Building your client base at Fan conventions.

Here is a terrific article by Nora at Rainy Day Paperback Exchange all about attending book/hobby conventions. If yo have any experience with attending as a dealer please feel free to share with us via the comment button just above.


Lots of dealers have probably considered getting a booth at a book fair or book trade show.  They look up one of the big shows and then nearly drop dead of a heart attack when they see the price for a booth.  In many cases, renting a booth for a few days is equivalent to paying for three or four months rent.
If you want to try your hand at conventions, there is another option.  Rather than attending a book show, pick one of the many fan conventions. Name a popular TV fantasy or sci-fi series, there’s probably a con that deals with it.  Depending on the size of the con, you may be able to snap up a table for the weekend for as little as $50. Make sure to pick something as close to you as possible and that it’s a subject you won’t be bored stiff by at the end of the weekend.
If possible, pick a fan run con over a commercial convention.  While the commercial cons are run by pros, they are run for profit so have higher fees for everything, leaving con goers less money to spend on books.
A con dedicated to a single TV show franchise is probably a bad bet unless you happen to have a couple hundred books directly related to that show. A better bet is a con which is focused on sci-fi, fantasy, horror, gaming, comics, or furry fandom.  There’s also large genre cons which are little bit of all those.
The narrower the topic of the con, the easier to pick what to take. But if you have thousands of books to pick from, you need to pick and choose. Look over the guests of honor and what’s on the schedule.  Obviously you take anything that’s written by one of the featured guests.  If you’re looking at the schedule and there’s a panel about zombies, taking a selection of stuff about zombies is a good idea.
At genre cons, content is king.  While there will be some people buying stuff based on the fact it’s a first edition, first printing by Big Name Author, the vast majority of sales will be people going “ooh, awesome, I have never seen this one before!  I can add it to my collection of books about killer animals!” It’s worth it to take a few of those big ticket items to show off that you HAVE them, but don’t expect to sell them.  Take a lot of your low price items that fit the con but have been languishing at your main store.  This is probably your best chance to sell them. If you’re going to a convention dedicated to horror and animals those killer rats suddenly become a hot ticket.
If you make money at the con, that’s great!  However, you’re really looking to break even, especially the first time you attend one of these.  It’s not about selling books AT the convention. It’s about convincing fans that you are a great source for books about their favorite hobby.  They may never have considered coming into your shop normally, but if they manage to find something to complete a collection or even just enjoyed talking to you, they’re very likely to come visit you at your main shop. (or online)  That’s a far better return than you’ll get on almost any other kind of advertising.  And they tell their pals in the fandom where they got their awesome book.
The real thing to remember here is that there’s only so many dedicated book collectors.  You’re branching out to OTHER collectors and turning them onto the idea that book collecting can be part of their hobby too!
You can find a list of many genre conventions here on wikipedia:
Or you can see a list of furry cons on Wikifur

Those are a good place to start, but isn’t even vaguely close to complete.  Run a google search for nearby conventions and you’ll turn up even more.
I’ve attended several different types of genre cons, but generally only go as a dealer to FurFright in CT because it’s nearby.  Books are heavy!  Overall, furry cons seem to be the nicest to their dealers.  Many of these originally grew out of  house parties that grew too large for their venue so dealers are treated as guests.  Some will often provide food or runners to get food, tickets to the artist’s reception, and maybe even a social event just for dealers. FurFright gives the dealer’s a Halloween goodie bag with candy and cookies. To show off the work of the various costumers, they have a parade around the con, making sure to include the dealers room on the route.  It gives you a front row seat to check out the performers and brings a flood of customer in that browse while waiting for the parade.  I’m not as familiar with how dealers are treated at other genre cons, but the furries have been very good to my business as I turn a profit at the con AND have a very nice weekend.
And one final tip, if you’re really brave, conventions, especially fan run ones, are always looking for panelists. If you know a lot about a something related to the topic of the con (example, Japanese literature would go over well at an anime con!), go give a half hour to hour talk on it.  Don’t make it a blatant sales pitch, but do feel free to mention that you have some more material at your table and would be happy to talk with people after the panel.  This is one of the best ways to get the attention of a very narrow group of dedicated collectors.

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6 thoughts on “Building your client base at Fan conventions.”

  1. The author brings up some good points about the costs of conventions. You need to do your research and ensure that the benefits of participating in the convention outweighs the costs. If your a small book retailer or publisher then you obviously can’t target the big conventions since they’ll be out of your budget. This article describes some great ways to reap the benefits of conventions without having to make a large investment. Others include potentially sharing a booth (have personally seen this on several occasions) or you could rent a display booth to help cut down the costs.

    Bottom line is conventions can be extremely beneficial for attracting customers and fans but you need to ensure that the benefits of acquiring these new customers/clients/fans outweighs the costs of participating in the convention.

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