Arisia 2016 and the Lessons Learned

This past weekend, J.M. Aucoin and I shared a table in the artist/author alley section of Arisia 2016, a long-running fantasy and sci-fi convention in Boston. This was our first time pimping ourselves out at a major convention, so we had no idea what to expect, on pretty much any level beyond what sort of people would be attending — which is why we took a chance on doing the show, because we figured if nothing else, we’d be surrounded by avid readers with a taste for non-mainstream fiction.

Sleepy Authors
Justin and I by the third day of the show. Sleep was the enemy. Caffeine was our friend.

It was a long four days, and while neither of us made enough money to allow us to run around our homes pumping fists full of cash in the air while chanting “USA! USA!” we did well enough to warrant making plans to go back next year, armed with some valuable lessons that’ll hopefully lead to greater financial success. Sorry to sound so mercenary, but realistically, money is and always shall be a factor here.

Some of the things I know I learned…

Stay for the whole show. Stay for the whole show. For the love of Cthulhu, STAY FOR THE WHOLE SHOW.

Our area was supposed to have eight or so tables for other writers and small artisans. We had that many tables, but few of them remained full throughout the weekend. One artist stayed for two and a half hours on Friday and then left, never to return (bear in mind that Friday is NOT a great business day here, as the con is only open for a few hours in the evening and most folks use that time to check in, get a lay of the land, and scout out where the good parties are). Another showed up very late Saturday and didn’t bother to come back Sunday or Monday. People running a bake sale didn’t stick around for more than three hours either Saturday or Sunday, and never showed up Monday. Even those who did show up for all days tended to close up shop well before closing.

I understand the frustration of sitting there, watching people go by, sometimes without ever even glancing at your table, but you can’t sell your stuff if you aren’t there to sell it. Justin and I both made sales within the last ten minutes of the last day, as did our author neighbor Calandra Usher (who, along with Jim McDonald, completed our happy little literary corner). Leaving early shows poor business sense.

It’s also inconsiderate to the neighbors. When con-goers see too much empty space, they go the other way, which doesn’t help those who stick it out — and those of us who did stick it out already had challenges to overcome…

Location, Location, Location

The artist/author alley area was, for reasons too complicated to go into here, moved out of the vendor area proper and into an escalator landing — which, to be fair, wasn’t an awful space. Anyone entering or leaving the vendor area had to use those escalators or the nearby elevator, so everyone saw us. However, we were back against the wall, which gave people more than enough space to skirt by us and never get within pitch range.

And I admit this is probably a matter of personal perception, it often felt like the traffic was never as heavy as it was in the vendor area proper, where my wife was set up (Storied Threads, plug plug). Justin and I already spoke to the area manager, who was very receptive, so perhaps next year we’ll get a table in the vendor area proper.

And Here’s the Pitch…

Once we caught someone’s eye, we had a precious second or two to draw them in. Justin was much better at this than I was because he’s more outgoing than I am, so I know I have to raise my game here. Once they got to the table, we had to pitch our books in a manner that enticed the potential customer into buying but wasn’t pushy. I hate hard sell tactics. They always turn me off, especially when there’s a whiff of guilt-tripping involved (“If you don’t buy my stuff, I can’t pay my mortgage!” — and yes, I have in fact heard that exact pitch before).

We had our “elevator pitches” down pretty well, but they could use some improvement. I know mine could stand to be more informational and less generic.

Justin gets interviewed for the TyroTV YouTube channel.
Justin gets interviewed for the TyroTV YouTube channel.

Network!

While I had no idea what to expect at the show, I definitely did not expect to be interviewed twice, or approached by someone in the early planning stages of a convention focusing on non-mainstream fiction, or meet a freelance editor looking to make connections within the indie author community. Thank god we had a ton of business cards to hand out.

However, I can’t help but feel we missed out on some other networking opportunities, opportunities we initiated rather than received. Something to think about.

Price Matters?

One of our big hurdles was the fact we were selling print editions of our books, which cost more and our less likely to inspire impulse purchases…or so we thought. People were surprisingly willing to cough up $12 or so for a full-length novel, more so than they were to pay $5 for Justin’s Jake Hawking short story collection; he moved more copies of Honor Among Thieves than the Hawking omnibus.

Nevertheless, I have a project in the works to create my own low-cost book to serve as an introduction to my two series, for the benefit of those who are intrigued enough to look into my work but might not feel like making a serious investment.

I also plan to take a page from Calandra and Jim’s metaphorical books and look into selling e-book editions of my work directly at cons.

“It’s you!”

The high point of the weekend came when a man came wandering toward our table, his eyes fixed on my display banner, and asked me, excitedly, “Are you Michael Bailey?” He was a fan of the Action Figures series — and, as it turns out, knew my cover artist Tricia back in high school. I’ve never been fanboyed over before. It was both extremely flattering and incredibly surreal.

The Recognition Factor

Justin and I got a hint of how powerful a social media presence can be. Perfect strangers recognized Justin from his Tumblr account, while my book covers got an ongoing response of, “Wow, those look really familiar!” In both cases, it helped attract people to our table who might otherwise keep on walking. Now we have to find ways to increase that recognition factor so we can parlay it into sales.

Podcasts And Pimpery

A quick post today, and probably my last at least through Christmas — and the giving spirit is the sort-of theme of this entry, which focuses on a couple of things tangentially related to me.

