This was my first year exhibiting at Sask Expo. I’ve heard great things about the show from Winnipeg comic creator, Andrew Lorenz of September17 Productions, and since Saskatoon is a reasonable drive for a weekend show (turns out it’s not as reasonable as I thought, more on that later), I thought it was worth giving a try. Andrew and a bunch of other Manitoba creators like GMB Chomichuk and Nyco Rudolph were going, so I knew I didn’t want to miss it.
Also, there’s lots of cool folks in ‘Toon town that I don’t get to see nearly often enough, so the show also had that going for it. Another bonus, it’s roughly the same distance for me to get there as it is for my pal Clare Marshall, so we tabled up side by side. (Clare writes amazing roundups of her convention experiences, so do check hers out too!)
It’s hard to get time off from the dayjob in September. It’s busy as hell, and I’m usually at low ebb energy wise, which was my only hesitation about heading west for the expo. And, in my brain I thought Saskatoon was 7 hours from Winnipeg. Turns out, it’s actually 9. I’ve driven the Yellowhead many times in the past, but never made just the Winnipeg to Saskatoon leg, I always stopped a little short of Saskatoon, or carried on to Edmonton. That, and forgetting about the damned time difference meant I had to beg, borrow, and steal a second day off work so I wouldn’t still be on the road at 3am after a busy con and needing to go into work almost as soon as I got home.
So…was the con worth it?
We shared a row with September17 and Justin Schauf who I know from C4 and other events. I really dug September17’s Canadian Corps, and Justin was the artist on that book.
He also did a great Doctor Fate sketch for me a while back.
Sask Expo announced they had over 15000 people attend over the weekend. I had it my head that there would be more. Maybe because Carrie Fisher was there, or perhaps I’d misheard last year’s attendance. The Expo did seem well organized. It was one of the easiest load ins I’ve ever had, and the volunteers were easy to spot, and ubiquitous, my problems finding a water fountain in the building aside (something nobody seemed able to direct me to, despite being certain there was one). On Sunday, volunteers came around to all the exhibitors to provide bottled water, which was very helpful.
Clare and I had our tables set up across from the Creator Guest aisle, which is cool, but unfortunately the spacing in the aisle was so broad, it was very hard to get any concentration of foot traffic. I heard other vendors had a different issue in cramped aisles nearer to the entrance but the same problem. Once you’re moving in a cramped aisle, it’s hard to stop to look at a table even if you’re interested as the press of people behind you keep you going. Once people hit our aisle it was being used as a superhighway to get from one end of the expo to the other, with brisk walkers not wanting to browse. Pretty much every vendor in our aisle was saying they had the same issue.
I met my minimum sales threshold to consider returning to Sask Expo. That doesn’t sound great, but the Saturday was really slow for me, and I wasn’t happy with my table build, so I tore it down Sunday morning and I think it came out stronger. Sales certainly were.
I kept seeing folks cosplaying vikings, but few were swinging by, so I bought a replica Mjolnir and thudded it down on the table.
I was talking to Clare about sales and the foot traffic patterns, and she said “what’s your brand?” well right now it’s Thunder Road, sure I tagged my banner “Mythic Fiction” because that is what I do. While I have other stuff on my table, it’s the Thunder Road trilogy that sells best, reminding me of the old bookselling adage: Sell more of what is selling.
Clare knows this stuff. it’s her job. Con sales are a sideline for me, a bit of supplemental income to direct towards travel or shiny projects, but it’s a big part of her business plan. So I listen when she suggests something. It’s also cool getting to watch her work, and how she engages her customers, both returning and potential.
How’d that advice turn out?
If you rebuild it they will come.
I made the books way more prominent, and that hammer paid for itself within the hour. I sold two complete trilogies to folks who recognized it, and their wondering why it was on my table gave me the opportunity to pitch the books to them.
I handed out lots of postcards and business cards over the weekend, so that’s good. Hopefully that will lead to some future sales, or requests from the library. Hard to say what the results will be. I know that there’s a lot of folks who seem to buy the second or third time you do a show, because they keep seeing you around, and I guess they no longer assume you’re a fly-by-night operation. I also noticed a significant uptick in web traffic, and lots of those views came via Sask Expo’s exhibtor page, before, during and after the show.
I was also surprised by the number of folks who stopped by to say they’d read and enjoyed the series, as I’ve not made much inroads into Saskatchewan sales wise, and my last event there was almost three years ago.
One young woman who’d read the first book and told me she’d enjoyed it came back later to get it signed and returned again on Sunday to purchase the rest of the trilogy.
Thunder Road is also currently on adoption for Professor Michael Cichon’s “Beowulf and Tales of the Northern Heroes” course at U of S, and some of the students popped by to get their books signed. Pretty cool when they’re forced to buy it, and they still want it inscribed. It’s moments like that which really push you through the dead times in Artist’s Alley.
Not related to the writing side of my trip, but I also found a bunch of the issues I need to recreate my run of the 90s version of New Warriors! Woo!
Mike was also kind enough to host me and Clare while we were in Saskatoon, and we had a great time, so I’m very grateful for the hospitality, fine food and drink, and excellent conversation.
I don’t know a ton of people from Saskatchewan, but many of them stopped by for a visit, so it was great to see Arthur Slade, Kurtis Wiebe, , Ed Willett, and Ian Goodwillie again.
Okay! On to the real reason folks come by my comic convention roundups: COSPLAY.
I’d probably have more (and better) photos to share, but Wendy was able to make the trip with me to track down shots of folks I couldn’t catch at the table. Sorry, folks!
When I asked for his picture, this Lemongrab screamed “ACCEPTABLE.”
I didn’t see many Lokis and no Thors this time around, but this young lady was great, and very excited to hear that Loki was a character in my books.
FOUND YOU BOTH.
Jeff Burton, creator of Auroraman, dressed up as his character.
The Saskatchewan Ghostbusters were out in force.
Can’t wait to see what the Manitoba Ghostbusters cook up for C4!
An awesome Betty and Violet from Rat Queens.
This Hawkwoman was bloody amazing.
Okay, that was Sask Expo 2016!