Selling Books in an Ocean of Sweat and Malort: Texas Frightmare Weekend 2014
Friday - May 02, 2014
My midnight shift at the hotel ended at 7:00 A.M. and I hightailed it the hell home. Lori Michelle (author of Dual Harvest, editor of Bleed, and my significant other) took the kids to school while I frantically packed our suitcases, because we are writers and therefore the kind of people who do not organize themselves until the very last second. Today Texas Frightmare Weekend began in Dallas, TX at 6:00 P.M., and we were determined to make it there on time.
But again, we’re both writers, so we ended up slacking off and watching 30 Rock on Netflix for a while, so we didn’t actually leave until like 11:00 A.M. We left San Antonio like a bullet fired toward the sun. We rocketed onward and prepared ourselves for the six hour drive ahead of us.
We made it exactly twenty minutes before Lori realized she forgot her medication back at home, so we did a quick U-turn on the highway and barreled back home through incoming traffic. We did not have time to find an exit. The cars would just have to get out of our way. We passed a group of at least two dozen bicycling police officers, and we could tell by the outrageous expressions on their faces that they considered giving chase, but they were on bicycles and we were in a shady Hyundai Accent, so obviously we won.
We retrieved the medication and departed once again. “Okay, Lori,” I said from the passenger seat, “you drive for just a little bit, then I’ll take over, and we’ll switch off and on.” Then I promptly fell asleep and woke up at our hotel. Somewhere between then I think I ate an In & Out burger. We may have also “accidentally” ran over a hitchhiker and buried the body in Waco, but my memory was hazy.
We checked into our room at the Fairfield Inn & Suites in Irving and waited in the lobby for our shuttle ride. I had over a hundred soundtrack booklets for my novel, Toxicity, and a flask of Jameson in my bag. I was ready to convention like nobody had ever conventioned before.
As we waited, Chris Larsen (author of Losing Touch) and his wife, Maureen, met us in the lobby. I had briefly met Larsen last year in New Orleans during the World Horror Convention, but I had forgotten how abysmal and mighty his beard was. A person could lose himself in this forest of a face. I tried not to stare directly into it as I feared I would never find my way out, but it was hard. He caught me looking and smiled.
“It’s okay,” he said. “You can have some, if you want.” He reached into his pocket, pulled out a random ball of hair, and handed it to me. He told me to take it home and plant it outside my bedroom window. Within a week, him and I would be the same.
Next he handed me a plastic grocery bag with a bottle inside it. “Hey man, I need you to hide this until we get to the convention. I don’t want anybody catching me with it.”
“What is it?” I asked.
He winked and entered the shuttle van. I stuffed the mysterious bottle in my bag and followed. The shuttle took us to the Hyatt Regency hotel, where Texas Frightmare Weekend would take place. It was only 5:00 P.M., still another hour before the convention officially started. The bottle in my bag was almost supernaturally heavy, and I wondered if I was carrying something that could get me arrested for treason. It wouldn’t be the first time.
After entering the Hyatt, Larsen suddenly slapped himself upon the cheek and said, “Oh, wait, I forgot to purchase tickets to this thing,” and dragged his wife off in search of a place to buy tickets.
“Why didn’t he just buy tickets online ahead of time?” Lori asked.
“Shh,” I said. “We cannot question his ways. Have you not seen his beard?”
She nodded. “True.”
As we waited for 6:00 to roll around, we bumped into Eric Beebe (owner of Post Mortem Press, publisher of my novel, Toxicity) outside the convention entrance. He approached us with a bag full of condoms, and was quick to unload them all in our hands.
“Take these,” he said. “Give them out to everybody. They will need them.”
Then he walked away, leaving us with the condoms. It was only later that I realized these were promotional prophylactics being used to market Andrew Nienaber’s new novel, STZ (Sexually Transmitted Zombie).
6:00 P.M. finally arrived, and everybody poured into the vendor rooms like a great flood of bad breath.
We found the Post Mortem Press table toward the center of the room, next to the Dee Snider table. Eric was already back at the table, along with his wife, Stephanie. Chris Brown (author of Necromancer) and his wife, Michelle, were also there. Lori and I quickly hid behind the table with the rest of them to shield ourselves from the massive crowds continuously piling in.
I saw a stack of my novel at the front of the table, right beside Larsen’s Losing Touch and Billie Sue Mosiman’s The Grey Matter. I stood there and stared at my novel long enough to make everybody else uncomfortable. Finally Eric had to hand me some napkins because I couldn’t stop drooling.
I grabbed a guy passing by and forced him to stare at my novel with me. “Do you see this, man? Do you SEE THIS? You must buy this and read it right now. Go on. Do it. What are you waiting for?”
The guy fought himself free and ran away. I calmed myself down, told myself not to get too excited. But it’s difficult, especially when you’re surrounded by Dee Snider fans waiting to get an autograph, and they all keep eyeing your book like maybe they should read it while they wait in line. I kept nodding at the book, then winking flirtatiously, but nobody seemed to get the hint. Finally I threw a copy at someone waiting in the Dee Snider line, but they only threw it back at me, evidently assuming I was instigating a spontaneous game of book-catch.
Brad Carter (author of Saturday Night of the Living Dead) and his friend, Lenny, joined the table soon afterward. Magen Cubed (author of Fleshtrap) followed a few minutes later, then came Larsen and his wife, who had finally purchased tickets. Larsen approached the table like a man on a mission. He gestured to the bag next to me and said, “I need the stuff.”
I handed him his grocery bag and he dug through it, pouring out two large bottles of some mysterious alcohol called Malört. At the sight of the booze, both Billie Sue Mosiman and Andrew Nienaber showed up nearly simultaneously, as if drawn by its magnificent awfulness.
