So, this happened. I decided to stop stalling and do my first public in-person author event: I’ll be exhibiting the Matter of Manred Saga at Newark Comic Con 2016, Saturday August 20 on the Waterfront in historic Newark NJ! Yes, that’s right. Finally, they’re letting me out of the asylum for one day only!
Newark Comic Con 2016
1100 McCarter Highway
August 20, 9am-8pm
This is a big deal for me. My own evil Antagonist so often gets in my way when I think about doing public readings and other kinds of author events. But a good friend got me fired up about the idea of doing a Comic Con.
So, great, goodie for me. I’m doing a Comic Con! But what does that mean exactly? I wasn’t even sure myself, so I wrote out a checklist.
Promotion, Promotion, Promotion
Everyone involved in a Comic Con (the venue, the event organizer, your publisher, and you yourself, the author) benefits from a successful book exhibition. So it behooves you to help spread the word by letting your own networks know about the appearance. Put the signing on your author website, promote it on your Facebook page, create a Facebook Event, Tweet it to your followers, set up events on your Goodreads and Amazon Author pages. Even if the signing is in an unfamiliar place, friends of friends might help spread the word.
And, if you’re self-published, you might go further and (if the store or event venue doesn’t customarily do this themselves), get the event listed in local calendars, pin up notices in the other retail establishments or bars you frequent or even in the library. Ask permission, of course (and note that it’s bad form to put the notice up in a competing bookstore—and you don’t want to piss off any bookstores).
Don’t assume that bookstores and venues are as together as you when it comes to promotion and social media. After all, you know your book and your vision for the event better than anyone. Send promotional tweets and blog posts for the venue to use to advertise the event. If you can be prepared and thorough, the venue will thank you—and ask you back.
I plan to send out a lot of stuff before the convention. Tweets, emails, press releases, free downloads, the works. And while it’s hard to measure that impact, I look forward to plenty of people coming to the booth looking for stuff they’ve seen elsewhere. If your promotion starts when the show opens, you’re already behind the 8-ball.
In addition to promoting the events with the venue, I handed out postcards to coworkers, friends, and random people on the street. I even went to a County Fair near the venue and started handing out fliers. I’m sending sincere Facebook, Twitter, and e-mail appeals to my friends, asking them to help spread the word, that the success of the exhibit will be entirely due to word of mouth by my supporters. Humility, appreciation, and shared success go a long way.
But I went even another step farther. I’ve also reached out to reporters and writers I know and told them about the events. With luck, this will pay off with more than one mention in print and online. While bookstores and your publisher generally send event listings to local papers, magazines, and websites, you can do this yourself to ensure placement.
Make sure your books arrive on time
Don’t laugh. Many an author has been disappointed by a carton of books gone missing. In fact, last year, I went to Newark Comic Con just to reconnoiter the venue, and sure enough, an author I arranged to meet there hadn’t received his most recent books.
So check, double check, and triple check that your books are arriving. Get tracking information and stay in close touch with whoever’s responsible. Being self-published, that means me, me, and ho yeah, me, but if you’re traditionally published, get contact information for the publishing and bookselling staff members (usually the publicist and the bookstore manager or bookstore’s event coordinator). If you’re appearing on a weekend, make sure your books are arriving early (book warehouses are closed; shippers don’t always have weekend schedules); get the cellphone numbers of all people you need to contact if the books don’t arrive.
Thankfully, I received mine yesterday, three goodly-sized boxes stamped “Heavy.” So what am I doing tonight? Opening each one and counting that I received the right number of all three titles. Because shipping errors happen.
Don’t do it alone.
I’m not a con veteran, not as an exhibitor. But I’ve been to plenty of one and two day shows before, and I know artists, publishers, authors, and marketeers who’ve done this for a long time. They’ll tell you, it’s a grind. Hell even a trip to the bathroom can be a 1/2 hour endeavor. And any time away from the table is potential sales lost. I’ve been to cons where I intended to spend money on specific creators, but they were never at their table. This is where having a team to work a booth can pay dividends.
