Michelle Knight. Writer, photographer, programmer, truck driver and general, all round nut case. Life is a journey and that's what this blog will probably end up being. Let's see where we go, eh? ;-)
So, it is done. I am now home, sat at a proper keyboard and I can tell you what I learned about my convention experience. I hope these things come in useful!
Top of the list of things is the age of the intended buyer/reader. Selling on the internet, we are shielded to a degree. In order to purchase, a credit card is needed so there is some form of age verification going on. At a convention, however, there is no such check, so think about your content, in particular F-bombs (of which there are four in the whole book) and other language, because in a convention, once they have walked away, that's it; you've got no way to get in touch with them if you forgot to mention something. So... think ahead.
It doesn't help that there doesn't seem to be guidance for books like there is for films, but now that this is on my radar I'll be watching for it in my own works and locations. My mistake in this area is the one I feel most badly about. Apparently, it's a long running issue. A good article is this one from 2012 in the NY Daily News. The Daily Mail covered the issue in its typical overboard style in the same year, covering the swearing in Harry Potter.
I didn't write Check Mate specifically for a younger audience, in fact it didn't cross my mind who would/could be reading it as it registers with me as a sci-fi comedy; the f-bombs that are in there are consistent with the characters and situations, being elite army... but I can tell you now... this issue is front and centre after this weekend.
In the absence of any rating system for books like there are for films, I'm going to have to go through the manuscripts myself and make my own decisions. I'm also going to start asking my alpha/beta readers what is the youngest age person they'd be comfortable giving the book to. I do know that the answer to that will vary widely, but it might give me a good guiding point.
2) Eye level signing
Some people have fancy roller displays that cost a small fortune. On the cheap, you can get away with an A1 easel from an art shop and make a display from that. Eye level is important, though, and be careful about your wording.
3) Stand up and smile.
Difficult to do and after a few hours, my face was hurting. If you're likely to follow this advice, then wear flat shoes! I didn't and my feet hurt as well.
4) Be prepared to make a loss.
It seemed that even those with a solid fan base, were running 100k+ word books at £5; well below the main price. I had to cut the price drastically. The established authors have an advantage with litho printing in that they are a lot cheaper than print-on-demand. I now consider that to attend a convention is an exercise in servicing a fan base and giving them value.
Some days are better than others. Don't take it personally.
5) Don't mix distant genres.
As I only had the one sci-fi book to offer, (this was a distinctly sci-fi convention) I did have some of the Submissive Heart series, (the organiser gave the OK for me to bring and display them) and some people carried on walking. On the second day, I lowered the price of Check Mate to £4 (as a 50K book) and removed the SH series from the table. Which one of the two did it, I don't know.
6) Don't count on the organiser for all information
It is a good idea to think in advance about the kinds of people, and ages, that are going to be present and, even if the organiser says certain things are OK, then search your own conscience and make your own decisions. It is your reputation that you're putting on the line.
There are certain things that the organiser isn't responsible for; and that is the competition among sellers. It is probably best to find a way to check what the competition is doing and be ready to adjust accordingly. Be prepared to come out of this at a substantial loss.
This is a difficult one. Some traders were saying that their sales didn't pick up until they actually started to have supporting merchandise on the tables. It did seem that hulking that around, plus the extra time setting up and clearing down the extensive offerings, had its additional stresses; but it is something to think on.
Also, if you have an artist license for the cover art, you might need another license to use their artwork on merchandise, so be careful and check out your artwork licensing before you start getting stuff made.
8) Talking points
One of the authors had a crow balloon (I think that's what it was) on the end of a piece of string. I think it spent more time being stolen by the Jawas than it did on her table, but that seemed to do the trick.
9) Business cards/bookmarks
There are conflicting thoughts and experiences on this. Some people say that people with too many book marks throw them away, and others say that business cards get thrown away. Maybe have both? This is just one example of the decisions that you're going to have to make for yourself as there is no hard and fast rule.
I fell in lucky. The neighbouring authors were great people and we had a laugh and supported each other; well, I needed support because I was actually a wreck for the two days.
My nerves incapacitated me because there was a good deal of fun going on there, and I couldn't relax in to any of it. A team of people dressed as Jawas from Star Wars did a superb job of entertaining and causing general light hearted mischief, but I certainly wouldn't have been capable of interacting with cloaked figures with orange eyes saying things like, "Outini!" (they were running automated voice recordings or something.)
In fact, there were a large number of people who had put considerable effort in to their costumes and were happy to stop and pose for people to take pictures. Congratulations to them, and they added a spice to the event.
As for Wyntercon itself, I've got to admit for the largest part, they had it sussed. They suffered all my newbie questions with grace and I always felt that I could go to them with issues. There were definite lines that were my responsibility but... at the end of the day, it was a positive experience.
It was amazing to mix with some of the people pre-show. There was one woman who came over and chatted with our tables; she was reasonably local. The way she was dressed and made up, it was obvious that her living was made from her personal image, but it wasn't until after she had left that the penny dropped in my friends head, "That was Caroline Munro!"
I also happened to pass one of my heroes, Norman Lovett. He was looking a bit down and someone had stolen the poster he had positioned behind his seat. Also it was his birthday and I couldn't stand seeing one of my personal heroes looking so sad, so I signed one of my books, hoping that it made him laugh and wishing him happy birthday, and gave it to him. Did it work? I'll likely never know.
Will I be doing this again next year? I'm not sure. I definitely need to find some way to handle the age issue. My nerves are fried, but I made it out alive and I'm wiser for next time.