Another year of Calgary Expo is in the books! Here's how it went.
Wait, you only did one 2022 show?!
You may have noticed that I haven't written any post-mortems in a year! Long story short, that's because after Calgary Expo 2022, I was diagnosed with stage 3 endometrial cancer.
Endometrial cancer is cancer of the uterus. By the time we found it, it had already spread to my ovaries and my lymph nodes.
My 2022 and the first quarter of 2023 consisted of two surgeries, six rounds of chemo, and a month of pelvic radiation. Which meant, no shows, no work, just recovery and treatment.
It was hard, it was gross, and hopefully I never have to go through it again. I wrote about my journey on Facebook and I also published a video on how I plotted a novel through cancer treatment.
I'm happy to report that as of writing this I'm a little over two months out of my main treatment and I'm feeling good! Really great, actually. My energy is normal, my mental state is "even" (no more up and down hormones!), and I feel ready to conquer all of my creative projects.
So, onto the show!
My BFF/Soul Mate Sam arrived early Thursday morning. I hadn't seen her since before the pandemic so it was a HAPPY REUNION. She just launched a new series and she was one of the artist guests. She's kind of a big deal. XD
She had rented a car (it's important to treat yourself to LUXE EXPERIENCES lol) and we loaded up my stuff as well as the inventory she'd shipped in advance, and our lunches. We arrived before the Big Four load-in gates closed and learned we couldn't drive up into the space; we had to carry-in. Fortunately our friend Gregory found us a large dolly and we managed to take most things in one trip.
Set up was a breeze after that. I referred to my 2022 display, because I enjoyed how that looked and functioned.
My display was exactly the same as the previous year. Tons of people complemented my use of the banners and how I created a cozy enclave around myself.
Since I didn't have any new books, I didn't bother printing new postcard catalogues. In fact, most people were happy to take a picture of the card, as I had implemented last year. I'm wondering if this is more effective than giving someone something physical that they'll likely throw away. This remains to be seen.
Even though I had nothing new on the table, I had my best Calgary Expo ever! Here's why (in my opinion):
- The weather cooperated. No snowstorms or rain storms. (Which also meant, no LEAKS!)
- People are getting back to "normal" activities. Fewer and fewer masks and hesitancy about being in large groups (but you should be cautious, COVID still exists!).
- New customers enjoying the con! My friends and I have speculated often if there's a point where your product "saturates" the con audience. Especially something like a book. What if everyone has already seen or read your stuff? We have to have something NEW every year, right? Well, I liked to so I could satisfy my returning customers and reward them for returning. But there were LOTS of newcomers to the con; people who had NEVER heard of my stuff before. That was a huge relief.
I sold 14% more than the previous year with the same products and stock. I also had 9% fewer transactions. Meaning, my average sale was higher at around $33. I did have more luck this year upselling people to my 2 for $30 bundle, so this makes sense.
The vast majority of people paid with their card. They didn't want to deal with change, which makes sense as I'm now charging tax on top of everything, to make my accounting life easier.
More people also went for my eBook bundle. Which is a good deal.
Lil eBooks revisited
My lil eBooks delivery system is in sore need of updating and revisiting.
When folks buy my eBooks in person, there's a special place where they can redeem their code. I chatted with fellow author Damien Richard, also at the con selling books, about our respective methods of eBook delivery. Ideally, I should be giving something physical to the customer as well as emailing them the digital product. I occasionally get help requests from customers trying to redeem their codes; perhaps implementing an electronic delivery in addition to the physical code would reduce those requests AND increase eBook sales.
A good theory that deserves testing.
In addition, I had one loyal customer ask me if I included eBook sales with physical book sales. This is also worth considering, especially for larger bundle deals (buying all the books in a series, for example). After all, I also enjoy having more than one way to read a book.
One of my artist friends told me he switched on the tipping option on his Square terminal. He said that when the customer was presented with the option, half the time they chose to tip. Ethically, this makes me uncomfortable. Should customers tip artists selling their wares at comic cons and craft shows?
Here in Canada, tipping is not a substitute for wages. It's expected to show appreciation for good (or "not bad") service.
People have tipped me in the past at shows for one reason or another. Here I'm laying out arguments for tipping as a permanent part of the checkout process.
Pro tipping arguments
Sam pointed out that as artists at conventions, we work hard to sell our artistic product. We often provide free advice or information during the customer interaction. This time and advice is not compensated. By offering the option to tip, the customer can choose to pay the artist for their time if they felt they got something out of the interaction. This seems to be why people have tipped me, randomly, in the past. The more money we make at the show, the more we can put back into our art, the more shows we can afford to do, etc.
I don't charge people to sign copies of what I sell. I include this as a regular part of the sale. After all, why not? However, celebrities charge for their autograph all the time. By offering the customer a chance to tip the artist who sold them the product, this could "cover" the "cost" of the autograph. I have also been paid extra in the past when the customer felt I should be compensated for personalizing the book.
And finally: tipping isn't mandatory. The customer can always decline to tip. But due to the social pressure of the artist being at the table? They probably won't decline. Which means more income for the artist.
Increasingly, tips are expected/encouraged here in Canada and the States, even in non-service industry situations - or in service industries where there is very little to no interaction with the server. The argument "everyone else is adding a tipping option" means subscribing to a culture where we normalize tipping in more and more purchase situations, even where we ourselves as a customer feel that tipping is not warranted.
