Since February, we've finished three chapters of my serial graphic novel, Don't Tell My Wife I'm a Cult Leader, and are busily working on the largest release yet, Chapter 4.
Then last weekend I rented a booth at the Dallas FanExpo, which is the city's largest comic book convention. Here's what happened and what I learned.
I'm not what you would call a superfan of geekdom, comics and the like. Not one of the panels, celebrities, special events appealed to me. I did not spend a lot of my childhood reading DC or Marvel comics. I was more of a Far Side and Calvin and Hobbes fan.
I sold very few books and thinking back I can attribute it to a few reasons. I was on an aisle that didn't get a lot of traffic. I arrived late to set up on Friday, but it was still before the con opened. The guy adjacent to me had stuff on my table along with plenty of merch on his other two tables. When he saw me approach, he immediately pulled his stock and told me that he was only putting it there as a placeholder because empty tables are a big downer for shoppers. I didn't stay Friday evening due to family obligations, but from what I heard from others, it was super slow and the ones that did the best were the ones selling limited edition stuff to the VIP folks who paid the Friday night entrance fee.
The next day, the guy next to me moved his booth to a section close to an artist that had the kind of appeal that would rub off on those near to him. So now I was next to two empty tables. Was it an unsurmountable downer? No, but I can see how if you're traversing up and down the aisles and you had to skip one, you'd choose my aisle. So my neighbor rightly pointed out an issue when I was the one with an empty table, but had no qualms about leaving me in the lurch with two empty tables next to mine. Not mad at him; he traveled from California so he's entitled to maximize his presence. On the second day I did annex one of the open tables, which I think helped.
For Next Time
I didn't have a big sign above my booth or any other larger than life visuals. I printed an 11x17 version of my book cover and pinned it to the back of someone else's backdrop (had permission). Next time I'll have a banner up because nearly everyone glanced at my sign even though it was relatively small compared to others.
The people who did buy were like, "I knew this would be good based on the title." Others loved my pitch: "Our hero, Floyd Landers, is minutes away from being stormed by the authorities. While he still has time, our leader pens a final missive so the world will know the Truth. It all started in 1994 where we watch how Floyd goes from couch crasher to villain of the apocalypse." Point being, it's a numbers game: the more folks who hear me out or just see the title, the more books I'll sell.
Many people are shy and stand offish. They are curious but as soon as you say hello or even glance at them they scurry off like a bird. At the same time I don't want to ignore them so you're kind of between a rock and a hard place.
One comic book seller had a bowl of candy and it said, "take one, but you have to listen to my pitch first." He said it worked well for him. I had a button that said, "ask me about my cult" but only one person asked. If I had some candy or an inexpensive giveaway, I would have had a sign that said, "take one, but first I have to tell you about my cult." That probably would have been the perfect lead generator.
I gave away several printed copies to many of the authors around. They were selling their own comics, graphic novels and regular novels. The ones doing the best had either a corner booth or a booth that was on the main aisle. One novelist, J. Leigh Bralick said she only got her good booth position by chance and she already signed up for next year in the exact same spot.
Another author, Douglas Brown, was selling his comic series called Stormie: Singer. Songwriter. Badass. I got a lot of good ideas from him about the layout of the cover, having preview editions, signed limited editions, graded copies, things a non-comic book aficionado needs to learn on the job. He also had an age recommendation on the corner, which I'll emulate as well.
What I did well
Everyone who got a free download or bought something got added to my email list. Selling a chapter is cool and all, but unless I have a way to get in touch with that reader, then it's a blown opportunity. I'm pretty good at email list management and I try my best to stay in touch with readers as I progress.
Part of me was a little disheartened that I didn't sell more books, but part of me is happy knowing what I can do for next time given what I know now. If you know of any cons in the near future that would be up my alley, let me know.