Conventions on an Author’s Budget – Tips and Tricks of a Battle-Hardened Con Man

not really a gangsta rapper-1717972_960_720There are a lot of articles out there on doing conventions. How-tos, tips, tricks, puppy tails, and horse whips. Well, guess what? Here comes another article on the subject. Except, I’m here to tell you can do it on the cheap, because there’s no reason to do it any other way.

We’re writers, titans of the ink and lead, masters of the backspace button and the dead stare at the bright screen of emptiness. We can turn the voices in our heads into stories on the internet – it just doesn’t pay that well. So, we have to pinch those pennies like so many piggies. Reeet reet.

Let’s start with the items you’ll need: a banner, books, a pen, maybe a card reader, business cards, your mitts, and your wits. The banner can run you hundreds, or tens of dollars. Personally, I picked one up from Copy-Co a few years back for $80. I could have spent less, and gotten a vinyl, horizontal banner, but then I’d need a stand, and a way to haul it. Instead, I went with a standing vertical banner that reels back into the bottom of the stand, and all breaks down, fitting into a sling bag. It’s light, portable, and quick to handle. Plus, when I want to replace the banner, I can remove the current banner from the stand and add a new one. It was a pretty solid deal, in my opinion.

book banner for conventions folded
Banner in container – Awesome broom is for scaling purposes.

Books, well, we all know the cost of those buggers. I will say you need to research your cons before attending them. Personally, I try to keep ten or so of each book on me for small cons, and more for the larger. That being said, I also have nine different books, over a few genres. It’s okay if I run out of a couple of books; I have more to go through.

The pen is a mighty tool indeed! For one, you need one to sign these books. Also, you need to put your table number on the back of the business cards during the con. Preferably while you’re talking to the person you’re giving it to. They’ll appreciate the nice gesture, and very few people do it. Do NOT spend a lot on business cards. Buy them cheap and in bulk. Don’t buy into the hype that people care about shiny, expensive cards. They don’t. At a con they are being handed cards every time they walk by a table. Personally, I print my own on card stock. Do I suggest that? Only if you can make them not hideous. Understand that there is a very, very good chance your card will be tossed in the trash the moment the person gets home. So, think of the business card as nothing more than a map back to your table that weekend. In fact, make a map on it. Why not?

A card reader, if you don’t have one, is generally free. The card companies already make a few percents off you for using their services, so they don’t mind giving you a way to make that easier. Technically, you don’t even need the card reader. Lately, I’ve been using Square’s free app to punch in the card numbers, and have the customer sign on my phone. No one has ever complained. Card companies charge different prices, so shop around. Square was the cheapest when I got it, but that may have changed. We have an article here about card readers.

book banner for conventionsThe cons themselves can be expensive. Driving, hotels, fuel, the table, food, etc. There’s not much I can tell you there beyond plan accordingly. Personally, I treat my book business like a business. I only hit the conventions I can afford, on the budget I have. That budget is entirely dependent on how many books (eBook or otherwise) I’ve sold, or odd writing jobs I’ve taken on the side. I have an article here about diversifying your abilities, if you’re interested. Regardless, always remember your budget, whatever it is. This year I am attending 4-6 comic conventions, all within a few hours of me. Why? Because I can either drive home between days, or I know people in those locations who I can stay with. As I make more money, I’ll travel further. Keeping the cost down lessens the cost to me (I know, duh), but it also lessens the risk I’m taking with new conventions. Maybe I won’t break even that weekend. Maybe I’ll lose my pants and wish I hadn’t done it. The less I spend, the less it hurts. With that in mind, I give you the last bit of info I can offer – what not to buy.

Every article I have ever seen promotes freebies. Bookmarks, buttons, stickers, ninja stars, hot pockets – weird, pointless stuff. I’ve tried the bookmark and button thing when I started out, and I’ve watched others do it. You know what? A smile, a good attitude, and a solid pitch is all you need. Getting someone to come to your table by offering them a bookmark works, but it doesn’t sell the book. You know what else gets their attention? Talking to them.

I look at two things when someone walks towards my table: their badge and their eyes. The badge is important because most cons will have different ones for different people. All weekend passes look different from single-day ones. Most weekend people buy at the end of the weekend, single day is at the moment. Know your audience, know when to push hard, and know when to push enough to get them to come back the next day. Carpe diem, unless they are a weekend person.

Their eyes are how I figure out who to turn the fake charm on. Trust me, it’s all an act. My face hurts like hell at the end of the day from smiling so much. Be you, do you, just do it happier than usual, and don’t let the nitwits get to you – they happen from time to time. I watch their eyes for what they look at. The passersby are obvious, they look quickly and pretty much at nothing. But if I see a double take, or a long look (a second or two), that’s when I say something.

“Okay, you’ve looked too long, now you have to buy.”
(Present the book they are looking at like a hand model)

“Come on, you know you want it.”

Or, whatever works for you. Get them laughing. It breaks the ice and makes it easier for you and for them. Trust me, I am not a talker when it comes to new people. I would rather get to know you and your boundaries before I bring out the crazy. But, this is a con, and I needs to make that cheddar. So, for a few days, I put me aside and do what must be done, and I do it cheaply.

Oh and as for food: Bring your own. Con food is like mall food that costs three times more and gives you half as much.

Author: Nicholas Forristal

Nicholas Forristal is the author of nine books, including "The Chronicles of M," an ever growing series of fantasy books that range from historical fiction to modern day wackiness. Learn more about Nicholas and his writing from his websiteand his Author Central page.