Okay, so I shouldn't call them "Nerd Cons". But I needed something that started with "N" . Hey, I go to them... oh, wait, my wife says I'm a big nerd...
Anyways, Conventions are something you may have heard of, if you're a square. If you're a cool cat like me, you've been to several Gatherings of fans from all walks of life, Conventions are your #1 source for stuff you can't find in stores and haven't seen on the internet (I particularly like all the cool Japanese toys--Japan is like Nerdvana).
If you're an indie author, you may have considered going to a convention to hawk your wares. After all, people that go to conventions are looking to spend money. What I'm about to tell you is just one poor guy's opinion. Your mileage may vary.
Comic book and scifi conventions might seem like a tempting venue. They are more then plentiful these days. But before you dash off to Createspace and make that print edition, step back and look at things objectively. Don't act in desperation.
First, as with any product, determine who your buyers are. You aren't panhandling. Or at least, you shouldn't be. Waving a cup at passerby hoping they'll buy your book is foolish at best. You need to plan on selling. Kids don't erect Lemonade stands in the dead of winter for a reason.
Knowing your audience/target demographic is key to not wasting your time. And, if you're like me, time is precious. Sitting in a booth all day, not selling anything is a crime against your craft. Far better to sit at home, actually writing all day, than frittering away your weekend--and spending money you won't recoup.
"But I meet all kinds of cool people at cons!" you might protest. That is true. But you could meet those same people merely by attending. Which is far cheaper, takes less time, and is more interesting than sitting in a booth. (And you get to bring home some really neat stuff)
You see, not all conventions are suited for all authors. Got a kid's book about Giraffes who can't scratch their nose and need a friend with stubby arms? Odds are you won't find many kids at the latest Horror Convention in town. Yes, some zombie cosplaying parents might be there, but they might want to bring up little Johnny in the same gothic lifestyle they embrace. Itchy Giraffe may not sell.
Or maybe you have some Gothic Romance Diary--one dark woman's pursuit of love in the Victorian era. Star Wars fans may not bite. Or maybe they will. Darth Vader is pretty goth, and more and more ladies go to cons these days...
From personal experience, I will tell you that people at comic book conventions aren't looking for novels to buy. Unless maybe they're KNOWN super hero novels. Comic book conventions are places people go to buy comic book-related items. Like comic books. T-shirts with favorite characters.
I know, I know. There's a whole cottage industry of crap at every convention. Candles. Soaps. Mugs. But those are RELATED to the focus of the convention. Would I buy a Human Torch candle? Maybe. Would I buy a Punisher coffee mug? Absolutely. But would I buy a novel about two star-crossed lovers embracing passionately on the cover as a field of grain sways behind them. Hell no. I want ass KICKING, not kissing.
What's that? You do sell at comic conventions? Bored wives dragged along by their geek spouses snatch up your literary porn on a regular basis? Little Joannie loves your latest "Rainbow Ponies on Parade" picture book? Well that's just swell. I'm sure all five copies will net you sufficient profit to stop at McDonald's on the way home. And now you have five potential future readers that might buy the next six books in your series, once you finish writing them a decade from now. Well done.
However, let's recap your costs to get those possible future sales. Your booth probably ran you anywhere from $100.00 to $300.00 depending on the size of the show. You sat in it for one to three days, instead of writing "Diverse Donkeys in Delaware", the spinoff you've been thinking about starting. Not being at home, you couldn't run to the fridge for meals or call for delivery. And you didn't pack a cooler of food. So now your meals--unless you skipped them, sacrificing for your art--go on the ledger too. And don't forget travel time. Gas. Print costs--you know, those little bookmarks you had made, or spent two weeks laboriously cobbling together at home instead of you know, writing.
All in all, by the end of the day, that Happy Meal you treated yourself to on the victorious drive home ended up costing you several hundred dollars--if you're lucky. You'd have been better off digging in the couch cushions for change or begging on a street corner.
So, keep the kids' books at home. And the epic Scifi. And the Murder mysteries and self-helps and thrillers... you get it. Comic book shows aren't the place to sell novels. Nor are Scifi Conventions--even if you have a scifi novel.
