Thursday, August 15, 2013

Yes you Con!

Wizard World.  Space City Comic Con.  ConDFW.  Aggie Con.  Apollo Con.  Armadillo Con.  World Con.

If you write Science Fiction or Fantasy and haven't a clue what the hell I'm talking about, then you're doing promotion wrong.  Seriously wrong.  Welcome to the world of conventions, from literary gatherings all the way up to the growing popularity of comic conventions (comic-cons).  This is my primary means of getting the word out, and also the most fun (and expensive, but we'll get to that later).  I'll start with a basic sweep of the convention types, and how I deal with them.

Literary Leaning SF/F Conventions
These can range from small gatherings around the public library all the way up to the larger conventions held in hotels and on campuses.  For me, the focus is on the latter, where the convention is basically a mixture of fan-orientated SF/F with a very strong leaning toward writers.  You can tell these conventions by their author-heavy guest lists.  Here in Texas, you have Austin's Armadillo Con as well as the ConDFW up in Dallas.  While not restricted to literature by any means, they tend to collect an audience leaning toward books, which is a good thing.  Such conventions usually top out in attendance somewhere south of a thousand, with four hundred fans seeming to be the norm here in Texas.  My favorite convention is Aggie Con, which is run by the Texas A&M students.  Why?  Because each year you get a fresh batch of folks who haven't been to the convention.  If you're thinking there's a problem behind this statement, then you would be correct.  The name of the game at these conventions is exposure to new audiences, and these conventions can get stagnant over the years with the same folks coming by time after time.

Trade Conventions
 This is going to be your "World" Cons such as what is happening in San Antonio this year.  There are two type, one is fan-driven to a point (World Con), and the other is more about the trade itself (World Fantasy Convention).  Both of these conventions are of little use to me.  The former is run by the SFFWA and is centered on their authors.  The latter is more for publishers than authors (although you can network like crazy there).  Both are very expensive when it comes to setting up a table, and if you aren't setting up a table, then you're not there to promote. 

Comic Cons 
Enter the big dog.  Once of interest only to the comic collecting sort, these conventions have grown into an extravaganza crossing all fan genres.  Here in Austin you have "Wizard World".  Houston has "Space City Con" and "Comicapalooza".  These conventions feature all media, and their list of industry guests bring in thousands of fans.  Thousands.  For writers, this is a great opportunity to introduce yourself to a much larger audience, albeit one that isn't really there just to pick up books.  You can sign up for a table at Artist Alley (do it months in advance), with tables going anywhere from one to three hundred dollars.  Expensive, yes.  Worth it?  Well, you won't make that money back in most cases but the combination of exposure and the sheer fun of being part of one of these conventions is worth the cost in my opinion.  I have seen three hundred business cards vanish with me just sitting there.  Afterwards, my website gets quite a few hits.  The most books I ever sold was at one of these conventions.

Rules To Have Fun By
So, what are good things to know when attending a convention?  Well, here's some distilled advice from my years at doing this sort of thing:
1.  Plan early.  Arrange your table and panels six months out if you can.  Spots fill up.
2.  Did I mention panels?  Get on them.
3.  Don't expect to make a profit.  Your job is promotion, and that's a cost.
4.  Have your author's website up and shining.  Print business cards - at least three hundred.
5.  Bring paperback books.  Ten of each you want to sell.
6.  Consider download cards or other ways to sell your e-books too.
7.  Signage!  You have to look professional.  You can see me using three kinds of media.
8.  Prepare to take credit cards.  Got a smart phone?  Get the Square app.
9.  Have fun!  Dress out.  Bring a partner so you can take turns walking around.
10.  Go vertical.  Books laying on a flat table are so boring.

See you at the next convention!


Anonymous said...

Very informative K. Eventually I hope to stick a toe in the convention, for the fun factor, not the money. Got to get more SF books out their given most of mine have been suspense/thrillers.

Michael Davis (
Author of the Year (2008 and 2009)
Award of Excellence (2012)

Richard Hacker said...

Nice set up for your table in the pic. How many do you attend in a given year?

KMTolan said...

I generally attend four cons a year in Texas.

Julie Eberhart Painter said...

Aren't you looking like the proud author. Good job.

Liz Fountain said...

Love the display! It helps to have the visual, thank you!

Liz Fountain