5 lessons learned from my first comic con

I had the joy of attending my very first comic con as a vendor at the end of February this year. GalaxyFest 2017 was held in Colorado Springs for a weekend (plus a bit on the Friday before), and as I understand it they were expecting about 6,000 people to attend. I can’t speak for how many were actually in attendance, but there were definitely a lot of people there!

And the costumes? Seriously. I knew there would be people there in cosplay, but I had no idea the quality of what would be on display. These guys are pros. There’s a Flickr photostream if you want to see some of them, and one of the attendees made a video too. Just incredible!

But as this was my first con as a vendor, I thought I’d share some of my observations in case there are others of you going the comic con route for trying to move product off the shelves.

1. Prepare to extrovert.

The goal is to talk to people. If you don’t talk to people, what are you even doing there? Yes, you’re an introvert most likely, but you need to set that aside and be ready to talk to folks, especially if you’re in a new city.

But don’t burn yourself out. If you can find a hotel room or an AirBnB away from the craziness of the con so you can recharge before the next day, you’ll thank yourself.

2. Wear a real, recognizable costume.

I had planned to dress up, but I ran out of creativity and energy working on all the other aspects of the con (tax, travel, table design, etc.). So I just went as my quirky self, which is perfectly fine. But I do think I would have drawn more attention if I had been dressed up. It doesn’t mean you’ll get more sales, but you will get to talk to more people. And making connections and networking is really what a con is all about.

My table neighbor and a random Joker who passed by

I spent the con sitting next to a fabulous Harley Quinn. My table neighbor J.L. Barnes is an extraordinary artist (and also an extraordinarily nice person). She dressed up as three different Harley Quinns throughout the three days of the con, and folks stopped to take her photo and chat about her work simply because she was in costume. Also because her art is so cool!

It might be fun to dress up as a character from your story, but unless it’s super detailed and really amazing, no one will recognize it. So if you’re aiming to attract attention, pick a costume you can realistically (and recognizably) pull off.

3. Bring food.

I wasn’t sure if there would be snacks or meals available, so I brought some random things to eat. And on the second day I discovered the concession stand, which served okayish chicken tenders and cold waffle fries. But there were a TON of them. So I ate that for lunch and dinner one day. But packing a lunch is a definite thing to do.

4. Let people come to you.

This may be a personality thing, but I’m not a hard sell type of promoter. I don’t like demanding that people pay attention or buy things from me. I’d rather have a good conversation and win them over with my random awkwardness.

This was pretty discouraging, frankly, because people would stop by, glance over my table, eat my candy, and then walk away without talking to me. Or when I tried to initiate conversation, they wouldn’t engage. That was the majority of my experience at this particular con, though (just being honest). No one was really interested in reading. And after talking to the other authors who attended, they had the same trouble.

But the one thing that I did notice is that the folks who I had good conversations with often came back to talk more, and in both cases, the two people who bought books from me had started with a conversation. Yes, I only sold books to two people. But those two people really engaged, and those are the kind of readers I want anyway.

But they didn’t buy right away. They waited until day three of the con. I just had to be patient and wait for them to make a decision.

5. Go local.

One of my travel buddies, Kylo Ren, aka Lauren

I think this is the most important lesson I learned. While it may be great to travel to different locations for cons, if you don’t have a presence in the local area, you aren’t going to make much of a splash (unless you have someone vouching for you or unless you’re speaking to a group).

If you’re traveling to a different city for a speaking gig, great. You’ll likely do very well. If you’re just going to a con to sit at a table and try to sell books? Honestly, don’t expect to move much inventory. (I may be wrong, but that’s my observation.) When it comes to art or jewelry, people can make a decision immediately about purchasing. When it comes to a book? Well, that’s a time investment. It’s a much bigger decision. And I totally get that. But I came to sell books, and if that isn’t happening, I need to rethink my strategy.

Overall …

I had a great time at GalaxyFest, and I learned a ton. I came up with some awesome ideas for future promotions too. And the people I made connections with are folks I hope to work with in the future on some other projects.

How about you guys? Have you ever been to a con? What was your experience? Any tips or tricks you can offer?

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7 Comments

  • Claire B. Posted March 14, 2017 7:26 am

    I love going to Cons! I will say I’ve done much better at the Cons in my area than when I travelled across the state. Not sure what it is. I like taking someone with me to man the booth (usually my sister who is more extroverted 😛 ). I feel like more people approach when there’s more than one person behind the table? Also it gives you something to do.
    I usually have bookmarks that people can take. Usually if they don’t get a book, they’ll take a bookmark and that might turn into a sale later on. I usually also have a newsletter sign up sheet that I’ll make sure buyers are aware of. A good percentage will actually sign up.

    • Amy Williams Posted March 14, 2017 7:41 pm

      Hey, that’s a good idea. I would love to bring my sister in law along with me. She’s good at bringing people in!

      • Claire B. Posted March 14, 2017 10:57 pm

        Exactly why I make my sister come with me. 😀 I’m actually going to a con this weekend and she won’t be able to come so I’m trying to psych myself up for an exhausting weekend of extroverting. 😛

  • Pam Halter Posted March 14, 2017 11:35 am

    Good advice!

    I’ve only been to one Con – Faeriecon East – and yeah, the COSTUMES!! I felt like such a newbie. Ha! And I’d love to go again someday. The vendor tables are super expensive, so I’d have to figure out what else to have besides books. And it would probably be best to bring a friend along to help. But I totally want to do it.

    • Amy Williams Posted March 14, 2017 7:42 pm

      The vendor tables ARE really pricey. I went with an Artist Alley space, which was much less. Granted, you didn’t have as much room, but it was right out in the middle of everything. So I still saw a lot of traffic.

  • Kat Heckenbach Posted March 14, 2017 4:09 pm

    Glad you had a good time! I’ve done several local cons and really enjoy it. Here’s what I’d add to your (already very good) list:

    If you can, get on panels. The audience members get to hear you talk and often if someone is impressed with or touched by something you say they will buy a book. I think it can give you a sense of legitimacy as an author, too.

    Make sure you have a sign-up sheet so people can sign up for your newsletter. And definitely have bookmarks and business cards sitting out for people to take. (Oh, and they don’t always realize those are free for the taking, so encourage them to take one.)

    Get to know the other authors at the con. If you find out about another event, contact them and let them know, and often they will do the same in turn. (Indies helping indies!)

    • Amy Williams Posted March 14, 2017 7:41 pm

      Kat, those are awesome suggestions! Thank you so much for your input. I’m definitely planning to try another con, one that’s more local to where I am. And I’ll see if I can do some speaking or teaching. That seems to be the best way to attract attention to the books. =D

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