10 Author Tips for Con Appearances
Sooner or later in your writing career, you’re going to be attending a convention. But you’re a writer, you have social anxiety, you live in the attic and never interact with humans, so how are you gonna pull it off?
Whether your goal is to sell some books, to network with other authors and publishers, get an agent, or you’ve been invited as a guest of honor or panelist, you need to know the basics.
Worry not; the matter is trivial.
Why Would I Want to Attend a Con?
Sooner or later, you’re going to want to interact with people outside of social media and email. You’d be surprised at how friendly some people can be up close. People you’ve been stalking on Twitter for years with nary a retweet can become your best buddies after a few minutes of conversation. It’s almost as if humans interact better with each other in real life.
At the same time, it can do wonders for your career, especially if you get a chance to pitch your book to a prospective publisher or agent.
And for the lowly small press or self-published author, you can lug your wares to the con, rent booth space and sell some books directly to your fans. It’s good for the ego to meet and talk to people who enjoy your work, and at the same time build brand (shudder) loyalty.
Probably the more attractive reason to attend a convention. Meet some new people, make friends, and get to be yourself without trying to sell anything to anyone. Here come the tips.
1. Look good
You don’t have to wear a suit and tie (unless you can pull it off, I guess), but make a modicum of effort. This isn't quite on the level of your wedding day, but when you walk around on the convention floor, you’re the brand. Get a haircut, shave or trim your beard, carry gum or mints, use deodorant. I mean this is all regular ‘’I’m an adult’’ knowledge, but I’ve seen some things in my life.
2. Be Friendly
Yeah, I know, goes without saying. But if you’re shy like me, it bears repeating. My first con ever was the biggest comic book convention in Europe (Lucca Comics and Games, roughly 250k visitors) and I managed to have a blast by pretending to be the world’s dumbest tourist. My shtick was to walk up to people working the booths and say ‘’Hey I’m from Sweden, I don’t speak Italian, what are you guys doing over here?’’ Everyone was happy to talk to me about their work and what they were selling. This might be harder to do if you’re attending cons in your own country, but just change that into ‘’I’ve never been to CITY or CON before, what are you guys selling over here?’’ and it’s pretty much the perfect ice breaker. Authors are a mostly friendly bunch anyway.
3. Business Cards
You need them, or don’t even bother trying to network. Nobody will remember your website URL or the name of your book because they’re going to be meeting two hundred people over the duration of the con. Your business card should have your website or blog URL on it, your name and any contact information that’s pertinent. It doesn’t hurt if it’s a really fancy one. Business cards are cheap. Invest. It doesn’t hurt to carry around a couple of your books too, if you’re a published author. You can’t give one to everyone you meet, but you never know who you’re going to run into. They’re bound to remember the author who gave them their book a bit better.
4. The Pitch
Always have your pitch ready. Write it down beforehand, practice it, time it, do whatever you need to do to have a great, short (nobody wants to listen to you talk about your book for an hour) pitch that you can drop either on agents and publishers or a customer (if you’re already selling copies).
5. Stay Healthy
Cons are a killer. I don’t think anyone has figured out how to protect themselves from falling ill instantly when the convention is over, but you can try. Don’t skip meals, especially breakfast, get plenty of sleep, maybe take some vitamins and hydrate. It’s no fun missing half the con because you’re laid out in a bed in your hotel room.
You got a booth. Great! Now you can play street vendor as well as author, especially if you want to recoup your expenses. Here are some tips to help you move books.
Set your table up to look nice. Look at how the pros do it. Practice your set-up at home and bring a nice tablecloth. Make sure your prices are clearly visible and you have some bookmarks or other merch to give away. Get a vinyl banner and a stand to go with it, it’ll help attract people and make you look professional. I hope you have a good looking book cover you can put on there.
Prepare your book pitch, but also something you can say to people who come up to your booth or are just walking by, even if it’s just ''Hey, do you like horror novels?''
Don’t pester people, just say hello, give them the pitch if they’re interested and answer any questions they might have. At the table, never sit down, always stand. Don’t look bored. You’re 100% of the sales force.
8. Bring a Friend
If you’re a self-published author, and even if you’re not, rope a friend into helping you out. You’re gonna need them. Carrying boxes of stuff from the car, setting up the booth, ringing up customers, this is all stuff that can really benefit from another set of hands. Especially when you need a bathroom break.
9. Get to Know Your Neighbors
They can be helpful, especially if you ignored tip #7. They’ll guard your stuff while you go get lunch. Take it a step further and get to know their products, maybe you can direct some customers their way if you see they’re not biting on your own books. Exchange a handful of books and sell them at your booth, if your audiences are different (''Oh you’re not really into horror? My buddy over there has a really cool science fiction novel…'')
10. Prepare for the Worst
It’s going to happen. You can’t really prepare for disaster, but you can prepare psychologically. It would have helped me out that one time when a guy put his soaking wet backpack on top of my stack of art prints and ruined all of them. Bring extras of everything. Bags, packaging material, books, notebooks, pens, batteries, cellphones, cameras, whatever you can think of.
Got any good tips? How about some crazy con stories? Let us know in the comments.
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