Merging onto the Convention Highway

dsc_0466Conventions are in my opinion, an essential for the indie author looking to build a following. In fact, I prefer working conventions over attending them and not just for the sales and exposure, but because of the convention community. After several years of being a part of the con-circuit in Southern Ontario, I have come to recognize fellow authors and vendors as not only friends, but family.
In my previous post, Con Season, I break down the two main types of conventions with a list of pros and cons, in this post I’m going to map out how to participate in conventions as a panelist and vendor.
On Being a Panelist 

A panelist is a publisher, author, or seriously famous actor, like Nathan Fillion, who attend the convention professionally to discuss themselves, a topic of interest, their newest book, season, or movie etc.  Directors, comic book artists, and many other speakers attend conventions as panelists to connect to their audience and promote their material.
As mentioned above, a panelist can participate on a panel about their own person and profession or in support of another fandom that they enjoy and are a part of. My suggestion for the new author or artist looking for networking and exposure is to sign up for as many different panels as you can. Try to do a mix of personal (a reading from your latest publication), professional (e.g. Marketing Self-Published Books), and just plain fun panels (e.g. a cosplay workshop), this way potential readers and collectors can get to know you better.
Having a table at a convention helps to sell something as an indie author or artist, but being on panels is how you reach people that otherwise might have walked past your table or not come into the vendors room at all.
When you sign up to be a panelist and do a reading from your book or to talk about the latest season of Dr. Who, or like myself, discuss self-publishing, you are connecting to people on a different level, as an individual, not a book promoting robot. No one wants a salesman, they want a person who has poured themselves into the next masterpiece that’s going to sit on their bookshelf.
In addition, as a panelist, you have become a public figure. Someone who has written a book, started a publishing company, or someone who’s become a well known artist. When convention attendees see you on a panel, it signifies to them you are someone of note; someone who’s made it through the artist’s struggle and created something worth having.
 
Becoming a Panelist

First, the honest truth. The likelihood of becoming a panelist as a new artist or author at a commercially-run convention is very unlikely– unless of course you have an agent or PR rep who can set that up for you.
Fan-run conventions are smaller, more intimate, and therefore easier to approach. Most fan-run conventions are welcoming to new authors and interested in bringing in new panelists for programming.
How does a budding author or artist become part of programming?
E mail programming.
It’s that simple. Most conventions have a “contact” page. Click the link for the contact page and then click the e mail listed for programming, ask to be a panelist and viola, you’re done.
More specifically, write an email explaining who you are with links to your work, how long you’ve been published or selling art, and ask if they have room on programming for you as you’d love to be considered.

If they don’t get back to you right away, don’t get discouraged. All fan-run conventions are volunteer-based, so the programming team is doing this out of the goodness of their hearts, in their spare time. Most of them have full-time jobs, significant others, or families. Be patient, give them a week to get back to you. If they don’t, draft a second e mail saying “Not sure if you received my first e mail, thought I should send it again. Thank you for your time,” or something along those lines. I’d like to mention that angry e mails get you nowhere. Be polite and positive. If they don’t get back to you this year or reply saying programming is full, send a final e mail letting them know you’d like to be considered next year.

Once you’ve gotten into your first convention as a panelist, a world of conventions, festivals, and events will open up to you. Talking to and befriending fellow authors and artists will allow you to get the inside scoop on upcoming events and conventions you might not otherwise have heard of.
Many authors and artists are introverts and programming may not be their thing. That’s ok, because there’s always a table in the vendor’s room for the creative-types that want to share their wares from behind the comfort of a table. As an introvert– I totally get that.
Table Time

Not unlike programming, getting a table at a convention is pretty straight forward. Look for a “Contact” page or a “Vendors” or “Exhibitors” link on the website for the con you wish to attend.
At fan-run conventions tables are generally the same pricing for everyone. They are broken into half-tables, full-tables, and generally include a discount on each additional table a vendor might need.
There will either be links to applications to fill out for a table or an e mail listed to get the applications sent to you. Cons normally have a table fee for the weekend and provide a badge or two for vendor access all weekend. Fill out the application and follow the instructions to apply.
For the new artist or author starting out with only a few art pieces or book, I would suggest a half-table. It’s cheaper and all you’ll need.
Commercially-run conventions organize themselves a little differently. They typically get much larger vendors, in addition to artists, authors, and small business owners. Because of this, they break things up into Retailer and Artist Alley tables. Retail tables are ridiculously expensive, stick to artist alley, that space is for smaller business owners.
Because commercially-run conventions are typically quite large, their tables are more expensive. I’ve seen tables up to $800 for a weekend. Until you are confident you can sell enough to cover your costs, I do not recommend getting a table at a commerically-run convention, unless you share a table with other artists and authors. Sharing a table is a great way to get your books and art out there and making sure you cover your costs.
Some Notes

– Being a panelist at a fan-run convention is not only a great way to network and meet new people, but it is often free
– A new author with a single book benefits greatly from becoming part of programming. If you’re a panelist, you are able to advertise yourself and potentially sell your books for free

– Join a variety of different panels. Connect to as many different people as you can and remember, you are selling yourself and your interests. Do not constantly bring up your book, unless it’s relevant to discussion. No one likes a salesman.

