This is the first part of a talk I had before the Ottawa Independent Writers membership in 2016.
Hello, my name is Benoit Chartier,
I am an author of science fiction and fantasy, as well as the director of communications for OIW.
I’ve so far written two books and am working on two more.
I will be talking to you tonight about my experiences selling my books at book fairs and conventions, with the accent on conventions, since that is where I did better.
In case you have any complaints about tonight’s presentation, I have to forewarn you that those angry missives will be coming to my inbox. Sorry.
Since the publication of my first book, The Calumnist Malefesto and Other Improbable Yarns, I decided to try my hand at selling my novel at Comic Conventions and Book sales.
This came about because I was discussing my fright of putting myself out there to a co-worker who told me: you’ve already done 70% percent of the work by writing, then publishing your own work. Might as well quit right now. Touché.
I was lucky enough to have a sister who was well-acquainted with Comic Conventions, and who’d sold at many before. She told me we should share a booth at a smaller event, called Pop Expo, in Ottawa. A booth is usually a six-foot table with a table-cloth and two chairs. I had my three-foot stretch for my book, and she had hers for her hand-made jewelry.
I thought it would be a good experience.
I have to admit that, at first, this went, well, badly. At that first convention, I sold exactly two books.
It did not help that I hid behind the booth and gawked as people walked by, indifferent to my being green in the field. If someone approached, I did not know what to say except for: “I made this”. They would then pat me on the head and walk away.
It was only over the course of the last year and a half that improvements were noticed. I did, however, meet a plethora of artists, one of whom is now a close friend, and the man who will be illustrating my next novel as a graphic novel (or comic book, whichever term you feel most comfortable with). He’s the man who did the new cover for the Malefesto.
So even if you don’t make a ton of money, the people you meet are sometimes better than amazing sales.
They grow to become friends you see at recurring events and trade secrets and commiserate with.
The first thing that you have to know about selling your books, is that, as an author, you are telling a story. Instead of it being a written one, though, this one is visual and oral. This applies to any booth at any con or any sale. People see your setup, which is their first impression of you, and they will decide whether they want to approach you or not.
I brought my whole convention getup with me today to show you what my table looks like at conventions. Yours doesn’t have to look like this, but it should look professional. This is very important. You are portraying yourself as a person of letters, a professional, if you will, and the general public may or may not know what that looks like in real life, but you have to embody it.
I just want to take a pause right now and state this other very important fact: the selling of anything relies on a cornucopia of elements.
The first part of the equation, is of course, the visual aspect. We are more likely to purchase something from a stranger, if that person presents certain traits that we find admirable, in this case, dressed well, or at least in a manner that exudes confidence and success. We are more inclined to believe in the value of the product if the proprietor or creator himself gives it that aura, and the same goes for the setup around him or her. This part of the story you are telling is the setting. It should be welcoming, and in keeping with the genre you portray. You might call it window dressing, but it makes a difference. When you build a story, in your writing, you set the stage for what comes next. The same can be said of your booth setup, wherever it may be. Having an interesting, different, welcoming setup will attract the eye and the curiosity of those awash in a sea of sameness. All the world’s a stage, and your booth is a microcosm of the world you created.
Perception really is key. People don’t judge only books by their covers, after all.
The way you portray yourself reflects on the product that you sell.
This doesn’t mean that you have to wear a suit, per se.
The great thing about conventions is that you can dress up in costume. Yes, people do that. It sells books, too, because those who see you find a kindred spirit. If you do historical fiction, why not wear a steampunk or Victorian costume? If you do crime fiction, dress up as a gangster, perhaps? Consider what your genre is and dress accordingly.
To be continued in next post.