Print Story Ask HuSi and attn: San Francisco infidels
So, I'm thinking of going out to San Francisco to sell some of my famous novels.

My plans are not set yet, but those parts of the plan that are closest to being set are insane bordering on stupid, or the converse (or is it the inverse?).

So, a question for San Francisco area infidels: were I to make my way out there chez vous, would yzall join me for a London Husi style meet up at say, Zeitgeist or Lucky 13 where we could all get drunk n' shit and you could bring your friends and get them to buy my books? And a question for all HuSi: Am I nuts or insane or merely stupid to even be considering said trip(s)? (See plans below the fold.)

Background: selling books at geek conventions

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.

Upcoming Conferences

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.

< All right, guys. Knock it the hell off. | Milestone Week >
Ask HuSi and attn: San Francisco infidels | 16 comments (16 topical, 0 hidden)
Being tangentially involved with the travel by ad hoc (4.00 / 2) #1 Wed Feb 11, 2009 at 04:18:33 PM EST
and conference industry (as you know), I can only tell you what you probably already suspect. The economy sucks, and conferences industry is going down right along with it. Comps are very, very, very hard to come by and will take every bit of your charm and then some to get any.

(I'm speaking specifically of conferences, not fan conflabs.)

Conferences are expensive to attend, so it usually the company that pays. Except companies aren't as willing to do that nowadays, and the number of employees eligible to go to them is dwindling.

As an example, at the recent conference of $client in cam's home town, something happened that has never happened ever before. (At least in the 20+ years my friend and I have been doing this stuff.) The rooms blocked at the main hotel, which normally fill pretty much right away, pretty much filled right away. But then, because of the massive number of cancellations due to the economy, the block opened up again! That has never happened. Once the main room block is  booked, it stays booked. Not any more.

The people putting on the conference ($client, in this case) guarantees a certain number of rooms to the hotel in exchange for a discounted rate for that block. If they don't fill, $client is responsible for any and all shortfall. They've got decades of experience blocking rooms like this, so they pretty much know how many to get and have almost never come up short, and certainly not for the main gig (which this was).

If you want to see a comptrollers face go ashen, tell him his main room block opened up again three weeks before the conference. They'd be on the hook for thousands of dollars. Luckily, they filled up again right away, but it was at the expense of the secondary hotels who lost rooms from people wanting to move to the main venue; it wasn't that more people suddenly came.

I can't speak to any non-monetary consideration you have, and I don't want to snuff your candle, but unless you've got a fix in, chances of getting a discount or comp is really pretty small.

Risk and return by stevew (4.00 / 2) #2 Wed Feb 11, 2009 at 07:51:30 PM EST
The Molecular Medicine option sounds high risk and low return on investment for $3000.

I would be scrounging the money for one or both of the other two

good advice by johnny (2.00 / 0) #7 Thu Feb 12, 2009 at 04:32:58 AM EST
I'll probably take it. Depending on a few other things up in the air, like the ILM talk, etc.
Buy my books, dammit!
[ Parent ]
How much USD by Phage (2.00 / 0) #3 Thu Feb 12, 2009 at 01:57:42 AM EST
For three signed books posted to UK address ?

I sent answer by johnny (2.00 / 0) #8 Thu Feb 12, 2009 at 04:34:07 AM EST
by private message.
Buy my books, dammit!
[ Parent ]
Got it - and returned [nt] by Phage (2.00 / 0) #10 Thu Feb 12, 2009 at 04:38:00 AM EST

[ Parent ]
I love you, johnny by Kellnerin (4.00 / 1) #4 Thu Feb 12, 2009 at 02:24:08 AM EST
but don't do the Molecular Medicine Tri-Conference. I'd consider the others if the stars align, but in the meantime, what about something closer to home with less up-front cost? Book reading/signing? Library event? Ask local coffee shops if they'll carry a few copies? Etc?