– Cut table costs by sharing with other authors and vendors
– Only get a half-table starting out, unless you’re confident you have enough wares for a full table and can cover the cost
– Sometimes conventions can only take a certain number of new authors/artists. Do not get discouraged if you can’t be a part of programming this year. Buy a half-table for the weekend and start getting your books and name out there
A word on etiquette: If you are sharing a table with a fellow author, let people approach your shared table and pick up the book of interest to them. If they ask about your book, then discuss it, but if they are talking to the other author and you interrupt, suggesting your book, this is poor behaviour and will not win you any friends. You may find other authors and artists unwilling to share with you in the future.
If you are doing this to authors at a different table, this is just as, if not more unacceptable. You might gain a sale or two, but you are cutting yourself off from a network of authors who can assist you in the future. Be polite and wait your turn. Let people approach you.
In addition, I have seen many authors trying to draw potential readers in with FREE things: free candy, a free e book, a free bookmark. . . Consider that if someone is drawn in with free, they may have a limited amount of cash to spend or they were never going to buy your stuff in the first place. You are putting money into free things and expecting a return that may not be there. It can be beneficial to have free things on your table, but from my experience, if not handled a certain way, this can make you appear desperate.
I was walking by an author’s table who shouted free e book to me, got up, and made me spin a game wheel she had brought. Her salesman attitude was a turn off and I felt pressured to do what she asked. I spun the wheel and won a free e book that I will never read.
On the other hand, having a candy dish with Easter-themed or Halloween-themed candy is fun and inviting. I know two authors that bring candy to conventions, but for fun, not for sales. They do not use the candy to segway into a sales pitch or pressure anyone. They are instead creating a fun and open atmosphere, thus making them more approachable to potential readers.
If you’re going to print off bookmarks, make them an advertisement for your ebooks and art and make sure to have links to where your books/art can be purchased. Don’t hand them out and then jump into a sales-pitch, give them to people who are already interested in your books and art, but might not have the cash right now. It could potentially lead to an online sale later, but the important thing is being polite and not expecting anything in return.
It’s not always about sales and modern sales tactics have changed drastically. Conventions are about fun. Someone may not be a customer today, but they will remember your kindness and may be a customer at the next con.
Thank you for reading and I hope this article helps to assist you in your career as an author or artist. If it weren’t for the authors, volunteers, and vendors I’ve met along the way, who have helped me at cons, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Conventions can be an extremely rewarding experience, a way to build a following, and a gateway into a whole new network of friends, colleagues, and supporters.
Sarah WaterRaven

A Different Kind of Fairyland

image5The Otherworld may be a lot closer than you think. For those of you familiar with my books, you might know the Fairyland in which I’m referring to, one that while it’s magickal, is holding on by a thread; a fairyland suffocated in human development, social norms, and societal pressures. The World of Detective Docherty boasts a large variety of magnificent and supernatural beings, but instead of living separate or hidden from human society, they are either immersed in it or living on the edge of it.

Creatures such as pixies and sprites can survive in smaller habitats and aren’t as effected by human development, and while elves look the most human and can navigate urban and rural settings easier than most, these beings were not meant to live in cities. After the collapse of the otherworld however, they had no choice.

As an environmentalist and nature lover, I’m an avid hiker and a camper. I can’t always get away though and there was a time when jobless, all I had were city parks and local trails to connect to nature. It’s no surprise then, that unable to get away, I looked to local nature for not only that connection, but also for escape. I imagined magick trapped like I was, surviving where others believed it could not.

Iimg_1743‘d see sprites in backyard gardens, bathing in fountains and  building their homes in bird
houses (or all those lovely new fairy houses out there now!) , brownies peaking out from a window while their human families were at school or work, and other hobgoblins (assorted earth-bound fairy) and nature spirits wandering backyards, city parks, and trails.