Not to mention, it can be lonely. When I told a friend I was considering exhibiting at Newark Comic Con 2016, her advice to me: “Try to do it with another writer.” With that in mind, I reached out to another writer in my area, whose work is similar in genre and flavor to my own, and I’m happy to say, she accepted! So C.L. Schneider, author of the amazing Crown of Stones Trilogy will be sharing the booth with me, and I couldn’t be happier.
If you’re doing an author reading, choose your passages ahead of time
This is a sticky wicket: I’m exhibiting at Newark Comic Con 2016, I’m not a featured guest, so it’s not as if I’ll have a dedicated venue or conference room specifically for me. But I’m not above throwing a soapbox down and holding forth in front of all and sundry.
So that means being prepared, and remembering the days when I did poetry readings often and regularly:
- Mark the passages well, and maybe select a range of possibilities depending on who shows up. That way, you’re more likely to make sure your book appeals to whoever is in the audience.
- Don’t read a passage that requires too much explanation. If it takes five minutes to explain who the characters are, it might be better to use your time to talk about the characters instead of reading that passage.
- When it comes to choosing excerpts, as in life, choose sex over death.
It also means remembering those drama classes I took in college (I knew they’d come in handy!):
- Take a bunch of deep breaths beforehand.
- Acknowledge the inherent awkwardness of the situation.
- Don’t read from your book or from a piece of paper. Memorize the section you’d like to read. Just memorize it.
- Make intermittent eye contact with the crowd.
Bring Your Own Pens!
Publicists generally bring some, too, but don’t rely on others for this. Keep your own with you, just in case. Sharpies are the standard for many authors. Thick or thin — your preference. But have plenty on hand.
Have a plan, but be prepared to adapt
To say that exhibiting at Newark Comic Con is a logistical challenge is a bit of an understatement. So, I plan to err on the side of being over-prepared. I’ve been coordinating with my boothmate, C.L. Schneider (The Crown of Stones Trilogy) and plan to travel to the show with all the Ts crossed and Is dotted. I even have a to-scale sketch of how I think we can set up our table. Of course, that will all get tossed out the window when we actually get to the space.
The number of moving parts required for any event, particularly Newark Comic Con, means there’s certain to be a wobble or three. Every venue does evens differently; some are more professional than others; things don’t always happen as you would expect or would ideally like. Be polite, be helpful, keep your cool. Give constructive feedback later – not in front of the audience or other exhibitors.
A basic rule of strategy is that even the best battle-plan never survives first contact with the enemy. Or, as I like to say (paraphrasing Steinbeck): The best laid plans of mice and Michaels often go astray.
Bring your book’s promotional materials (Corollary: Less can be more)
If you’ve ever attended a convention, you’ll know that Artists Alley and the Exhibit Hall are often the most creative part of a show floor. Hundreds of artists gather to exhibit and sell their art. It’s overwhelming—comics, posters, commissions, tee shirts, buttons. Everywhere you look: bright colors, beautiful art, creative ideas! Oh my!
So when exhibiting at a large event where many authors, artists, and others are exhibiting as well, it’s only common sense to have bookmarks or other promotional items with you at your table to bring some of the reading public to you.
But then you remember all of the different things you’ve seen and feel pressed to keep up. Sure, you’ve never exhibited at a show before, but aren’t you expected—you know, if you’re serious about it—to have tee shirts? And buttons! And what if your brand new book sweeps the show floor as the “cannot miss” item of the weekend? You’d hate to sell out, right?
Slow down. Re-evaluate.
Beware: these promotional materials can become a money-pit. Do you really need four-color t-shirts? Mugs? Pens? No, not unless you’ve got Rockefeller money to burn. All of those expenses go to your bottom-line, meaning you have to sell that many more books to break even.
Ask yourself smart questions before you begin throwing hundreds of dollars into merchandise.
Do people already read your book or is this a brand new product? Readerships take awhile to build. So until you know that there will be lines of fans waiting for your autograph at a show, go easy on the book orders. They’re expensive. And it’s hard to sell a tee shirt of your character to people who have never even heard of your book.
