Out from Canberra.
The portable bag weigher I bought has paid for itself; my suitcase gets checked with 200g clearance. No excess baggage charges for me!
I don’t like the default seat I’ve been assigned, so change it up a bit and opt for a window seat. As it turns out, there’s no one sitting next to me. Pretty good decision, that one. Spend the trip alternately reading East of Eden and wondering how the bloody hell planes stay in the air. They’re huge metal tubes full of heavy people and bags. Start thinking of landing as a partially-controlled plummet, and can’t get the image out of my head. Only mildly nervous. Return attention to book.
I’m desperately fashionable as I set up my stall.
My banner is up and looking pretty schmick, even if I do think so myself. Given the Game of Thrones focus on this con, I’m kicking myself for not including the “Game of Thrones – galactic version” review quote on the banner.
DAY ONE – FRIDAY
My hosts have very kindly left this outside my bedroom door. It’s the first thing I see when I get up.
— Shane W Smith (@Shane_W_Smith) November 7, 2013
I spend way too long thinking about the answer to a question that no one was ever going to ask me: “What’s your favourite thing about Brisbane?” My response: “The way that people say ‘thank you’ as they get off the bus, even if they’re getting off through the rear doors.”
I don’t know why, but of everything that’s going on, and excepting the absence of my family, that’s the thing that reminds me most that I’m not in Canberra anymore. I guess the little details matter after all.
At Supanova, no one I speak to is expecting too much to happen today, so I’m expecting a slow afternoon. It’s what I get. In the six hours the convention is open that day, I sell six books (and three of those are to someone I know from Canberra).
That night, the comics folks wander down to a nearby Chinese restaurant, and I order vegetables. After having eaten nothing all afternoon but sugar-coated dried pineapple chunks, I feel I owe my arteries something. One last hurrah. Especially if the weekend ahead is anything like previous cons.
After some confusion with the Translink journey planning site, I discover (by using my feet and eyes) that the bus stop I need is right around the corner from the restaurant, outside the ‘gentleman’s club’. I make eye contact with nobody and catch the bus back.
DAY TWO – SATURDAY
SHIT. I’ve slept in. I never sleep in. I haven’t slept in in years. Not this late.
No time for breakfast. No time for shower. I throw on some clothes and charge out the door.
I’m stressed and already a little grumpy by the time I even reach my table, but I make it with time to spare before opening. Indeed, I’m actually one of the first people to arrive on artist alley. I should have stopped to get some food. Too late now, though.
Anyway, the doors open and people enter. Lots of people. A huge, pulsating mass of nerds with cash to burn. I want all that cash to be mine. I know this is not going to happen.
The morning is as slow as yesterday afternoon. I sell a book an hour. It’s pretty demoralising, to be honest. I try to keep a positive attitude, but it’s hard. I feel the defeat sinking into my gut, although I refuse to let it show on my face. A sullen demeanour is not going to sell books, that much I know for sure.
Here’s something I’ve picked up from the various cons I’ve done so far. I’m not sure how this is going to come across, so I’m going to preface these observations with the following disclaimer: I’m not bitter about it – this is just what I’ve observed.
It’s a relatively quiet Saturday afternoon. I am trying to keep an eye on the stalls around me, trying to see what gets the attention of con attendees, and what doesn’t.
What gets attention:
Fads. These days, anything with zombies is a surefire recipe for success.
Doodads. A lot of stalls, even comic ones, fill out their tables with little plastic gizmos and such. They were cheap, and seemed to move pretty well.
Craft and crafting. The guys at the table next to me had a pretty constant stream of customers, and plenty of excited people charging across the building, drawn by word of mouth to check out their cute hand-made (3)DS cases and hair clips. The table at the other end of my row selling markers also had a strong show.
Fan art. Attaching your work to a more popular segment of popular culture is a good business strategy. Folks selling professional prints that venerate popular shows and movies (Star Wars/Firefly/superheroes/Transformers/lots of stuff I know nothing about) apparently do very well this weekend.
Bright, short and snappy. It’s pretty hard to convince someone on a limited budget to splash out $18 or more on an author they’ve never heard of (even if it is a decent price for such a large book, it’s still a large risk). On the other hand, a small hand-stapled sample comic selling for the cost of a hamburger is a tried-and-true road test method. If it’s in colour, even better, because it will attract eyes from a distance.
What doesn’t get attention:
The Lesser Evil. The Lesser Evil is none of these things. It doesn’t easily draw the eye, it doesn’t appeal to the wallet, it doesn’t latch on to established popular culture. If I can get someone to pick up the book and have a decent look at it, I have a decent conversion rate to sale.
But it’s not something that’s immediately engaging at a place where everything is happening in a rush, where time and money is limited, and there are a thousand brighter, louder, shinier and cheaper things vying for a punter’s attention.
I don’t mean to suggest that the other things on offer at other tables are devoid of substance, but the only thing my books have going for them is substance. They can’t compete in any of the other arenas mentioned above.
Because my books can’t compete on any of the above arenas, I have to work hard to sell each and every copy. I can’t just hope they’ll catch someone’s eye; I have to be standing, engaging with every person who walks past, holding out my book in the hope that they will take it, flick through it, and be impressed enough to take a gamble on me.
