by Jenna O’Connell
Have you ever been to a convention? No, not those super boring things in the boardroom where everyone wears a name tag, and if you’re lucky there’ll be a Monte Carlo and some hot orange juice for morning tea. I’m talking about a fan convention, in this case, a pop culture and all round awesomeness convention. I hadn’t been to anything like that before I started interning for Odyssey. But for authors and publishers, they are so much more than a chance to dress up and overspend on a heap of cool things.
What I’m constantly learning about, working in the small publishing industry, is that there are so many more ways to market books than just shipping them off to a bookstore and crossing your fingers. And when you’re a small press, you REALLY need to be pursuing all those other opportunities. So far this year, I’ve tagged along with our publisher and some of our authors to two Supanova conventions, and learned a ton about the opportunities that come out of events like these. For those of you who haven’t heard of it before, Supanova is a pop culture convention that runs across Australia at various points in the year. It bills itself as a celebration of all things pop culture, so fans of anime, fantasy, sci-fi and everything in between unite over three days to dress up, meet some of their heroes, and (hopefully) buy a lot of cool and quirky things.
The set up for those selling things is quite like a market. A lot of booths, mostly small, although the bigger companies had massive ones. We were located in what is called Artist’s Alley, which is an area specifically put aside for smaller artists, from comic book designers, to jewellery makers, to publishers and authors like us. Before we went to our first one, I assumed we were going just to sell books. We publish quite a bit of sci-fi and fantasy, so I figured this was a new way to sell to our target market. And it definitely was. What I didn’t realise, is just how much more than that it would also be.
Supanova was a great way for us to make our brand more recognisable. For every one person that bought a book from us, we had 10 more picking up cards, chatting to us, wanting to learn about our website. Many of those people will lose the cards, and forget all about us. But a picture of us is in their head, and they’re more likely to recognise us next time. I began to realise that awareness is just as important as actual sales. Awareness is about engaging a customer so that they will return to see what we do next, and who wants to know what else we do. I also learnt just how important being different is in building that awareness and recognition.
On the second day of Sydney Supanova, I dressed up as the Hitcher, from the television show The Mighty Boosh. One of our authors, Tracey Joyce, dressed up as Isaura, from her very own novel Altaica. The amount of photos we got stopped for, even when we were just hanging in the booth, was amazing! And just by drawing people into the booth, having them look at what we were doing, we captured a lot of people who otherwise might have walked right past us. And not only that, we had some awesome conversations with some truly amazing costume artists.
Speaking of conversations, one of the things that took me most by surprise was the amazing opportunity for networking that Supanova is. At both conventions, not only have we sold our current books, we’ve also been approached by prospective authors. A couple have already joined our Odyssey family, others who have amazing manuscripts that I honestly can’t wait to read. And not only that, we’ve met self-published authors and talked strategy, we’ve met illustrators and graphic designers interested in working on cover art with us, and we’ve also had a chance to chat with other publishers, both small and large, and see how they approach conventions, and even marketing in general.
Just sitting around with our publisher and her authors at these conventions, I absorb so much. The conversations that come with meeting others in this industry casually, or even in outlandish costumes, provide more hands on experience than you could ever hope to get trying to research all this stuff. Selling books at a pop culture convention turned out to be so much more of a learning experience than I could have ever expected it to be. For me, it shows just how much can be learnt by being a fly on the wall in every possible publishing and marketing experience. As usual, I learn just as much outside the office as I could ever hope to inside it.