It can be hard to imagine these things, especially in today’s world. Despite the garbage and graffiti of our real world though, nature is still here, it survives and it continues, and I imagine magick right along beside it. It can be sad for sure and visuals of fairies sitting under an empty chip bag to get out of the rain or a collection of mournful sprites saying goodbye to an animal friend that got hit by a car have come to mind, but I also picture them adapting and surviving, despite the odds. There is sadness, but there is joy too, and the fairy make the most of it.

Perhaps not unlike the borrowers, the fairy collect human trinkets, perhaps they help our gardens grow, and perhaps the larger fairy and otherkin, such as elves and unicorns still live somewhere secret, somewhere alongside spirit bears, crystal caverns, and waterfalls that no one can drive to.

If you look close enough however, I believe you’ll see bits of fairy everywhere:

Click images to enlarge.

Con Season

It’s officially con season, time to get out your Geek-Gear!

With Convention Season upon us, I felt it was high time I wrote something useful on this blog. Ontario boasts a large number (and growing) of fan-run and commercially-run fantasy and science fiction conventions.  As my home base, this article will focus primarily on cons in Southern Ontario, but this information is applicable to any writer or artist looking for insight on attending the con-circuit as a professional.

There are two primary classifications for science fiction and fantasy conventions:

1) Commercial 
2) Fan-Run

Commercial

The Delorean at Fanexpo Toronto

Commercially-run conventions are typically much larger than fan-run cons and boast big name celebrities and large vendors (e.g. large chain stores, well known products, and gaming companies). They often include focuses on popular scifi and fantasy T.V. series, movies, games, books, comic artists, and companies. As they are commercially driven, they are splashed with advertisements ranging from pizza and Coke products to upcoming games and shows.

Examples of commercially-run cons: Fanexpo and Comicon 

Fan-Run

Fan-Run conventions are less red carpet and big screen, but much more personable. They have smaller panels, some big names, blasts from the pasts, and a strong local focus. At a fan-run convention people can enjoy nice personable panels and workshops with friends, people they’ve met at cons, and their favorite local authors, artists, and musicians. Not only do prices tend to be more reasonable, but the convention becomes a weekend-long party for vendors and panelists who’ve become acquaintances and friends.

Examples of fan-run cons: Ad-Astra and SF Contario

There are of course exceptions and cons that sit outside of the main categories like Geekery Con (a day con that runs at a lovely restaurant in Niagara) and Anime North, which is so large it could be a commercially-run convention.

For the professional trying to break into a larger following and wishing to increase their network, I feel conventions are a must, but there are obvious advantages and challenges to both types of cons.

Let’s break it down:

Commercial
– Thousands of people through the door to purchase your products.
– A much larger collection of different consumers that may otherwise never have known about you or come across your work.
– Having a table at a large con gives the appearance of success. The more products you have and the more people that see you at these large cons, the more likely they will believe your products are quality and worth investing in.
Fan-Run
– Smaller, intimate panels and programs that allow for networking, building clientele, and creating friendships.
– Better chances of being involved in programming and panels, allowing you to reach out to more potential readers.
– Generally more affordable .
– Generally more accommodating.

The Downside to Each?

Commercial 
– I have seen conventions so large that people literally cannot stop and look at tables because other people are pushing them forward. Unless they know who/what they are looking for, they will generally give each booth a quick glance and continue on.
– Commercially-run conventions can run petty high, anywhere from $300 to over a thousand in cost for a weekend for the table alone.
– Hotel and food costs tend to be higher.
– Some conventions are not as accommodating, due primarily to the large volume of vendors.
– These conventions may or may not cater to indie authors. Those that do will have a Special Guest Area or allow authors to take up tables in the Artist Alley.

Fan-Run
– Smaller venue, smaller crowd. Depending on what you are selling, you may not cover the cost of your table.
– With the smaller venue in mind, factor in hotels costs, travel, sitters/kennels, and meals as your overall cost of being there.

Both types of conventions provide their own unique experience and allow for exposure, sales, and networking, however, things add up and can become pretty pricey. Here are some tips on cutting down on con costs:

Cutting Back on Con Costs:

