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My very first horror con

In January 2016, I discovered my friend had a dark side.

While he appeared to be an innocuous broadcasting instructor at the local college, it turned out he was leading a double life.

He collects *gasp* horror comics.

“In fact, I’m going to be at this horror con coming up on Valentine’s Day,” he said. “You should share a table with me. You can sell your books!”

To be honest, my first response can be best summed up as, “No thanks.” Heavy on the NO.

It’s not easy to get multiple copies of my book. I have to order them from my publisher, who is in another country, and pay shipping and brokerage and exchange rates and other nasty things. And that’s if nothing goes wrong and the books get here in time.

Since I’d never done a con before, I would need additional supplies as well–posters and other signage, for one.

It seemed like a lot of work.

But the main reason I wasn’t interested was that I’d heard a lot about cons being a man’s world. Anyone with a Twitter account would find it difficult not to notice all the stories of sexual abuse, rape, and other forms of violence towards women. It’s so prevalent that there’s even a saying: “Cosplay is not consent.”

Not that I had any intention of dressing up as a sexy zombie or sexy anything else. That was yet another reason I wanted to say no. My days of channeling Lara Croft are over.

But my friend was very persuasive. Since he generously offered me a corner of his table, the con would cost me nothing but time — and the expense of books and signage, which could be used for other events. In the end, I agreed. If nothing else, it would be an experience.

Before I knew it, I was a featured author on the con website and asked to speak about horror writing on a panel. Nervous that I’d be babbling to an empty room, I begged a few friends to come out and show their support.

I had no idea what I was in for.

Much like I’ve learned from my colleagues at Samhain Horror, people who dig the dark side are some of the nicest, most generous, friendliest folks you will ever meet.

My first morning began with a sale to an online friend – -someone I’d chatted with over Facebook who had confessed he didn’t like horror. He bought a ticket to the con anyway, just to buy a book from me and get it signed. How amazing is that? That first sale set the tone for the day, and made me feel like less of an impostor.

Heading into the con, my goal was to sell just one book to a stranger. “If I sell a single book to someone who isn’t a personal connection, I’ll be surprised,” I said. But most of my sales were to strangers, as the majority of my friends already have the book. It was great to meet so many people who were willing to take a chance on my work, especially since I discovered later that my book was double the price of the other local authors’ (damn that exchange rate!)

When it was time for my panel at 1 p.m., I only had two books left. Sharing my horror-writing experience with authors Chadwick Ginther and A.P. Fuchs was a lot of fun. It was fantastic to meet other horror authors who are working in my city – I really hope we keep in touch. And a small but enthusiastic group of friends showed up to cheer me on, which was wonderful. I’ll never take the support I’ve received for granted.

After the panel, I returned to find I had one book left. The last one sold soon after, so I handed out business cards, bookmarks and candy for the rest of the afternoon. My boyfriend rushed to the local bookstore and cleaned them out so I had some to sell the following day. Even though Sunday was a lot quieter, I still was able to sell my remaining books quickly. All I have left is my much-loved, slightly battered author copy.

This is what it’s all about–meeting fans and supporters and readers of all kinds. What an incredible experience to connect face-to-face with the people who will read my work!

Horror Con 2016

I am now a diehard fan of horror cons, and will return with a bigger and better display next year. I can’t thank my friend Dean Cooper enough for generously sharing his table and convincing me to give it a shot.

