Category Archives: Events

Working the Table: Getting Started as an #Indie at Conventions

Someone asked me recently how much money it really costs to get ready to work your first convention. What’s a good level of investment to plan on fielding for that first show? They asked me because I do this a fair amount, and have even co-authored a book on the subject.

Shameless self-promotion works! Sometimes.

I gave an off-the-cuff estimate of $200-300, then started thinking about the real answer. What’s the minimum needed to work a table, and what’s the minimum needed to be successful working a table?

The minimum expenses:

  1. Books. It’s challenging to sell books that you don’t have on hand.
  2. The table fee.
  3. Transportation costs–gas, parking, airfare, etc.
  4. Food.
  5. At least one pen–for signing your books.
  6. Something to hold cash and some bills to make change with.

These six things are the absolute minimum. At many shows, you’ll be given a table with skirting and sign attached to the front with your name in block letters. You can get by with this if you’re on a tight budget. New vendors manage with this all the time. This minimalist option lets you squeak by on little more than the cost of your books. Your setup and teardown time will be short, and you’ll have little to transport.

To really succeed, you’ll need to invest a bit more:

  1. Some sort of promotional handout–bookmarks and business cards are always winners. An informal poll of other authors reveals these two are the best bang for the buck in promotion. This type of thing is cheaper per piece when you buy in bulk, so get as many as you can afford at once.
  2. A way to accept credit cards–I use and recommend Square, which requires either a data connection or internet on the device you attach it to.
  3. A reseller permit, which requires a business license in your state. This allows you to buy copies of your own books without having to pay sales tax for that transaction. (Obviously, if your state doesn’t assess sales tax, you don’t need this, but you’ll still need the business license).
  4. Some sort of large promotional graphic thing with your name and/or your series name. Many authors and artists get a retractable banner to put behind their chair and a second banner for the front of the table. Other options include a table banner of 1.5-3 feet in height, a backdrop with a frame, a custom printed table cloth, and a banner with a stand. You can find a wide variety of sizes and shapes.
  5. A trade show tablecloth like this one. This isn’t necessary, but it makes your display look more professional.
  6. Book stands like these or these. I highly recommend these two types as cheap, reliable, inconspicuous, stable, and easy to both use and store.
  7. Some method of transporting your stuff between the table and your vehicle. I use one of these, but it’s overkill if you only have a few titles. A foldup handcart like this one or this one is a good starting option, depending on how you store your books.
  8. A plastic bin or similar container to hold pens, bookmarks/cards, book stands, and other whatnot.

Keep in mind that the more you add to your display, the longer setup and teardown will take. At most shows, I have a complex display with ~40 titles that takes 45-60 minutes for both setup and teardown, and it takes me, on average, three trips to my car. By contrast, the minimalist with 1-3 titles needs 5-10 minutes, and an average indie with 3-5 titles will need about half an hour.

In total, aside from the table fee and transportation, a good, solid start needs about $400 for books, banners, bookmarks, and odds & ends. If you can catch sales for banners and similar items, you can keep the costs lower. The good news is that many of these items won’t need to be repurchased for every show, so your costs come down to books, table fees, bookmark/card replacement, and transportation for subsequent shows.

Good luck, and don’t forget to order your books well in advance!

Road Trip Wrapup

I’m home. Finally. Because I had to fly across the country twice after I got back from Kansas City (for personal reasons), it’s taken me a couple of days to really recover from all the traveling. now safely ensconced in my bean bag chair once more, I have a lot of work to do. The goals I outlined earlier this year for my writing tasks won’t be met, and I already know that. Now, I’m focused on the most important things: Spirit Knights #4, Ilauris #3, cyberpunk, some dragons, and a few anthology submissions.

Coming soon: a cyberpunk novella still in need of a title! With luck, it’ll be available in time for GeekGirlCon.

In other news, while I was gone, someone stole the dragon from my front yard, which is a unique 70-pound reclaimed metal structure. May whoever took it get everything they deserve. I have serious doubts I’ll ever see it again, but it’s been reported to the police anyway.

I live in a dragon guarded castle

Should you happen to see it someplace, let me know.

And now, some pictures from the trip. In reverse order, because I’m ornery like that.

20160821_110922[1]

Nothing says excitement like Deadpool at WorldCon!

20160818_114641[1]

The debut of The Greatest Sin’s new covers at WorldCon. Aren’t they pretty now?

20160818_123046[1]

I’m still geeking out over meeting Mercedes Lackey and Larry Dixon at WorldCon.

20160729_200408[1]

From a much-needed few days of downtime.

20160805_092705[1]

GenCon had the truck and everything. They left markers so folks could write on the wall.

20160813_142756[1]

Myths & Legends Con in Denver–a small con with a big heart.

20160810_104527[1]

In Denver, I acquired a Temporary Helpful Writing Cat.

20160813_123006[1]

Best cosplay of Mawg ever. At MALCon.

20160806_132510[1]

Chimichangas, anyone? From GenCon

20160805_164450[1]

This dude rocked the Finn cosplay. At GenCon

20160806_141500[1]

I saw this guy and thought, “OMG, that’s almost Justin!”