“Who wants a shot?” Larsen asked, and started pouring everybody a shot without waiting for an answer. He pushed the shots onto everybody nearby and said, in practically a growl, “We will never be the same again.”
We drank the Malört.
In unison, we all emitted a nasty groan of regret. Nienaber started crying almost immediately. I fell to my knees, the empty plastic cup dropping to the carpet next to me. I had consumed something human beings aren't meant to consume. Lighter fluid, maybe. The piss of Satan, more likely. Malört was not the drink of the gods, but of the devils.
As everybody cried and hugged themselves, Larsen stood by, scratching his beard and laughing like a maniac. “Just you wait,” he said. “You are all doomed.”
The next hour or so was a blur of sweat and tears. I think I sold a few copies of Toxicity. I met a sweet lady named Catt Dahman (author of Alice in Wonderhell) and a few other awesome people I hitherto only knew from FaceBook, including an amazing artist, April Guadiana, and all the fine folks from Rooster Republic Press. I bumped into Peter Clines too, but he refused to sell me his novel, 14, based off my looks. Most people don’t realize how shallow this man can be. Although, to be fair, my eyeballs had started bleeding by then thanks to the Malört.
We made our way back to the Post Mortem Press table. As I pushed myself through the crowds, a railing flew from seemingly out of nowhere and hit me on the ass. I looked behind me and realized Dee Snider had just carelessly smacked me with a metal pole. He looked at me and sneered, then turned around without apologizing whatsoever. It was then that I confirmed my suspicions that Dee Snider is an asshole.
At the PMP table, we discovered Magen Cubed had adopted a werebaby while we were gone and Nienaber had lost consciousness. There was a puddle of blood under his head where it had drained from his ears. This Malört was serious business. I noticed Larsen had curiously vanished. Everything was going exactly as he had planned.
Lori tapped me on the shoulder and informed me there was pus seeping out of my mouth, so we decided to call it a night.
We woke up the next day at around 8:30 A.M. and headed to the hotel lobby for some breakfast. A huge group of college frat boys sat at the table next to us, bragging about how many times they’d each read Fifty Shades of Grey.
Larsen and Maureen joined us soon afterward. We could hear someone cursing profanities back in the kitchen area, and I immediately knew this had something to do with Larsen.
“What did you do?” I asked, glancing back at the kitchen. An elderly pilot exited and sat down with a plate of food across the room from us.
Larsen laughed. “That pilot accused me of stealing his English muffin.”
“Uh. Did you?”
He laughed again, this time more demonically. “Well, obviously. All English muffins belong to me. Now shut up and drink your Malört.” He then proceeded to eat the food he’d stolen from the pilot, staring at me as he chewed, growling.
After breakfast, we hung out a while at the hotel until it was time to head over to the Hyatt. Texas Frightmare Weekend didn’t open until 11:00 A.M. today, so we arrived just shortly before then.
For conventions, Saturday is typically the prime day to sell books. Fridays aren’t the best, as everyone uses that day just to browse all the vendors and figure out their budget. Saturdays, on the other hand, are insanely busy. We had to swim through the ocean of sweat until finally finding land at the Post Mortem Press table. Sure, the table was crowded, but so was every other spot in the building.
We had a pretty great spot for our table, and it would have been perfect if it hadn’t been for the gargantuan speaker hanging on the wall next to us. The convention made announcements every five or ten minutes, and the volume was raised all the way to “ear bleeding”. It also didn’t help that John Kassir (AKA the goddamn Crypt Keeper) had control of the microphone the majority of the time and kept doing that infamous laugh every time I attempted to speak to a potential customer.
Selling your book at one of these conventions can be difficult. Book vendors are usually the least popular of the vendors. At a horror convention like this, people are more interested in horror-themed toys and T-shirts and obtaining autographs from celebrities. A lot of people just don’t read, and that’s something we all have to come to terms with sooner or later.
So what do you do when nobody is stopping at your table? Simple, you get their attention. You yell out. You wave your arms like you’re on fire. You flash people (not recommended if you dislike the feeling of steel handcuffs locked around your wrists). You have to strike up conversations with these people, you have to target them and sell them your book. Ask them what they like to read, and spin around their answers into something that loosely fits your own book. You have to make that sale. In the words of Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross: “Always be closing.”
For me, it was especially difficult. I was at a horror convention, and I was trying to sell a dark comedy crime novel. My book didn’t have monsters in it. It had criminals down on their luck. It had drug addicted teenagers worshipping houseflies. It had Chicago Cubs fans. But it did not have horror in the traditional sense of the genre. Luckily, plenty of Toxicity’s reviews thus far have compared it to Quentin Tarantino and the Coen Brothers, so I was able to use those assessments to spark the interest of readers.
The soundtrack pamphlets I’d made for Toxicity were also a big hit to draw readers in. I’d compiled a list of songs that best represent each of the fifty-three chapters in the book and was handing them out to people passing us. And that’s the key: you have to stand out among the rest. It’s not the easiest decision for a person to approach a table and randomly choose your book to purchase blindly. That’s a fifteen dollar gamble they’re making on you. Are you worth it? Convince them you are. Tell them about yourself. If you live locally, that’s even better. Just the fact that you’re there to sign it for them is already a big perk. Keep reeling that sale in until you’ve caught something good.
Conventions themselves are a gamble. Sometimes you sell two hundred books. Sometimes you don't sell a damn thing. You can blame the customers for not being interested in you, or you can blame yourself for not being interesting enough.
Or you can blame Chris Larsen for poisoning you.
In the words of Andrew Nienaber: “Malört—not even once.”
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