A few things I learned:

  • Make it obvious (through signage) that you’re the author, and if it’s a local con, that you’re a local talent. One of the most common questions I was asked was, “Are you from here?” People love to support their local authors.
  • Candy will draw people to your table, but not for the right reasons. No one who was initially attracted to the candy stayed around long enough to hear about my book. It was all snatch and grab. I think one woman considered my table her lunch stop.
  • Don’t feel you have to dress up as a zombie or anything else. In fact, unless it directly relates to your book, you’re best not to. I noticed a lot of people at the con seemed relieved when they saw I was a “normal” person. It can be disconcerting to talk to someone with a half-eaten face, even if you’re a horror fan.
  • Wear layers! Those convention centres can get fricking COLD.
  • Include a newsletter sign-up list and anything else you can promote. That came in handy when I ran out of books.
  • Speaking of, order more books than you think you’ll need. I could have sold double what I brought. The missed opportunities still make me weep. Plus, people are more apt to buy from a big stack. When it’s the last book, they get hesitant for some reason.
  • Have a quick summation of your story ready to go. A reviewer compared my novella to Creepshow, so when I told people it was like Creepshow and The Twilight Zone, they had an instant picture of what to expect.
  • Share a table with a friend. I don’t know what I would have done without Dean during the slow times. I’d definitely share a table with a fellow author at the next con. The camaraderie keeps the energy up and keeps it fun when the crowds lag.

Have you ever been to a convention, as a writer or a fan? What was your experience like? Any tips to share? And if not, is it something you’d consider? Why or why not?

Thanks to everyone who supported me at the St. Valentine’s Horror Con! You made it a most memorable experience.

***

gamut-idea-001If you’re a writer, you know how difficult it can be to find paying markets for your work. My friend Richard Thomas is hoping to change all that by launching Gamut, an online magazine for neo-noir, speculative, literary fiction. Gamut will pay industry rates and already has a wide range of talented peeps involved. To learn more, check out the Kickstarter campaign here.

 

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42 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Glad to hear this was a success for you. I’ve always thought it would be cool to wander around a comic-con. Not dressed like Wonder Woman though, lol.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Denise. There was a little bit of everything there, from comic book vendors to toys and used books. A surprisingly amount of sex toy shops and sellers and even Epicure.

      I’d had no idea what to expect.

      Reply
  2. Avatar

    Congratulations! I’m so happy for you that your first experience was so positive. Hoping we’ll be at a con together someday!

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Samantha! That would be great. It would be awesome to meet in person after all these years of talking on blogs.

      Reply
  3. Avatar

    Excellent! So happy for you! 🙂

    And those are great lessons you shared – the one about the candy cracked me up. And the one about not dressing up? Whew, that’s a relief because I would hate to have to do that. So not me.

    Reply
    • JH

      Hey Madeline!

      Thanks for the kind words. I used to love dressing up for Halloween, but running an event for a museum put a lot of pressure on me, and now I’m so over it.

      The candy was ridiculous! You get your hopes up because people are rushing to your table, and then all they want is the damn chocolate. So disappointing.

      Reply
  4. Avatar

    That sounds like a dream scenario. I’d love to have a table at a con but it wouldnt be for horror. So how many books did you bring to sell?

    Reply
    • JH

      I sold everything I had, Chrys, which amounted to 19 or 20 books. I could have sold a lot more if I’d had them.

      If I did it again, I’d probably bring 50. A lot of people who couldn’t make the con are asking if they can buy one too, so I’m going to have to reorder.

      Reply
    • JH

      I agree, Anna!

      One of the things I was most afraid of was that there would be hours of no sales. Which did happen, but only because I was out of books! On both days, I made my first sale quite quickly.

      Reply
  5. Avatar

    There’s a horror con around here (Philadelphia area) that I go to a couple of times a year as a fan. I love it. The fans are all so normal and just happy to be around likeminded people. I once had a conversation about The Walking Dead with an elderly lady who needed a walker, and it was awesome. I don’t know if I’ll ever go as an author. That’s a bit out of my “I can handle this!” zone.

    Reply
    • JH

      I recommend it, Somer. I didn’t think it was in my zone, either, but I had a great time. If you shared a table with another author, you’d probably feel a lot more comfortable.

      It’s actually a lot of fun.

      Thanks for commenting!

      Reply
  6. Avatar

    The con sounded so much fun! I’ve been to the local paracon but not as a guest. I like listening to the speakers too much to want to be stuck behind a table.

