Hello lovelies! I got an email this week from the very cool folks over at Eventbrite asking if I’d be willing to do a blog post about prepping for Comic Con as an author (or any type of guest, really) and of course, I was all too happy to comply.
I do several conventions each year, one of my very favorite being Denver Comic Con (though I’ve done NYCC as well and I’ll be at ECCC next year, which I’m really looking forward to). Doing a Comic Con isn’t like other types of events we do as authors, so I’m gonna give you the breakdown of doing these types of events as an author. If you’ve never done a Comic Con, I highly suggest going one year as a fan before you just jump in. If you aren’t sure where to go, Eventbrite has a great feature at the bottom of their conference page where you can go to find events in your area. Just scroll down to Find Events on this page.
Once you’ve gone as an attendee, you should have a pretty good lay of the land. You should be familiar with the venue as well as the basics of how it’s run. If you can’t do pre-con-recon, you should at least check out the event videos online, and you can also contact people who have attended before to get the skinny.
You may be thinking, how do you even get invited to a Comic Con as a guest?
Well, there are a few ways. Firstly, you can apply for a vendor space. That is, you pay for a booth and sell books (or whatever) on the show floor. Another way is to apply as a panelist. Most convention websites will have a link where you can apply to speak on their panels in exchange for entry to the convention and (if you are selected as a panelist/speaker) they will often offer you a signing event during the convention, ie a time slot with either a book seller or in an author booth to connect with fans and sell/sign books. That is optimal if you are a fairly new name or only have 1-2 books in print. Keep in mind that most conventions give preference to local authors and to authors with a larger following and/or with panelist experience.
Don’t be too discouraged if you aren’t selected the first time you submit. Slots are very limited and sometimes they just can’t accommodate everyone. It’s not a reflection on you, just keep plugging away. As with all things, persistance is key.
To apply, you write up an email which is basically a resume of past events you’ve done and any subjects you are qualified to speak on. Be aware that unless they track you down and ask you to be a special featured guest or keynote speaker, you are on the hook for any travel costs including hotels, meals, etc. Also be aware that you will *almost never* earn all that $ back in just book sales. But that’s not really the point of these types of events, from a professional standpoint. The point is to build that speaker resume (to someday land those coveted guest spots), to connect with new readers/fans in your genre, and to network with other authors and media professionals. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten interviewed for various articles, television spots, podcasts, etc after (and even DURING) a conference.
I will say, that I have so many books now, and I do so much networking during events anymore, that I will almost always purchase a table/booth for my full-time use. That means I have to take an assistant with me to watch my table while I’m speaking or at other events but the cost of the booth usually comes with 2 badges anyway, so it works out well. I nearly always make at least my booth costs back and then some. And the more years I attend an event, the more event cred I have. Event cred is both recognizability (ie the attendees KNOW me, recognize my name/face) and clout (ie I get the green room privileges, lunches provided, and first pick of the panels I want to be on). These are perks that you gain with time and as you develop relationships with the different event staff by attending and working hard for them year after year. Comic Cons are run by teams of volunteers, so you need to be a team player.
Now, you’ve applied (or purchased your booth/tickets) and gotten your acceptance, now what?
Firstly, you need to see if you’ve been asked to speak on any panels, and if so, on what subjects. Are you on panels with other authors, or are you flying solo teaching a class? Are you moderating or just a participant?
If you aren’t moderating on a group panel, be sure you’re comfortable with the subject matter and even prepare some notes or talking points for yourself. The moderator will usually take charge of the panel and direct the flow of conversation, but be prepared with your own material just in case. If you are moderating, prepare questions for the panelists and talking points that will engage discussion with the guests as well as the audience. You want the audience to participate as much as possible.
As a general rule, unless you are moderating or teaching a class, you don’t need to worry about things like powerpoint or visual aids. But if you are, then knock yourself out. It can be as simple or as visually complex as you are comfortable with. Just let them know if you have any needs (projector, whiteboard, etc) well in advance.
