I’m gonna try something new in an effort to tweak my social media and interwebs presence. I’m going to go back to blogging more and Twittering less, and maybe impart some actual information on folks instead of just screaming into the void. To that end, whenever I attend a convention, I’ll put up one of these blog posts with a convention report and analysis or whether or not it was a worthwhile trip financially, and if there are other reasons that will or will not draw me back to a con.
The first victim of this new idea is Fayetteville Comic Con, where I was last weekend. This was the second year for this convention, and by all anecdotal reports, last year was a rousing success. The show went from one day to two this year, and with attendance in the 8,000 range last year, people were looking for 10-12K going into October.
Then Hurricane Matthew hit. If you aren’t local to the Southeast, you might not be aware that Hurricane Matthew hit Florida, South Carolina, and North Carolina like a motherfucker. There are parts of eastern NC that still aren’t open, and a friend at the show told me that his uncle still takes a boat to get to his house, and FEMA can’t even move in until the flood waters recede. So while there wasn’t a ton of actual wind and storm damage, the flooding in the eastern part of the state was intense.
Needless to say, I had some concerns leading up to the show. I didn’t know if anyone would show up, or if they did, if they’d have any money to spend. I wasn’t on any panels, which was fine, because I’m not accustomed to being on panels at comic book shows, and I was perfectly happy to sit at my table and sell books all day for two days. I was joined at the booth by Emily Lavin Leverett, one of the co-authors of the new Falstaff Books release Changeling’s Fall, and my co-editor on the Big Bad anthologies. She lives not too far from there, so she came down and promoted her book for a couple of days and sold anthologies. I wanted to get copies of Changeling’s Fall for the con, but weather and timing conspired against us.
So let’s start breaking things down as to good, bad, and ugly –
Attendance – for one thing, it was good that people were there at all. It seemed like the overall numbers were about the same as last year, and 8,000 people is certainly a great number for a very young convention, so there were people to see.
Revenue – for that many people, a lot of them weren’t spending, and a lot of vendors said they didn’t make anywhere near the money they made last year. This is to be expected in a region that just got hammered with a natural friggin’ disaster! the way I set expectations for what I call “Trade Show Cons,” which is what most comic cons are – big exhibit halls where people are selling stuff all day with maybe a few panels – is fairly simple. In an area that doesn’t have a lot of competition for convention dollars (basically anyplace that isn’t a major metropolitan area) there is probably only one convention of this type each year. That means that once it gets some traction with the local folk, it becomes an event. It’s something people plan for all year long, or at least they keep it in the back of their heads for months in advance. When I attended Heroes Con as my only con each year, I set aside $100-150 to spend at that con. And I expect that most people have a set budget that is their “con money.”
When your fucking house is flooded, that con money becomes “replace my entire home” money. Hell, just being without power for a full day or two is rough – you have to replace every piece of food in your fridge and freezer, and there goes your con money right down the drain.
So there were people, but they weren’t spending like some folks expected. I tempered my expectations to meet the conditions, and for the weekend, I walked away with right about what I expected to see.
Seeing old friends and other writers – Networking is one of the best things about going to conventions, and this time I got to spend time with James Maxey, Chris Kennedy, Kindra Sowder, Jonathan Rosenbaum, and Edd Sowder. I always love hanging out with those guys and getting a chance to swap stories, exchange ideas, and trade information on what is working and what isn’t in our various lines of work.
Communication – This is a new con, and they’re still ironing some things out, but they’ve got to get better about updating the website and communicating with their guests and vendors. It was hard to get confirmation that I had a space, I didn’t know where my table was until I got there and wandered around looking for it (okay, Emily wandered around looking for it), and I just generally felt like I wasn’t very important to the people running the con. Admittedly, I’m not, but I did pay for the privilege of being there, and getting no communication from the show leading up to the event, not even a “Hey, we’re still happening and here are the road closures leading in to Fayetteville” was a little disconcerting.
Placement – This con boasted a “Authors Alley,” and I wasn’t part of it. I signed up late, and I needed a whole table, because I have too many titles to share a 6′ table with anyone, so those are the main reasons, but I was never told that I wasn’t going to be in Author’s Alley, which was disappointing. Goes back to the communication thing. It turned out to be a good thing, because the Author’s Alley was more of an Author’s Ghetto, where the writers were stuck out in an unsecured hallway out by the panel rooms, which were sparsely attended. I was in the exhibit hall, on one of the back rows, but I had great traffic all weekend and made decent money. I will happily attend the show again, but that is contingent on me NOT being in Author’s Alley. I want to be somewhere that I can leave my stuff on the table overnight in a secure area, and I want to be where the people are. So what initially appeared to be a negative for me turned out to be a positive for me and a negative for the other authors.
