Marketing a novel starts with, “What does a reader want?” They are after a strong story, engaging characters, no errors, and an eye-catching cover. Ok we’ve all heard this before. But there is one more key thing that most fans want – an author they can identify with. Think about your favorite author. Have you ever wanted to meet her/him? Wanted to find out why they made those choices in their book plot? Ever wanted to know what they do for fun? It’s the same whether its movie stars, political candidates, or authors. The public wants to get to know them, maybe even be their friend. In a sense, we need to sell ourselves as much as our product. This means we must interact directly with the scifi public, not from behind a website.
In one respect we, as scifi authors, are lucky. If you count scifi, gaming, anime, comic, furry, horror, and fantasy conventions you have literally thousands of shows of all sizes, shapes, and genres. We can participate in a different convention every weekend. While they can be draining, they can also give you that surge of positive fan energy to move you on with your next work. Convention success requires getting attention, sharing, helpfulness, measuring success/failure, and repetitiveness.
Conventions are like casinos with all the blinking, flashing lights. It makes getting attention difficult. The key is getting people to talk to you. You have to find a method that works for you. I’ve used any number of gambits here, but the one that works consistently is apparel – t-shirt slogans, costumes, football hats, diaper bags. What do these have to do with writing? Nothing, but they give you an inside track into what interests those potential customers. Use that strike up a conversation. Once you are talking half the battle is over.
As our goal is to sell books, our instinct is to launch immediately into our elevator pitch. In the words of Robin Williams, “Buzz – thanks for playing.” No one wants to be sold to. Sharing takes practice in spending more time listening than talking. Remember the reader wants to be friends. They want to be able to brag to their buddies that they know this great author. In the course of any convention I’ll spend 3/4ths of my time talking about anything but my products.
Karma for the win. Even if you don’t subscribe, remember people run the convention that you are attending. People run the conventions you haven’t found yet. Being helpful, with no attempt for immediate gain (no one likes a brown-nose), does pay off huge in the long run. People share your name as a good vendor. They help you get into other events or with problems you have. Going the other way, it takes no time at all to get a bad reputation and shut out of potential marketing / sales avenues.
Everyone has his or her own niche. A show that works for one person may not work for another. You want to be ruthless about those things that work and don’t work for you. That means measuring and math. Was your net higher at this show? Even with a slight loss, was the convention worth it in exposure or contacts made. You must clamp down on the downside outliers and exploit the upside to be successful.
Repeat, repeat, repeat. If I had one piece of advice, that is it. Again, think about it from a reader’s perspective. The worst thing that could happen is to get a great first book in a series and never hear about that author again. One show and you are noticed as something different but probably not many sales. Two shows and you are interesting – maybe there is something to this author. Your third repeat of a show, with new product each time, and you are someone that isn’t going away. You can be trusted.
Face to face marketing isn’t easy, especially for authors who are introverted as a class, but the payoffs are huge. Yes, online marketing is great, but it has a half-life of about three milliseconds. It doesn’t make that lasting impression that sharing about the time at a major convention a stool collapsed out from under you, signing their purchase with a personal touch about something you’ve talked about, or sharing about their book project can have. These things last in reader’s minds for years. The efforts are worth it and build the strongest fan base. Remember that this business is a marathon, not a sprint.
A father of three, consummate gamer and loving husband, Thomas Gondolfi claims to be a Renaissance man and certified flirt. Raised as a military brat, he spent the first twenty years of his life moving to a new place every few years giving him a unique perspective on most regions of the United States.
Educated as an electrical engineer and working in high tech for over twenty years, Tom has also worked as a cook, motel manager, most phases of home construction, volunteer firefighter for eight years, and even as the personal caregiver to a quadriplegic.
Tom Gondolfi has been writing fiction for over thirty years and doing it professionally for at least fifteen. Most of his short stories have been commissioned for use in gaming products, such as Babylon 5 Wars and Star Fleet Battles. “Toy Wars,” Tom’s first commercially viable novel, was completed almost 20 years ago with a polish just prior to publication in 2013. “An Eighty Percent Solution” is the premiere novel of his cyberpunk “CorpGov Chronicles”. Tom has completed book two, “Thinking Outside the Box,” and book three, “The Bleeding Edge,” with a total of nine books already plotted out for the series.