Last year, I attended about five or six science-fiction, fantasy, horror, or pop culture conventions as an exhibitor. This year, I’ll probably double that number. Some of these are remarkably fun, some not so much. A lot of authors go to these shows, particularly if you write science-fiction or fantasy novels. But, how you prepare yourself and your booth makes a huge difference in sales.
At one show I was at, there was an author in the table next to me selling his fantasy book. On one Saturday (typically, the most popular day), I sold over ten times the books he did. He had a decent story too. There are many factors that lead to this dramatic difference in sales. First, his booth was empty. He stacked his books in a pile on the table and wrote $10 on a blank sheet of white paper. I told him that he needs what I call, “curb appeal.” The same basic concept as in real estate. People walking by want to stop by your booth because it’s interesting.
But I’m an author; all I have is my books. How can I make that interesting?
First, you need to think of yourself as more than an author, you’re in business. Conferences and conventions are typically not free and can cost up to $800 to attend (depending on distance and conference fees). If you’re spending that kind of money, you don’t want to go bankrupt supporting your art. You need to invest a bit more time, thought, and a bit of money into it (but not much).
Second, hire an artist/illustrator to do some drawings of your characters and get them printed on a pull up banner. This should cost no more than $200 and will attract attention to your table. Third, don’t just use the standard white cloth blanket that comes with the booth (or sometimes, shows don’t even provide any cloth). Get a few pieces of cloth of different colors. Get flyers printed to distribute, preferably ones with color and nice art that attracts attention. Do not make it boring. Lastly, do not just stack your books on your table. Prop them up and bring enough of them so that your table looks busy. I also vary the heights of the books by putting an old shoebox under the blanket to raise some and lower others. Anything you can do to make it more interesting and compete with more visual tables, you should be doing.
Finally, you have to actually talk to people. I know that’s a crazy concept because us authors just want to be left alone to write. But when you’re new, you’re a nobody and it’s rare that people will come to you. So uncross your arms, act like you want to be there, stand up and introduce yourself.