Last week I talked about a little experiment being run by me and a Twitter friend, @Rolling20s. You can read about it in detail here, but the short of it was that @Rolling20s attended Con on the Cob, subsidized by me, and ran a vendor table there selling all things Matthew and Epp.
Here’s the table:
Frankly I think it looked awesome. As you can see there are the books, some magnets leftover from giveaways, and I also printed up various works of fan art that have come my way through the fan art contests or stuff I’ve commissioned.
We sold 13 books, a few magnets, and a print or two. The entire weekend came in at a net loss of around $400.
Clearly not a home run, but was it worth it? I’ll get into that in the next paragraph. I will say this, though, I once purchased an ad on Amazon that cost well over $400, ran for a month, and resulted in exactly 1 sale. So this experiment was not a home run, no, but it’s nowhere near the worst idea I’ve ever tried.
Okay, dissection time.
This was, without a doubt, totally worth it. For a first attempt 13 sales is respectable, plus I expect a few more sales to trickle in from people who @Rolling20’s spoke to throughout the weekend. First attempts at anything are going to be clusterfuck’s, that’s just how it is. You can’t expect to walk into a game you’ve never played before and get the high score your first time through. That’s just asinine.
Far more important than the actual book sales was the Skype conversation I had with @Rolling20’s last night recapping the weekend. I am damned lucky to have him as a fan because he’s a natural salesman and we work well together. Plus, we have a near perfect win-win relationship set up. He loves attending conventions rife with one of my target audiences, gamers, and is happy to continue trying to sell my books in order to defray the costs of his convention addiction. And I, obviously, am happy to have a salesman out there pushing my stuff at said conventions.
This is, ironically, where two of our biggest mistakes occured this time around. First of all, and this was such a boneheaded mistake I can’t even…ugh…but first of all I never managed to get business cards to @Rolling20’s. He had nothing to hand out to people he chatted with, nothing to give to people who came up to the table, nothing for potential costumers to slip into their jacket pockets and pull out a few days later to cement my name in their head. I waited to order cards until I chatted over their design with @Rolling20’s and by the time we managed to chat it was too late to get him cards. Just a dunderheaded move on my part, but I have a problem pulling the trigger on ideas if I haven’t bounced them off of someone first. I honestly think business cards would have made a massive impact on post-convention sales.
The second thing we did wrong, and this is going to sound weird, but we put @Rolling20’s at a vendor table for most of the day. Oddly, this may have been the worst way to go about selling books. Foot traffic was low and the people wandering through the vendor hall tended to have set destinations in mind. I’m learning that every convention is different, but I think I was picturing more of a sidewalk fair mentality. We have those a lot here in New York, you’ll be strolling to the drug store and suddenly you’ll be in the middle of a smorgasbord of tables selling all kinds of crap. And you slow your feet down and you dawdle and you maybe buy a jar of honey, or something, that you in no way set out to buy on your way to the drug store. You wind up enjoying the browsing aspect of things and almost all the booths have a little crowd of spontaneous browsers around them.
I’m learning that this is not what conventions are like. Some people browse, yes, but a lot of people head to the booths they’re excited to see. Maybe Company X has a new product out and they just want to see that before moving into the convention hall to mingle and game.
Plus, again, foot traffic was slow. I trust @Rolling20’s retail abilities and, having having talked to him a ton, know that he gets the symbiotic nature of our relationship: the worse one of us does, the lower the odds are of us teaming up again (I mean for conventions, pal, not general chat and gaming and stuff 🙂 ). So I know he was actively engaging with any potential sales that wandered by, and yet he said he spent a lot of time with nothing to do and being bored. There was just no one there to sell to. Frankly, hearing his recap of the vendor hall activity, 13 books sounds like a heroic accomplishment.
Both of us came to the agreement that this might have worked better if we had just set him loose (WITH business cards) to be his normal charming self and an active representative of Joseph Devon Industries chatting up our products. This would have gotten word out far more and deducted the cost of the vendor table from the weekend. Not to mention @Rolling20’s would have enjoyed his weekend more. Again, symbiotic. The fact that he was bored most of the weekend is a negative for both of us.
That was lesson one, my main instrument of sales, @Rolling20’s himself, was poorly misused.
Lesson two was…confusing. I sent off the prints of art and the magnets purely for marketing purposes, just to dress up the table and maybe to giveaway to people who bought books. Somehow some of this stuff wound up selling. That baffles me. The fact that someone would buy a magnet with a quote from a book they’ve never read on it is just weird. To be honest, I have yet to figure out what that means, but it means something. Plus I have to believe that someone who sees my magnet on their fridge every day will, eventually, check out the book itself. I also have solid proof that the quotes I chose for the magnets are winners. But there’s some other idea on how to use this information that’s niggling away at my brain, it hasn’t quite solidified yet, though.
The prints selling was surprising but not confusing at all. I know that all my fan artists rock and I love their works, that’s why I sent them along, I knew they would be eye catchers. But those were lower quality prints that I made up at Kinko’s on a complete whim. And yet some of them sold. And not only did some of them sell, but they represented, by far, the largest profit margin at the table. Now, technically, I own the rights to some of those for marketing purposes only. But you better believe I will be sending emails out to all my artists asking for the rights to sell their work for a percentage of profits. And just like that a revenue stream I never saw coming with the potential for a higher profit margin than my books themselves has popped up. That was a big win.
So, 13 books and some magnets and a print or two at a $400 loss.
Sounds horrible when you only look at the numbers, but when you try something like this you need to be realistic. You need to understand that the learning curve is frighteningly steep. You need to realize that you’re spending money to gain information. And you need to get your business cards ordered earlier (by the way, 500 business cards costs, like, $20 over at Vistaprint. If you don’t have some, get some).
You also need to be able to take a risk like this, get clobbered, and get back up again.
Plans are already in the works for @Rolling20’s next convention appearance.
Cheaper, better prepared, better used…and with business cards.