Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Running the Table at the Expo

I've just finished my packing for the Expo.  Two days from now I will be registered, my table prepared and compatriots in Edmonton well met.  I will be anxiously awaiting the next day's start.  As anxiously - more! - than I am waiting just now.

I'm reading over my notes from last year's Toronto trip.  I remember a sea of faces and few names.  I remember clearly the fellow I sold my book to by proving there were no pictures.  I remember one of the two grognards arguing with me about the legitimacy of the book; the other's face is vague.  I wonder if either has bought the book by now.  There have been many sales in Canada since then.

Giving full disclosure on sales, making the opportunity for some of my readers to laugh out loud as they realize how paltry are my successes, I have sold 341 copies of the How to Run book.  209 of these have been sold through Lulu and the remainder have been sold by hook or by crook on my own.  I take comfort from the fact that it is an expensive book, meaning that gross sales are really not that bad.  Obviously, I would like to have sold ten times the number - but there's always the future.

For example, the next six days.

A year ago I wrote that I felt validated as a writer and that it was evident that the gaming community was looking for the sort of book I had written.  They're still looking for it; I sold a copy of the book online yesterday.  I will probably sell a book tomorrow (if not How to Run, then How to Play a Character or the Dungeon's Front Door).  I wrote that there was a tremendous underground community that has little or no interest at all in the WOTC or the nitpicking nonsense that dominates online discussion.  I am so looking forward to talking to these people - my people - again.

I was casting about for something else to talk about surrounding conventions.  I was thinking about the people surrounding us who had also plunked down hundreds of dollars for the privilege of running a table.  For some, like me, it's an opportunity to get the word out there.  For others, it's hard-core sales.

The twenty-something woman on our right side in Toronto owned her own button-making machine, so that day and night she does nothing but churn out unique and interesting designs pressed on metal.  She did a booming business, though she had no supporting partner to help her out.  Those were long days for her, working days.  When talking to us, without her game face on, it was clear she was fairly jaded where it came to the event itself.  She didn't care what was going on around her, what the people were there to see.  She was there to sell buttons, period.  Nevertheless, she was a pleasant neighbor.

The people on the other side were artists.  The boy, about 19, was there to support the woman who was in her 40s.  She had developed a technique of coloring prints with multiple kinds of tea, dipped or exposed on pressed cloth or paper in a variety of ways.  This then complimented her drawing skills, so that a line drawing of a landscape, cityscape or small study featured an intricate and enticing collection of spatters, splotches and striations, in purples, golds, chocolate browns and so on.  The fascination level for this work was high, very high, and the people it attracted were absolutely not role-players, so we didn't step on each other's toes.  The real pity was that the woman did not charge as much as she should have for the pics (she could have easily doubled her prices) and she did not have any gift for actual sales.  It was driving my business-minded daughter crazy listening to this woman drop potential sale after potential sale merely by failing to emphasize that the things people were impressed with could actually be purchased.

It was evident that some of the people there bought tables just so they could have a place to sit between adventuring around the expo.  Pay money for a table, create a pretense for being there and it provides four easy days of roaming around, with the respect of having a table pass that gets you in early so that all can be seen without the crowds.  For many, it's worth the higher price.

Many there were clearly bored out of their minds.  They didn't have anything of interest or substance and they didn't have the will to 'harass' potential customers as they passed by.  I tribute a lot of our success to our willingness to engage with the passers by, sitting on a high stool that put us at eye level without seeming like we were trying too hard.  Say hello, nod at the people, smile at them, say encouraging things about their costumes, remark aloud on anything that goes on and always be friendly and willing to answer any question, especially those that have nothing to do with what's offered at the table (people are always stopping to ask friendly people for help in finding the bathroom).  My daughter picked up a little puppet wolf that would sit on our shoulder while we manipulated it with our hands (marvelous gimmick, the device allows for small finger movements to move the wolf's head up and down, back and forth).  This was a great draw.

I brought along a cover rendering of the book a meter and a half high and a meter wide, that dominated the space behind us.  The words, "Role-playing Games" on the cover would be just above my right shoulder as I sat on the stool (in about 48 pt font with the size of the poster) and I could see the eyes of a passing browser zero in on those words and react.  Whenever that happened, from the reaction to the words I could guess if the browser was likely to buy.  That's the thing about people who love role-playing games: they are always looking for something.  The words themselves are magic; they're so adored and yet so rare that just seeing the words makes the heart jump.  I've experienced that myself hundreds of times, just from seeing a copy of the DM's Guide in public or hearing half a sentence that tells me the conversants are discussing D&D.

My best pitch, then, is to be friendly and ready to talk openly and strongly about the product.  I have no trouble at all pitching my books.  I love the things.  I'm like a parent talking about their child's chances for playing at the professional level based on the catch we've just seen.  Hold back from telling people about my book?  Wait for them to ask?  But . . . but . . . that doesn't let me talk about the book all the time!

I'm very much looking forward to three solid days of talking about my books.  Unapologetically.  The reader here is just a little tired of it because you hear me talk of them all the time.  But these will be strangers.

My mother had it all wrong.  Strangers are the best people to talk to.



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