Tell me if this sounds familiar. You're in Artist's Alley at a convention, looking at the various tables and displays. One catches your eye. You look up and see the creator. But instead of making eye contact with you and welcoming you over, they're sitting behind their table, looking completely disinterested.
I see this at every convention I go to, and it frustrates me every time. The frustration comes from knowing that independent creators have a hard time earning money as it is. Though there are more avenues today than there ever have been, our options are still limited, so it's important to make full use of any methods open to us. Conventions are especially important because they're one of the rare times creators can interact with readers and fans in person.
But many creators sit passively at shows, either refusing to sell or putting little effort into it. They don't break even on the cost of the convention and they definitely don't make a profit. Even the creators that are more proactive aren't usually selling with the right mentality and tend to go about it poorly.
If you're one of these creators then this post is for you. You're not far from being able to sell many more comics at conventions. The breakthrough you need is in sight.
But, to reach it, you need a more complete grasp of sales strategies and a better way of thinking about selling. If you can develop this understanding and adopt a better sales mindset, then you'll be on your way to overcoming your passivity and selling many more comics at your next show. Plus you'll probably enjoy the experience a lot more, too.
One of the most important things I've learned is that there tend to be two types of sales strategies. The first is...
One way people try to sell persuasively is by using their comic's critical merit - whether from reviews or awards. These types of accolades are used to imply objective value, regardless of their actual merit. They essentially translate to saying, "Experts say my comic is good, and you like good comics, right, so don't you want my comic?"
While this is a purely logical appeal, it can be a tempting one and its effectiveness will vary depending on how much weight your potential customer places in the source of your review or award.
Discounts and deals are also a cornerstone of persuasive sale strategies. By trying to convince you that you're getting a good deal on the comic they appeal to a person's rational impulses: their frugal tendencies, and natural reaction to scarcity. "It's usually $15, but you're getting it for $10! Don't you want to buy it, now? This deal won't be around forever."
Both of these examples showcase different types of persuasive sales strategies. The former is much more subtle than the latter, which is quite direct and overt. However, whether you're soft-selling or hard-selling, directly trying to convince a reader of your book's value is considered a persuasive sale strategy.
Even if you can try to appeal to their emotions, you're still coming at it directly, trying to make the person you're talking to understand why they should want your comic.
While it's not my preferred method, I won't say that these strategies are useless. In fact, if employed correctly, they can be quite effective. But they can also lead to forceful sales and leave a bad impression with the people you've spoken to. Fortunately, persuasive selling is not the only sales strategy.
On a convention floor, demonstrative selling entails leading a potential reader through the value of your comic. Instead of trying to explain why they want your comic, you try to show them what's valuable in your comic. It's a subtle difference, but an important one.
By not trying to force your own expectations and understanding of your comic onto them, you allow them to make their own conclusions, based off your understanding of the value of your comic.
To give a more concrete example, marketing is one field where demonstrative strategies do especially well. Word of mouth and peer recommendations are perfect exemplifications of demonstrative values. Having someone you know - or many someones - talking about a movie or comic they enjoyed and share how much they loved it demonstrates the value of a book. From there, it's easier to come to the conclusion that whatever they were talking about is good, or at least worth checking out.
Word of mouth and peer recommendations are particularly effective because they come from relatable sources with subjective authority - that is to say people who you've given authority, to. As opposed to critics and awards, that have a less personal, objective authority, which is not as immediately relevant to individual readers.
In selling your comic at a con, you can take advantage of this and increase the impact of your demonstrative sales strategies by establishing yourself as a peer to any attendee you're talking to.
Now, this strategy is easier to achieve if you have a certain level of amicability or lean towards an extroverted nature, but neither are entirely necessary. The key is to put yourself on even ground and sell the experience of your comic.
The strategy is actually quite simple, but I can understand it seeming a little vague, or ambiguous, at this point. The true effects of demonstrative sale strategies are only seen when you pair them with the right sales mentality.
Once you have the right mindset, your understanding of demonstrative sales strategies becomes the catalyst for increased future sales at conventions. So, let's dive in to how you need to change the way you think about selling.
Before you continue to the rest of this post, I wanted to let you know that I put together an easy infographic to help you keep track of the differences between the two different sales strategies.
Click the image to the right to preview it.
This ethical approach to selling is not unique, but it does allow me to employ a more 'aggressive' sales strategy, without being intrusive or forceful. This harmony is key to my success selling comics at shows and is largely due to the way I think about selling.
Most creators tend to be pretty passive sellers. Even if they're not being obviously antisocial, or sitting back in their chairs at shows, they aren't very assertive with potential customers.
My theory on why a lot of creators exhibit this behavior is that most creators subconsciously feel that the people buying their comic are doing them a favor. After all, most of us slave away for years working on our craft and trying to produce work we're proud of. Then we struggle to sell a copy and deal with the difficulties of turning our passion into a career. We're also naturally insecure about the quality of our work. It's part of what makes us creative people.
But this "creative wiring" is also why many creatives make terrible salespeople. Where creatives think that they're being done a favor when a reader buys their book, salespeople understand that they're doing the reader a favor by selling them your comic. That's right.
You're doing the reader a favor by selling them your comic.
After all, your comic could be that reader's new favorite thing. Or, at least, be something they really enjoy and get a lot out of. Conventions aren't a chance for you to sell your comics, they're a chance for convention attendees to find a comic they really enjoy.
It's a subtle difference. But this mentality has been integral to helping me sell more comics, for multiple reasons.
