The other night, I finally stumbled home from BayCon. I was gone for a week, traveling down familiar highways to see old friends and spread the Bones and Bourbon love to California. I loved every second of it, though it is nice to be home again.
Now, I promised a lot of you that I would share my experiences at BayCon, including how viable it is to sell books at it or similar conventions. I’ve written up as much as I can recall, including sales and costs. Keep in mind that this was my first convention, and these numbers may not hold up for others—I’ll find out how accurate this is later in the year, when I try out SpoCon in August and hopefully make it to either OryCon or EuCon this November.
BayCon is a smaller convention in terms of attendees, and takes place over Memorial Day Weekend, making it a four day convention instead of three like most cons. It is a fantasy/scifi convention, meaning it celebrates those genre as a whole instead of focusing on a particular fandom, medium, etc. It is listed as the longest running convention in the Bay Area, and in recent years has taken place at the San Mateo Marriott Hotel (known amongst congoers as the “Escher Marriott” for its confusing layout; certain spots qualify as the 2nd and 3rd floor of the hotel simultaneously, and it only gets more convoluted from there). There’s a sense of friendship and familiarity amongst this convention; a lot of folks discussed how much the comradery and support of their fellow nerds meant to them, which was wonderful to experience.
I spent most of my time in the Dealer’s Room on the second floor, and was conveniently located right next to a door, so I was the first thing many people saw. My table was sparsely decorated—a placard with my name, a straightened pile of books, one book propped up on a stand (with a figure of Dorian Gray from Penny Dreadful sitting on it, which drew folks in) and arranged piles of bookmarks and a sign denoting them as free. I had a fellow author with her portal fantasy universe to my left, a scarf and soap maker to my right, and opposite me across the aisle, a number of jewelry makers. Most of the authors were on the far ends of the room or right behind me.
Time for some numbers! I brought 61 copies of my book to BayCon with me, and I ended up selling 34 of those copies, and also donated a copy to a charity auction. Each book runs for $14.99, plus I added sales tax into the price, which for San Mateo was about 9%, making each book $16.34. Most people were happy to use their cards once they saw that I had a scanner and a chip reader—I use Square, which works wonders once set up—but a fair amount of folks also opted to use cash, meaning I had to grab a lot of extra change.
For all the physical copies sold at the convention, I made about $523, with a sales tax payment of around $46 after the fact. Plus, a fair amount of people decided instead to order ebook copies—I don’t have the numbers for how many, but hey, I’m just happy for more readers.
Question is, did this cover how much I spent on the convention? Well, this is where things get complicated.
Acquiring a table at BayCon was $150, which included my registration, and I was able to bring an assistant for a reduced price of an extra $50. I stayed at my assistant’s place instead of at the hotel, so I didn’t have that fee to worry about. Food at conventions tends to be expensive, so I brought along my own breakfast, lunch, and snacks each day, and split meal costs with others whenever possible for dinner (or just ran to Trader Joe’s and got some cheap but tasty chicken wraps).
I also opted to drive down, instead of flying. It’s about a nine hour drive from Eugene to the Bay Area, and after years of driving this route, I’ve nailed down that my car can make the trip with only two stops for gas each way. A special family connection gets me gas at a reduced rate at specific stations, so that cost is lower for me than it is most others, which meant it was cheaper for me to drive. This also allowed me to transport all my books and supplies (such as clothing and food) myself, instead of having to ship everything to the convention itself or running everything through baggage claim.
Plus, for cost, I acquire my stock for 40% off the listed price, so I do pay $8.99 for each book, plus a little extra for shipping. I also brought bookmarks, which was around $60 on UPrinting for 500 bookmarks.
(A note I forgot to mention when I first posted this: Do remember that you can write most of these things off on your taxes as business expenses, since being an author IS a business!)
Once all these numbers are crunched, it becomes clear that I didn’t make profit off of just the physical book sales, though I was quite close. However, there are also the digital sales to consider from a profit standpoint, and also sales that will happen later if those who bought the book at BayCon like it and spread the word. Plus, one can’t discount the exposure brought in; I had a couple of interviews, rubbed shoulders with fellow authors and some influential voices in my field, and was even invited back to next year’s BayCon, with offers of speaking on panels and readings.
But most of all? BayCon was FUN. Everyone there was so friendly, happy to stop by the table and talk about their favorite books or past nerdy encounters they’d had. Old friends reunited in the aisles—one couple was even celebrating their anniversary, having met at the convention 26 years ago. We swapped stories and ribbons, talked about what we loved in stories and what our fandoms meant to us, or even just laughed at the confusing layout of the hotel. There was unique artwork, fun and informative panels, cool cosplays, and more. I even made it to a LARP based off Steven Brust’s Dragarea universe, where we played as assassins and crime lords and somehow didn’t murder each other (or even draw a weapon the entire game); it was amazing how much fun political scheming and assassination plotting can be. I got to see many old friends of mine, and make new ones along the way—there isn’t a price you can put on that.
