What I Learned at Wordstock, My First Writers Convention
I recently had a booth at my first convention and learned much. Though I have had book signings,
book readings, booths at festivals and bar-mitzvahs (OK, that last one’s not true), I quickly learned that a convention geared towards writing poses many opportunities. In addition, I honed the skills I use anytime I’m promoting my book. I’ve summarized all here:
- Reach out to people. Smile. Be positive. Don’t just sit there in your booth and hope people come to you. Say ‘hello’ as people pass by and ask how they’re doing. For some reason, some aspect of human nature almost obliges a person to come to your booth if you make eye contact with them. This may all sound hard, especially if you’re an introvert like myself, but trust me it’s easier than it sounds.
- Have your pitch (your 30 to 60 second book synopsis) prepared in advance. Don’t worry if you screw it up the first couple times, practice makes perfect. You’ll have plenty of more opportunities.
- Ask discovery questions. Find out what interests your prospective buyer, then modify your pitch on the fly to gear it towards their interests. In my case, for example, I’d ask if they are a fan of fantasy. If they say yes, then I’d go into my pitch that revolves around how the backbone of my book is a fairy tale and incorporates all the classic imagery of fantasy with a fresh twist that appeals to modern readers. If they say no, then I’d go into my pitch that revolves around the fact that my book is a character driven story and the fantasy element is a mere stage used to facilitate the drama of the people involved.
- Build it and they will come. Before you can give your pitch people have to first be attracted to your product. Your booth should look as professional and eye catching as possible without looking cheesy. Go the distance and invest in a banner and/or poster on easel. If you have access to electricity, consider a monitor hooked up to a laptop displaying a flashy multimedia piece. If you have access to the internet, use that same set up to show off your website associated with your book.
- Have meaningful material at your booth. Not everybody will or can buy your book right there on the spot, but make it possible for them to walk away with something. Have book markers, business cards, postcards, key chains and every other manner of swag you can think with your book’s ordering information. If you can afford it, consider T-Shirts and framed posters. T-Shirts are great because then customers can wear them and be walking billboards for you. Most importantly, don’t forget that your books themselves are advertising (that’s why it’s important to design a great book cover). Be sure to have neat stacks of them on display. If they can’t buy your book right there, or they think that someone else they know might be interested, direct them to where they can purchase it later. As mentioned earlier, try to have your website up and running for them to browse through, as the first page of your website should have all the locations and means for them to obtain a copy of your book. If the internet is not available, have a screen-shot print out of your website on display. If you can’t do that, have printed copies of a list of that pertinent information.
- Look the part. Look professional. This is not a job interview, it’s far more important.
You’re not just selling yourself as an author, you’re selling your creation that is an extension of yourself. How you are perceived reflects on your work. If you sit in your booth unshaven with a pizza stain on your shirt, what do you think people will think of the quality of your book? This is especially true of indie published books which already suffer from a stigma of non-legitimacy. On the other hand, you may want to take a chance by incorporating your appearance into advertising. If your book has a theme to it, coordinate your dress to match. Rumor has it that Christopher Paolini, the author of Eragon, dressed up in a suit of armor at events to promote his work.
- Explore, walk around, and network. The whole purpose of a convention is to network with like-minded individuals and organizations. Look for opportunities to synergize and be inspired. Don’t abandon your booth and leave it un-manned, mind you, but get out and take advantage of the situation. That’s why it’s important to have help, someone who can mind the shop while you go on walk-about. Better yet, share a booth with another author and split the costs. At Wordstock I shared a booth with
my friend Alexis Mason, author of the wonderful children’s book Just An Ordinary Little Dog. Her book had nothing to do with mine, but our table was long enough that we had room to easily distinguish ourselves. In a couple weeks, on the other hand, I’ll be sharing a booth with author Mike Chinakos at Portland’s Orycon32 SciFi & Fantasy Convention. His novel, Hollywood Cowboys, about a demon-fighting 80’s hair band is a bit more in line with my fantasy novel and there is potential for cross-over customers who come to our table. While you’re walking about, visit booths with similar themes as your own. Chat the owners up and hand out your card. I actually sold several books this way. Look for resources that will further your cause. I’m looking forward to talking more to Blue Water Productions into converting my book into a graphic novel, or at the very least having artwork done to use in a “movie trailer” advertisement produced by Axiom Shift Productions. Attend the various convention activities whether workshops or lectures. I sat in on the lecture given by Graham Hancock, author of Fingerprints of the Gods, promoting his first work of fiction, Entangled. I met
him afterwards and told him his work had inspired much of the alternative history featured in my novel. He sounded interested and asked that I email him a reminder of our conversation and a link to the kindle version of my book so that he may download a copy. I was thrilled and even more so when he agreed to making a brief comment or review after looking it over (he hasn’t so far, but you never know, he may yet and in any case it was an inspiring moment that showed me a world of possibilities for future encounters).
So there you have it. Words of wisdom to consider when you find yourself at a convention. Chances are you’ll find even more opportunities, and then you can tell me about them.