    Reply
    • JH

      I did hate missing out on a lot of the fun stuff, but there was plenty of time to walk around and check things out after I’d sold my books.

      Reply
  7. Avatar

    Actually, this is a great place to sell books come to think of it. You have all the fans under one roof! I have never heard of all the rape and pillage that goes on at these places-news to me because most are there to enjoy the show and buy what they can’t find in the regular stores. I have only been to one which was many, many years ago which was more on Science Fiction with a heavy dose of Star Trek. I am so happy you found a great place to showcase your book and now more will find out who you are

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Birgit. Apparently harassment and sexual assault are an issue at the larger comic cons and scifi conventions. There’s been a few stories about it in recent years. People drink a lot, there are scantily clad women, and well…it’s been a recipe for disaster.

      I’ll definitely be back, and this has given me the courage to try my luck at some of the bigger cons when I have more releases out.

      Reply
  8. Avatar

    I had a friend who did a bunch of craft fairs last fall and sold a TON of books. I think you guys may be onto something! I’m going to give some of those a try this fall. It seems to me that something like this would be better than even book festivals, which bring SO much competition from all the other books being sold there.

    Reply
    • JH

      I agree, Steph! I think there’s a better chance of selling lots of books at a more diverse con too. The fewer authors, the better, although I think all five of us did pretty well.

      One woman left her little kids in charge of her booth all day – talk about not playing fair!

      Reply
  9. Avatar

    My first experience at a Fantasy Con last year went really well. It was local so I met a lot of friends from my days as a book store owner. I wasn’t expecting a table — just to speak once. I did sell a few books but I only had 2 titles to pick from. This year I will have 11 hopefully, 10 for sure.

    I am glad your first Con was fun. I was about to offer candy this year from your post, but you ended that all you got were sweet-toothers! 🙂

    Reply
    • JH

      Ten titles!? That’s amazing, Roland. Good for you! I’m sure you’ll do well.

      Yes, I don’t recommend the candy, unless you want to provide free snacks for the neighbourhood. That’s what it amounts to.

      Reply
  10. Avatar

    I’m glad your friend talked you into going! What a great experience. You make me want to get out and do the same but I’m a bit of a chicken. Maybe one day…

    Reply
    • JH

      I was scared too, Crystal. I’m really outgoing, but I have this quiet side to my personality that appears at the worst times, so I was afraid of that.

      And I thought everyone would be blood and guts horror, which is not my thing. Thankfully, I really enjoyed speaking with people and getting to know them. And there was every type of horror under the sun, including sex toys and Epicure! (Epicure’s prices are pretty damn scary.)

      Reply
  11. Avatar

    What a wonderful experience!

    I have done a few cons, though not yet for my books, and I’m with you on the candy. Too often I ended up eating more than my customers! XD

    In my experience, the results (read: sales and networking) of a con can different greatly from one event to the next, depending on weather, location and the general mood of the crowd.
    That said, having such a fantastic start is great boost!

    There aren’t (m)any dedicated horror cons where I live, although the audience here seems to be used to having the fantasy, scifi and horror genre thrown together in an event. We have several of those, and I’m definitely planning on attending a couple next year.
    If nothing else, it’s often great fun with the people running the neighbouring stands!

    Reply
    • JH

      Yes, I was so happy to be surrounded by great people. My friend Dean’s two buddies were on my other side, making potion necklaces and clocks with old horror movie motifs. It was great to get to know them, and we had fun joking around.

      The mood thing is weird. On Saturday, people definitely wanted to spend some money, but on Sunday, they just looked and looked and chatted without buying anything. Then, at the end, it seemed like they were desperate to get SOMETHING so they didn’t go home empty-handed.

      I was glad my books were long gone by then. I’d rather people buy them because they really want them – not out of desperation or boredom.

      Reply
  12. Avatar

    Isn’t it great when you say yes to something you really don’t want to do, and then it turns out to be such a success and such a high? I loved your suggestions for book signings. They are perfect.

