Why Do It If You Can’t Have Fun?
A “Conventional” reflection by C.S. Marks
So, I’ve just returned from two very, very large and well known conventions. Apart from questioning my sanity (I am really tired from smiling at all those people and lugging stuff around), I am now immersed in the “post-convention-what-could-I-have-done-more-effectively” analysis. At such times, I become reflective. No, really! You can throw me over the car’s windshield to keep the sun out while you shop.
Amidst thoughts of displays and table organization and pricing strategies, one particular point keeps rising to the surface: did I have fun? Of course I did. I always do! But that’s not what prompted this post.
I’ve known authors who are so wound up in “sell, sell, sell,” that they cannot relax around the other authors, who are viewed as being in direct competition with them for sales. They are never happy with their place in the avenue (how am I supposed to sell books if I’m stuck way over HERE?), and they don’t socialize with the other authors. I catch them shooting furtive glances at my display and my table, hoping to…what? Convince themselves their display is superior? Discover my secret weapon? I don’t know.
I try to be open-minded and give folks as many chances as they require–it doesn’t take much to win me over. I have come to learn that other people are here to teach me things, and that it is my job to be open to the lessons they teach. In this case, I learn something from these “hard-sell” authors: why do it if I can’t have fun?
I recall one such “hard-sell” author infiltrating my space when I was away from the table for a few minutes. He struck up a rather awkward conversation with my friend, who was taking care of things in my absence. In this conversation, he intimated that the other authors didn’t like him because he was so focused on business, on sales, on marketing to new readers, that he didn’t have time to be sociable. “This is a business, not a social hour. If you’d take the time to get to know me, you’d realize that I’m actually a nice guy.” This was followed by “Unlike these other writers, I’m not here to have fun. I’m here to move product! That’s why I’m a best-seller and they aren’t.” The whole exchange struck me as kind of sad.
Actually, we’re all at the convention to “move product”. Otherwise, why would we subject ourselves to eight hours a day in the exhibitors’ hall? Why would we chain ourselves to a table and hope our bladders hold out until the next time we can catch a break? Why on earth would we subject ourselves to the “middle-aged-lonely-man-who-knows-we-can’t-escape-and-talks-our-hair-off”? We’re all there to sell books, but how sad that some of us can’t seem to have fun while doing it.
I really, really enjoy conventions. I like conversing with my fellow authors, picking up tips from them, looking at their displays, and being supportive of their work. I also appreciate a good joke–such as hiding the pirate hat of one of my favorite fellow authors every time he “abandons” it–and yet I manage to sell plenty. If an author needs something (tape, scissors, t-pins, candy for the table), I try to provide. In return, they are more than willing to help me. There’s a sense of community on the avenue that doesn’t negatively affect sales in any way, from what I’ve observed. We recommend each others’ books (ah–a classic D&D style fantasy, you say? You might try ______ down the way. I also really enjoyed so-and-so’s work–he’s on the other side).
Now, don’t get me wrong–in my own space, I reign supreme. But my selling style is very different from those who roam the aisle doing the “hard sell” whenever people appear, extolling themselves as “best-selling, award-winning authors”. (Unfortunately, those terms are regarded with some suspicion nowadays due to such tactics as inventing an award and giving it to yourself, or being the top seller in “Bulgarian Antediluvian Archaeological Mysticism” on Amazon.)
I’ve won a couple of minor awards and could easily call myself a best-seller, but the readers will find that out for themselves should they ask or investigate. For example, “tell me about your books” might lead me to inform them that Elfhunter ranked in the top 5 in epic fantasy e-books in the UK for months. That’s a solid piece of data–they can decide whether it makes me a best-selling author or not.
My “sales strategy” is relatively passive. I sit at the table, make eye contact, and smile at passers-by. I let the display attract them, and invite them to approach by being open and friendly. If they seem wary, I don’t mention the books–not at first. I ask them how they are enjoying the con, whether they have purchased anything exciting, or whether they have met any cool celebrities or attended any interesting panels. If they are wearing a costume, I might ask permission to take a picture. You know–the opposite of the hard sell.
If they pick up the books or appear interested, I ask them whether they enjoy reading and what they like to read. The young readers in particular find this an easy conversation-opener. They might chat about Percy Jackson or Harry Potter or The Hobbit, and then they ask “what’s your book about?” Mwahahahaaaa! I’ve got you now, my pretty!
Once I start telling them about Elfhunter, they usually can’t resist. I haven’t annoyed them, I haven’t forced it on them. I had some fun with them! And when they leave with my books (often the entire series), I know I have picked up a new reader. I never try to talk a potential reader into my books if they try to walk away–though I might recommend other books to them.
I want to be known as a “class act”. I want to have fun and make friends while engaging in effective selling practices. I want to set a good example for the young, up-and-coming authors who might be attending their first convention.
I guess some people revel in the notion that they sell more “units” than their competition. This is what drives them–to demolish their so-called competitors. But that’s not me and never will be. Selling out of books might give me something to crow about, but it also means that some readers will be disappointed because I don’t have books for them. In that event, I’ll resolve to bring more “units” next time–It’s far more fun to please the readers than to boast about sales. And I’ll make an effort next time to get to know those hard-selling authors better, so that I can appreciate what nice guys they really are. The day I stop enjoying conventions will be the day I stop attending them. I mean, why do it if I can’t have fun?