Saskatoon Expo 2016 Post Mortem

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This was my first time to Saskatoon, and to Saskatchewan itself. I liked the city more than I thought I would. It reminded me a bit of Edmonton and Winnipeg. Edmonton in that it had trees and quaint boulevards, and Winnipeg in its flatness. The leaves are starting to turn and that reminded me of home.

Saskatoon Expo is in its third year and saw over 15,000 people through its gates. That’s slightly less than what I was expecting (20,000 was my expectation based on previous years, and having Carrie Fisher as a headliner).

To follow my journey and read my other post mortems of conventions I’ve done across Canada, click here.

General Impressions

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I’m writing this on the Greyhound bus on a twelve hour journey back to Calgary (Saskatoon to Edmonton to Calgary). I didn’t expect to take the bus. I was going to drive. But about a week before, I was obsessing and stressing over the seven hour trip—a big trip for someone who has driving anxiety, and for someone who isn’t used to driving alone. So I broke down and booked a bus. I’m losing a day anyway each way, and at least on the bus I can sleep and work. It also worked in my favour because on the Thursday night, I miscalculated some stairs and sprained my right ankle. I would not have been able to drive seven hours, as it was extremely sore the next day. Friday on the bus was a good rest for my foot, and I was able to function more or less normally on Saturday and Sunday.

Location

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I don’t think my location was great, and the layout of the con in general seemed mal-spaced. We were in, as Chadwick called it, “the butt of the con.” Or, more politely, the ring-road, periphery aisle, across from the artist guests. Being in this aisle can be very good or very bad. Very good if that aisle is a main through-fare from an entrance. Very bad if it is not. It was not. It was opposite of the entrance. So people took about half an hour to reach us when they first entered. This problem was exasperated because where our aisle was very wide, the interior aisles were narrow. People struggled to get through those interior aisles, but they had to move more slowly, causing them to see more of the vendors’ merchandise. Because our aisle was wider, people moved quickly, and barely saw us. Our whole row was complaining about this.

Also, I think I’ve mentioned this before, but being across from the creator guests can be a mixed bag too. I like seeing what they do, and sometimes meeting them, but from a sales perspective, a lot of them don’t have big displays or anything for people to look at. Because of this, there’s always the possibility that people will zip by or won’t go down that aisle because it doesn’t look like they have much to sell.

In any case, I think I made the best with what I was given—and that’s what you have to do with these things, since you’re not in control over where you’re placed. Next year I think I’ll request a booth or a non-artist alley space. The artist alley was really cheap and worked for my sales targets to maximize my profit (especially since I had to shell out for the bus!) but it’s always a gamble.

Display

Here’s where it sucks to take the bus or plane. You’re limited by your luggage. I think I did a decent job of packing though, so I was able to get all my bare minimums in there. I was happy to have enough risers to put my books up at eye level, though I didn’t bring any book stands (I NEED new ones, my current ones suck). For the most part, I can prop the books up or have them stand on other own. A couple of times things fell over but nothing too major.

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I was happy that I was able to FINALLY put up my horizontal banner again. I got new galaxy print duct tape, and it held nicely to my table cloth along the bottom. A disadvantage of artist alley is you don’t have any pipe and drape backing (some artists have their own), so my poor stand-up banner had to do all of the work in the back end (besides my smiling face, of course!) I’m having another one made for November, and it will be sturdier and less of a hassle to set up.

Another improvement I made this time around is that I remembered to put out a newsletter signup sheet. I didn’t really talk it up, or have any particular signage for it, I just had a shiny clipboard and a pen right out in front. I found that quite effective—I was surprised that I got almost 20 new email subscribers. Not bad for passive effort. Many people felt obligated to sign up because they’d bought something. Others were just interested and wanted to learn more and develop a relationship with me before buying. That’s all good. Now that I have that baseline, I can work on improving it at subsequent cons.

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Not exactly part of my display, but I FINALLY put out money for plastic bags. They’re just transparent white and blue bags that I ordered wholesale online. They’re decent, and I ordered them in two sizes, though I miscalculated the size on the smaller ones so they are too small. Big enough for my lil ebooks but not much else. The “big” ones are perfect for a couple of books. Now I know for next time. Chad and I both used them and people were pleased to not to have to carry stacks of books around in their arms. Though I will say, the Expo did a good job at providing large branded bags, and a lot of people had those to put stuff in.

Sales

I hit my minimum sales target for this con. Basically, it’s a number that I’ve calculated based on sales from my previous cons, and how many people are supposed to attend. What really pushed me to that goal this weekend was my first-day sales strategy. I don’t do my sales on the last day. On the last day, people don’t have money anymore. People have money on the first day. So I did fairly well on the Saturday, and decent on the Sunday.

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The stand-out seller was The Violet Fox, because of the discounted first day, and because of the bundle I have with The Silver Spear. People just see it, they want to touch it, and then they want it, 95% of the time. I am happy that I sold some Sparkstone Saga bundles though. Having the review sheet out really helped I think, and I also upsold it to great success (why by the first book when you can have both for just $10 more?) No pre-orders were taken for Hunger In Her Bones, but I expected that.