#GenCon2016 was Awesome and Strange

GenCon was last weekend. The hotel I stayed at had really horrible and unrelaible internet, so as I type this on Tuesday morning, I’ve been in a nerd cave for a little over a week, driving and working. I have no idea what’s going on in the world, except that I’ve caught some random snippets of the Olympics, including the atrocious men’s gymnastics opening. Ouch.

Prior to arriving in Indianapolis, one exciting thing happened that I must mention. My car, a two-year-old Ford C-Max that I love, decided I should not drive for 5 hours without a break. This happened quite by accident, as I normally stop every 2-3 hours to use a bathroom, but my head was elsewhere, I suppose, and I wasn’t hydrating properly. When we did stop for lunch, the car chose to disengage its power steering, which was kind of scary in the sense of “OMG, we just started this trip and my car is breaking!”. Fortunately, after another two stops, it re-engaged of its own free will.

Fun fact: the C-Max doesn’t have a power steering fluid reservoir. The car is fine and hasn’t so much as hiccupped since. I got an arm muscle workout for several hours and no other effect.

We arrived in Indy on Tuesday, close to dead and ready to sleep. The con began with setup day on Wednesday. This was also errand day, since Jeff and I had been on the road for a week already by then. Thus, we discovered that while the hotel claims to have a laundry in its Guest Services booklet, and signs on the wall point to it, the hotel had to laundry. They hope to install one in the next year. Fantastic. Coin-op for us.

Setup went fine. It was hot and I had to haul books from a parking garage to the convention center. Could have used the marshalling yard. Chose not to. Exercise is good for me, especially after several days of nonstop driving. Car got a scheduled oil change, during which they found no longering effects of the power steering issue. I acquired pie from a grocery store. It was okay, but not as good as homemade or Ragbrai pie.

Thursday at con began with greeting all the people I met last year, including the Brain Lag folks, Rocco the Excellent, and several others. Of course, Tom Gondolfi of Tanstaafl Press was there, a good friend who I only ever see at cons despite living within 20 minutes of each other.

And then it began. A few things stood out this year. The Clockwork Dragon table was close to a main walkway, yet very few folks came down the aisle from that direction. Most con-goers approached from the other side, which I did not at all anticipate. Our usual bread-and-butter customers–teenage girls interested in the four series of female-fronted YA we offer–seemed magnetically repulsed by our table. They scanned our titles, saw our banners, then averted their eyes and dove for the urban fantasy at the next table. Despite this, our YA book 1s almost sold out anyway, and we barely sold anything else. Very few people who bought a book from me last year stopped by to pick up the next in the series.

I actually brought a few extra copies of Illusive Echoes on the expectation that a few fans would top by and pick up book 4. Nope. Not a single one. Weird.

One woman did stop when she recognized Girls Can’t Be Knights, to tell me she wanted to whack that Lee French over the head with her cane, because the ending made it seem like there wouldn’t be any sequels. Didn’t recognize me, and she was mortified when we revealed she was, in fact, speaking to Lee French. And then she didn’t get Backyard Dragons or Ethereal Entanglements.

Normal cons have a few sales on Day 1, a few more on Day 2, then a rush for the remaining days, as people like to browse at first and not blow all their money right away. They come back later and buy. This is common and expected. Usually, Sunday is our busiest day. Sometimes it’s Saturday, but Sunday is much more common. At GenCon, we had a normal Thursday, then Friday, Saturday, and Sunday were all about the same. Lots of empty time with no one in the aisle, which I expected, but not so much on Saturday and Sunday.

Even so, Clockwork Dragon had its best show ever, and we’re looking forward both to MALCon this weekend in Denver, and to Gencon 2017.

The Epic Road Trip of Madness

Jeffrey Cook and I left on Tuesday to drive a total of about 6500 miles, work a total of 13 convention and setup days, and suffer through the heat wave gripping the Midwest.

So far, it’s hot.

We carved out time to see Star Trek Beyond, which I heartily recommend, and are going to wedge in a showing of Jason Bourne later today. I also managed to get a sunburn by sitting in the shade for an hour. #pastywhiteproblems

You see, we’re taking our time getting to Indianapolis. Because we can. And if you can, you might as well. We’re seeing some sights, doing some things, and working out plots. No, not that kind of plotting. The book kind.

On the way back, we’re leaving Kansas City on the morning of the 22st. I have to be in Olympia by the evening of the 24th for personal reasons. Clever readers may notice that’s only 3 days to drive about 1900 miles. It’s certainly doable, but it won’t be much fun.

My posts will be light and sporadic–which is so totally unusual lately, I know–until September. I intend to try very hard to get back on the blogging track, but no promises. In the meantime, allow me to introduce you to Muffy. She first appeared on Edgewise Words Inn.

Muffy's Nefarious Plan

#CapitalIndieBookCon: Aftermath

As I type this, it’s Sunday night and I’m tired. Saturday, I got up at 5 and couldn’t get back to sleep because I knew I had to run a book fair that day and fifty billion things bombarded my brain–things to remember, things to do, things to take to the car, things not to do.

