Calgary Expo 2018 Post Mortem

Wow, another Calgary Expo, done and dusted. Just in time for the beginning of spring. It’s nice to celebrate the end of the long winter with one of my biggest shows of the year! I left feeling extremely inspired—and just a little stressed!—about the work I have to do in the next few months to get to the next level.

To follow my sales journey and to see how I did at past conventions, click here for the full list of articles.
I talk conventions with my BFF on my new podcast, BUSINESS BFFs. Listen here.

General Impressions

I was having one of my more stressful weeks. Not only is it tax time (yikes!) but I have a lot of work coming in to the point where I really want to invest in cloning technology. More and more, I’m having to put freelance work on hold so that I can take four to five days just to do a convention—because even if a show is three days, sometimes I have to travel to get there, and I need a day after the con to decompress so my brain and body doesn’t explode from overwork.

Overall, this was a great show, and this year, I wasn’t alone. Kate’s table was right around the corner, Sam was down the aisle, my other friends were in the building, and I easily made friends with my table neighbours. Unlike last year where I was surrounded by creators who were dissimilar to me (but still awesome!) this year, I was in close contact with my friends, which improved my disposition immensely.

Location

This year, unless you specifically bought a vendor booth (~$800+), the show placed all the artists in the Big Four building. The Big Four is traditionally seen as the less-trafficked building so this made some artists upset. Overall, though, the people I talked to seemed pleased with the change, though take that with a grain of salt—I didn’t talk to every single artist!

I downgraded my large booth from last year to a small press booth. I made slightly less in 2017 than I did in 2016 (when I was in the small press section)–not hugely significant, but enough that I realized that doubling my booth size doesn’t mean I double my sales. Once you know where you’re going to land, sales-wise, it’s best to minimize expenses as much as possible. Since I only have to pay for a table at this con (as opposed to travel and hotel!) I want to maximize my profit! Your location in the con DOES matter—but I’m starting to realize that it won’t make or break me at this stage in my business, because I’m gathering a strong band of returning customers who will seek me out on the convention floor.

So I was placed in the small press section in the Big Four, in a row of books! Which if you’ve been following along, you’ll know there are pros and cons to putting all the book people together. A lot of cons, mostly—you really have to bring your A-game if you want to compete.

Display

I’d forgotten that I hadn’t had my boxies for Calgary Expo yet! I’m finally getting the hang of how to use them properly. Still have to figure out how to affix lights to them, maybe. People really responded to the full bookshelves—and as usual, I put everything on the table. I resorted to wrapping cardboard boxes again to add height for my third box—I think this helped boost sales later for the Sparkstone Saga.

Because I was on the corner, I placed my good banner on the side to capture side traffic. I can’t really say if this made any kind of difference in sales, but it did make more room behind me, and the tiger always draws people’s eye.

I haven’t created new postcards for 2018 yet, so I was giving out business cards instead. Which was fine, but not as good as my postcard catalogues. I’ll have to finish my new ones and get them printed before I go to Ottawa.

I did, however, remember to order bags before this event! Purple and blue, woohoo. I’m glad, because it rained on Sunday and I didn’t want people to get their books wet.

Sales

I had my best Calgary Expo yet! Not by much, but by enough that it was exciting. I made just under my sales at the Festival of Crafts. I think this is due to a number of factors:

a) Nicer display
b) The Emerald Cloth is finally here!
c) I was surrounded by my friends, which made me happy, which makes me sell more
d) General build-up from previous customers and fans.

The Violet Fox Series far out-performed the Sparkstone Saga this year! Not only did I sell many, many single copies of The Emerald Cloth, I sold lots of single Violet Foxes and three-book bundles of the series. As I look back to last year, I see it was the opposite: I sold tons of single copies of Stars In Her Eyes. I’m thinking this is because a) I have a new book out in The Violet Fox Series; b) people expressing more of an interest in fantasy in general and c) my display for the series was perhaps more appealing on the outset.

I even sold out on Saturday of The Emerald Cloth! Clearly I didn’t bring enough with me for the four days. I brought more for Sunday, but I was really surprised the rate people were buying into the series. I only had seven copies of The Violet Fox left!

I had more people than ever returning to my table! This was extremely exciting for me. They had specific requests for what they wanted. This wasn’t just for The Emerald Cloth, either. I had people requesting for Dreams In Her Head and Hunger In Her Bones, and even people wondering when Darkness In Her Reach (Sparkstone Saga #4) would be out. I had been hoping last year to have it out for this convention, but that was probably wishful thinking. It will either be late this year (in time for Christmas shows) or by Calgary Expo 2019. I even had people return to see if I had anything similar to Within!

I employed a relaxed strategy, since my display did a lot of the heavy lifting. You have to wait for that moment when the customer does the long stare at your stuff—then you can engage. Otherwise, I was content to be a smiling face.

A little more than half of my customers opted to pay cash, which was surprising! I had no issues with my Moneris reader, except when one customer accidentally pressed the reset button on the side!

