This is kind of a new phenomenon in the past decade or so since geek chic has been a thing. I know, several of the cons I’m going to talk about have been around much longer, but they morphed from comic cons into a Pop Culture Con. Many of them still bill themselves as Comic Cons, but only tangentially hold onto that premise.
When I talk about a pop culture con, I’m talking Sand Diego Comicon, NY Comicon, AwesomeCon, Spooky Empire (although it’s a little more horror-centric, it’s still a big pop culture thing, just with a horror slant to it) – that kind of event. The kind of con where there is a big vendor hall, with lots of vendors, some artists, maybe a few authors sprinkled in, a metric butt-ton of autograph guests, and a decent panel schedule. These almost always take place in major cities, and are almost always in major convention centers.
These behave a lot like the smaller comic cons and vendor hall cons in that your purpose there is to sling paperbacks. This is a place where everything is expensive, so you’d better bring a bunch of inventory, and be ready to sell, sell, sell. And that might get you a return on your investment, but don’t hold your breath. I did NY Comicon several years ago, split a booth with two other writers, and sold a thousand dollars worth of books.
I almost broke even.
And that’s with me sleeping in a friend’s guest room and splitting the booth three ways. Shit was expensive. That said, I did AwesomeCon in DC last year, and sold quite well. I also didn’t have a plane ticket to deal with, and the booth was way cheaper. So it’s a balancing act.
These are the only cons I do not recommend new authors do. If you only have one title out, you’re going to have such a hard time moving enough product to break even that it’s almost impossible. Also, with only one book, you don’t have any potential for followup sales the week after the con, because the people who meet you will have already bought all your stuff! I wouldn’t look to hit these bigger events until I had three or more books under my belt, unless I could sit in a booth with someone for free, and I didn’t have to pay for any travel expenses.
The signal to noise ratio at the pop culture cons is challenging, because there is just so much going on in the vendor hall that the number of people who say they’ll come back and actually do is even lower than normal (and normal it might be 20%). It’s such an uncommon thing that Stuart Jaffe and I even remarked on how surprised we were that people at AwesomeCon actually did come back and buy things later in the weekend. It happened to us several times over the three days of the event, much more frequently than we expected. So, good on you, DC fans!
Another challenge with the pop culture shows is that you’re the last thing on the fans’ wish list. If they showed up specifically to get Stan Lee’s autograph, then that’s $100 that’s going to Stan the Man, and you’re never seeing it. After they spend $20 to park, $20 on lunch, $50 on a badge, and $100 on Stan’s autograph, it’s going to be difficult to pry $15 for a paperback out of them. So while there’s a lot of money walking around the show floor, getting any of it into your pocket can be difficult.
This probably sounds like I don’t like pop culture cons, and don’t want to do them, and that’s not correct. I don’t want to do them every weekend, or even every month, but I do want to do 2-4 each year. These big destination cons give me a chance to hit large cities that I might not get to each year, and I am at a point now that I have fans in most major metro areas in the US, so I’ll have a few people come out and say hi even at the biggest events. In 2018, I’m doing Emerald City Comicon for the first time, and I’m looking at AwesomeCon and C2E2. That’s three, and that’s plenty of those for me. Maybe after my TV series hits and I’m getting flown around to all these cons like the cast of Arrow, I’ll reconsider. But if that ever happens, I’ll have plenty of things to reconsider. 🙂
No, I don’t have a TV deal. But if anyone wants to make one, hit me up. I’m open to the possibility. 🙂
I think pop culture cons can be an important tool in an author’s toolbox, but like every tool, you have to be judicious in the use of them. They take a lot of money, and a lot of energy, and they often run longer than just the weekend, so they can eat into your writing time. All of those things lead me to recommend that newer authors only do one or two of these a year, and don’t try to vend at them until you get at least three books out. Obviously, your mileage will vary, but that’s my general recommendation for folks.
Next week we’ll talk about the dedicated autograph shows, and then I’ll wrap up with a post on the con to end all cons – Dragon Con, which touches pretty much every different type of con, while remaining something entirely unique.
Until then. if you’re going to be in Roanoke, VA on Saturday, November 4th, come out to see me at the Tanglewood Mall for the Roanoke Valley Comic Con, which will be slightly smaller than NYCC.