Make It! Calgary Spring 2018 Post Mortem

This is my first show of 2018. It’s supposed to be spring, but no, it’s still winter here in Calgary. We had a snowstorm over the weekend so it was miserably cold. I’ve been busy with parent visiting, getting the Emerald Cloth ready, and juggling client work that it’s hard to believe it’s April already. Today, the day I’m publishing this post, is probably the first “normal” work day I’ve had in at least two weeks.

Also, the Emerald Cloth IS HERE! I wasn’t sure if it would come this early, in time for this show—but I’m glad it did…at 8:45am on Thursday. Yes, yes, Mr. Fedex, it is not a mistake, I DID order 24 boxes to a residential address. Don’t mind me, my still-wet shower hair is just freezing from having to go outside to help unload. Looks so pretty though! YAY.

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

Make It is a new-ish craft show company with spring and holiday shows in Calgary, Edmonton, and Vancouver. I think I found out about them during my bouts of searching for shows. They have a youthful, energetic brand, so while I wasn’t 100% sure if my products would be conducive to this market, I was willing to experiment and applied. Compared to the other craft market I did at Christmas, they had fewer rules and regulations to stress about—just show up with your product, be cool, and have fun seemed to be the atmosphere.

Load-in was fairly straightforward, though I didn’t really like that vendors had a specific check-in time assigned to them according to your booth number—especially when check-in is Thursday afternoon. I came early on the train, carrying a twelve-pound box of freshly minted Emerald Cloths, just to do check-in, before meeting Dave so we could unload the car he’d taken to work, packed with my stuff. Check-in consisted of getting my button and dropping off my heavy box. I had to ask security to show me where it was in the Big Four—I didn’t realize there were so many different rooms/sections. To top it off, there were TWO other shows happening on the grounds that weekend: a baby and tot show (which helped attendance at Make It, I believe) and I kid you not, a cannabis & hemp show.

The button was my badge for the weekend, declaring my status as a Makie. The loading dock closed pretty early too (6pm), though I think they convinced the Stampede to keep it open a bit longer. Some of us have to work! And travel across the city to get to the Stampede grounds! Seriously, the logistics of packing your product, loading the car, getting to the event, and unloading is a whole separate post.

The “I’m a Makie” button that designated me a vendor was very cute, but if you didn’t have it upon arrival each day—tough luck. You’d have to wait in a line-up (or possibly outside?) with the attendees. Remember when I said it was freezing cold? Yeah. Even though I had my button on Sunday, they almost didn’t let me in the front entrance for unknown reasons (something about another entrance…but why would I walk around in the FREEZING COLD when there is a perfectly good door and I have a perfectly good button and I got in this way twice already?).

On a positive note: So. Many. Female. Entrepreneurs! It was really inspiring to be surrounded by women my age selling products THEY created! This is exactly the atmosphere I wanted to live in and I was pleased to be part of the show.

Location

I bought and paid for a 6×6 draped aisle space with storage. I was placed three aisles from the entrance. Upon looking at the map, I was like, great, this seems fine. But people didn’t quite trek the way I thought, so it was a little while before they got to me. This wasn’t a problem for this show—I was the only book vendor, so no direct competition. I also had corner visibility!

Display

In my mind, I didn’t put 6×6 and SMALL together. I was hoping to do something similar to Calgary Expo last year with a second table displaying the Sparkstone Saga. When we arrived, I saw just how small 6×6 is. So we used my 5ft table I bought at Canadian Tire and that worked just fine. Display-wise, things were a little tight—it’s better to have a little space to allow the colours to breathe—but I got everything on there! The banner was just a little too long and with my stand-up tiger banner, part of it became hidden. I can’t not have the big tiger though—that’s a big attraction!

Also, I did a small run of Withins – so that’s back on the table! I had people asking for it and when I ran the numbers, I realized that I really missed having it on the table, despite its eternal awkward placement. It quietly sells more than I think. I have to write another horror/thriller type book so it has a friend!

LOOK THERE ARE THREE VIOLET FOXIES NOW!

On the second day, I turned around my display so I had a secret shelf to store stacks, my phone, and my drinks.

It was a cozy set up. I think next time, I’ll play with the design a bit more. I find 10×10 too big for me at this time, so 6×6 is a nice baby step up from a regular artist alley sized space.

Sales

Most people paid via credit card or debit. Again, no trouble with the Moneris. I noticed most people have the new Square tap device, and many people were having tethering issues. I’ll probably get a Square tap reader as backup, but nothing is scarier than having your technology backfire during a pivotal customer interaction! I noticed some of the customers at nearby booths didn’t want to tap, or didn’t have tap-enabled cards—another reason why I really like my Moneris reader.

The Sparkstone Saga outsold The Violet Fox Series both on individual books and bundle deals. I believe this is because the audience skewed younger at this event, and since the covers for Sparkstone Saga are illustrated and the font is bigger, parents believed those books to be more suitable for their 10 to 12-year-old. In reality, both series are equally appropriate.

This was my first show with The Emerald Cloth! Now I have equally priced series bundles (3 for $45). I’ve introduced a new 2 for $30 deal, mostly to entice people to buy both book ones, which I think will go over well at Calgary Expo.