Folks, I put on a book fair, and it rocked. Jeffrey Cook, my ConBuddy, handled the volunteer side of the affair, among other things. A dozen people did that volunteering to make it really work. My part was all the logistics and venue management. Bookkeeping, paperwork, contracts, payments, spreadsheets, lists, badges, phone calls, emails, maps, arrangements, dragons, tacks, safety pins, tables, chairs, disaster management, tact, mailings, setup, and teardown. So everything I normally do, but times fifty.

From about 6am to 7am, I kept remembering things I needed to put in the car. I’d packed it up the night before, but of course I didn’t remember everything.

The venue is five minutes from my house. I wasn’t supposed to have access until 7:30. I left at 7 anyway, figuring I could unload by the door and move the car. To my delight, the door had been accidentally left ajar. I walked in and got to work.

By 8, I had everything unloaded and tape on the floor to mark table spots. This tape turned out to be one of the early jokes. I will never claim to be great at straight lines. The tape job followed the Pirate Code–it was really more of a guideline for where the tables should be. In the end, we had to wiggle it all to fit everyone. Why? Because I hadn’t actually been able to get into the room prior to the event to measure things out and get a perfect map. I went in knowing I had to wing it. Which is probably why I couldn’t sleep past 5.

Authors arrived starting at 9am. I won’t go into the minor disasters, because they were mostly on the order of “Oops, I didn’t think of that.” It did turn out that my Pirate Code tape was a little more off than I thought, and we had some authors who were extremely gracious about making changes.

The show began at 11. Which is to say that I got someone to shout that the show was technically live then, but we didn’t actually have any attendees for a while.

It turns out that Olympia has a giant festival in mid-July, called Lake Fair. It happened to coincide with our event, which is something we had no way to know about or prevent when we booked the venue, because the dates weren’t announced that early in any of the places I looked back in December. We also didn’t have a lot of choices for the date by the time I was able to get in to see the facilities manager in January. For next year, we’re already looking for a good date.

After that, we had some people come in, most of whom knew one or more of the authors present. Random strangers came too! It was exciting and wonderful.

For the most part, because we’d never put on anything like this before, we positioned the event as a chance to get in on the ground floor, to meet other regional authors, and to find new books. For a first year event of its type, we had a good showing and a good time.

I learned. So. Much.

Dealer’s Room Liaisons, I respect you all so much more now, even when you screw up.

Special thanks to Jennifer Brozek, for being wonderful and forgiving. To Madison Keller, for doing me a solid when someone didn’t show. To Matt, for answering with an oddly emphatic and uplifting “YES” when I asked him to do something minor. (I think he was just pleased to hear me admit I needed help with something, since I rarely do.)

CapitalIndieBookCon will happen again. If you’re an author, reader, or relative of a reader who lives anywhere near Olympia, WA, and you think you might be interested in the event, sign up to be notified about CIBC2 news here, on the Clockwork Dragon website.

Though some folks started tearing down early, we waited until 7 and mostly facilitated everyone else before getting our stuff packed up and out. Post-event dinner at a local burger joint featured much chatter about how to make the next one even better. We’re looking forward to it already.

For the record, I got home around 10:30. Jeff left Olympia around then, which means he didn’t get home until much later. My poor co-author, Erik Kort, had to go even farther and probably didn’t get home until after midnight. It was a long day. For all of us.

 

#CapitalIndieBookCon: A Book Fair in Olympia

This Saturday, July 16, 2016, my friends and I are holding a book fair in Olympia, WA, specifically in the Longhouse at Evergreen State College. If you’re nearby and don’t have transportation, bus routes 41 and 48 both go there and run normally during the entire duration of the fair: 11am-7pm.CIBCFlyer1

We’re hosting over 40 regional indie authors for the day, and it’s not restricted to any particular genre. You can find romance, fantasy, science fiction, children’s, horror, chick lit, literary, and more at the fair. This is a chance to meet authors from the Pacific Northwest who will be happy to sell signed copies of their books, and many of them have one or more bestselling titles, either on Amazon or the USA Today lists.

If you’re not in the area, please share this information with your online friends. Some may know local or regional folks who might be interested.

I’m Going to Westercon! #westercon69

As part of Clockwork Dragon, I’ll be at Westercon this weekend, July 1-4 at the Doubletree on Multnomah in Portland, OR. I’ll have copies of both Illusive Echoes and Ethereal Entanglements, and it’ll be the first show for both titles. I’m excited! That makes a current total of 12 novels, 1 non-fiction book, and 2 anthology appearances. And I’ve got more yet to release yet this year.

Yes, I know. You’re tired of hearing about these two books already. So that’s that about that, at least for a while.

At Westercon, I’ll be participating in a few panels, which is both exciting and terrifying. It’s all writing-related stuff: Indie Publishing 101 (Saturday at 2), How to Revise (Saturday at 4), and Challenges and Joys of Collaboration (Sunday at 4). There’s one other thing. I’ve got a reading slot. If you’re going to Westercon, please come by. I haven’t decided what to read from, but it’ll be at 10am on Sunday, July 3 in the Madison room. Come, please. I’ll be a very sad dragon if no one shows up. But be nice, please, because I have anxiety issues.