Thursday, May 16, 2019

Conventions Are An Investment (Treat Them As Such)

If you're a long-time reader, then you already know I advocate attending as many conventions as you can in order to make all the right connections as an author. In case you haven't seen Can Authors Advance Their Careers By Going To Conventions?, or my much more recent post 5 Tips For Surviving Conventions as an Author, there is something that I have not yet addressed regarding these events.

Which is how damn much they cost when you try to sell books at them.

Trust me, those little expenses add up.

A Glance at Some Numbers

The first thing you need to take into consideration when it comes to the costs of a convention is how much you're paying to vend at them. If you're at a small convention, or you're splitting the cost of a table with someone, you might only have to pay a little over $100 or so. Bigger shows, like Gen Con, can run you a couple hundred for an artist's table, or well over a thousand for an actual exhibitor's booth. It's important to read the fine print here, because while most conventions will give you a free badge to go along with your booth costs, not all of them will. So you need to make sure you aren't getting double-charged.

But wait, there's more!
In addition to the costs of your vending space and badge, you also need to ask how much you'll need to spend on travel expenses, how much you'll have to spend on a hotel room, how much inventory you'll need to have up-front, and what sort of food budget you've got for the weekend. You should also ask what costs are going into your table decorations, if you don't already have a banner, a tablecloth, book stands, etc. for the event.

Now, if you're extremely fortunate, you'll live near the convention you're attending, or you'll know someone who does and is willing to host you for a few days. Maybe the convention provides food for attendees, too, or you're on just enough panels to get your access to the green room so you can keep your food expenses down. However, even if you're managing a convention on the smallest possible expense account, it can be tough to make back your investment right away.

So, let's say I managed to get a table at a convention, and it only ran me about $110. I make roughly $5 of profit any time I sell a copy of my novel Crier's Knife, or my steampunk short story collection New Avalon: Love and Loss in The City of Steam, so I would need to sell about 22 copies of those books just to break even with the table costs. Which would be an investment of roughly $80-$90 in addition to the table costs, just to get the inventory to sell. If I split a table with someone, I'd only have to sell about 11 books to make up my costs, and everything past that point is gravy for me. Not only that, but I'd have someone to watch my stuff while I went on a soda run, or took a bathroom break.

Could I do that? It's possible. Especially if I bring my A-game, and manage to get people who stop at my table to spread the word.

Say I have to stay at the hotel for the weekend, though. Even if I get a good deal, or split room cost with someone else, that's probably another $100-$200, depending on how pricey the digs are. Now we're looking at moving between 40 and nearly 70 copies of my books to break even for the weekend. Impossible? No, not impossible... but we have entered the realm of the unlikely. Especially since we're talking about a smaller convention where you'll be lucky to have more than a thousand people or so wandering through the dealer's hall during the weekend.

Even if You Don't Break Even, It's Often Worth The Investment

When you start looking at the numbers it would take to make a convention weekend turn a profit for you as an author, it's easy to start getting discouraged. Especially if you would need to travel a fairly significant distance, stay at a hotel, etc. for your weekend. However, there is another side of the coin that's worth looking at when it comes to these events.

Because, in a very real sense, they're an investment in yourself, and your brand.

Gotta spend money to make money, yo!
Way back when, I wrote a post titled Most Authors Aren't Really "Making It", where I pointed out that a lot of professional creators simply do not have the gas in the tank to pay their bills with their art. They have day jobs, they lean on a spouse's income, or they have some other support structure so that if their latest book or collection arrives to a chorus of crickets they don't scramble to avoid filing bankruptcy.

Something I find out more and more is that authors who hold down tables at conventions are often in the same boat. Meaning that while they do sell books while they're doing a show, a lot of the time they barely break even, or find themselves running a deficit when it comes time to pack up on Sunday.

So why do they do it?

Well, the first is that showing up at a convention allows you to tap an audience you might not normally interact with. It lets you shake hands, exchange words, make your pitch, and if nothing else put a business card into those con-goers hands. It allows you to expand your reach, and to network in a bigger community than you might otherwise be able to market in. That is not an insignificant thing.

Secondly, books take on a life of their own once they're out of your hands and into someone else's. So let's take that initial scenario, and say I did manage to move 20 copies of my novel in a weekend at a convention. That's 20 new readers who know my face, who have signed copies of my book, and who are more likely to talk about both our interactions and that book. If they have friends who like to hear their convention stories, if they're part of a book club, or if they just have siblings or parents who are always looking for recommendations, my hat has now been thrown into that ring.

In short, when you make a splash at a convention, you are more likely to see ripples over the ensuing weeks and months as word of mouth spreads around, and people check out your book. While that kind of signal boost is impossible to predict, it can sometimes help you make up the cost of attending the convention in the first place. Additionally, every time you make a new fan out of a regular convention goer, they're going to be lined up at your booth when you have a new release out. That can have a serious impact on your cost/profit numbers, if you keep your hustle going throughout the weekend.

No Risk, No Reward

There's no such thing as a guarantee when it comes to selling books. You might go to an event that you're sure will net you huge sales, and it's a ghost town that weekend. Alternatively, you might set out at the farmer's market for a laugh, and sell every book you brought with you that day. There's just no way to be sure, so all you can do is hedge your bets and hope for the best when you roll the dice. That's one reason I recommend authors Sell Your Book in Unexpected Places (You Might Be Surprised at The Results).

However, it's also important to remember that any of the expenses you incur when it comes to a convention, or a similar business outing, are often tax deductible. So keep your receipts, and make sure you claim all the deductions you're entitled to. Because even if your book doesn't sell gangbusters, there's still a little cushion for you at the end of the year when the IRS cuts you a bit of a break.

That's all for this week's Business of Writing! If you'd like to see more of my work, take a look at my Vocal archive, or at My Amazon Author Page where you can find books like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife!

If you'd like to help support my work, then consider Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or heading over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page! Lastly, to keep up with my latest, follow me on FacebookTumblrTwitter, and now on Pinterest as well!

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