Even my friends pointed out how "uncomfortable" it is to hand the customer the terminal with the tipping screen showing up and how it's hard to "divorce" yourself from the process. Even though tipping is optional, the customer will likely feel social pressure to leave a tip. So it's not really "optional" - we've been trained to leave a tip, because it's the "nice" and "normal" thing to do.
A lot of the time, my customers are budget conscious. They want to know how much the final total will be. I would feel uncomfortable adding an (optional!) tipping screen to the checkout as I wouldn't want to pressure them into adding to that total. What if, when presented with that screen, they have such a negative emotional reaction that they decide to never buy from me again? Sure, you get a few extra dollars THEN, but you're shutting off all repeat business from that person forever.
I think it's an ongoing discussion, but I'm still on the anti-tipping side of the table, even if my friends say I "deserve" to turn it on. Ultimately, I'm not sure if it's about what I deserve, so much as what we as artists should do as responsible business owners in a capitalist society.
Scooter ride & fun times
I really appreciate everyone who came up to my table to ask me how I was doing, to see if I was okay, and to tell me they followed/stalked my Facebook for cancer updates!
Also I met Damien Richard and R.W. Duder (Rob), horror authors selling their wares in the row over from me. Super nice guys, and it was great to talk shop with them.
As per usual, I went out on Saturday with my artist friends. It was nice to feel normal again. I hadn't had ramen since before my cancer diagnosis and treatments.
"What's something you're grateful for now, or you're happy to do now that feels normal, post treatment?" Gregory asked me at dinner.
"Peeing," I replied, because it's true. Time to write some body horror, honestly, because I got my fair share of that during treatment.
Sam and I didn't stay late because we were both exhausted. She'd clocked the scooters scattered about the streets and suggested we ride them back to the car. After some finagling with the app, we boarded and took off down the sidewalks of 17th.
It was like being in a video game. I was hesitant to try them - I didn't want to get hit, or hit someone - but it ended up being a blast. Sam always pushes me when I need it most.
It's good to be alive.
During a dead zone, a guy dressed as a knight approaches my table neighbour. He says, "I was wondering if I did something exceedingly cool, I could get something for free?"
Alarm bells go off in my head. Don't say yes. Don't say yes.
"Uh, okay," say my neighbours. It was their first time vending, there were three of them behind the table, and they were selling prints, painted items (which looked really cool), stickers, and other such items.
He sets down what he was carrying (a drink or a prop, I can't recall) and proceeds to place his hands on one knee and slowly shake the other leg. After a few seconds of that, he switches his hands to his other knee, awkwardly shakes the other leg.
What is going on, I thought. Is he stretching for some kind of physical feat? What **exceedingly cool thing** is about to occur before our VERY EYES?
Then he straightens, picks up his things, and looks expectantly at my neighbours.
"Was that it?" one of them asks.
"Yes," he replies.
They give him a print and he promptly disappears.
After recounting this story to my husband, he exclaims, "He tried to do the Stanky Leg??"
"I guess so?" I say. "What is that, the new Tik Tok phenomenon?"
He laughs. "No, it's over a decade old!"
Anyway, never say yes to these people. Never give away things for free. Also, if something doesn't reach your "cool" metre, you're allowed to say so. The exceedingly cool thing is that YOU decided to show up and sell YOUR art. Don't reward mediocrity.
Wrong box disaster
On Saturday night, I was deliriously exhausted. I'd sold out of The Violet Fox that day and I only had six copies of Stars In Her Eyes left on the table. I should have just brought extra boxes on Day 1, but I'm out of practice.
That evening, I went down to my basement storage, pulled out the boxes, and put them by the door to load into the car the next morning.
Next morning comes, we load the car. Everything is fine.
We bring in the dolly full of boxes, I unload them at the table, and during the VIP half-hour, I begin re-stocking my shelves. Stars In Her Eyes fills the empty spaces nicely.
I open the second box...and I'm greeted with copies of Darkness In Her Reach.
I look at the label. Darkness In Her Reach.
What? I was positive I'd dragged a fresh box of Violets from my tower of boxes. But I guess I was really out of it. Because this was not The Violet Fox , and I had NO book ones of The Violet Fox Series.
I messaged my husband my conundrum and fortunately, he saw it and offered to bring me a box. I reluctantly accepted the offer. I kept telling myself: it's okay. It's not a big deal. You can still sell the rest of the series, or your other books.
But the reality is....you can't, or it's very, very hard to do so.
When you are sold out of book one, it's very, very hard to sell the rest of the series to someone who has never read you or spoken with you before. I spoke to three different customers who asked me when I was getting more book ones in, and I told them in about an hour. All of them returned to buy the series, or 2 for $30 deals. I wouldn't have had those sales if my husband hadn't brought in the box.
So, lesson learned, me. Always bring the extra box of book one on Day 1.
Post Cancer Musings
Post Cancer Clare says yes is my new motto. But not too many yesses.
I've dialled back my show schedule for 2023 as I figure out what comes next. I'm doing the most profitable shows & those where I don't have to travel. I'm currently working on a new Mermaid series, as well as Sparkstone Book 5 (Voices In Her Song). I'd like to Kickstart the Mermaid books, preferably all at once. People love buying a full series that's COMPLETE, and I'm not keen on doing sequel launches if I don't have to.
While I have a lot of projects on the go, I'm trying to simplify to amplify. And I feel steady about my course. Far less anxious, just ready to do what needs to be done so I can get more books into more hands.