With all this said, selling at genre conventions isn’t for everyone. You need to be willing to talk to people, and without cutting costs where you can, it may cost more than it brings in. If you do give it a try, you may be pleasantly surprised by how well it works and the connections it opens up. Plenty of the other vendors there make their living by traveling the convention circuit throughout each year—perhaps the same will work for you!
Now, if you feel like selling your book (or other nerdy products) at a convention, here are some tips:
Say hello! Sometimes, a greeting and a smile is enough to turn heads and get folks to look at your book. Make a little small talk; ask how they’re enjoying the convention, if they’ve seen any cool panels, or even just comment on their outfit. At conventions, a lot of folks wear clothing that references a fandom or interest, which is a great starting point to talk—and if you can connect it to your book, so much the better.
Make sure you have a pitch prepared. Explain what it’s about in a way that’s clear and concise, but also interesting—having a twist in it helps (in my case, mentioning the carnivorous unicorns). It’s engaging, and interested readers can use it as a starting point to ask you more about your book.
A trick I picked up from retail: hand things to people. Offer your book and a chance to read the back or flip through its pages. Give them a bookmark or business card as a reminder to stop by and check out the book again. Physical contact with a product stimulates feelings of interest and even ownership, and if they flip through the book, they might decide they like your writing style and buy it right there.
Don’t forget to bring change! $1 bills go a long way, especially if your book is a funky price thanks to sales tax.
Connected to above: make sure to research tax laws if you go outside of state. Figure out if you need to adjust your prices (some programs like Square can calculate this for you) and if you need to acquire any permits. For BayCon, I had to grab a Temporary Seller’s Permit for California, plus fill out a form specifically for sales in San Mateo, and I grabbed a Federal Employer’s Identification Number for good measure. Acquiring these permits are often free—just remember to report and pay any taxes required afterwards!
Seriously, bring snacks. Convention food is either expensive or prone to long lines, and while there are sometimes rooms set aside with food for dealers and other staff, they may have specific hours if volunteer-run. Plus, other vendors often bring their own snacks, so everyone can trade snacks for a spot of variance. I recommend bringing energizing protein snacks, like power bars and peanut butter cracker packs. Water is also essential, especially if you talk a lot with the con-goers visiting your table.
Remember that, at least for smaller conventions, they are primarily run by volunteers. This does mean they are sometimes light on staffing, and BayCon is no exception. One of the few downsides I noticed with BayCon was that the communications were a bit spotty between the staff and dealers (such as when getting information on tables and such), though there were already discussions at the convention on how to make this smoother next year. The key to this is patience, punctuated by the occasional friendly check-in or reminder. Or, if you have some extra free time, see if you can lend a hand and volunteer!
When it comes to genre conventions (at least along the West Coast), ribbons are a huge thing. These colorful pieces of fabric can be ordered in a variety of colors with any phrase you’d like, with adhesive strips that allow you to stick them together and onto your badge. Many con-goers love to collect ribbons (and may even bring their own to share), and are known to visit tables and events for sake of finding ribbons they don’t already have. Why not find a witty phrase from your book and place it on a ribbon, luring folks to your table for the shiny fabric and a reason to look at your wares?
Befriend your fellow vendors, especially those neighboring you. Find out about their products, and cross-sell when you can. Maybe someone visiting your table isn’t as interested in your genre, but might be interested in your neighbor’s book. Go ahead and mention it, cross-sell a bit. Your fellow vendors will appreciate it, and they may return the favor!
Speaking of which, it’s a common tactic for multiple authors to share a table, and you can do the same. Not only can it help by splitting the cost of said table, but you can draw more interest—perhaps someone who normally doesn’t read your genre will be drawn into looking at your book because they stopped to look at your fellow author’s books in their preferred genre.
That is all the information I can remember off the top of my head, though feel free to ask further questions in the comments if you’d like.
All in all, I found BayCon to be a wonderful experience, and even if it was not the most lucrative in sales, the connections made more than made up for it. Hopefully, I’ll be able to return next year—and maybe see some of you there too, dear readers!
PS: To those in and around Eugene, OR! Remember to catch me and fellow authors J.S. Fields and Taylor Brooke at our Gender Odyssey panel this Wednesday. Listen to us talk about gender and sexuality in speculative fiction, and then say hi and get your books signed!