This past weekend, I exhibited at the Small Press & Alternative Comics Expo (SPACE) in Columbus, Ohio. It’s a small show, and as the name implies, it’s geared largely to the alt-comics crowd.
However, since I write fantasy literature, I thought there might be some crossover with the audiences, and, since the booths were only $75, I decided it was a low-risk proposition to exhibit and see if I could find some new readers.
Below are my takeaways from my first show in eight years and my first as a novelist.
The most frequent question I got over the weekend was, “You wrote all of these?”
I had six books on the table — the three Modern Fairy Tales, Magic & Monsters, and the two books in The Usurpers Saga. I didn’t bring the Wolf Dasher books, because I’m in the middle of a cover overhaul that isn’t finished yet, and I didn’t bring Legend in my own Mind, because I didn’t think it would appeal to the audience at the show.
People seemed surprised that I had written that many full-length books and had them for sale.
The second-most frequent question I got was, “Wait, you’re a novelist? What are you doing at a comics show?”
When I explained my strategy, most people got it. And it prompted them to look through my books. I had free bookmarks on the table, and many people took at least one after talking to me.
Patience is a Virtue
When you’re in business for yourself, it is hard sometimes to wait for success to come. But selling is not always an activity that yields immediate results.
I only sold three books on the show’s first day. I spent most of my time talking to people about my writing and the kinds of things they would find inside the covers. Many walked away without making a purchase. Many examined my merchandise, thought they might like it, but decided to roam the floor to see everything before opening their wallets.
I went into Sunday just hoping to break even on the price of the table. Because I viewed the whole exercise as a marketing expense, I expected to take a loss on the show, but it was looking like it might a more significant one than I’d hoped.
But things turned around the next day. I ran package deals on The Usurpers Saga and the Modern Fairy Tales, and on Sunday, people bit. I sold two of each package, plus a number of other sales, and raked in $175 the second day alone — enough to cover the cost of the booth and the ad I’d purchased. Some of those sales were comebacks from people who had visited me before and decided to pull the trigger the second or third time around.
On a related note, my price point required patience as well. Most booths were selling black-and-white comics printed on their home printer, or they were selling art. The average price of an item at other booths was about $5. I sold my novellas for $10 and my novels for $15. So there may have been some price resistance from shoppers.
However, when I made sales, they added up. I basically set myself up for fewer total sales but an equitable amount of cash. If I hadn’t bought the ad (more on that below), the show would have been much more profitable for me.
As I expected, Little Red Riding Hoodie was my best seller. It appeals to a broad base of people, and the title is clever enough to get people to pick it up and read the back cover copy. Not only did it sell stronger than the other books, it was also the most examined.
Magic & Monsters did well too. I should have been able to predict that, but I hadn’t. It’s a small volume for only for $10, and there are five stories in it. So it’s a low-risk investment for someone unfamiliar with my work.
The biggest mistake was buying an ad. I purchased the inside front cover of the program, because it was available at a late date, and I thought it would increase my visibility, helping bring people to the table of a new exhibitor who was not quite the right fit for the audience.
In reality, the show was small enough that visitors got around to every table multiple times. No one mentioned the ad to me. I’m pretty well convinced all it did was cut into my profits.
It also may have been a mistake not to bring the Dasher books. I ran a contest wherein signing up for my mailing list would enter a person into a chance to win the whole line, and many people were intrigued by the “James Bond meets Game of Thrones” tagline. I could probably have sold some Dasher books if I’d had them available.
The mistake of buying an ad notwithstanding, SPACE was totally worth it. I got a bunch of signups for my mailing list, I gave away bookmarks with my website and links to books on them, and I made decent sales to offset most of the cost of attending.
I’m not really factoring in the inventory cost of getting the books printed nor the investment of display materials, because I can sell/use them at other shows. However, those costs can’t be totally ignored, and if I roll them all into this show, that makes the loss on it pretty significant.
However, I engaged with a lot of people, and I view the whole thing as an opportunity to get my brand and my words in front of new readers. I will definitely attend SPACE again next year, and I am looking for other shows I can exhibit at that have moderate investments.
I plan for this to be the first of many shows for me as I continue to develop my business model.