Over the ten years of my glorious career as a self-publisher of nanoscopically famous novels, I've had a fair amount of success selling books at conferences where Our Kind of People congregate. Frinstance Linux World. Frinstance, O'Reilly bioinformatics conferences and an O'Reilly Etech conference. Frinstance, Uniforum (remember them?).
On a good day at one of these conferences I might sell a hundred or more books. Which, depending on how much I'm charging per book (typically $10 regardless of nominal cover price), might net me a grand, cash. These days I think I would ask for $12 instead of $10.
Because Tim O'Reilly is an old friend of mine (or at least an old colleague; I've known him since 1983), & because the people who used to be in charge of running his conferences were fans of my books, I got a sweet deal: $0 for conference admission & permission to sell my books at a prominent table. So it was all, like, cash in my pocket, modulo any travel & incidental expenses.
(I have written about most of these bookselling adventures in old K5 diaries but am too lazy to look them up now.)
What I'm saying is that these conferences have been good venues for me, but only because I was able to use my innate charm or smarminess or fortuitous connections to avoid paying market rate for access to the conference-goers. I made money by keeping costs down.
My technique began to fail me a while ago, however, and I think my charm may have evaporated entirely.
I sold a bunch of books at a Uniforum conference where they charged me $200 instead of the typical $1000, and at Linux World 2003 I paid $1000 for a booth that had a list price of $4000 & drove across the country with a truckload of books for it (including Cheap Complex Devices, literally hot off the presses. (The books were warm.)) From $0 to $200 to $1000. . . the trend is going in the wrong way.
That Linux-World gambit was not a money-making deal, by the way, but it almost was. The whole fucking thing was kind of a fiasco in which 17 things went wrong, including a truck breakdown in the Rocky Mountains that cost me a whole day of prime selling time, and my pissing off Hemos, which delayed his (eventual, and positive) slashdot review by 6 weeks . . . But at least I got to meet UCBLOCKHEAD in person on the exhibit hall floor, so that was worth a few thousand bucks anyway. . .
Going to these conferences paid off in other ways, because at them I met influential people who have since been very generous in pimping my stuff, frinstance Cory Doctorow of Boing Boing and Jeffrey Zeldman of A List Apart and Hemos of Slashdot. There's that serendipity element that cannot be discounted.
But the main thing is, sales of The Pains have == teh suck (modulo very nice support from many quadrants of Husi). Which is distressing on any number of levels, as Homer Simpson might say. But I myself actually think the book kind of rocks. So I'm kind of determined to go back to what worked before, which means going out into meatspace where the geeks are and pimping my warez in-your-face style. After all, why the fuck not?
I have 18 cartons of Acts of the Apostles, 28 books to the carton, safely stashed away at an undisclosed location near San Francisco. That's 504 books, --pretty much all that remains of the first printing. (I have about 100 copies at my home.)
There are places in San Francisco where I can crash for free. So no hotel bills or anything like that. I have friends who will lend me cars or help schlepp books around. So no car-rental expenses.
I would need to bring with me copies of Cheap Complex Devices and The Pains. I could send a few boxes by US mail to be stored at a friend's house. . .Airfare, for the moment, appears extremely cheap. $250 round trip from Boston.
So, there are three conferences coming up soon at the Moscone Center where I would like to go sell my books.
The first one is the Molecular Medicine Tri-Conference.
This represents a perfect audience for me, since my first book is a thriller about nanomachines and neurobiologiy and evil pharmaceutical companies and molecular medicine run amok.
But it's a small conference, perhaps 3K attendees, max. And the best price I can get on a booth is $3,000.
So, say my costs for the trip (booth, travel, photocopying of glowing reviews to hand out, food) are $3500. And say I sell books for $12/pop. Google calculator tells me that 3500 / 12 = 291.666667. Which means that I would have to sell 292 books just to break even. Nearly a hundred a day. Which means that I would have to make a sale to one out of ten of attendees.
Not bloody likely.
So, that trip looks like a bad idea.
<Garth Algar voice>Unless . . .</Garth Algar voice> unless I can get that speaking gig at Industrial Light & Magic which my buddy who works there has promised (and which we already had set up for last fall, but I had to cancel). . . where I could seel a bunch of books and sell movie rights to of all three books on the spot to George Lucas in an expansive mood, five million dollars per title; unless I can sell fifty copies or a hundred copies of The Pains to a vast adoring horde of HuSites suddenly materializing from the ether; unless MNS can get the corporate bigwigs at Donut Wheel to put in a giant order of books to be included with every new employee's orientation kit. . .(not a lot of new employees these days, but a few hundred books is all what I'm talking about here. . .)
So yes, I'm actually thinking of signing a contract for a $3,000 booth for the Molecular Medicine booth. I have to decide by tomorrow. There's only one booth left, and if I don't fax in a contract, they won't hold it for me.
The second conference beconing to me is the Game Developer's Conference in late March. Much better chances for book sales there. Because they expect more than 20,000 people. I think they said maybe 30,000. I bet I could sell 125 copies/day at that thing, especially if Hemos of Slashdot puts up a nice review of The Pains by then
I have no fracking idea how much a booth would cost there. They won't even answer my email or voice mail. But I bet they want at least $5k for the measliest booth. And I bet I can't talk them down.
And then there's the O'Reilly Techweb conference, another giant affair with lots of potential book buyers. I wish I could work a deal there for a free booth, but my main contacts have since left O'Reilly, and the one or two highly placed people who are still there & who I've written to have not answered. I won't bug Tim O'Reilly himself because he has asked me not to.
So I don't know what the fuck is up with either of those conferences. Maybe I can work some magic and get into both of them for free, or maybe I'll be asked to pay $5k for each. Who knows?
It would appear that if I could do either GDC or O'Reilly Web 2.0 (or, ideally, both), especially if I could get a big discount on booth space, then there would be no reason for me to race out to San Francisco for the relatively tiny Molecular Medicine conference.
But here's another complication: I need to come up with some income Real Soon Now, or else something Really Bad may happen. All my short-term paying (writing) gigs have fallen through. So, maybe if I can get the planets to align just right, I could sell a lot of books in February, and also generate some press from bloggers & journalists about the crazy guy selling his self-published Astounding Fiction at the Molecular Medicine conference. Maybe, if I give that talk at ILM,
Oh, there is also the problem of how to come up with the money for the booth. I don't have it, and would need to pay it up before February 20.
So that's what's going through my poor overtaxed noggin.
From the back of somewhere, I hear the voice of Paddy One-Tune, but I cannot quite make out what he's trying to tell me.
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