If you are speaking on a panel, they often provide name cards that will sit in front of you, so the audience can reference you by name. If they don’t, I try to always bring ONE of my books with me to set in front, again to make that face/name recognition. Keep in mind however, that you shouldn’t be actively trying to pimp your books during one of these panels. They are about topics, and while something in one of your books might be relevant, and if so, by all means mention it, but if you answer every question with “well, in my book Such-And-Such…” it really bores the audience. They aren’t there to be infomercialed to death, they want to get to know YOU and they do that by the topics you discuss.
Once you have your panel topics squared away, it’s time to pre-pack. About a month before your event you should order your swag. You can read my whole post about book swag HERE, but basically, you need at least 3 things.
- Business Cards
- Book Swag (cheap)
- Book Swag (high end)
Business cards should have your email and contact info, a link to your website, and your name. Beyond that, sky’s the limit. I have a friend whose business cards look like library file cards which is awesome, and mine personally have a collage of my book covers on the back. Be creative, or be simple. But make sure they are easy to read and give them to everyone you can. Seriously. Other authors, media peeps, fans, con event staff, everyone. (just be polite about it)
Cheap book swag is usually paper goods or low-cost items that you can give away. I have bookmarks, postcards, and rubber bracelets most of the time. Anyone who wants one can take one and I hand them out like confetti at my booth. It’s a great way to engage with people who, for whatever reason, aren’t buying books right then, but I want them to remember me. Plus, this way I never feel the need to ‘pressure’ someone into buying a book. I just hand them a postcard. The rest is icing.
High-End book swag is the more costly items like bags, pens, mugs, etc. You can’t always afford to give away hundreds of these, so you reserve them for people who DO buy something (like free tote bag with purchase), or you can even sell some high-end items in addition to your books. For example, my author friend Julie writes dragon books, so she crochets these adorable plush dragons (with dog tags that have her book info on them) and sells them at her booth for $10 each. She often makes as much or more off dragon sales then she does off the actual books. If you have something that ties in like that, or are super crafty, then go for it.
Once that is ordered, think about your booth (if you have one). Booth design is very important and a catchy booth will boost your sales like nothing else. Think about the themes of your books or your overall author brand. Look at what other authors are doing and what you love/hate. Create a booth that is crafty and homey or bright and colorful–whatever you prefer. If you don’t have a full time booth, then be sure you bring swag and a few table decor items to your signing. It doesn’t have to be a lot. And I can’t recommend enough that you invest in a professional author banner. They are a quick, easy, visual way to draw attention to you and your books, plus they are very professional looking. Don’t be the guy who shows up with a bunch of cut out images glued to poster board.
Please don’t be that guy.
Now, while you are packing your clothes for the trip, you’re probably wondering, can I cosplay as an attending author?
The short answer is, Heck Yes!
The longer answer suggests you remember two things, firstly, you want people to recognize YOU. You’re there to connect with readers and fans, and that’s hard to do from behind a Deadpool mask. Also, consider comfort. You will spend a ton of time on your feet, either standing at your booth or running to and from panels. Comfort is key. I have a great corset that I will wear sometimes, but I have become short of breath and had to change in a bathroom mid-event. Not fun. I suggest that you choose costumes that are easy to maneuver in and that don’t change your appearance too much. For example, last year Jim Butcher came dressed as Wolverine (which was HAWT) but he was still, obviously, Jim Butcher. Or, save the cosplay for days/times when you aren’t actively working the floor.
A few quick con tips:
*Arrive early and stay late.
*Keep your space clean and free of clutter.
*Get to know the event staff. Treat them with the utmost respect.
*Have a plan and keep your schedule. Don’t be late for events, it’s rude.
*Make friends with the other authors.
*Share hotel rooms, car rides, and even booth fees whenever you can.
*Smile and be kind, even if you’re exhausted and sweaty and have a headache. People are there to see you and they deserve you at your best.
*Never bad-mouth an event. Even if it wasn’t great, stick to the positive. You CAN get blackballed from events.
*Rolling suitcases and wagons are your best friends. And comfortable shoes are your new deity. (PRAISE the Converse)
*If you are invited to an event, GO. After hours parties, pre-con breakfasts, whatever. Just go. You’ll be glad you did.
That’s my humble advice. As always, your mileage will vary. But I love to chat with other con-goers. Do you guys have any tips for working the comic con circuit? What are your favorite events to go to as readers? Leave me a note in the comments below!