Since 2012, I attended on average, three cons a month throughout the U.S. When I had one novel to sell, it was easy to load everything into one trunk, set up a table (which by the way, takes skill to create a "look," "style," and "stand out"), and appear at an event. Easy breezy - lemon squeezy! Well, not really - it takes work to make it easy, which really, it never is.
For my first novel, "Morbid Hearts," I attended the Great Plains Renaissance Faire in Wichita, Kansas. I came with a box of books. When I entered the Author's Pavilion, there were at least six other authors, all with incredible tables with fancy tablecloths, banners, bookmarkers, and bowls of candy. When you go to a con, notice how many authors thrust a bowl of candy out there, reeling you in due to your sweet tooth. However, being new to the literary world, I had no idea what to expect. I had no author friends, no one to guide me, and when a writer approached and said, "Hey, I heard you write Star Trek fanfiction," I thought I would die. There is no shame in writing fanfiction. Who doesn't fantasize now and then being in your favorite TV show, movie, or novel, and write a story about it? It's the easiest way to be recognized and to get your work out there to be read. However, I was offended. I looked at this turkey and said, "Well, I lived in L.A., worked at Paramount Pictures, sold a script to ST:TNG and have a screen credit to my name . . . is that fanfiction?" He stared at me, bug-eyed, gulped, and replied, "I had no idea you actually wrote for Star Trek," and sat down.
First impressions are everything!
After the fair, at every event I intended, my table took different form. "Dead Hearts" is my zombie series, so I made a cool banner, had a neat tablecloth, hired professionals and had illustrated character cards (with a character bio on back), business cards, posters - and zombie toys, lots and lots of toys. It turned into the "Zombie Circus" - I was guaranteed to earn several hundred dollars per con based solely on the toys alone. My best event was in Denver at the Walker Stalker Con in 2015. By then I had three novels, still lots of toys and zombie signs and a clown - I sold out, made a killing, and I thought, "There is a trick to this after all."
However, over time, averaging three new books a year, the toys dwindled on the table. Now I have thirteen novels published, the latest "Night Breed: Wolf Moon", book 10 in "Dead Hearts." I have the "Realm of Magic" trilogy as well, dark fantasy but with zombies, as zombies are my trademark, so it seems. With this many books, toys are now off the table. I never handy out candy - what a freaking cliché! Nor do I give away free bookmarks, or shout at people, "Hey, take my stupid bookmark and remember me and buy my books!" I change the tablecloth. I have new banners every year - huge freaking banners - not only of my book covers (everyone does that and potential buyers are overwhelmed by hundreds of book covers at a con or expo) - my banners have ME! Wonderful me in costumes or doing some antic to bring attention to the table. Book covers do not draw people to your table - YOU DO! I, ME, SUSANNE, sells books. My books don't sell themselves, so my book covers don't sell books - I do!
Sure, you need the one-sentence pitch, that line that hooks people when you open your mouth. If I say "zombie," people go, "huh, what?, I don't like zombies." Instead, I'll say, "think of The Walking Dead meets Red Dawn meets Clash of the Titans." I get weird looks - you want weird looks - and readers ask, "WTF?" And then you explain the story. Tip - don't regurgitate the bio on the back of the book. Please don't read a stupid page from your stupid book. Authors will do that - they'll grab your arm, force you to hold their book, pick a page, and they read - ad nauseum - until you feel compelled to buy the book to shut their yap. Don't do that either. Instead, engage the reader, talk about their favorite shows, their cool T-shirt, anything at all then go back to talking about what you write. You tell them what is not obvious, what is not on the back of the book, what is not on a rack card - not spoilers, but the fun things in the book that make you think it's original, so they think it's original.
First impressions are everything, like I said. In 2012, I was up against maybe three male authors at any con or expo that I attended. Now, in 2019, I'm up against sixty or more male and female authors. It can be exhausting, and it is. It can be downright depressing when sales change for 150 books per con to maybe 20 or worse, maybe 6. Then it's no longer a matter of an awesome table, the best tasting candy in the entire world, or the most beautiful book cover with the sexiest girl, the hottest man, the scariest monster or just a real neat font. It's up to you - YOU have to sell your book based on your personality, your winning smile, your sincerity, gift of gab, and an honest to God willingness to bare your soul and explain why anyone should take the time to read your book, one out of a million, and give you their hard-earned cash. It's hard to do. It's getting harder as more authors join the Indie Publishing World!
Just remember, if it's your first book, your first table, your first time - be different, look different, be ready for competition and rejection and hours of boredom. Honestly, you have to entertain yourself first to entertain others later. You need that pitch down pat. You need to engage and interact. That means stand up, shake a hand, or go around the table and chat with people. So many authors sit on their butts and Tweet or ignore the potential readers. Some authors are arrogant pricks. Some are painfully shy. Some have no idea what they're doing and stare into space. I assure you, the reader knows what they are doing, what they want, and they need to know you are passionate about your book, you are passionate about being a writer, and passionately want them to experience the best book in the world - your book!
Sometimes at a con, I shout, "BUY MY DAMN BOOK!" It works for me, maybe not for you. I happen to be engaging and smile and laugh. I invite people to my table. I let young writers ask my advice. I never turn anyone away, even if they have three eyes and come from the planet Zenon. I talk to everyone and I want everyone to have fun. I want to make a great first impression. Because, if I do, if I am able to make that connection with a stranger, then they'll come back. They might even buy my damn book, maybe all of my books, which does happen. Why? Because I spent the time to talk to them, about them, not just about my books - and I didn't have to offer a stranger a piece of candy to get their attention.