But, with a reader-focused mentality, you don't need to get discouraged, because you understand that there are thousands - if not tens of thousands - of people at your show and that even if you haven't found the ones that fit into your audience, you will, eventually, as long as you keep trying.
That's why it's so important to reach out to as many people as possible. It's your surest bet for connecting to your comic's audience. You can try to be more surgical and judge whether people will like your comic before calling them over, to try to protect yourself from rejection, but it's almost impossible to factor people out with a single glance. You can never be sure that they won't like your comic. All you can do is take the chance.
That said, it is definitely possible to identify people with a higher chance of enjoying your project. For example, if your comic features a rugged antihero, perhaps the fans walking by with a Punisher T-shirt should be a higher priority for you to speak with than the other random attendees around.
And even if you end up trying to sell to hundreds of people who aren't interested in your comic. That's okay. Being sold a comic at a show doesn't have to be a negative, intrusive experience. Regardless of the end result, you can still have a positive exchange and be a pleasant part of their convention experience, as long as you approach the interaction with an eye towards the reader's enjoyment, rather than your own sale.
Besides, if you make a sale just because you were awfully persuasive, and that comic goes to a reader who won't enjoy it, is that really success? Sure you might've made a few dollars, but you didn't make a customer. You didn't make a fan who'll share their enjoyment of your comic with others, and come back again the following year for the next issue or volume.
You traded in a one-time purchase for a lifetime reader. In the long-term, that lifetime reader would bring you far more money, and the effort spent finding them as opposed to forcing the sale on someone less interested, will be well worth your time.
That's right. This mentality also makes sense from a business perspective. Not to mention that improving your convention experience and becoming more comfortable selling, will be a huge advantage over the course of your career as a creator.
Obviously, this way of selling, isn't the only way available to you, but it's worked for me. And if you're proud of the work you're creating, you should be able to change your thinking and take your convention sales to new heights.
It All Comes Together
With a new strategy and the right mentality in your arsenal you can stop trying to feel bad about approaching con attendees and instead call them over, with good intentions. Then you can help them determine whether what you're selling is something they're going to enjoy.
It's easier to not mind being a little more proactive, because you're only seeking to contribute positively to their convention experience by potentially helping them find a new comic they could love. This is so important to mustering up the courage to get out of your comfort zone.
Then, if they come over, you establish an amicable, peer relationship. Not just because it's a good sales strategy - it doesn't have to be that cold and calculating. Honestly, it's also a lot more fun to just share in the convention experience with attendees, and find out what they've been enjoying. We all started as fans and are still here because we love the comic medium. That's why we ever became creators. Don't let your desire to sell overshadow that truth.
After that, your conversation with them should be a lot easier. Without feeling like you need to convince them to buy what you're selling, a lot of the pressure should be gone. Instead, you can just enjoy a pleasant chat, and when the time seems right you tell them about your comic. Often, they'll ask you outright, or their eyes will turn to what's on your table. That's your opportunity to implement your demonstrative sales strategies.
Talk them through the surface level of your comic. Then the essence of your story. Tap into the core of the project - whether emotional, visual, or thematic - and relate it to any preexisting desires or interests they might have. If you don't know what they like, that's fine, too. Just be sincere and tell them what your comic is about. Let them decide whether your comic is right for them.
All you can do is make sure you adequately represent the project you put together with your collaborators. If you do that, then when you do find the right reader, they'll know for sure that your comic is right for them, and they'll happily, excitedly, pick up a copy.
After all, why wouldn't they? You were friendly, gracious, and you weren't pushy. Instead, you were just there to make their experience better and help them find a comic they might really enjoy. I've been surprised by the number of sales I've made just because people have found our chats to be a nice refresher from either the passive, often overwhelming convention environment, or the overly-assertive persuasive sales strategies most people employ.
Over the long course, your new sales mentality and demonstrative strategies will keep you resilient. If you're communicating the essence of your comic effectively, you won't be discouraged if people aren't buying your comic. Instead, you'll know they just weren't the right audience.
Even if they don't come over, that's fine. They didn't want to stop and look at a comic right then. Or if they take a moment to look but decide your comic is not for them, that's fine, too.
All of these occurrences just give you more time to look for the people who are interested in your comic. The people who will buy your comic. The people who you made your comic for. Your audience.
They're there. It's just up to you to not give up until you find them.
I definitely lean extroverted. A lot of this comes much more easily to me, than to a lot of the more reserved people that I know.
But regardless of how social or outgoing you think you are, I'd encourage you to try to think this way and sell with these principles in mind. I think you'd be surprised by how effective these strategies are and how much more you'll enjoy the sales experience.
Part of the reason I never got tired of doing one show after another, selling the same books, often repeating the same pitches, was because I took the time to talk with the people at each show, and I never tried to force a sale that didn't feel right.
I made sure I always enjoyed the process, by making sure the people I spoke with enjoyed the process. As a result, I never got worn out, and I could always look forward to the next sale.
It's hard to make a living as an independent creator. Conventions become an especially important piece of surviving off your craft because more of the money you earn there goes in your pocket, if you manage to break even, first.
It makes sense that for those of us trying to build a career, the con floor can be an intimidating, high-stress environment.
After all, if we want to keep making comics we need to keep earning money so we can live, and produce more. But even though all that's not about to change, that doesn't mean we can't change our approach to selling, and make the convention sales experience more fun - more human.
And when it is that way, you usually end up selling a lot more comics, too.
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