What about other conventions? Some might say people at conventions aren't looking for new properties. And they aren't going to stand there and read your book for several minutes to see if it's any good. That's the disadvantage we novelists have. People really can't judge our books by the covers. Any other product they can pick up and decide if it looks good in seconds. Particularly comic books that are filled with art. Or mugs. Or jewelry. Heck, they can even sniff the air of defeat and longing in those Bring Back Firefly candles. Novels are just page after page of boring letters.
If you simply HAVE to sit at a convention and bask in the glory of anyone who will listen to you beg for sales, consider these rules:
Dress Comfortable--Cons are hot and sweaty. All those people packed into a gigantic concrete and steel can get get pretty hot. Even the Slave Princess Leias can be seen perspiring (Princesses don't "sweat").
Bring drinks and food. You thought Traditional Publishers had crazy, outrageous ebook prices? Ha! Concessions at a Convention are Consequently Contraceptive to Success. For the same price as a hot dog and a styrofoam cup filled with eighteen ice cubes and two spoonfuls of cola, you could get a box of granola bars and several bottles of water. Stay hydrated and out of the poorhouse.
Bring something comfortable to sit on. Yes, most cons bring chairs. But these aren't chairs designed for parking your sweating arse in all day long. They're meant for one or to hours at best. This is a convention. Unless you have someone to work shifts with, you're stuck in that damned booth ALL DAY LONG.
Bring something to do. A book. A laptop or table to write on, something. There will be times when no one walks past. It's just you and your weird booth neighbors who are also bored out of their minds. And then there's the poorly run, ineptly advertised conventions no one even knows are happening. Not even the tumbleweeds will attend those. But be warned, don't get too engrossed in your booth entertainment. Pay attention to those potential customers.
Don't make your booth too kid-friendly. A sad fact is, a lot of small children are dragged to conventions these days, and they could give a rat's ass about what's there. They want to go home and eat Cheerios and suck on juice bags all day, not follow Mommy and Daddy around in a throng of sweaty, stinky weirdos. If you have a bunch of cool props, say little plastic Stone Soldiers, on your table, the Sesame Street gang may decide to camp on your doorstep, gazing in lustful desire at your decorations, waiting for you to turn away for just a moment. Or they may pester you with questions like: "Well, could your characters beat Slenderman? Nuh-uh, Slenderman can beat anybody!" Eventually these ragamuffins; parents will realize their urchins are missing and come round them up, but meanwhile, those Little Rascals have blocked several folks who might have bought a book for coming over.
Be aware of the regional likes and dislikes. That's my nice way of saying find out if your writing appeals to the locals. I live in an area less than an hour from a major Army base, but military types get the cold libtard shoulder around here. As the picture above shows, my booth is very military-centric, given the fact I write Military Frickin Fiction! Some of the tree-hugging ubervegans at several shows have actually sneered at me, then walked out and away, as if I had the Bubonic Plague or they could catch a hearty dose of Patriotism. Assholes. Don't bring your Devil-worship booth to Amish country, or your M/M "Romance" to the heart of the Bible belt. Pitch accordingly--you're there to sell, not win hearts and minds.
K.I.S.S.--Keep it Simply, Self-publisher. Don't have a chandelier, stroboscopic lights or a disco ball in your booth, with music blaring from oil cooled ten-inch speakers while a 65" 4K flatscreen plays a perpetual loop of your ten second book trailer. All that crap has to be carted in, and out. Add in the weight of those deadtree editions of your work (which people will ask for) and you're talking a whole lot of work for little return. Think about book signings and their simple, easily-packed displays when designing your booth beforehand. Just because you've got a bunch of space, doesn't mean you have to cram it with doodads and knickknacks a plenty.
There you have it, some simple rules to follow and one veteran's disgruntled convention experiences. Oh, and if you're in the Louisville, Kentucky area, I'll be returning to the Derby City Comic Con again in 2016. I'm a glutton for punishment...