Con Game (Part 4)

In the three previous installments, we covered your plans for attending SuperSlasherFest to hawk your book, Graveyard of the Damned.

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That’s the mannequin I use when I sneak out for a bathroom break.It often out-sells me.


In the first, we talked about preparations before attending. In the second, we covered the math behind making money. In the third we looked at and the motivations to attend in spite of the first two. If you are still reading, you are undeterred. So there are some things you need to be prepared for at the con to maximize your chance for success:

  • You must interact with strangers. Yes, you are a tortured, introverted writer. That persona works fine for writing, but it makes for a lousy salesman. And for sixteen hours at SuperSlasherFest this weekend, you are going to be a salesman. No one knows you, no one knows your book, and many people aren’t even thinking about buying a book at all until you remind them what a good idea purchasing one is. You will need to engage the people walking by your booth and draw them in. Not like a carnival barker. You’ll need to figure out your own attention grabber. Your display unlocks the window of opportunity, your interaction with the customer throws it wide open. Watch for people whose eyes gravitate to your books. They are readers. Talk with them.

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A budding horror writer buys two books after I lie and say I’m Stephen King.

  • Stand up. All day. Your face needs to be at eye-level, your voice needs to be at ear-level. A standing salesman is naturally active, a sitting salesman looks like he’s on break. Wear comfortable shoes.
  • Stay off your stupid phone. Posting to social media for people at home sells zero books. Focus on the people who are in front of you with cash burning a hole in their pockets.

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These two readers were nice enough to almost let me be in my own photo op.

  • Be upbeat. This is much easier than it seems. Cons are natural sources of positive energy and almost everyone there is having a great time.
  • Pack a lunch, because there’s no lunch break. The second you are away from your table is the second a buyer will arrive. Every con I’ve been to, just when I think “This is dead, I’m heading over and getting some of that apple pie everyone is eating,” someone steps up and starts checking out a book. Grab small snacks throughout the day. Your mother always said don’t talk with your mouth full. Well, don’t sell that way either. Take small bites.

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At some point, you’ll stoop to selling to clowns. Trust me.

  • Use those giveaway items we talked about in the first installment. You can draw people in with them, or send people away with them. Getting something free is a psychological nudge to purchase, or at least to spend a moment with the giver. Setting out a bowl of candy is a waste of time. It attracts kids, usually without parents, and kids don’t buy books. Whatever you are giving away must be handed to the potential buyer, with eye contact and a sales pitch.
  • Bring change for the worst-case scenario. If you are selling forty books for $8, you need to assume everyone is paying in $10 bills and bring eighty $1 bills and some tens to cover the guy who pays with a $20 bill. Other vendors will not make change for you. They are not banks. And if you run out of change, people won’t just tip you with the difference.
  • Accept plastic. Go to PayPal. Get the free app and the free card scanner. I’ll let you use your stupid phone for this. People are using cards more often, and people using cards buy more. It will cost you about 3% of each sale, but the alternative with that particular customer is no sale at all.

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A repeat offender. She’s smiling now, but wait until she reads that mess.

  • Charge sales tax. And then pay it to the government the day after the con. Include it in the purchase price if you want to save the hassle of dealing with coins at each transaction. First, because it’s the law. Second, the last thing you need to do is have the state auditing your life. Registering as a business is free in most states. Don’t think that you’ll just fly under the radar because you are a small fry. I had three phone calls from the State of California hounding me for the $17 that I owed them from sales tax at the LA Times Festival of Books, and that was with me paying on time.
  • Arrive early. Before the doors open is your only chance to check out other authors’ setups. See what the competition is doing. Ask how they are selling. Learn.

Still willing to play the Con Game? I hope so. You need to do it at least once to see if it’s your thing. Start local to minimize the expense and go with your eyes wide open and your expectations low. If I’m set up two rows over, come say hello. I’ll give you a free bookmark and let you grade my sales pitch.

Have fun!


Peddling books with amazing authors Brian Moreland and Kristopher Rufty.