I didn’t meet my minimum target sales goal for this show. The 6×6 booth was expensive so profits were slim. Since Friday went from 11am-9pm, I had my worst dollar-per-hour ratio EVER. It really, really did not have to be that long. It was so dead. Vendercon was happening in spades. Average dollars per day, I was doing slightly better than C4 and less than Regina. This was taken on Friday at around 6:30pm:

I was hoping to create another Calgary Expo for myself, but now I’m wondering if I’ve cannibalized my sales for Calgary Expo. I’ll have to see in a few weeks! At the very least, I exposed my brand to fresh eyes—meaning they might buy at the Christmas craft shows.

Unusual Questions

With a different crowd comes different questions! I got the standard gambit—what age are these for, can I buy them in Chapters, etc. But also these:

“What’s the difference between science fiction and fantasy?” Got this at least four times. A real sign that I’m far outside my regular crowd, where that knowledge is a given.

“Do you have a writing degree?” As if that qualifies you to write and sell your work! No less than three people asked me this. The customer is just looking for social proof that the books are good—so while the question catches me off-guard at first, I try not to let it ruffle my feathers.

For the record, I have a journalism degree from King’s and a publishing certificate from Humber College, and I’ve been working freelance full-time with many independent authors, publishing companies, and other businesses for nearly a decade. This experience gives me a leg-up, for sure—but having a university degree in writing doesn’t give you the discipline to write, publish, and sell your work on a consistent basis, as well as build a strong brand that speaks to your audience. There’s no institution you can pay that can give you that kind of experience.

“Is this for girls or boys?” I dunno, does your grandson like fast-paced science fiction set in Canada with a contemplative edge? Or a tension-filled fantasy that makes the protagonist question right and wrong, good and evil, duty and love? I don’t say my books are “for” girls or boys—just because my protagonists are usually female doesn’t mean guys won’t enjoy them.

“Did you write all these books?” This isn’t an unusual question per se, but it’s increasingly common now that I have SEVEN BOOKS on the table. This question always makes me think of a story Sam told me once, about ChiZine Publications. Some people asked Brett and Sandra, the publishers, while they were selling at a convention, if they wrote all the books on their table. To which Sandra sarcastically replied, “Yes, I wrote all 40-70+ titles you see, and published them under different names.”

These people are just surprised that I have “this many” books, and usually issue congratulations, and express their awe at my imagination while simultaneously downplaying their own creativity (You must have an imagination, everyone does. Are you a robot???). This whole exchange is never not a little weird to me – and a symptom of that mystique that surrounds authors and the publishing industry. Many people believe that becoming an author is something that happens TO you, instead of you working hard at it. Maybe it’s also because I’m young? I’m creating new products a few times a year, just like any other creative entrepreneur. Yes, it’s a lot of work, for sure! I appreciate the sentiment, but I’m just doing what I’d be doing anyway. You could do it too, with the right resources, knowledge, and time!

“Do you have that book that was nominated for the Governor General’s Award?” Since I did not write that book, no.

Oh, and for those keeping track…yet again, someone came to the table, and even after I carefully explained, “this side is a science fiction series, this side is my fantasy series,” they asked, “Oh, so this isn’t tarot?”

????

“No. It is not tarot.”

“It looks like it could be!”

There are four places on the table that clearly state “YOUNG ADULT FICTION.” And also me, telling you, it is not tarot.

The Crowd

I had a new category of potential customer at this show that I’m going to call the engaged browser. This person may or may not be in my target demographic and they’ve stopped at my booth. They’ve got their hands in their pockets, and they’re just staring. For a LONG time. That’s my cue to engage. So I do. But they’re not interested in engaging directly with the product, or with me, really. They’ve stopped because they’ve either a) become engaged by the covers (“No thank you, I don’t wish to read the back, I just love the artwork, it’s great.”) or b) they are amazed and/or inspired that I have written seven books. Sometimes they don’t realize that I’m the author (I think it’s time I had an “author” pin to make that obvious).

This is a symptom of a different problem I’m having. My books are brightly coloured and engaging. When you put them together, it can be a hypnotic vortex. It’s a lot to take in when you’re a passerby taking in information. When I’m in a small space, my products are forced together—less white space means it becomes a jumble of colour and words and my smiling face also trying to get your attention. It means I attract literally everyone—which I don’t necessarily want.

It really means I need a different configuration that makes better use of white space, in addition to my other display must-haves and practices.

Oh, and because I have no other place for it:

A mother walked by with two children, one of them done up with a pink cat-ears headband, pink and black outfit, and little tutu. She stopped briefly, looked at my Sparkstone Saga books with wide eyes, and exclaimed, “TOO SCARY!”

“Come back in a few years,” I told her.

Good People

One of the best parts of doing shows is meeting your fellow vendors! I was next to The Fibre Ark, who make adorable felt creations, and Laughing Sparrow, who makes pretty jewellery! I was across from Mountain Naturals Soap, Ebony & Ivory, the Devi Arts Collective, and Munchkin & Sprouts. I really enjoyed all the business and market chats we had!

Will I go back?

I haven’t decided yet. I think doing a Make It Holiday show would be more worth my time, but they’re oddly timed for me this year and I’ve already arranged many of my October/November shows, so I’d have to see. Doing a December show seems like taking a big risk. We could have a snow storm at any time!

See you all in a couple of weeks at Calgary Comic Expo!