aware of your target audience for your book(s), and the target audience of the conventioneers. This may be one in the same, or it may not be. Therefore, I would suggest you go to a Con first before you spend the money on a booth. This will give you a good idea of what works, and what doesn’t. Comic Con is not a trademarked named. There are many different companies that do “Comic Cons.” Wizard World is one of the larger ones, and one of the more expensive ones for exhibitors and conventioneers. The ones we did in our area were handled by a company out of Tampa. Therefore, if you have a Comic Con coming to your area, you might find out which company it is, and then visit them in another city to see how they run their convention, and see what type of people attend the shows. Most of the attendees will be more than happy to talk with you about their interests. I suggest this because, the crowds we experienced at two of the Indy Pop Con’s we attended could care less about books, as opposed to the crowds at the Comic Cons and Expos we attended. We sold 3 to 4 times more books at Comic Con than the other. When you walk around the convention, ask yourself various questions as you look at other people’s booths and tables. For example; “Would I want to visit that booth?”; “Would I even notice that booth among the many others that are there?”; “Would I want to talk with that author?”; “Do they look like they are confident in what they are selling?”; “Are they enthusiastic when they talk to you?”; “Do they want to get to know you and not just sell you something?”; “Is this a book I would want to spend my limited dollars on?” Look at this as research. This will go far when it comes time for you to setup your booth, along with how you should talk to the visitors. Something you need to get in your head is this; You are selling a brand, and not just a book(s). That brand includes your book(s), but it also includes you the author (which includes your background, your personality, your confidence, etc), your interest in them as a fan, artwork that you produce or commission, videos that talk about your book, blogs that you write for or create, etc. Fortunately for me, my wife was in sales, and one of the things she kept telling me was; “Don’t sell, tell.” This is especially true when it comes to selling books. Your potential fan doesn’t want to just buy another book. They want to connect to you, the author. They want to connect with the characters you created. They want to connect with the world you birthed. Before they will pour themselves into your book(s), they want to know if you poured yourself into the book(s) and didn’t just write something for your own glory. And you have to be able to do all of that in about the first 30 to 60 seconds. A table with a few books and a placard says to that potential fan; “this is just a hobby for me. I’m not really serious about this.” I don’t mean to offend, but that’s just the facts. And...my wife and I noticed this to be true with comic book / super hero / gamer fans as opposed to your casual reader. Sorry for the rambling, but, my point is, our tagline in big letters, up high, along with an impressive booth, was only enough to get some of the people to stop and either read it, or enough to prompt them to come over and say; “Tell me more.” Once they come up to the booth, then you have to begin what is called a ladder pitch. Well...the ladder pitch actually started with the tagline. It captured the essence of your book(s) in the least amount of words possible. Now you need to come up with a paragraph description of your book, and pitch that to them in about 20 to 30 seconds. You will say this hundreds of times throughout the convention; which usually lasts 2 to 3 days. You’ll get tired of saying it, but it needs to be concise and to the point. And again, you can’t sound like you're selling. Even though it will be well rehearsed, it can’t sound that way. This is something that just takes practice. I think this, in and of itself, would take several pages to fully flush out, but suffice it to say, come up with a short paragraph description of your whole book. If they are still standing there after that, then you can step up the ladder, once more, and begin to give a more in depth overview of the book, along with some background information about yourself. This can be another 2 to 3 minutes. When we were at Indiana Comic Con 2015, we were pitching a “sold” book for every 7.5 minutes that the doors were open to the convention. Obviously we pitched more than we sold, but on average, we were selling a book every 7 to 8 minutes. Needless to say, our brains were mush at the end. But...out of that we were able to get several reviews through Amazon, GoodReads, our YouTube channel, our website, our Facebook and Twitter page. We were also able to interview fans from the previous year (2014). From that we created a video compilation of reviews which we then posted on all of our social media sites. Plus...since we got to speak with them face to face, we created a much stronger bond with our fans as opposed to them just buying it online. PLUS PLUS...we saw a spike in online sales a few days and weeks after the convention. (Side note: Make sure everyone has a “take-away”. In our case, we had bookmarks printed up for the show with our website on it. We also worked with Black Rose Writing to have a show discount code that customers could use if they didn’t purchase a book at the show. They could use the code to buy it online for only a few weeks following.) (Another side note: Since Cosplay is big at Cons, we dressed up our girls and their friends as characters from the book and had them walk around the convention handing out take-aways. This is one way to increase your reach and floor space without paying for it.) What was interesting to see was, even though in 2015, we had our 2nd book in the trilogy available (Part II), we still sold more of Part I. This is because, there are always new people coming to the conventions. Or...those from the previous year were not ready to buy, or just didn’t even see us. SO...you can keep doing these things year after year and still never run out of people to sell to. Side note: Here is the company we used for the vinyl banners: www.bannersonthecheap.com A 4’x8’ banner will run you about $36 plus S+H. (For the green colored booth we only used 4 - 4’x8’ banners). If you sign up for their email, they are always sending out discounts for the banners. The same size at the FedEx store would have cost me about $160. Plus, they are of a good quality on large scale images. Not so good on smaller stuff though because of pixelation. Another side note: If you want some inexpensive professional looking artwork, talk to any of the newer artists at the Comic Cons. Many of them do commissioned work, and they’ll do it for cheap. More side notes: If you need help laying out artwork for a vinyl banner, I can work with you for very little cost. I designed the background artwork for my book covers and did all the artwork for the vinyl banners that you see in the links above. Adobe Photoshop was too rich for my blood, so I used Serif Draw. I started using their free version and then later purchased a copy. There is more to tell, but I’ll have to save that for another time, it’s getting late. Maybe my wife and I can put together a series of videos to tell how we sold over 170 books at just one convention.

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