Monday, August 18, 2014

How to Survive a Bad Convention

In our writing career - and experience with selling at conventions for years before this - if there's one thing I've learned it's how to cope with bad conventions.  As a new author trying to get your books out there or even as a veteran whose been doing this for years, here's a few tips that may come in handy.  These can also apply to other markets where you might personally show up to sell your book.

1. Don't bitch

This is completely and totally the most important thing and it calls back to normal customer service days.  Everyone has conventions that suck and I'm sure you can turn to the right or left and they'll complain with you all day.  That's great - after the con.  Do not bitch at the con!

The problem with complaining at the con is that it bring a lot of trouble with it.  First off, customers can hear you.  You're in a huge convention hall with a lot of people, but you'll be surprised how much your voice carries, especially during the lulls in the white noise around you.  Even if they can't catch all of your words, your whole mannerism when you're complaining carries.  There's a way you sit, a way you move and a way you talk that people will notice - probably subliminally, but they will notice. So just don't.

(Also, if another author feels the need to come over and bitch at your table, deflect them as much as possible.  While it may be fun to rant, the sale floor is not the place.  Urge them politely to move on and not scare away potential customers who might see the conversation and pass your space completely.)

2. Smile

This is customer service 101.  When you smile, it changes your voice and your posture and whole outlook.  Even if you're faking it, it helps.  People who smile when they're talking sound happier.  So even if you hate how the day is, remember that you don't want to convey that to the person in front of you who might be buying your stuff.  Happier people seem more friendly and interesting - so smile.  Just don't over do it - being super fake will backfire on you.

3. Make connections

No matter where you are selling, remember you're surrounded by people.  All of these people have jobs and connections in the real world, and if you talk to them you can catch onto these.  So, simply put, make friends.  If you're signing at a bookstore, talk with the other employees.  If you're at a convention, talk to the guests and staff and talk to your table mates.  The idea is that even if you don't sell that many books, you should walk away with at least a couple business cards and some things to look up and into when you get home.  Use your down time to research so that next time it'll be better.

Protip: if it's someone who does things like this a lot, talk to them.  If you're lucky, they might clue you in on a few of the tricks that helped them get so far.  And this leads into the next tip...

4. Learn from your table mates

When you're selling, you're more then likely surrounded by a lot of people doing the same thing.  Talk to these people.  Chances are they've done this before and they have tips and tricks for you.  If it just so happens that they don't want to talk to you - that's ok.  Watch them.  Listen to their pitches, watch their techniques and pay attention to what works and what doesn't.  Important:  Don't steal their ideas, but don't be afraid to learn from and modify them to work for you.

5. Don't be desperate

If there's something a customer can smell from miles away, it's the "I'm desperate to make a sale" stench.  If your entire day sucks and you haven't made a single sale, you have to remember that each customer is a new person and a new chance.  In that mode, don't betray that you've been doing bad and don't complain to them.  Also, and this is the main one, don't beg for that sale.  You are selling something of worth, if you beg for a sale or say you've had a bad day and not sold any, that puts the notion in the back of their mind that maybe your stuff isn't worth their money.  After all, it wasn't worth anyone else's.

So don't be desperate, you're there to sell and that's what you've been doing.  Just don't be arrogant about it either, that can also backfire.

6. Have fun

Finally, have fun.  Wherever you are, whatever you're selling, chances are you've gone into this because you enjoy your work or you enjoy the act of selling it.  So revel in that.  Show others how much you love it, show them how much fun you're having.  Forget the entire bad convention and take a moment to enjoy the good things, because they are always there, you just have to find them.  Keep a positive outlook and even if it doesn't improve your sales, it will help improve your mood so you don't defeat yourself.  Being positive is a self-fulfilling property and positive people make more sales, because they're a joy to be around.

So have fun at the venue, even if you aren't making money.  Besides, when you're having fun, you're more pleasant to buy things from anyway.

Got any tips that you've noticed work?  Share them!  Anything you disagree with?  How so?


  1. The last con I had books for sale at - I didn't sell a thing. BUT I had a really fun weekend, met lots of cool people and maybe some of them looked me after afterwards and bought online instead....

    1. Exactly! I love all the people I meet at conventions, regardless of how we do selling the books, they're the ones that make me want to come back

  2. Good advice for any public contact. I'm a shy introvert who would rather be a hermit than out selling books. But, money aside, I want my books to be read, and if I don't value them, no one's going to read them. My solution? I tell myself I'm just practicing. Whether I'm doing a presentation, offering books for sale, or handing out bookmarks in restaurants, I'm practicing making contacts. It's almost a role-playing thing. I put on my "author" persona and make myself get out there and talk to people. And I tell myself that the person I'm talking to is the most important person in the world for the moment. That means I listen with my full attention as well as taking. It seems to be working.

  3. This was a great post Jessica. Thanks for the tips!