It’s been a rather eventful last few weeks, and I’m happy to report everything’s starting to feel (knock on wood, please) balanced in my world. I still work two jobs; I work full-time from home and sporadically on the road, and I also work as a host/bartender at a local restaurant. When I’m not working, I’m almost always either reading a book I’ve agreed to review, prepping for upcoming episodes of The Family Fright Night Horror Podcast, or writing/editing. Fortunately, I have plenty of friends with similar situations, and therein lies the true value of attending horror conventions and other events where I get to meet other writers.
I attended The Living Dead Weekend in Monroeville, PA last weekend, which was a total blast. I hung out with my good friend Brent, met lots of horror celebrities, sold several copies of my books (unsurprisingly, my splatter novella Birthday Girl outsold my YA coming-of-age novel Moving Through) and, more importantly, I got to network with a few great people as we held each others heads up throughout a grueling three days…which never looks difficult on paper but, man, smiling and being personable for several hours each day can be draining!
But someone asked me a question while I was there. They asked, “Why do you bother purchasing a table at cons if you don’t know for sure you’re even going to sell enough books to cover the cost? And then you have to factor in hotel stays…food…gasoline costs…”
Yeah, I know, it seems like sorta a mean question at first glance. But it’s also a fair questions. I’ve spoken with other authors about this very thing in the past, and they’ve openly admitted they ask themselves this question a lot, particularly during slow sales periods. What we’re doing is a job, and jobs are supposed to pay, so it stands to reason we’ll sometimes pause in our gratitude to take stock of whether or not we’re in the red financially.
If you’re an indie prose author like I am, and all these convention costs come out of your own pocket, you can start to feel like a bit of a whore when you’re pushing your product near the end of a show in hopes of selling enough to justify the cost of attending. I’ve done it; on the final day of conventions I typically knock 25% off the sticker price on my books in order to meet my sales goal. And we all ask each other, when the convention’s over, “Did you make back your table?” (i.e., ‘Did you sell enough books to cover what you spent to be here?’)
“Reality” can be a trigger word, I suppose. And this is the reality of being an indie author. Or, really, an indie anything.
As I told the person who asked the aforementioned question: I’m just starting out as an author. Pardon the cheap wordplay, but I really can’t afford to only worry about making money. I go to these conventions because, whether my table costs $100 or $500, it’s a way to get my book in front of people. I go to these conventions because, at the end of the day, indie authors need to stay visible any way they can, and handing out freebies like bookmarks or stickers is a valuable way of connecting with people who will hopefully give your work a chance someday, whether that day is tomorrow or twenty years from now. Most importantly, I go to these conventions because I get the type of education you really can’t put a price on: I get to meet people who have been doing this sort of thing for way longer than I’ve been doing it, and I get to learn from the experiences they share with me.
I’m a writer, but I’m also a learner. I often tell people that I love learning new things, and they seem to think I’m joking most of the time, but I’m being absolutely serious. If I’m at an airport waiting in line for my plane and someone starts talking to me about their work as a plumber, I love listening to them. Am I ever going to be a plumber? Probably not (never say never), but I get to learn some things from this sort of small talk that I may never have learned otherwise.
So, without belaboring the point any further, I’m only trying to say this: money is only part of the gig, and the learning experience is what you’re paying for when you’re just starting out.
If you’re lucky, someday your work will ignite an interest in a wider audience and all those times you didn’t “make back your table” will finally pay off. I’ve heard plenty of stories from indie authors who kept grinding for five years before they were able to cultivate a big enough audience to accurately project what they could expect to make at shows and signings.
Birthday Girl has been out since 2018 and it’s only just now starting to find its audience through conventions. Someone at a recent con actually came to my table and told me they bought that book at a show I did a few years ago called Dark X Fest, and that they’ve read it four times and can’t wait for the sequel.
THIS is all I really hope for when I book tables at cons. THIS is the real reward and the reason anyone who loves writing should put their work out there for the world to see. I’m a firm believer in the idea that monetary success from your passion is only begat from hard work and persistence.
So, fellow indies who may be reading this, here’s the part you can skip to and highlight: keep learning, keep fighting the good fight, and keep putting in those small efforts from day to day…efforts that–it may seem–no one but you notices or takes any interest in.