I had Within off to the side on the first day, but I moved it to the middle on the second day, and that helped me sell it better. I think that’s a good placement for it—I always struggle with how to display it since it’s my only stand-alone, and it’s quite different than my two series, yet people still find it interesting enough to buy when they see it! Plus, it’s the cheapest book on the table at $12. The other reason I moved it into a more prominent place was because I was seriously concerned that I would run out of Violet Foxes. I only had six left at the end of the convention. Like I said—once people touch it, they buy it!! Selling out isn’t the worst problem to have, but it does make me regret not driving. Driving means I can bring more stock.

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Strangely enough, I sold a surprising number of buttons. I think it might be because the sign displaying them is more visible, and they weren’t in their usual wooden box, making them more visible to potential customers. They may have also sold because there were several people new to the brand, and while they may not have had the cash or sufficient interest in my stuff yet, they were willing to throw a buck my way to try me out. Also, button people are almost always going to buy buttons.

I’m not sure whether it was because Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy) was a guest, or if it’s just the nature of Saskatoon itself, but there was a considerable number of teen girls present. Many were in groups, others were with their parents. It was really great because that’s my target audience!

The BEST thing that happened at this con was—people ACTUALLY KNEW WHO I WAS! I expected no one to know me (besides regular vendors), but I had more than a handful of customers come up to me, and say they saw me at Calgary Expo, or Edmonton Expo, and they’re from Saskatchewan, they read my books, and they loved them! I was so excited. The same thing happened to Chad, and though he’s done a few readings in Saskatoon, he hadn’t done Sask Expo before either. It really just goes to show that everything you do adds up, and if people see you at one show and don’t buy, they might see you at the next one and give you a try!

Good People

I was extremely fortunate to be able to stay with Chadwick’s friend Mike, who is a professor of literature at the University of Saskatchewan. Mike incorporated Chadwick’s Thunder Road into his course. Very cool!! Not only did I get to have lots of hangout time with Chad, I got to know Mike as well. He was a wonderful, gracious host. Many thanks to him for making the Saskatoon experience very pleasant.

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Chadwick and I were next to each other (we arranged this) and that helped to pass the time during the dead zone hours where there weren’t many buyers. I also got to see up close what he has on his table, and we excitedly discussed future cons and selling strategies. We’re sharing a booth at the upcoming C4 Con in Winnipeg.

Chadwick has a lot going on at his table—he’s very good at coming up with unique ways to supplement his trilogy of books. It all expands on his core Thunder Road universe that his readers have come to enjoy. One thing in particular that I think is neat is his flash fiction greeting cards. He commissioned some art from our friend Sam Beiko for the front, and then on the inside wrote a little 500 word vignette relating to his trilogy. He sells them for $5. I think I’d like to do that—one for The Violet Fox Series, and another for the Sparkstone Saga. That would go over really well (I hope) for the shows closer to Christmas.

It was also good to see Greg and Peter again. Peter is looking well, and I’m very proud of him for finally leaping into comics full time. Very exciting. His poster empire is looking impressive, reigning above all the rest. Greg was his usual self, and his display with Justin was of course, top notch. Looking is free, as he would say! I’ll see them both next weekend.

Something else to mention that doesn’t really fit anywhere else: there was a real lack of food vendors at the con. No doubt there’s some sort of exclusivity clause so Prairieland Park can make money at their canteen. Chadwick walked around the entire event on Sunday trying to find a fountain to fill up his water bottle, and ended up having to find a vending machine with bottled water–none of the volunteers knew where to get water. BUT on Sunday, thank goodness, the volunteers walked around handing out bottles to the vendors for free. YAY! Love it when the cons think of the vendors like that. Hal-Con is great at this–every time I’ve had a table OR a booth, they give each vendor eight to twelve bottles of water for the weekend.

The Weird

Two weird observations.

First – there was a guy dressed as Deadpool (there’s always at least five) whose onesie costume was bursting at the seams because it was so tight, and he looked like he wasn’t wearing underwear. Nothing was left to the imagination. Did I mention there were a lot of families present? Each time he passed us, it seemed like more and more of his costume was coming apart. Yikes. At least the second day he looked like he was wearing underwear.

Second – there were disconcerting numbers of young girls (pre-teen or younger) wearing sexy Harley Quinn costumes. I saw one elementary school aged girl wearing a Harley Quinn “Property of the Joker” jacket. I’m not super familiar with the Joker/Harley relationship, I know it’s complicated and intricate, that it’s not the only thing that defines her, and I haven’t seen Suicide Squad. It’s just kinda weird to see really young girls idolizing this very sexed up, subservient version of Harley, likely without understanding the implications of being someone’s “property.”

Would I go back?

I think so. I exceeded my minimum sales target, though not by much. Next year hopefully I’ll be comfortable enough to make the drive and then I can have my full display. Saskatoon is a doable drive from Calgary, fortunately. With a better location, and more returning fans from those who bought this year, I think I can really exceed my ideal target.

I came away from this con feeling confident in my brand and my ability to perform. Now, I just have to make sure I rest up for Edmonton in a few days! Eep!