Phoenix Comicon is coming up quickly. I basically have to be done/ready by tomorrow afternoon; my best opportunity for exhibitor setup is Wednesday evening, after Mandy gets off work. Thursday afternoon I’ll have a little time to finalize setup, but considering our schedule (we probably won’t be able to get there until 2:30 or 3PM), I don’t really want to be loading in any product or display elements that close to the event; Preview night / Thursday night, the exhibitor hall opens at 4PM. Then from 4-9PM Thursday, 10AM-7PM Friday & Saturday, and 10AM-5PM Sunday I’ll be stuck at my booth (small press table #227), trying to sell my books.
I decided not to try to get on any panels again, this year – intellectually, I know I’m an expert in several relevant areas, but emotionally I feel inadequate, and financially (which is a lot of people’s key yardstick for measuring someone’s worth) I’m downright anemic. Also, like last year, I’d rather be at my booth than attending a panel, since I’d just be worrying about not being at my booth the whole time; I definitely lose sales by being away, sometimes even within a few minutes for a bathroom or food break. I come back and hear stories of the someone who wanted to meet me, wanted to buy a book & get it signed, and who says they’ll be back – but they almost never come back. So really, I’ll be at my booth nearly the entire weekend. If possible, I won’t even leave for meals.
I’ve been working pretty hard to get things ready in time (especially if you count the last several months’ work getting Never Let the Right One Go written, edited, and printed in time for Comicon), and the anticipation has been steadily building. Right now it’s fairly intense, which seems a bit weird to me, considering how basic my participation is. I’ve really boiled it down to a very straightforward, low-key experience for myself. No real pressure to make a certain sales target (last year’s sales covered this year’s fee, and if the sales aren’t there to justify exhibiting, I have no problem simply not buying a table for next year), no major or elaborate displays (more on that in a moment), just me and my books and ten or fifteen thousand potential customers. I know I can’t really afford to hand things out for free to ten thousand people (I only made 200 copies of the promotional chapbook for Never Let the Right One Go, I only have a thousand or two business cards on hand), so one of my biggest concerns is trying to get what I do have into the hands of the right few hundred people, and hope it translates into new readers and/or sales.
(The promotional chapbook, by the way, is a little flipbook containing the first two chapters each of Sophia and Emily. Like an eBook preview, but on paper, and specifically for Comicon – to try to sell the hardcover.)
Along with the anticipation seems to be coming a (potentially inappropriate) sense of optimism. Ideas like “maybe I’ll sell the entire Never Let the Right One Go limited edition” and “having to tell people I’d sold out would be an awesome problem to have” keep crossing my mind. Right now I only have 41 copies left for sale, so it isn’t entirely unfeasible to think they might all sell over the con. Unlikely, given my sales history, but not impossible or unreasonable. Key elements, like the cover design, the subject matter, and the target audience for the books should help. As should the book display I’ve envisioned and outsourced – I haven’t seen it yet, and we’re getting pretty close to the deadline, so I’ve been preparing myself, mentally, for not having it, but theoretically it’ll be functional and delivered on time: It’s a rotating book display, being bolted on (and designed to fit perfectly with) my book shelf/display (purchased from a closing Borders last year), which rotates the book end over end to show off the flipbook/two-books-in-one nature of Never Let the Right One Go. The constant motion and unusual nature of the display and the book should draw the eyes of passers-by, and, between that and the preview chapters and my own ability to talk about the books to people, I seem to be getting my hopes up a little.
It feels the same as it did before I launched the Never Let the Right One Go Kickstarter campaign – like, maybe this is the book, the event, where I’ll finally reach a wider audience. Before the Kickstarter, the most optimistic part of me was able to unabashedly envision exceeding a 500-copy limited edition and needing to build the unlimited-edition paperbacks to handle the demand. Obviously, with the actual 50-copy print run, there’s now an upper limit on my optimism – but I still feel hopeful about selling those 41 remaining copies, plus a bunch of my other (radically cheaper than last year) books.
Which brings me around to the disappointment. I was disappointed by the Kickstarter campaign. It didn’t prevent the book’s publication, but it didn’t push my new work to the next tier of popularity and financial success, either. (In terms of meaningful success, I believe Never Let the Right One Go was successful before it was even published, as evidenced by the reactions of readers who both understood and appreciated the two books for the things I worked so hard to create in/with them. See Scott Roche’s review for an example.) Even as I approach Phoenix Comicon with an immense sense of optimism, the feeling that I might actually sell most (or all) of the hardbacks I have left … I am also anticipating disappointment. If I invested $250 in the booth, bought $65 worth of copies for the free chapbooks, and spent up to $50 (I don’t know how much it’ll be, but I told them before they started I couldn’t afford more than about $50) on what may be a single-use mechanized book display, plus time, plus gas and parking and food… If I don’t make at least $350-$400 in sales (10-12 copies of the hardcover book, btw), I won’t just be disappointed, I’ll be in the red. (Sorta; as I said, the booth rental was paid with last year’s sales.) With all this optimism, though, will only selling 15 copies, or 20, be disappointing because it wasn’t 40? Or what if, with ten or fifteen thousand people walking by, I can’t manage to find 200 people interested enough to take even a free chapbook? Last year I barely gave away a couple hundred business cards (if I remember correctly), despite having thousands available. How disappointing, if I can’t even give my work away?
Trying to accurately balance my anticipation on this end with nearly-inevitable disappointment on the other side of the con is tricky. How much (of either) is appropriate? Do I care more about sales volume, or revenue? More about selling, or about making connections with new/potential readers? Am I more happy to have Never Let the Right One Go available for sale at Comicon, or more disappointed I didn’t finish my book on writing&publishing in time? It’s all quite complicated, inside me. Luckily, within a week, the event itself will be over and I’ll be able to move on to worrying about something new.