In a lot of ways this year’s con was Bizarro Gen Con, where everything was inverted, unconventional, outlandish and unexpected. There was an oddly nostalgic, retro feel, with attendance rocking like it was 1999, but the look was futuristic dystopian, what with the facemasks, prominent health reminders & heightened security presence. And, oh, the luxurious ELBOW ROOM, wowza.
TL;DR edition: the con was phenomenal. It was a triumph. I loved it. But also. The experience was utterly freaking WEIRD.
The big worry going in was (of course) was it safe? Well. The con and the convention center did a remarkable job of communicating the safety measures & safety improvements being implemented–which went way beyond sanitizer stations & reliance on participant mask compliance. And the mask compliance was at or nearly at 100%.
So for me me, with my working immune system, at peak protection interval on my vaccination, and masked to boot? It was a marvelous. I felt as safe as I’ve ever felt in a indoor space packed with strangers. I was especially impressed since Indiana is not known for its enthusiastic support of pandemic protections. Big kudos to the organizers who made a lot of new things happen.
My other big worry going in, of course, was “Will I sell any books this time?” It’s been a hard time for many people financially. Would people be buying? Short answer: Yes. Longer answer, HELL. YEAH.
Sales were phenomenal. I broke my all-time dollar sales record before midday Saturday. By the end of Saturday I’d broken my all-time books sold record, too. Even though Sunday was dead slow, I still hit 3x my 2019 sales. I’ve been musing about causes and differences, and how it all came together.
Numbers. Attendance at cons like Gen Con, has gone from huge to humongous in the past 10 years. The signal to noise ratio in Exhibitor Spaces jam-packed with attendees AND exhibitors skews in favor of larger vendors. And putting all the authors & artists in one big corral really aggravates this problem.
Now, I understand why cons puts all the authors together, and the camaraderie is great, but a basic rule of retail is that there’s a sweet spot for choice. Present too many options of the same type in a row and people won’t choose anything from that selection. I think there were 40 authors on Authors Avenue in 2019. I watched people nope out of entire rows because they Just Couldn’t Even. And I know some people never ever got to Authors Avenue with any money left in their wallets. The Exhibit Hall is just too huge.
Bookselling isn’t a competition, there’s a right book for everyone, but interacting with folks who are swamped by sensory input puts some vendors at a larger handicap than others. I refuse to hard-sell, *period* but if you ever wondered, it’s a popular technique because it is dramatically effective at breaking through Option Overwhelm and choice paralysis.
This year’s Gen Con only had around 20(ish) thousand people, compared to something like 60k in the past. (That’s a TOTALLY UNOFFICIAL PERSONAL GUESS) But for certain there were only about 20 authors stretched out over 2/3 of the 2019 space. That gave every one of us writers a much better than usuall chance to reach attendees who were still engaged & actively shopping. I hope it boosted everyone’s sales.
Artwork. My glorious Daniel Govar character art banners drew people in. For last-minute brainstorm rush jobs, they did AMAZING. Both banners need refining (Swapping out the slogan and the header for Camp Liberty, more obvious series and/or book cover tie-ins for both banners) but the imagery dazzled & intrigued people & started conversations, and that is bookselling platinum. It is PRICELESS. And Weaving In the Ends did its usual great job of tempting crafters to the table. The color palette needs a punch-up, & the cover design needs retooling to fit with the series brand, but I sold every copy I brought, so no complaints.
Variety & discounts. This year I had not only a completed series & a stand-alone to sell, but also a new novel that works as a series-entry book in a whole different genre. That more than doubled my potential audience. And I celebrated the return of convention-going with some pretty enticing bundle-discount pricing. That definitely encouraged people to take a chance on a whole stack of books instead of just one.
Blurbs & pitches. I’ve always known catchy one-breath descriptions were a sales fundamental. But knowing is only 10% of the battle of coming UP with a pitch. This is the first con where I’ve had a proper sales patter for the Restoration series, and damn, what a difference it made! I still need to work on my patter, but I finally have a solid foundation. And I have blurbs that WORK. Finally.
Introvert Corner: This was a fun improvisation I want to remember for future cons. I had an extra chair, and I was on an aisle end, so I used the space to create a zero-interaction shopping zone: the chair, a shelf with a mini-version of my table display and a big sign promising browsers I would not interact in any way unless they came around to the front of the table.
It made people happy. People took pictures of Introvert Corner. Several folks visited multiple times to take a break in the chair & initiated chatting with me, and that was lovely. Did it lead to any sales? Well, yes. But more importantly, it let me give a safe shopping opportunity to folks who might have otherwise felt pressured. And that made ME happy.
There was a lot more to Gen Con, but my experience of it really began and ended with the Exhibit Hall. So I’m going to end this post here, except for a last digressional musing that’s only semi-related. And a cat pic. Because everything is better with cats, and also I didn’t take many pics at Gen Con.
The phrase “year of the asterisk” has been bouncing around the interwebz when people get to discussing the times we live in. It doesn’t work for me. All the current nicknames I’ve seen—The Year Everything Changed, the Pandemic Year(s), The Great Pause, carry a sense of transience that’s been rubbing me wrong for AGES.
The refrain of “this too shall pass, we’ll put this behind us, it’s only temporary” is the song of denial.
2020-2021 will not be relegated to the sidelines as aberrant. These years are not producing outlier statistics that will be set aside because they skew averages and make for untidy graphs.
There never was any going back to normal. Normal is little more than an emotional snapshot of Now. It’s built on what came before, it rests on what we know from our past experiences, yes, but there’s never any “going back.”
Time only goes one way for us linear-living beings.
We aren’t living in Asterisk Times. We have been on the future’s two-year-long nightmare shakedown cruise.
This is The Way Things Are and Will Be. The faster people accept that, the faster we can focus on making normal better.
Mr. Pip’s first walk on the leash. We went all the way around the house and back up the steps before he got spooked by a passing car.