by J.B. Lawrence
A couple years ago, I had an idea for a fantasy story. All my previous writings had been standard fiction with a twist of magical realism. But as I finished my novel (which Possibilities Publishing Company is releasing this spring), I knew there was a huge fantasy fiction audience eager to discover new talent, so in addition to readings at book stores and coffee shops, I figured I would market my new novel by booking dealer tables at as many fantasy conventions as I could.
Hundreds of those conventions occur annually, and booking a dealer table is not difficult. You don’t have to be a best-selling, renowned author. You just have to have the money to rent a table, which ranges from $50 to $150. Most conventions also have a “free” area in which any guest can set up promotional materials.
But you must book as early as possible because these things are popular. Long before January, most conventions were at a “waiting list only” status for dealer tables. And by April, the major conventions were only accepting reservations for 2016.
When I realized that my 2015 convention strategy might be a little more difficult than I had thought, I decided that even if I couldn’t rent a table, I would attend as many conventions as possible and soak up the ambience while talking to people about my novel. The first convention I attended was RavenCon, which was held in Richmond, Virginia, on the weekend of April 25.
At RavenCon, I saw what you might expect at a fantasy convention: people dressed as Klingons and Stormtroopers, and others in custom costumes that ranged from a massive pumpkin head to a decapitated woman wearing a black dress. Dealer offerings consisted of handmade crafts, fantasy games, t-shirts, and even swords. Most of the other tables were manned by reps promoting other conventions or fantasy authors promoting their own books.
The author tables at RavenCon ran the gamut of experience, professionalism, and success. A few tables were hosted by well-established authors who had many novels under their belts, and their areas were decorated with posters and life-sized cardboard cutouts of characters from their books. And they always had some sort of free swag to hand out.
However, most of the author tables were run by first- or second-time authors. Some had stacks of their novels along with a postcard or business card, though a few also had accessories that were related to their stories. For example, one author had written what she called an “urban fantasy,” and in addition to her novel, she was selling small jars of tea and bars of homemade soap.
I related most to the less established authors because they are in a similar place with regard to the publication journey, and I have looked forward to selling accessories, such as stickers and a map of my book’s fantasy world, as a way to inspire interest in my story.
I took every opportunity to hand out postcards and stickers at RavenCon. I chatted with K’Tang the Klingon and got photos of me and several well-costumed fantasy enthusiasts. Most people seemed genuinely interested in my novel and were happy to take the giveaways I had to offer.
Along the way, I learned that, if there’s a book, there’s a convention for it. So if you’re interested in doing more than readings and Q&As to promote your work, then conventions are a great way to supplement your income and keep the conversation going. Who knows — if you promote yourself well enough, you might someday be a guest of honor at your favorite convention.
J.B. Lawrence is a Washington, D.C.-based writer with an MA from the University of Baltimore. Please join us for a party celebrating the release of his fantasy novel “Last Flight Home” at 7:00 p.m. on Friday, May 8, at Upshur Street Books in Washington. Click here to RSVP. To order your copy of “Last Flight Home,” click here.