"Late to the party" is the new "ahead of the curve" -- CRwM
You're probably right by johnny (4.00 / 2) #9 Thu Feb 12, 2009 at 04:35:31 AM EST
but it's so much more fun to swing for a home run than to bunt to advance the runner.
Buy my books, dammit!
[ Parent ]
You've written books?!!? by Dr H0ffm4n (4.00 / 1) #5 Thu Feb 12, 2009 at 02:36:05 AM EST
Who knew? I think you should mention it more often. Maybe put it in your sig or something? ;)

Which reminds me, I must actually buy a copy of The Pains for Major Midget.

Oh hey by johnny (2.00 / 0) #6 Thu Feb 12, 2009 at 03:17:39 AM EST
You all know me as a pimp around here, but I'm a lovable pimp, am I not?
Buy my books, dammit!
[ Parent ]
A pimp called John? by Dr H0ffm4n (2.00 / 0) #14 Sun Feb 15, 2009 at 05:55:08 AM EST
there's something meta going on there.

I am also now a John. But not yet a pimp.

[ Parent ]
Hot Rats by johnny (2.00 / 0) #16 Sun Feb 15, 2009 at 07:34:15 AM EST
I'm a little pimp with my hair gassed back
Pair a khaki pants with my shoe shined black

Got a little lady ... walk the street
Tellin' all the boy that she cain't be beat

Twenny dollah bill ( i can set you straight )
Meet me onna corner boy'n don't be late

Man in a suit with a bow-tie neck
Wanna buy a grunt with a third party check

Standin' onna porch of the lido hotel
Floozies in the lobby love the way i sell:

Hot meat
Hot rats
Hot cats
Hot ritz
Hot roots
Hot soots
Hot zitz
Hot meat
Hot rats
Hot cats
Hot zitz
Hot roots
Hot soots
Buy my books, dammit!

[ Parent ]
speaking of conferences by Kellnerin (2.00 / 0) #11 Sat Feb 14, 2009 at 07:39:59 AM EST
Some round-ups of the O'Reilly ToC Con:
Soundbite version
Blog with more detailed series of posts

Unrelated but cool, subway map of (e-)publishing trends -- good Google-fodder there.

"Late to the party" is the new "ahead of the curve" -- CRwM

by the way by johnny (2.00 / 0) #12 Sat Feb 14, 2009 at 06:05:27 PM EST
Following sage and forceful advice from Husi, I abandoned the admittedly stupid idea of paying large dollars to go to the molecular medicine conference.

Concentrating now on O'Reilly Etech and web 2.0 conferences and the Game Developers Conference.  Trying to work some "hey, every conference needs a token crackpot" magic. . . it may be working, not sure yet. . .

Thanks for the links,


Buy my books, dammit!

[ Parent ]
looking at the programs ... by Kellnerin (2.00 / 0) #13 Sun Feb 15, 2009 at 05:14:35 AM EST
ETech seems a much better fit for you. Web 2.0 is more focused in a way and I wouldn't be surprised if it has more attendees, but the focus does not match up with your audience as well. Also I bet there are sessions at ETech that could spawn future techoparanoid books (or conversations about your old ones) if you can sneak into them. (And, since they are extending "early registration" on ETech -- it's only 3 weeks away -- maybe they'll be more willing to give you a break on the booth cost too-also?)

I didn't check out GDC, but suspect it's a similar not-so-great fit as Web 2.0.

How about trying to score yourself a panel/reading/signing at a local-ish SF Con? Looks like Arisia and Vericon are done for the year, but there must be others I don't know about.

"Late to the party" is the new "ahead of the curve" -- CRwM

[ Parent ]
SF cons are by johnny (4.00 / 1) #15 Sun Feb 15, 2009 at 07:29:35 AM EST
good for meeting people and learning stuff, very entertaining-- I met Harold Feld at Arisia -- but very lousy for selling books.

I'm working on a long wetmachine post about all this stuff,  will have it up pretty soon, I hope.
Buy my books, dammit!

[ Parent ]
Ask HuSi and attn: San Francisco infidels | 16 comments (16 topical, 0 hidden)