Having a few celebrity guests, like my buddy Santiago Cirilo, was nice in boosting attendance. They had the original Flash Gordon there, and the Skullcrusher dude off Naked & Afraid, so that was kinda neat. It also breaks up the monotony of it being just rows and rows of Pop figurines and comic boxes. I like it when cons bring in a few actors to boost attendance. I wonder exactly how much it does boost attendance, but as long as folks are making their guarantees, I don’t care. As long as the focus of the show remains on the vendors and the fans, and it doesn’t become too much of an autograph hound con, I’m fine with it.
The tables in the vendor area were 8′ tables, which is great. I have a lot of books, and I fill up a 6′ table quick. Having the extra space was super-nice. Loading in wasn’t terrible, even though some of the parking guys were kinda douchey.
The tables were so close together there was no room left to get out between them to go pee or get anything to eat. That’s actually a bigger pain in the ass than you’d expect, because every time somebody has to pee, you end up knocking shit over on either your table or somebody else’s. Cell reception (T-Mobile) wasn’t great, but it held up through the weekend. No power near the booths, but that’s really to be expected in a convention center. The bathrooms could have been cleaner, but that’s not on the con. I would have liked a tablecloth to be provided, or at least to know that it wasn’t. I think my new standard is going to be not to expect a tablecloth at a comic show, and only expect them at programming cons.
That’s what it all boils down to, right? Did I make any money? Will I go back? Well, here are the dirty details.
Let’s look at expenses –
Table Rental – $100 At a lot of cons, I pay for the table. This was one of them.
Hotel – $0 – even with traveling three hours across the state, I had no hotel expense. Thank You, Marriott Rewards points. The Fairfield Inn Fayetteville Cross Creek Mall wasn’t anything glamorous, but the rooms on the third floor have hallways, not just rooms opening to the outside, and the amenities were nice. Little white noise generators in the rooms, and USB charging stations by the bed. Bed sucked, though. Not horrible, but far from great.
Food – $90 (roughly) – I ate really pretty cheaply on this trip. Dinner in the truck on the way out there, then I carried Pop-Tarts and Clif Builder Bars for breakfast and lunch Saturday. Grabbed a slice of pizza, a few pretzels, and a couple sodas in the convention center over two days. Had one nice Mexican dinner with Emily, James, Cheryl, Chris, and Sheellah (I’m sure I butchered that spelling), but overall getting out for less than a hundred bucks in a two day con that involves travel before Day 1 is really good.
Gas – $40 – the truck was EMPTY, so I filled her up. Didn’t use the entire tank, so my guess is about $40 in gas.
Vendor Hall BS – I bought $20 worth of magic cards. Didn’t open anything good. Oh well.
Total Expenses – $250 This was a super-cheap con since I didn’t have a hotel room associated with it.
Gross Sales – $408 – I sold $408 in inventory over the weekend. Figure 50% of that is profit, by the time I buy the books and pay shipping on them. That’s about right overall, given the difference in discounts and pricing, and the royalties I have to pay the writers whose books I sold over the weekend. Net Revenue – $210 (est.)
End Results – $40 loss
Yep, lost money on the con. And it was worth it, because at $40 for a convention, it’s something I can afford in a marketing budget for the year. So this con is definitely worth it, especially next year when I’ll have even more books out for people to pick up, and hopefully there won’t be a devastating natural disaster less than ten days before the convention. If I have to have a room next year, we’ll have to see about either crashing with someone, splitting a room with someone, or staying somewhere on points or super-cheap. Gotta manage expenses, and if I’d paid even $75 per night in a hotel at this one, it wouldn’t have been worth it. That’s why everybody that does this circuit is always scrounging for hotel points and offers, they can really turn a show around for you. The last two comic cons I’ve done, I’ve stayed in hotels on points, so that’s been a huge savings.
The Verdict – I’ll give Fayetteville Comic Con a B+, and will definitely be back next year if at all possible.
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