Every person who walks past is a potential fan, and (with all due modesty) a hefty percentage of them might even be likely fans, given half a chance. I want to give them that half a chance. I have to sell my books, because they won’t sell themselves. Wonder briefly if I come across as desperate, and whether or not that’s a good thing.
I’m so far outside my comfort zone that I don’t even recognise the guy standing there trying to sell books.
At around lunchtime on Saturday, I am feeling particularly alone and insignificant in this place.
I, of course, suppress this genuine emotion with some Twitted witticisms.
There's some really authentic looking st John's ambulance cosplay here. Awesome. #supanova
— Shane W Smith (@Shane_W_Smith) November 10, 2013
Pretty girl offering free hugs to nerd boys. They look sooooooo happy. #supanova
— Shane W Smith (@Shane_W_Smith) November 10, 2013
— Shane W Smith (@Shane_W_Smith) November 10, 2013
Things pick up in the afternoon, though, and I sell about twenty books in the space of three hours. There’s still about eighty books sitting on the ground behind me, so it’s not quite the landslide I am hoping for… but it’s something. It’s enough for now.
Before I leave for the night, I drop the price of the 3-book bundle from $45 to $40. Hopefully that makes a splash tomorrow.
That night, the awesome and friendly folks at Geek Speak invite all the creators out to a local hotel for drinks, and put on a very generous bar tab. I initially intend to take it easy, but after flubbing my drinks order and accidentally winding up with two drinks instead of one, I realise the cards are stacked against me.
I don’t recognise the guy who goes around tonight, chatting with everyone, getting to know as many people as he could get to. Alcohol has never given me that kind of social confidence before; I guess this is the first time I’ve had drinks on a stomach that’s had no meals for twenty-four hours though. Still, I have a great time, and get to meet a whole bunch of other comics creators and artist alley vendors. It is a great night, and I get uncharacteristically tipsy.
As I haven’t eaten anything all day and am feeling kind of muzzy in the head, the BBQ cheeseburgers I buy from Hungry Jacks when I hop off the bus that night taste as good as satin feels.
DAY THREE – SUNDAY
I’m so exhausted. You wouldn’t think standing still for three days is particularly tiring, and you might not think that talking rote lines to strangers is especially draining, but there’s no way I could be more completely wiped, physically, mentally, spiritually.
But there’s still a whole day to go, and so I screw this doofy smile of confidence-faux upon my face, and grind out the day.
It turns out to be a good decision. More than fifty books are sold today. The new price point of $40 seems to be a big draw card, and the words “Can I tempt you to get all three books for $40?” have a success rate of greater than 50%. Seriously. I don’t know whether the word ‘tempt’ has some secret magic powers, or whether the price point descended past some risk threshold, but the books start to sell really well as bundles.
By the end of the day, I have only three copies of The Lesser Evil remaining, and quite a few of the two volumes of Peaceful Tomorrows. Still, I’ve done a huge amount better than I thought I would.
The day has passed in a blur. I can’t account for it; all I know is that I’ve eaten nothing, and drank only about a litre of water. I barely remember the bus trip in this morning.
This morning, I get in very early and wander around the marquee, which I haven’t seen yet. A separate area for the retail stalls, and they all get AIR CONDITIONERS. It’s a HOT DAY. Really stifling in Artist Alley. I remark rather unwittily that if I had just one of those AC units up near my stall, I would get rich. It’s probably true, but after some thought I decide that I probably couldn’t get away with theft like that.
The late afternoon and evening part of the day is DEAD. No foot traffic at all. Half of artist alley has already packed up and gone home by the time the doors close at 6pm. I’ve never seen anything like it. I must admit, though, I’m kind of jealous that they feel okay breaking their stalls down early, and kind of wish I felt the same.
At day’s end, some mates assist me in breaking down my stall. I am so exhausted by this point that I can barely concentrate, and I worry I might have been a little gruff and/or ungrateful for the help and company.
I leave the guys for a few minutes to give out some copies of my books to the folks I bent elbows with the night before. They are all grateful, and most offer up some excess stock of their own as compensation. Everyone asks me if I’ll be at any more cons; I proudly tell them that my wife is pregnant, and that I’m a homebody for the foreseeable future. I thought I would be a little disappointed by this, but I feel absolutely okay with it. Home is my place. Cons – even ones that go well – still feel like weird and alien places for me.
According to a Facebook post made by Supanova on Tuesday night, around 34900 people visited Supanova over the course of the weekend. Huge numbers. By far the biggest con I’ve ever attended. Of that huge throng, I only like about fifty people. The ones who bought my books. They are the true elite, the 0.1 per cent, the ubermensch.
Monday Leaving, on a jet plane…
I wake up more than 10 hours after I went to sleep. Amazing. That’s twice as much sleep as I usually get. I must have been so wrecked.
Before I know it, I’m on my way home.
Being home is great. I missed my wife and kids so much. Spending five days apart is harder than maybe it should be, but I’m okay with that.
Better than it being easy.
To the folks at Supanova who pulled some strings to make sure I could get a table on artist alley, thank you. To everyone who came out to see me over the weekend, thank you. To those people who have never heard of me, but who elected to stop and take a look at my books, thank you.
And to those few amazing people who took a gamble and handed over some of their hard-earned cash in exchange for the fruit of my creative labours, I thank you sincerely, and I genuinely hope you feel you got a good deal. It was a pleasure meeting all of you.