As convention season commences in Australia, we begin the insanity of convention prep. Most of these tips will be applicable for all those who convention as an artist or any other creator, but this is to all the authors wanting to join the insanity of conventions.
As the co-ordinator of Ouroborus Book Services, I am in charge of stock, packing and running our stall so here are my Top 10 Prep Tips.
Lists are your best friend. Whether you have one book or 13, as we will have this year for April Gold Coast Supanova, this is the most important thing. You need a stock list (especially with multiple titles/items), a stall list (banners, tablecloths, etc) and a survival list (food, water, things to do). Use these to order stock, and while packing so nothing gets forgotten, especially if you are travelling for a convention.
2 Stock Counts
Even though you won’t need 100 of each title (seriously don’t bring 100 of each title or you will be wasting time and space, not to mention lugging them all there), you need to know how much stock you have. I like to make sure we have 20 of each title available before the show. The last thing you want to do is run out. Make sure you do a stock count in plenty of time to order more if you are low.
3 Promo Items
People like free stuff. You need to find the most cost-effective way to do this while making it a useful object. Business cards are great but most folk will put them in the bottom of their bags and never look at them again. Same with flyers. We personally love bookmarks. We hand out free bookmarks at our stall because it’s something people can use. And if they use it, it means you might get a sale later on down the track because they’ve been looking at a pic of your book for the last few months and decide to give it a go. Printing smart is your way to save cash. I know with the place we use, it’s only a small amount of difference in price to go from 100 bookmarks to 1000, so we buy them in bulk. (shout out to www.cmykonline.com.au)
4 Buy a Trolley
Best purchase we ever made was a luggage trolley. It was cheap (under $100) off eBay and holds about 300kg so perfect for us and folds flat enough to fit in the car on top of our stock. It has made life so much easier and we can transport most our gear in one or two tips. If you can’t afford to do this but have an old wheeled suitcase, they can do in a pinch but are a pain to get into a car when full of books.
5 Fridge Bags
If your novel is a standard 5x8in, then supermarket padded fridge bags are perfect to transport books. You can fit two stacks perfectly in each bag and they’re strong enough to deal with the weight. When full they also stack nicely on the above-mentioned trolley and are super easy to Tetris into a car. Plus picking up a bag of books is less stress on your body if you are weak like me. They’re also good for food and drink, and you can pack them inside each other for easy under-table storage during the convention.
6 Self Care
Conventions are hotbeds of germs and injuries. I’ll be honest. The tales of con-flu are real, so you need to look after yourself before and during the convention. Take your vitamins and be kind to yourself and try to get some sleep. During a convention weekend, you will eat horrible food, not drink enough water and most likely fall into an exhausted heap each night. Try to eat some veggies and things not deep fried for at least one meal. And for the love of all that is holy, make sure to get the next day after off work. You will need the recovery time. Also, be careful lifting things as the last thing you need is to do your back in after sitting on hard plastic chairs all weekend.
Apart from your stock, there are some essentials you will need for the convention. These include
- a tablecloth (a flat sheet is good because you want it to cover the table and hit the floor at the front) and a spare cloth to cover your stuff at night.
- Signage (some conventions provide this, but extra visual aids always help)
- Money tin (you will need somewhere to store your money) and a float (change should be a mix of notes and coins depending on your price point. If your books are $20, you should get $20s and $10s, to make change for $50 notes. If you have $15 books, add $5 notes.
- Pens (for signing)
- Emergency box (band aids, Panadol, blutac, cloth tape, tissues, scissors etc)
- I buy a slab of bottles for our team and freeze them. As it gets crazy hot in conventions you will need water so you don’t pass out, and I know I don’t want to pay $4 a bottle there. You can get slabs of 24 bottle for $15 at supermarkets and office supply stores.
- Convention food is expensive and usually gross. I recommend bringing something to nibble on. Sugar is also helpful to keep the energy up so lollies and fruit can be good. Be mindful of bringing peanuts as you don’t want to kill a customer who might be allergic.
8 Team Prep
Always bring a friend. Obviously, we are a big team, so we can take breaks and still have several folk behind our stall. But if it’s just you, make sure you bring people with you. Most cons will include a few passes with your table booking so use these to your advantage. Eight hours without food or toilet breaks is not gonna be fun. Make sure your team know prices, basic info on the products and how to handle money. Bribe them with candy, lightsabers or daleks (thanks Mum) if needs be.
9 Give Yourself Enough Time
Prep is a heap of work. I start at least two months before the convention, writing lists and doing stock counts. This gives you time to order stuff you need, amass fridge bags, and to space out your costs. I pack at least a week before the convention just in case I forget something.
I used to end up in a ball of panic packing for conventions, which in the lovely humidity of Queensland, was never a pretty sight. I’ve now learned that by prepping ahead of time, keeping to my lists, and stopping if I feel overwhelmed for a break, I can now get things done with little panic and stress.
So, in conclusion, plan, have fun and look after yourself!
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For more info on convention planning check out How to Sell at a Convention by fellow convention goer Megs Drinkwater available on Kindle.