Help Selling More Books – To Con or Not to Con? Part 5 – Autograph Cons

This will be the last of my deep-dive posts on the different types of conventions, and next week I’ll do a wrap-up overview kind of post and maybe go over everything I’ve booked for 2018. Spoiler – we’ve over 20 and it’s not even December 2017! And at some point Dragon Con will get its own post because it’s almost every type of con all rolled into one.

This last type of event is my least favorite, and the type that I will frequently avoid. These are the Autograph Cons, or as I unpleasantly (and perhaps unfairly) call them, Starfucker Cons. You’ve seen them, they are conventions where all the promo materials center on the vast number of celebrities they have in attendance, and the whole event is geared around you paying money for an autographed photo.

Now, I know that there are photo opps at a lot of the pop culture cons, like Awesome Con. I know there’s a huge Walk of Fame at Dragon Con. But while you can attend these events for no other reason than to get an autograph, there is so much other stuff going on that I feel you can’t shoehorn those cons into this category.

No, the ones I’m talking about have 2-3 photo/autograph rooms, maybe 1-2 panel rooms with 1-2 panels going on at a time, and a big dealer’s room. These cons are lots of fun for fans of a particular franchise, but not a lot of fun for a writer trying to make back their table rental.

Let’s look at the challenges you’re going to face as a writer at one of these cons. First, there’s no author or artist’s alley, like you’ll find at fandom cons or comic cons. So you’re going to spend the same money as the person selling swords, t-shirts, DVDs, or any other stuff in the dealer room. This is a big jump in price. Tables for artists and authors are usually under $100 unless it’s a very big con. Dealer hall tables at even the smaller autograph cons are usually $300 or more. So that line item on the budget is now tripled.

Since this isn’t a fandom con, there aren’t very many panels. Since this is a con about celebrities, Hulk Hogan is way more likely to be on a panel than half a dozen writers talking about world-building. There’s nothing wrong with that. That’s how this con is built, and that’s what the people buying tickets want to see. But for a writer, it means that unless you wrote a screenplay that got produced and people cared enough about it to make an entire panel at this con for your film, you are not going to have any panel time. So you don’t have that hour in front of a captive audience to show people how charming, witty, and talented you are. So you aren’t building your brand that way, and you don’t have the opportunity to talk about your work on a panel and make people want to come buy your books.

Since you (and any other writers that happen to be there) aren’t the draw for the event, every sale is going to be work. It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes you get the easy ones. One con in particular in Tennessee is famous for having fans that come up to your table with spreadsheets of their book collection and buying everything you have that they don’t already own. Those are the easy sales. “What have you released since BookCon last year?” “These three books.” “I’ll buy them all.” Doesn’t get any easier than that. That doesn’t happen at an event where people are there to get a photo opp with a movie star.

For one thing, photos with celebrities are expensive. The top stars charge over $100 per person for these photos. There’s a whole convoluted process by which they get paid for their appearance and that money comes out of the pictures sold, etc. etc., so don’t go hating on Luke Skywalker just because he charges a bucket of money for his photo. A lot of that is on the con organizer. Even more of it is on the back of the market, because as long as people will pay the fee, people will charge the fee. When $100 photo ops stop making money, prices will fall. But even autographs cost money at these events. You can absolutely have an autographed photo of your favorite star from your favorite show. For a price. And I don’t begrudge these actors their money. They’re lugging around a bunch of expensive photos that they have to buy, so they should get paid for them. But that doesn’t mean you should set up a book table at a con that focuses on autograph sales.

Let’s look at expenses for these cons. Most folks are going to spend a grand or two on their annual vacation, I assume. Back in the day, when I had a “normal” job, and Suzy and I took vacations instead of her just going to a con with me and us staying a day or two longer than the event, it usually cost us about $2k for our big vacation for the year. It’s gonna be $500-800 for airfare, then $500 or so for a few days in a nice hotel, then theatre tickets, eating out every meal, doing some touristy thing, and souvenirs. By the time you get home, you’ve dropped a couple grand on the trip. So if you’ve got a $2,000 budget for a vacation, and this big con is your vacation, here’s how the money is going to break down –

$600 for airfare (ballpark for two tickets)

$500 for hotel ($125/night, four nights)

$400 for food (two people, four days)

That leaves $500 out of your $2,000 budget.

Tickets – $120-200 for the con. This is without any VIP stuff. The earlier you buy the tickets, the cheaper.

Photos – $200 – that gets you a couple of photo ops, or a bunch of autographed stuff.

You have $100 left over to spend in the dealer room.

Getting your hands on part of that $100 is not going to be easy, especially in the early days of the event. By Sunday, people will know what they have spent and what they have left over, but if they have $100, and anything flashier than your books catches their eye, you’re screwed.

So it’s not that people aren’t spending money, it’s just that they are predisposed to spend it with you. This is a great event for people selling t-shirts that relate to the fandom of the show, or other things like that, it’s just a tough weekend for booksellers. I’m not saying I won’t do them. I’ve done Fandom Fest (probably never again), I’ve done Mad Monster Party (not bad), and I’m looking at doing a Supernatural fan event in 2018 (I have a lot of crossover fans). But I’m saying that when I’m building out my year, this is the last type of event that I put into my schedule, and only if it’s local and I feel like I have a good chance of making a return. Because just like the pop culture and comic cons, I don’t have any chance to interact with fans other than talking to them at my table and slinging paperbacks. It’s a long weekend, and it’s usually an expensive weekend. So I need to feel like I’m going to sell a bunch of shit to justify it.

I much prefer the fandom cons, like Atomacon, where I’ll be next weekend. If you’re anywhere near Charleston, SC, you should come see me!

Shameless plug aside, I hope these are helpful. If you have questions, you can reach me through the contact form on the site, you can find me on Facebook, and I also have a FB group. I’m pretty easy to find.

Until next time, I’ll be in the bar.

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