Make sure the kinds of merchandise and the amounts you order make sense. If you’re lucky, you’ll sell out of books, but that’s a good problem to have.
“But Mike,” you say, “I can maybe spread that cost across a number of shows.”
Yes, maybe you can. But let me share a lesson I recently learned: My father is a marketing materials junkie. All my life, we had pens, notepads, envelopes, post-it notes, jerseys, jackets, sweatshirts, t-shirts, swimming caps, and on and on, all around the house, in great big shipping boxes. Then he retired in May. Want to know what we just took to the dump, in an effort to clean out his former office? Forty years of great big shipping boxes full of now-useless marketing materials. He probably could have sent me to a good college on the money he spent on that crap.
So be sensible. Your kids and your spouse will thank you for it.
Engage the Customer
If you’ve been to a Comic Con before, then you’ve seen this sight: a lonely, wet-behind-the-ears artist looking dejected behind his table because no one has bought a single copy of his book all weekend…
…but the gal sitting next to him hasn’t even had time to eat her lunch.
The less he sells, the sadder he gets until folks begin walking on the far side of the aisle just to avoid him.
He’s waiting for a miracle. But he fails to realize the power is in his own hands.
Don’t underestimate the value of engaging a customer. Most people walking around the Exhibition Hall are browsing for beautiful art, self-published titles, or hoping to stumble on the next big talent.
So what will make a browser stop at your booth? More often than not, a simple but friendly “hello” will do the trick.
- A conversation is more enticing than a speech. Why should I read this book instead of all the other books, tonight?
- Make time for Q&A. Readers have a lot of questions to ask you. And yeah, some of them might be questions about how they can get published, too, but most of them will be about your writing process and your books.
- Book events unlock more media potential than not, and enthusiasm is as important to the success of a book as ever (if not more, especially for fiction). Meeting a promising debut novelist or an established name sows mutual goodwill and signals that an indie publisher is putting its money where its mouth is.
If you’re feeling low, go to the bathroom, count to ten, dry your eyes, take a couple deep yoga breaths and yell “For the honor of Droma!” in the mirror. Then get back out there.
You don’t have to be the most famous name, the best artist, or the showiest salesman to sell books at Newark Comic Con.
You just need to smile, engage, make polite but warm small talk and pitch your book in a memorable, intriguing way.
Approach the Convention with Realistic Expectations
Who knows what to expect the first time you show at a Comic Con? Every show will be different, and every person’s show will have different results. I’ve been to conventions where all my friends complained about not selling a thing. I’ve also been to shows where the reverse is true.
Don’t go into your first convention with grossly unrealistic expectations.
Sure, you might find a publisher the first time you exhibit. You might get a movie agent interested in representing you. You might sell 100 copies of your brand new novel.
Sure. You might.
But chances are you won’t.
That doesn’t mean the show was a failure. We put too much pressure on ourselves too fast, and expect the entire world to open up to us the first time we make an effort. Life seldom works that way.
Attending conventions is a regular, ongoing part of your life as a creator. You don’t have to—and won’t—get it all right the first time. Learn what works, learn what doesn’t, adjust and make changes at the next show. Then lather, rinse, and repeat.
Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to figure it all out now.
…or to sell a hundred books in a weekend.
These things take time. But if you’re thinking in terms of a career rather than this show, then good news, time is one thing you’ve got plenty of.
Also: alcohol helps
So when you come by my table at Newark Comic Con 2016, be sure to ask for a sip. Daddy always has a flask of good Irish whiskey for just such occasions.
Thank everyone involved
Make sure to write a note to your event host. It takes a lot of effort to mount these sorts of events and your thanks will be much appreciated. Plus, it will help you get fondly remembered when your next book is published.
What have I forgotten?
I don’t know, I’m sure there’s something. But there it is, my checklist for Newark Comic Con 2016. So come out, see the show, enjoy the cosplay, and find my table in Exhibition Hall. See ya there!
Newark Comic Con 2016
1100 McCarter Highway
August 20, 9am-8pm