I’ve been looking into getting an iPad and accompanying POS system. That’s the next step! Managing inventory and keeping track of sales is becoming more of a chore not only the more books I publish, but the more I have to reprint—and the more I have to send books away for shows where I’m not physically present. I think I’m a little ways from taking the leap and doubling my monthly cost (~$21), but I’m happy with the Moneris system and I want to continue using it in this aspect of my business. Maybe by this time next year? Right now, I’m cheaping out and letting my sister use Square for the Eastern shows she does without me, but it’s nice to consolidate it all so all the sales info is in one place!

One more thing—a couple of well-meaning guys said to me, “I hope you at least made back your table?” Which came off as patronizing (I don’t think they would have said it that way if I were a man). If I only made back what I spent on my table at this point, something would be seriously wrong, and I wouldn’t be doing this.

Publishing Advice

More people than ever came to my table for advice about writing and publishing. They either wanted to talk about the craft specifically, or they wanted to talk about the business, and how they could do what I do—or they had a friend who was struggling with “what to do next.” And I was happy to share advice and my personal experience!

People only see the end result of publishing—and while you can conceptualize the work it takes to write a book, it’s harder to explain the time and the commitment of continuing to show up. Many of the people in my row had two or three books. Really, that’s just the beginning of the journey. They’re just starting to have enough stock to make conventions worth the investment.

There’s no secret to doing well at these things. You have to continue to show up each year with new product, better than before. That’s it in a nutshell. If you don’t have anything new—or especially, if you don’t have the new product that your audience WANTS—say goodbye to those sweet, sweet fan dollars. If you didn’t show up—okay, well, you’re missing out on that crucial exposure people need to know who you are. And if you show up, but you’re not doing anything to combat apathy or you haven’t broken down that Barrier to Buy, then you’re not going to see the sales dollars you expect.

That last point is especially important for people starting out. Remember: it’s not their fault that they’re not buying. It’s usually not the con’s fault either. More often than not, it’s you. Your covers aren’t appealing, your brand is not cohesive, your display isn’t powerful enough, or maybe you yourself aren’t showing up appropriately. Sure—location is extremely important. But if you don’t check all those other boxes first, you’re not even going to see a baseline of sales.

To discern what you need to improve, you have to have more data. Meaning, you have to do more shows. Your location is always going to be different—hell, every CITY has a slightly different vibe! But people’s reactions to you should always be the same or similar—unless you make a significant change in your product and how you show up with it.

Also, I need to point out: I’ve been publishing since 2011, doing cons since 2013. What you see in these pictures is eight years of work, but two and a half years of reflection, change, and serious commitment. You’re not going to roll out of bed one day with the sales numbers I have, especially if you only have 1-3 books and the beginnings of a brand. Just like I’m not going to roll out of bed with the sales numbers of someone with double my brand power and three times as many books.

Having three times as many books comes with its own set of logistics and problems. Even right now, I’m in a weird stage of growth where I don’t physically have enough storage space for my product, but I need to be printing probably double what I am currently to match the rate I’m going through runs. Not to mention, I’m paying thousands of dollars upfront for printing. It’s kind of fun to look back at a few years ago, when I was doing print on demand only, ordering 20-30 at a time, and now I’m ordering a minimum of 300 from Canadian printers and hoping that will get me through.

Each year I’ve sold more books than the previous year, made a bit more money overall—but I am approaching a point where I need to evaluate my con strategy. Doing them has grown my business SO MUCH. Not just Faery Ink Press, but my freelance work has exploded as a result. Which also means I’m squeezing all my client work in between travelling and con time (thank you clients for being so patient with me). Probably by the end of the year, I’ll have to reflect where I want my business to go, and adjust course accordingly—but all course changes require calculated leaps.

And yes, yes, I should do panelling, I’ll do it next year!

Good People

Spent time with my artist friends at the Pin Bar on 17th (thanks Panel One for throwing a party!) and met some new people as well! My table neighbours were Low Five Productions, a collection of comic artists & writers. Thanks Jazz, Jose, Ethan, James, and probably other guys whose names I can’t think of at the top of my head for being great neighbours!!

Also, got to chatting with Stephen, aka S. K. Aetherphoxx – another author in the row. His books are real pretty! Looking forward to reading his first one. 🙂

Also thanks to all my friends who came and visited my table! ^_^

SECRET BOOK DEAL?!

Also, I can FINALLY announce….that I have a secret book deal. That’s all I can say at the time of writing, an official announcement will come later, but I’m very excited and signed the official contract over the weekend. It’s gonna be so great! And nice to be “just” the author on this project. 😉

And no, this has nothing to do with Faery Ink Press—this is a separate book project that I will be writing for a publisher. But still, this wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t gone to conventions and developed a brand with pretty looking books.

Next Year!

Of course I’ll continue to do Calgary Expo, it’s one of my biggest shows. Next year, I’ll have an artist alley table (as opposed to a small press table, as the expo is phasing that table type out), but I’ll probably be in a similar spot. I’m getting to the point where I may need two tables, or a larger space, but I think as long as I’m building vertically, I can maximize one table for at least another year.

See you all in two weeks at Ottawa Comiccon!