Writing Wednesday – Lessons from Marscon, part 1

I love going to conventions. I especially had a great time last weekend at Marscon in Williamsburg, VA. Being a guest at a convention is one of those things that really makes me feel like all the hours I spend huddled over the keyboard are more than worth it. I get treated like a minor star, I get to sell my books and talk to fans (yes, I have a few!), I get to do readings and moderate discussion panels… It’s all very heady stuff.

But conventions are real learning experiences too. I’m pretty comfortable with what I do by myself at home — sitting down to write, coming up with story ideas, hunting for markets and sending out submissions, etc. Public appearances are all together different. Here’s a list of things I learned last weekend about being a writer on the road.

Lesson #1 – Pack early. The day before the convention started, I had all my promo material scattered in fifteen different boxes. There was no rhyme or reason to where things were stored. I had an author table to run at the con, and so I started pulling out all those boxes to take stock of what I had and organize it more efficiently. I wish I had done this sooner, a lot sooner! It took all day to sort through boxes of bookmarks, business cards, post cards, buttons, and posters. I was a little surprised at what I did and didn’t have to take. It never occurred to me to put together new business cards for the new website. I don’t know why I didn’t think of that, but when I pulled out my old business cards and saw the old URL, I smacked myself hard in the forehead. On the upside, I discovered I still had enough bookmards for Future Perfect and Heat Flash, and one of my publishers had sent me plenty of promo for the books by other authors that I had offered to take with me to the con. He even got me a t-shirt with the cover art for Future Perfect on it and a huge banner that said, “Meet the author, Helen E. H. Madden!” Made for a very full, very nice table.

Lesson #2 – Make sure your luggage has wheels. I had to dig to find a storage container big enough to hold all my books and promo. Unfortunately, said container did not have wheels. That meant I had to lug around a 70 lb. box of stuff at least twice each day I was at the con. Sometimes I was able to snag a luggage cart from the hotel, but at least once I had to carry that damned box from my author table on the first floor all the way up to my hotel room on the third floor. I’m damned lucky I didn’t rupture myself. Before the next con, I’m getting a sturdy box with wheels and a handle!

Lesson #3 – Chocolate is a great way to lure readers in. This is a trick I learned from Beth Wylde. Last year I shared a table with Beth, and she brought a bowl of chocolates to give out to everyone who walked by. I brought my own chocolates this year, and every time someone came within earshot, I called out, “Have a chocolate! It’s free!” Even the one person who didn’t like chocolate stopped to take a look at my table (and tell me why they didn’t like chocolate), and more than a few people actually hung around for a while to talk. Which leads me to my next lesson learned…

Lesson #4 – Conversations lead to sales. I actually knew this from years prior. If you can hold a conversation with someone, you have a good shot at getting them to buy your book. I had a lot of conversations with people that lasted 10 minutes or longer, and seven of those conversations ended up in sales. Others at least ended with people taking my card, some bookmarks, and the catalog for one of my publishers’ books. I made certain to do two things in every conversation. The first thing I did was mention that all my books were available for purchase online, in print and various digital formats, in case people wanted to buy later. The second thing I did was make sure I let them talk while I listened. I’ve seen more than one author go on and on without listening to the people they were talking to. In fact, I’ve been one of those people being prattled at, and sometimes it’s like being trapped by a vicious predator who will only let you go if you BUY, BUY, BUY! I never buy from those people, ever. So rather than push too hard, I let others do the talking for a bit while I listen, so as not to turn them off me and my books forever.

Lesson #5 – Dress up your table. Take another gander at the picture at the beginning of this post. Go on, I’ll wait. Okay, what did you see? Nice table, huh? While hunting for something to carry all my books and promo in, I found a long piece of black and gold lace cloth that I decided to use as a table cloth for my author table. Most author tables are either plain, bare folding tables or plain folding tables with some yucky standard issue hotel tablecloth. The lace fabric transformed my table from old and ugly to nifty and neat, and it went really well with all the bright covers of the books I had on display. I tell ya, I looked like a pro!

I’ve got another five lessons from this past weekend that I’ll post next Wednesday. So be sure to come back next week! It’s all good stuff, I promise.

About Cynical Woman

Cartoonist, Artist, Geek, Evil Crafter, Girl Scout Troop Leader and Writer. Also, a zombie. I haven't slept in I don't know how long.
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One Comment

  1. Wow, Helen! That picture DOES look great. And thanks for the tips because I’ll be using ’em! Glad you had fun 🙂

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