Finally Finding My Place

Post-Con Report | Ancient City Con, Jacksonville, Florida

This article first appeared in the August, 2012, issue of Self Publisher! Magazine.

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My first 3 years of tabling at comics conventions were grim. High hopes going in, stark reality waiting back at home. Low sales showing me that I just wasn’t reaching the right audience. Scant pageview increases after each show for my webcomics, but not much else. I knew my premise was sound and my skills, though still improving, were there, I just hadn’t found the right way to connect with potential readers.

Luckily I’m persistent (read as: stubborn) and I had more than just the one idea up my sleeve. After taking a year and a half off from conventions I’m happy to report I’ve made my come-back, and finally figured a few things out in relation to coming home with more than questions after a convention.

In its sixth year, this was the first year Ancient City Con filled out into a full 3-day convention. Since it was just a couple hours away, it seemed the perfect place to put What to Feed Your Raiding Party out in front of strangers and see if this dog would hunt. Not only did it hunt, it tracked, treed and brought the prize home!

Keep It Simple, Scribbler

Unlike other conventions, where I stuffed my table with 2 books, 4 minis, merchandise and prints, all I sold at Ancient City Con was my newest work. I noticed, at previous conventions, that people would glance at my table and their eyes would glaze over and move on, quickly, to the next table. I think there was just too much going on that they didn’t know what to look at, so this time I streamlined the table and I think it helped.

But Not Too Simple!

Not that I went ultra-modern with just the book on the table, that’s too far on the other side of the spectrum.

We kept varying heights on the table by placing the Wheel of XP on one end and an 11×17 sign on the other, along with our chef-monkey-mascot. The Wheel was also useful for keeping the cash box out of view and the sign for tucking away my tall glass of hot tea and messy art supplies. We put small stacks of books at the front of the table and some leaning on stands behind.

Have Something Folks Want to Touch

Comparing past cons to present, because of the number of items for sale, I would keep only one of each book standing up and the rest in a rack behind. If there’s only one of something, most people aren’t going to disturb the display to flip through it. Having multiple copies around made them feel more accessible–I’ll bet that’s why bookstores do those big displays, huh?

The Wheel of XP also generated interest. I mean, you’ve got a wooden wheel with values on it, who wouldn’t want to give it a whirl. We had plenty of folks walk up and ask “What’s that” or “Can I spin the wheel?” The fact that the Wheel was a glorified “gift with purchase” made it a great lead-in to start the sales spiel.

Bribery Works

Folks, I was selling a cookbook, it only made sense to give away samples from the book to get people to stop at our table. Instead of selling my book the moment they came into table range, it was like I was hosting a party at home and offering my guests something to eat. As someone who hates the hard sell and never wants to come off like a huckster, being able to offer something people were more likely to take and enjoy calmed my nerves considerably.

Granted, plenty of people declined, but enough came up and accepted my offering, and a good portion of them took a moment (usually while they were chewing) to glance at the table, giving me an opening to say “If you like them, the recipe can be found right here…” By the end of the 3 days I had my pitch down pat (mostly) and some people were handing me their money before I’d even finished.

Breaking Even, and Then Some

While it’s true I consider the long-term effects of getting my name out there just as much as I do sales, it’s the numbers that are the best measure of whether a convention was successful or not. Because I’d made enough in pre-sales and first-month orders to cover the table fees and hotel, my break-even point was around 18 books to cover gas, meals, and the extra costs associated with the samples I made to share at the table. Not only did I meet my break-even point, I also made enough to start planning for conventions for later in the year.

And just to put things into perspective, about ? of the way through Day 2 of the con, my helper monkey informed me that I’d officially outsold my first 3 years of conventions. Combined.

More Than Just Money

But sales aren’t everything. We were lucky to be placed between writers and artists that were friendly, the staff was amazing, and the attendees were some of the best I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet. Again, it probably didn’t hurt that I was feeding anyone who stopped by, but there’s a reason southern hospitality is so renowned.

Ancient City Con proved that I’d finally created something people were interested in and would happily buy (or trade for, in the case of fellow vendors). With patience, I have hopes that my webcomics will find their places, too. That’s when I’ll have to spring for the 10x10s so I’ve got enough room for everything!

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Jennifer “Scraps” Walker is the artist behind the webcomics Cocktail Hour and Where the Geeks Are. Her newest project, What to Feed Your Raiding Party, is the comic book cookbook that challenges gamers to cook their way out of the fast food dungeon. All of her current projects–blogs, cocktails, and comics–can be found via her online hub, www.jenniferwalkeronline.com.

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