First is a new podcast series The Writer’s Blueprint by Jonathan Krieger, a friend of a friend, and the debut episode features an interview with me. The series is about the challenges of becoming a full-time working author and will feature, along with author interviews, tricks and tips for getting your writing out there. Go give it a listen!

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000039_00009]The interview name-drops J.M. Aucoin; my wife Veronica’s business, Storied Threads; and my cover artist Tricia Lupien — who is the subject of my next plug. She recently added several new designs to her RedBubble shop, including some of her Action Figures art. Of particular amusement to me: the cover for Action Figures – Issue Three: Pasts Imperfect (which you can get on many products sans the text) is behind a “mature content” filter, presumably due to the presence of blood.

Go support both of these independent creators!

Your Last-Minute Shopping List

Christmas is coming up fast. Have you finished your shopping yet? No? Slacker.

Well, I’m going to throw some suggestions out at you. I’ll get the selfish one out of the way: buy Action Figures! You need to get book one so you’ll be able to understand what’s going on in book two (which is now off to my test-readers. Woo!).Pirates Honor

If swashbuckling historical fiction is more your style, my friend/fellow writer Justin Aucoin has his trilogy of piratical shorts in the Jake Hawking series, all available for the Kindle and the Nook. Start with A Pirate’s Honor and go from there.

For a faster read in a Christmasy vein, check out my buddy Rob Borkowski’s Wight Christmas, a flash-fiction short that’s available on Amazon.com for the Kindle.

For an early Christmas gift for a theater lover, snag tickets to this weekend’s final performances of my friend Scott Kegler’s play WHACKED!, at the Hole in the Wall Theater in New Britain, Connecticut.Loki Doll

For something a little more kid-friendly (or adult geek friendly), check out my friend Jess Maclean’s shop Geeky and Cheeky on Etsy. My wife Veronica has a growing collection of handmade G&C dolls, including a complete set of Avengers dolls.

Speaking of my wife, go visit her new Storied Threads website! It’s been re-launched with a focus on her clothing and fandom items, while her Etsy store will focus more on her original embroidery designs.

Now, go forth and shop — and in doing so, you’ll be supporting independent artists and small businesses, which is always a great thing to do.

Progress(ish)!

This was the week I’d hoped to announce the e-book edition of Action Figures, but unforeseen circumstances have held that release up…and by “unforeseen circumstances,” I mean “a conversion process that isn’t terribly user-friendly.”

When creating the hard copy novel, CreateSpace was mostly clear and straightforward. There was a lot of futzing of the manuscript on my part to get the page-by-page layout right, but the instructions were not vague, confusing, and contradictory — unlike the instructions for converting my novel to a Kindle-compatible file.

I’ll skip over the gory details and simply say: Amazon, there is a LOT of room for improvement here, starting with the fact your customer support should be integrated, so customers don’t contact CreateSpace for help, only to have them sent over to the separately run Kindle division, which then sends customers back to CreateSpace. What are you, the federal government?

Anyway, I finally got the mess ironed out yesterday, so in two weeks, I should (should) have a proper e-book for the Kindle.

In the meantime, the paper push continues: promotional mailers have been sent to about 15 indie bookstores (and this is only the first wave), reviews have started to pop up on the book’s Amazon page, and I’m already being pressured by early readers to get a sequel out.

Well, work on that last one is underway, though I won’t be touching it this weekend, since I will be at (cheap plug) the Connecticut Renaissance Faire working at the Storied Threads tent for Time Travelers Weekend. I’m there because Kate, Veronica’s assistant, is enjoying a weekend getaway to New York ComicCon with her boyfriend, fellow writer J.M Aucion (of Jake Hawking fame).

Did I say boyfriend? I meant fiance. Congratulations, guys!

Cover Me

As I write this…well, for one, it’s too damn early on a Sunday morning. I should be still asleep.

Anyway, my writer bro J.M. Aucoin posted a link to a Buzzfeed article about novel cover art cliches, and I found it entertaining, enlightening, and a bit annoying…I mean, these are (as far as I can tell) novels that were published professionally, i.e., not self-published, so why the hell do some of them have the EXACT SAME COVER IMAGE?

It's the same woman! Twice in the same background! WTF?
It’s the same woman! Twice in the same background! WTF?

This topic struck a chord with me mostly because, as I write this, I am eagerly awaiting my cover artist Tricia to finish up her roughs for the front and back cover of Action Figures. I sent her my concepts a couple weeks back, describing for the front cover something more akin to, appropriately, a comic book cover. I wanted the cover to reflect the tone of the story. I wanted something distinct and eye-catching. In other words, not some sort of vague interpretive thing that didn’t necessarily reflect the tone or content of the interior, because yeah, people sometimes still do judge books by their covers.

I don’t know why novel cover art gets such dismissive treatment. Talk about iconic album covers, movie posters, or — in the right crowd — comic book covers and you can name countless examples. Go ahead and name for me five novel covers so iconic that at least one person in the crowd will go, “Oh, yeah, that was a great cover!”

While I like throwing work at my friends, I’d love to one day hire this guy to design a cover for me. He’s a Boston-area graphic designer who, for fun, reads books and designs new covers, and some of his designs are pretty kick-ass.