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Rocking the Kasbah

by on August 22, 2014

Rocking the Kasbah at Loncon 3!

2014-08-14 14.13.51

Whoo! Hooo! And Wow!

Finally, I can call myself a best selling author with some justification.

Last weekend was the 2014 World Scifi Convention, held in London for the first time in over 30 years – hence the name Loncon 3, being only the third time in the history of the event that London was the chosen venue.

Safkhet Publishing had bought a table to promote three of their authors, and although business goals have just taken us in different directions, they very generously agreed I should still attend as we did have some first edition paperbacks to move.

What an event it was, too. Over 10,000 -yes, that’s ten thousand! – visitors during the four day event. Authors, film makers, cosplay devotees and readers mingled happily and contentedly in the venue, the Excel Centre in London. Sadly, not all of those made it through the Dealers’ Hall shown here, but lots did.

Luck? Chance? Karma? I don’t know how, but the table allocated to this small group of authors was right at the front of the Hall. And one of us, Barrie Hyde, turned out to be the sort of skilled salesman who could sell ice to an Eskimo. Watching him work a crowd of customers was nothing short of a masterclass, and it’s not something I’m going to forget in a hurry.

Barrie sold all his stock of books. That’s astonishing. Equally brilliant, though with a different technique, Jim Webster on my other side sold so many copies of his scifi novel that anecdotal evidence makes Tsarina 4.1 the highest selling small press novel at the convention. Not all of the sales were at gunpoint, either…

Me? I sold, too. A lot of The Banned Underground collection, in fact. So many in fact that the same anecdotal evidence makes me the highest selling small press author there. So Woo! and Hoo! are well deserved! The Banned certainly rocked that kasbah, and I’ve got memories to treasure. Barrie and Jim were great company, and I don’t think we stopped laughing on the stand for three days.

Here’s the gang with a happy customer who bought books from all three of us.

Loncon1

Now the cold water bit.

This blog is read by lots of authors, so let’s just be harsh for a moment. Yes, I sold more books than I have ever sold before. But it still cost me a lot of money to do the Con. It was not, from a pure sales point of view, a success. I made a loss. If I had paid for the table too, I’d have lost even more money. So, why go?

The biggest problem for any small press author is getting known. Standing out a little from the crowd. Between Jim and I, we gave out six or seven hundred flyers and business cards directly to our target market. There’s every chance that some of those will be heading off to Amazon this weekend, and buying books. I’ve got a series: there’s every chance that a decent proportion of those who bought one book from me will go on to buy more. So future sales will benefit.

Then there’s the impression we made. Whilst we each have a different sales technique, we each have a method that suits us. Barrie was super-slick; Jim warm, friendly and approachable; and I’m always a bit laid back and none of us needed encouragement or help to open a conversation with a passing stranger. With a lot of footfall, there was always some customer suitable for each of the different styles – and then crucially, we also promoted each other’s work at the same time as our own. We didn’t see this as a competition, but as a collaboration, and the obvious camaraderie on the stand must have helped, too.

Then there’s the feedback. Three times I met people – complete strangers, honest – who had stopped at the stand because they had already bought one of my books. That doesn’t make me a famous author, but just for a moment I caught a glimpse of what it must be like to be an Abercrombie or Rothfuss. What else can give you that feeling? The new strap line for my series, “Tolkien meets Spinal Tap”, got approval from customers.

So, what conclusions can I offer from all of this? First, my advice to do these things. Get out there, meet real readers (and try to sell them books). Second, don’t expect to make any money. Go to make friends. (Friends buy your books, right?) Third, treat it as part of your marketing, to get your name known a bit. You know it makes sense. Don’t expect loads of customers: Loncon3 was massive, most conventions are nowhere near that sort of size.

I already have two more of these booked: I’ll be at York Fantasy Convention in September, and Bristol in October. And I’m starting to think about a schedule for next year. I won’t make any money, almost certainly I’ll make a financial loss. But I’ll gain so much more that really counts in my life. And I’d have willingly paid twice what it cost me to do Loncon3 to be told -even only by hearsay – that this once in my life I’ve been a best seller.

The Banned Underground is now being re-released in Second Edition by Red Kite Publishing Limited. The sixth book in the series, Have Frog, Will Travel should be on sale on 28 August 2014 on Amazon, and from all good bookshops in the UK by the end of September.

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5 Comments
  1. The reason authors haven’t traditionally self published is because, like most creative jobs, you need a patron/venture capitalist/whatever you want to call it to bankroll your activities until you start to make money. If I had £20,000 to spend on marketing I might sell a lot more books (although I probably wouldn’t break even). I might be better known…

    The way I see it, we have two big things to contend with. The first, is that no-one knows we are here. The second is that on line, at any rate, there are more authors than readers. Authors do read books but not as many as readers do and it’s readers we need to reach in the long run.

    Like you, I’m looking at things I can do in the real world; talks, events, radio, podcasts… because those are the things that will reach new readers.

    So yeh… I loved doing the one day pop up! What a buzz and I’d have been back with a roll along suitcase full of books on the Sunday if it had been possible.

    The biggest thing holding all of us back is that nobody has ever heard of us, the biggest selling tool we have, outside our books, is our personalities. People buy from people.

    Cheers

    MTM

  2. Will that is an outstanding blog on the Value of working writers attending science fiction/fantasy cons! And the fact the three of you guys were -collaborative- at the Bookdealers table with its fantastic location is a major deal. I always view good sales for other authors as a Plus for me the author. Why? Cause good sales for other authors means people are -reading-! And New Readers my discover my hard scifi novels. Also, you have a series which means the cross-fertilization effect you describe will happen for sure. Many congrats Will! Tom.

  3. Thanks, Tom. I know you know what you are talking about, so that’s a great compliment

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