Con Life

My past two weekends have been spent in big echoey rooms, sitting in cold spots that could only be caused by an extremely angry ghost, making small talk with total strangers, trying to convince them that in a shitty economy, they should drop some cash on an author they’ve never heard of. In other words, I was manning my booth at a pair of conventions. The first, ConDor, a science-fiction/fantasy convention in (normally) sunny San Diego, was over my birthday weekend; the second was Emerald City Comic-Con in Seattle, the Bib Fortuna to San Diego Comic-Con’s bloated Jabba the Hutt. As you can see from my con schedule, I do a lot of these, so I thought I’d talk about them a bit. It might be my skewed perspective, but conventions seem to be taking outsized importance in the life of fans, and they can be a good place to promote your books/comics/webseries/interactive goat-fertilization vines.

I feel dirty.

I’ve been attending San Diego Comic-Con every year since 2002, and it’s one of the written-in-stone engagements on my social calendar. In early days it was as a guest, then I worked a friend’s booth for an exhibitor pass, and for the last seven or so years, I’ve been going as a professional. My time at Comic-Con coincidentally lines up almost exactly with its growth from merely large to something grotesque and unwieldy that even devotees hate at times. The first year I went, I showed up on Saturday afternoon, stood in line, and bought a pass for both remaining days. To anyone who has attempted the Thunderdome that is the online registration process, this sounds like the ravings of a madman, but I assure you, it happened. These days, there is no admission at the door. You roll the dice on the long shot you’ll get an attendee badge, or you get creative with labor commitments, resume, or qualifications. SDCC is such a madhouse that it barely makes sense for someone’s first con — it’s like making prospective trainers at Sea World go out and capture their own orca bare-handed. The growth of the con has altered it in ways that a lot of the old-timers (even “old-timers” who have only been going for a couple years) bemoan that it’s no longer even tangentially about comic books; Comic-Con has become a place for studios to test their ostensibly nerd-friendly movies and TV shows. Comics have remained a tiny and tenacious part of the con, but really for the last six years, I’ve been taking SDCC as an excuse to party with my friends in San Diego while I pick up the newest Rick Geary book.

My first convention flying solo as an exhibitor was the Long Beach Comic & Horror Con in November of 2012. My third (though I wrote it first) book had just been published in completed form, and I was ready to move some paper. Well, I thought I was ready. I was lucky enough to have Con Mentors in the form of Clint and Dawn Wolf of the fantastic Zombie Ranch so I had some idea of how this thing was done. As it turns out, I was basically Jon Snow when it comes to not knowing shit (sadly, not in terms of being super duper sexy). It’s been about a year and a half, and I just finished up my first back-to-back con appearances in two different cities, neither of which is my home base. I might finally have the hang of this thing. Maybe. A little bit.

It’s kind of astounding how much there is that you wouldn’t even think about. You need a tablecloth to cover whatever you’re setting up on, a banner behind you to catch the eye and give you some height, shelving to display what you’re selling and to provide texture, giveaways to draw people in, money in easily changeable denominations, something to let you accept credit cards, and a book. Oh god, how you will want a book about halfway through your first day sitting on your ass. Snacks too, and you’re best off with something cheap and healthy. And, because it’s me, a giant fucking bottle of iced tea.

Yeah, that’ll last an hour. Hour and a half tops.

Just as important, and the place I’m still lagging behind, is getting your patter down. There’s a weird line when it comes to people checking out the booth. It’s a good idea to greet anyone who stops by, but a bad idea to try to rope people in from afar. Mostly because at any sort of convention, introversion is the norm and introverts don’t like being shouted at like carnival elephants. I went too far in the other direction, and when I changed my approach (thanks to the advice of my loyal Gal Friday), I had the best day in sales in a long time. I greeted newcomers, then, if they made eye contact, engaged them with actual questions, and letting them come to the books organically. It helps to have a quick elevator pitch for prospective buyers. My problem is that I have seven published books in six genres (and that number is only growing), and I easily get flustered when the time comes to talk myself up. Actually talking with my visitors helped alleviate that, so when I asked what kinds of things they normally liked, I could steer them in the proper direction. Urban fantasy, but want something a little different than the sword-wielding warrior-women and sexy werewolves? Try Coldheart. Mysteries, but want a unique variation on a theme? Mr Blank and City of Devils will treat you right. Bone-crunching zombie death, but with a plot? Undead On Arrival is the way to go. Horror, but want something more disturbing than your average monster-menaces-normal-folks? Everyman.

I’ve got a couple weekends off before WonderCon! I’ll be launching the Get Blank kickstarter by then, complete with all new conspiracy cards. And at least that one is in my backyard.

About Justin

Author, mammal.
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