Con Game (Part 2)

In this second installment of The Con Game, we’ll look at how to turn a profit at a fan con. For the initial investment breakdown, read this post first.



Here are some expenses you will incur at your con of choice, SuperSlasherFest in Buttonwillow, CA, where you’ll be selling your amazing book, Graveyard of the Damned:

  • Registration fee. You need to pay to play. Cons charge money. They charge you. They charge the fans. Selling books is your problem. I’ve paid between $200 and $1000 for the right to hawk my wares. Bigger venues have bigger crowds and can charge more, and you get what you pay for. I once paid $20 for a table at a con that sounded impressive. I figured I only had to sell a few books to break even on the fee. I sold one short story collection that netted a dollar.  The con price will be listed in the application. There may be several prices for different size and location booths. Selling books is space efficient and a small space will work fine.
  • Other fees. This is in the fine print and read closely. Do you want electricity? Internet? A chair? Don’t assume any of this is included unless the application says it is. If it isn’t included that’s likely because you need to pay extra for it. Lucky for you selling books requires few extras.
  • Parking. Some cons are free, some not. The LA Times Festival included a parking pass. MegaCon Orlando did not, and that set me back $10 each day. HorrorHound parking was free for all.
  • Insurance. Two cons required me to buy liability insurance for up to $2,000,000. What kind of damage I could do selling paperback books is beyond me, and this reeked of a scam to lower the organizer’s liability rates. I was quoted $25 for one con and it ended up costing $60. The other cost $65 with a brokerage fee of $69. Tell me that isn’t a rip off. In neither case did I find out about this requirement until after I paid my registration fee.
  • Travel. You need to get there and back. If it is far enough away, you need to spend at least one night near the con. If you look or smell homeless, no one will approach your table, so sleeping in the back of your Honda Civic isn’t an option. Cheap hotels are scary as hell, so unless you need fodder for Graveyard of the Damned Part II, you need to spend the money on a safe one and minimize your stress.  How far away are you going? A drive of much more than an hour each way to a con that lasts ten hours a day is a real stretch of human endurance. Airline flights are not cheap. Neither is renting a car. Then figure in how you are going to get all the cool stuff listed in the previous post to the convention floor. Mailing a box of twenty books costs about $20, which cuts a dollar out of your profit for each one sold, but we’ll do that math later. In general, out-of-town cons will cost hundreds of dollars in travel expenses.

Damn, this is getting expensive! But you gotta spend money to make money, right? A guy in line next to me at a soup kitchen told me that.


The red wristband was from the asylum. No one noticed it.

So let’s sell some books and earn some money! We’ll make the math easy and say that you live in Buttonwillow so you will just drive three miles to SuperSlasherFest each of the two days it runs. Registration, insurance, parking and tipping the valet will add up to $500. Your novels cost you $8.00 each from your publisher including shipping. Just before making a sign to advertise the price, you pause, and wish you’d paid more attention to elasticity, supply, demand, and everything else in Econ 101.

$9.99 is a nice price point. You heard that somewhere. It tricks people into thinking they are not spending $10. But you don’t want to bring a sack of pennies with you to make change, so you go for $9.00. You’ll clear a buck a book. A quick crunch of numbers reveals that all you have to do is sell 500 books to break even.

You can’t sell 500 books. First, unless you are Elon Musk, you don’t have the $4000 lying around to buy 500 books. Your house doesn’t have the space to store them, nor is that Honda you were going to sleep in big enough to drag 500 books to the con.

Scares That Care 1 003

A pre-con trunk full of wishful thinking.

You also can’t sell them fast enough. The con runs from 10 AM to 6 PM each day. That’s sixteen total hours. You would need to sell thirty-one books an hour or one every hundred and twenty seconds or so. Since you haven’t made the Times’ Bestseller List yet, that’s not going to happen.

At the other end of the spectrum, you could sell the books for $28. Now you only need to sell twenty-five books, or one and a half books or so an hour. That seems doable. Except no one knows who you are, and the books sell on Amazon for $14.99. Your signature on the flyleaf, sorry to say, isn’t worth a $13.01 premium. Even Stephen King sells books at face value at Barnes and Noble signings.

So you will need to set a price point somewhere between $9 and $28. Reality check time. Wherever you set that price, you will likely never make back that $500. An unknown author with one title who sells forty books across two days would be having a great con.


And that expected loss isn’t even considering paying you for the twenty hours of time and labor you spent at the con including setup and take down, or all the initial expenses. And this example excludes any travel expenses to SuperSlasherFest. For once, you are glad you live in Buttonwillow.

So why willingly wade into the Con Game money pit?

We’ll discuss that in a third installment.