– Book early. Some conventions offer early-bird discounts on tables and so do hotels.
– If the convention is local, drive instead of staying at the hotel. It can sometimes be a tight squeeze and add travel time to the weekend stress, but it will save you a lot of money; not only in hotel costs, but in food costs.
– Consider carpooling.
– If the con is not local (or you are taking public transit), price out surrounding hotels and motels to find a lower price.
– Participating hotels and motels offer discounts for CAA members. Check out any other memberships you have and reward programs for credit cards to see if they offer something similar.
– Most conventions offer a con price for staying at the hotel, compare their price with any discounts from memberships like CAA.
– Share a room with friends! This is a great way to socialize and save money. However, if your days are packed with panels and manning a table like mine are, parties and staying up late with friends may not be the best idea.
– If you’re driving to and from home, eat at home, and make a lunch and snacks to take with you. Food adds up. Even if you cover the cost of your table, remember you’re trying to cover the cost of materials and your time. Eating out all weekend can seriously hinder your earnings. You will be less likely to eat at the hotel restaurant and surrounding fast food places if you’ve had breakfast at home, prepped a lunch, and wait to eat dinner at home, especially if you’ve had snacks through out the day. The drive home at night can be pretty long and hungry without something to nibble on.
– Budget yourself. We all know there are lots and lots of goodies at the convention and Goddess knows I want all the things, but setting a budget really helps you weed out the things you REALLY want and those things that are just novel in the moment.
– Bring water. Having several refillable containers of water will save you from having to buy bottled water (which is bad for the environment and costs money). If you run out? Fill up again. If you’re paranoid about tap water, use re-usable bottles with carbon filters 🙂 Handy little things those!

Tips on Tables and Panels:

– If you’re a one book author, having a table at a convention may not be worth it. From my experience, being on panels will be your key to obtaining more readers and promoting interest without cost (with the exception of some cons. Some require a membership fee). Make sure to have books and change on hand for when people inquire and wish to buy a book. My first two years of conventions I promoted solely through programming and sold books every con.
– If you are going to have a table, share with another author or vendor to cut costs and to make your table look fuller. A fuller table increases interest.
– Table displays are WORTH IT. If you have your own table, buy a table banner or a pop-up banner at least– also make sure to have a table cloth. Some conventions do not provide cloths and you’ll end up with a poor, naked table in need of some clothes 😦 . The more professional the display looks, the more inviting your product looks. Why? Because if you can afford to look this good, your product must be that good 😉
– Always have a book or books on hand at panels. Someone may wish to buy your book after the panel. If you don’t have a book handy and suggest they stop by the dealer’s room, they may later forget or simply be unable to return to the dealer’s room before it closes.
– Have a schedule printed for your table. People who are interested in your books or artwork will then able to attend your panels, or if they are interested in buying something, but want your signature, they will know when to come back for a signed copy and conversation later.

This is where I end this crazy ride on the convention information highway. Consider this blog post one of many posts to come on navigating the con-circuit, having a table, and participating in convention programming. I sincerely hope this information helps you as it as helped me throughout the years, but above all else, have fun. The reason I promote through conventions, have tables, and participate on programming, is because I love it.  As Buddha said:

“Success is not the key to happiness, happiness is the key to success.

If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.”

– Buddha

 
Wishing you much success and happiness,
Sarah

Pickwick

pickwick-booksThere sits an old stone book store on the corner of Dundas st. and Mill st. in Waterdown, Ontario. Like many of the buildings in historic Waterdown, it’s weathered and charming. From the clumsy lock and brass handle on the door to the thin window panes and old style font on the glass that reads: Pickwick Books, this book store is the kind that captures the heart and imagination of every author and reader. One looks at a store such as this and thinks: I will find adventure here. The Neverending Story might just be sitting on the counter calling for you to take it home or a hobbit could walk in at any time looking for a good book to read by the fire or one might even imagine wizards coming in to buy their spell books for the new school year.

11235278_935271809868175_1889642146351016890_nPickwick Books was the first book store to place my books on its shelves. It was my home base, a starting point for all my networking, and my support system as a budding new author. Chris and Lori pointed me in the direction of my first conventions, brought me in for my first ever book signing, and were my guides through the world of book stores and consignment, and I am going to miss them terribly.

It was by chance today that Josh and I were driving by Waterdown when I received an e mail from the owners. They wrote that it was with heavy hearts that they sold the book store and that I’d need to come in within the week to pick up my books and settle accounts. The new owner was not going to carry over the contracts of the local authors, though they did say she was planning on keeping it a book store.

author-sarah-waterravenWithin minutes the image of those shiny glass windows that once had my name on them, the dusty, over-filled bookshelves, and the remnants of the bank that the building once was, like the vault door and chamber where they store the history books, became a picture of heartache.

I am heartbroken.

While I knew I was sad the moment I read the news, the shock kept it from becoming tears. Now however, there’s no denying that I have already begun to mourn the Pickwick’s I once knew.

I am incapable of being completely depressing however and will attempt to reach out to the new owner in the new year. I am hoping she will be open to new contracts with local authors, though I am not banking on it.

In the mean time, I am planning to go back and snap a couple more photos and inhale deeply, for one last time, the scent of imagination and age before it’s replaced with the scent of fresh press and Pine-Sol.

Pickwick Books, I am going to miss you.

Love,

Sarah