    Here’s to many more of those events where you have a chance to talk to readers about your books.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Lee! Yes, I’m so glad I listened to my friend. I really didn’t think I’d belong, and I was so wrong.

      I’m very grateful the organizer put me on a panel and gave me very nice billing on the website as well. It certainly helped.

      Reply
  13. Avatar

    I have never been to a con as either an author or participant, but I really want to! Congrats on doing so well and having a good time!

    A lot of what you say about preparing for cons goes for book festivals, too. And THANK YOU! Candy is a bad idea! I often share tables with other authors who think a dish of candy is mandatory, but I agree with you. Candy snatchers don’t buy books.

    Reply
    • JH

      They really don’t, Dianne. Thanks for reinforcing that opinion. It was a nice treat to give someone AFTER they’ve bought a book, or for the kids coming by, but the teenagers who clustered around my table just to gobble chocolate pissed me off after a while.

      I might still bring treats, but I won’t have them out in the open for just anyone again.

      Reply
  14. Avatar

    I’ve never been to a horror con, but this sounds like a really positive experience! I went to a-kon last year and it was fun, didn’t get harassed at all, which I was expecting from all the horror stories I’d heard before. I guess it really depends on who you go with?

    Reply
    • JH

      Welcome, Madilyn! I suspect that, like many things, a few bad situations became so talked about and passed on that now we think ALL cons are hotbeds of sexual assault.

      I should have asked some of the scantily clad zombies how they fared, but I personally didn’t see anything even slightly inappropriate going on. I’m glad that was your experience as well.

      Reply
  15. Avatar

    Great advice, and what a fabulous experience! Shows how important it is that we try new things and step out of our comfort zone every once in a while. I’ve done panels, but never a con. Maybe one day the opportunity will arise.

    Reply
    • JH

      If it does, go for it! It’s a great experience.

      I’m all for getting out of the comfort zone at any opportunity.

      Reply
  16. Avatar

    Sounds like a great time and I really am sorry I couldn’t be there to show support.

    I’ve never been to any con, I didn’t know candy was involved.

    Did you get any time to visit any other booths?

    Reply
    • JH

      Candy was just something I had on my table as an enticement to encourage people to come over. You don’t have to have it.

      I did buy books from the three other authors to show my support. There was a Harry Potter booth – my bf bought me an awesome time-turner necklace from there, and I bought two potion necklaces from the woman beside me.

      Jewelry is my kryptonite.

      Reply
  17. Avatar

    Fun sharing a panel with you, and nice to meet you. Small world, considering our recently-discovered mutual horror author friends. I wrote my summary of Horror Con on my blog. Link attached to this comment. See you at the next one.

    Reply
    • JH

      Yes, very small world! It was great to meet you as well.

      Reply
  18. Avatar

    You’re the first author I’ve heard of who sold a lot of books at a con or a fair. Of course, most authors don’t have local ones, have to travel many hours to larger cities, and have no friends to turn out to encourage them. So it was totally a win-win for you! I’m glad you’ve found the Samhain authors supportive. I have a ton of horror writer FB friends, but I’ve found that in general, women are more supportive and generous than men, and since 90% of horror authors are men, there’s a lot of asking for favors and not much doing favors.

    Reply
    • JH

      I’ve happily found the opposite, Lexa. While my fellow female horror authors have been supportive, the men at Samhain have been exceptional. Just today, I posted a request for a beta reader on our Facebook page, and three guys offered to read my book, no strings attached, within minutes. Of the people who showed up to buy my book at the con (the people I knew), all but one were men. However, the female friends who showed up to see me on the panel had already purchased my book, whereas the male friends were people I rarely get to see in person.

      I agree that going to a local con was an advantage, though, but I didn’t know that going in. It can go both ways–sometimes people are very supportive of local talent, and other times they’re more impressed by people who have “made it” somewhere else.

      Reply
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