Selling Direct at Events (like Comic Con)
Luanga Nuwame sells his self-published books at comic book conventions. This is the advice he would give other indie authors considering selling books at events.
Building a Fan Base
Comic books are no different from novels or DIY manuals when it comes to the challenge of generating sales. One has to sell enough copies of the previous issue to justify a new print run. Building an audience and fan base with each issue ensures the story progresses and the writer continues to develop. One of the best ways to grow an audience and generate sales is to attend book conventions. In my case, comic book conventions!
Comic books have exploded in popularity over the past decade, fuelling a multi-billion dollar industry encompassing more than just physical book sales. Movies, television, toys and every possible licensed commodity on earth is now related to the industry. Acclaimed authors like Margaret Atwood, Stephen King and James Patterson have embraced the medium of comic books with their own publications. This mass growth in comic book popularity is a large reason why almost every major city in North America now has an annual comic book convention. For a former high school ‘comic book geek’ who was lucky to find one or two yearly conventions to attend in the 90s, I’m awestruck by the now double-digit convention options within 100 kilometres of my home.
Having a multitude of convention options is one thing; knowing which conventions to attend and how to maximise your bookselling potential once there, is another.
For starters, there is the cost of attending. This includes the initial cost of the table or booth, accommodation, the cost of the sellable inventory, the cost of transporting the inventory, Internet accessibility, parking at the convention and the set-up. As a first time presenter at comic book conventions who was paying out of pocket with personal savings, I had to look at all these costs and decide how and where best to get my company, Zelpha Comics Ltd, to the public.
Interested in articles like this?
To make things simple for me, I decided to stay in my immediate area and attend conventions where the cost of the table was below $500. If parking was free and I could drive back home within an hour, those options received higher standing on my consideration list. I had to keep in mind that these first experiences were about getting my feet wet.
Although it was tempting to simply attend low cost conventions where I could get away with a $200 table, I knew attendance numbers was an important factor to consider. The lower the attendance, the lower the cost is to rent a table. But this wasn’t going to get me in front of the optimum number of consumers. Conversely, paying a higher fee for a convention with 100 000+ patrons doesn’t automatically equal hitting the jackpot. Beyond the higher table costs, larger conventions usually include the larger publishers who inevitably absorb the lion’s share of consumer spending. Therefore, after much research, I decided to attend four conventions. Each convention cost me on average, $300 per table/booth, each was at most an hour and a half drive away from home and three of them had free parking. The conventions averaged 50 000 visitors and the major publishers were MIA.
How to Sell
I quickly learned some key lessons when it came to selling unknown comic books to consumers. I had two comic books to sell: The Adventures of Little Petalianne (geared to young girls) and my adolescent title, Paper Rock Scissors N’ Stuff Wars (the classic game brought to life). By no means am I a selling guru or a personable conversationalist – I am a textbook introvert uncomfortable with big crowds. But my shyness had to take a backseat. If I wanted to sell comic books, I had to learn to adapt and sell! Here are some of my top tips for selling at an event or convention:
Talk to patrons as they walk by. On day one of my first three-day convention, I made the biggest rookie mistake there is – sitting down and not talking to patrons as they walked by my table. During a long six-hour day, I made zero sales. The only people I spoke to were the ones who came to my table uninitiated. When I spoke, my sales delivery was unpolished. I noticed fellow vendors who acted like me experiencing the same issues, while more animated and personable vendors were gaining interest and making sales. That made sense. At the end of the day, a friendly vendor just two tables away from me told me the hard truth about conventions. “Enjoy yourself and remember that no one here cares about your book or knows it exists,” he stated firmly. “It is your sole job to make them care about your book enough to spend $5 to buy it! Be funny, be personable and don’t sweat not landing a sale. Just get them to your table and see what happens!”
It doesn’t matter how shy you are and how uncomfortable talking to strangers can be. By reaching out to people, sales will materialise.
I made sure days two and three were different, entering the comic book arena with new confidence. I started to call people over to my table with a simple elevator speech I wrote the night before. “Have you ever played Rock-Paper-Scissors and thought to yourself, ‘man, I wish this was a living intergalactic battle for planetary domination?’” The oddity of the question worked to convince patrons to visit my table. The more I said the speech, the more confident I became as intrigued patrons ventured to look at my books. From zero sales the day before, the next two days resulted in over $300 in sales (books were selling for $5 each). It doesn’t matter how shy you are and how uncomfortable talking to strangers can be. By reaching out to people, sales will materialise.
Rejections will happen! Instead of getting angry or frustrated, the rejections become my sustenance. I started to record each rejection on a piece of paper and underneath it, I recorded the amount of sales made. My goal was to ensure the rejection-to-sales ratio balanced out or sales surpassed rejections. This was my way of making an inspiring game out of each rejection received.
Understand body language. This one took me a bit of time to figure out. It was on the third and final day – my best sales day of the first convention – that I started to figure out how to read the body language of patrons walking by… And not just body language. How patrons were dressed, what they were holding and even how fast they were walking tells something about the chances of landing a sale. Time is money and selling to people you can see are disinterested isn’t a smart move.
As an example, I realised that people dressed in full cosplay (someone dressed as a comic book character) with no bags in hand were not going to buy my comics. They are there for cosplay contests and/or for the attention that comes with being dressed as a popular character. Another example includes what I refer to as ‘I’m in a rush to get through this section’. This patron is walking quickly with merchandise in tow and is looking straight ahead instead of side-to-side where the vendor tables are. This patron is looking for something or someone specific and has little interest in what everyone else is selling. I let them fly by. If they come back around later at a slower pace with their head looking around, then I might have a potential customer to engage.
For all the time lost on someone who obviously has no interest in what is being sold, an opportunity is being missed to talk to someone who could become a new customer or fan. Definitely not an exact science, but you learn to watch body language in a way that makes sense for you.
Network! I consider this to be the second most important function related to being at a book convention. Make connections with as many people as possible. At each convention I attended, I was able to connect with at least twenty fellow writers, artists and business owners in the same stage of growth. These people were looking for the same growth opportunities as me. And to be honest, many of my neighbor patrons helped me garner sales, just as I did for them. It is a truly beautiful experience to meet helpful like-minded people who are your competition – yet they are not. We were all selling comic books to the same consumers, yet we all understood that each patron was in the same boat. That ‘other’ seller could be a future business connection or employee one day. On that point, I now employee three new artists who I met at different conventions. I also have a connection to help me create a cartoon series and toy line based on my concepts. At your next convention, walk around when you have the time and talk to fellow vendors. Don’t wait for someone to reach out to you. Be the instigator! Even some of the bigger more established publishers will be happy to talk, share knowledge and swap contact information.
The convention scene is an amazing space to gain sales, build a fan base and meet fellow creatives. Enjoy it and learn from others along the way.