The Norwescon 2015 report, and what I learned running merch!

This year at Norwescon was a totally new experience for me, since I spent the vast majority of the convention attempting to sell stuff!

I got in a bit of a trial run with that last year, working with Brad and a couple other folks in NIWA to run our table then. This year I did that again, only this time I turned out to be one of the primary people working the table–because Lee French and I were the two at the table with actual Squares, so we were the ones ringing up transactions. Jake Elliot, Connie Johnson-Jasperson, and Madison Keller were also helping work the table, and we got in a pretty good groove going, engaging with folks. Luna Lindsey popped by periodically, but she was also on a lot of panels, so she was only able to check in every so often.

Here are a bunch of things I learned from that:

One, if you have five people trading off working the table, one small table with a single chair is not enough space for you all to do your work. We were crammed in between two larger booths, and found that we had to have folks wander away sometimes so we could just take turns running the table–because five people for our table was too many. NIWA is already discussing teaming up with some other folks for a corner booth next year to solve this problem.

Two, it was very helpful to be prepared to make eye contact with anybody passing the table and offer a perky “hello” to anybody who actually looked at me. Sometimes this only got me a “hi” in reply as the person moved on. But if they then actually came to the table, I could escalate to “how are you, how’s your con going? Done anything awesome so far?” as an opening conversational gambit.

Three, like a lot of writers, I’m a raging introvert, so being in perky customer-facing mode is draining. I had to wander off myself a few times and go hide in the hotel room for a get-away-from-people break. If you’re also a raging introvert and need to run merch, make sure you have the chance to do this.

I generally always also tried to thank people for their business after ringing up a transaction, and to tell them to have a lovely afternoon and/or rest of the con. And to do the same even for the folks who made eye contact but just kept going as well. This was harder for anybody who seized upon this as a chance to linger around and chat without actually looking at things, and therefore were blocking others’ access to the table–I’ll have to work on getting better at shunting such folks over out of the way if they want to stop and chat. (This’ll be another good reason to have folks sharing the work of running the table. Some of us can chat, some of us can ring up stuff.)

And occasionally we got people who were… less than pleasant to talk to, and in one case, someone who made actively racist commentary. (Pro tip: there is no sentence, NONE, that can start “I don’t know how to say this without sounding racist” that will go anywhere good. JUST SAYING.) Which was a time I had to make an active roll on my Diplomacy skill, since I was still in customer-facing mode.

Four, being able to work the table with fellow writers was in fact awesome, since we could take turns and spell each other–not only for the aforementioned get-away-from-people breaks, but also in case any of us wanted to go to actual convention programming, or cruise the room for stuff we wanted to buy, go get food or water, or heck, just to duck out to the loo. And, we also got to chat about each other’s work, which was very cool and helped my ability to talk about those titles to folks that came by the table.

Five, it helped considerably that my cover art is in fact awesome, because Kiri Moth rocks. And being able to talk up the whole “I’m a huge Elfquest fan, so I told my artist, here’s a picture of Rayek, here’s a picture of Leetah, make my character look like the child these two characters never had” story worked very well with the Elfquest fans. Particularly the one who then promptly showed me her cosplay-as-Cutter pics. 😀

I did also get one guy asking me about the Bone Walker cover, and he presumed that Elessir on said cover was an elf. I told him, yes, he’s a bard of the Unseelie Court and an Elvis impersonator, but he likes to snark about it and tell people “Elvis looks like me–I was here first”. I got a grin out of him for that.

Six, having a hook to talk about my indie stuff was helpful. Being able to call the Free Court of Seattle books my “music, magic, and computer geekery” series went over well. So did being able to identify Tanya Huff as a personal inspiration and an obvious author I could point at and go “if you like her stuff, you might also like mine”. We wound up talking about how to work on hooks. Jake quite liked my suggestion of “snark fantasy” for his The Wrong Way Down, and I brainstormed a bit with Connie about how to come up with the elevator pitch for Huw the Bard.

Seven, if you’re at a table in the dealers’ room, you are in a very good position to see a boatload of awesome costumes. Some of my favorites I saw go by were a lady in a sweet Ursula costume from The Little Mermaid, another lady who’d done up her mobility scooter as a red dragon (VERY clever), and an adorable little boy in a Fix-It Felix outfit from Wreck-It Ralph. And a guy with a beautiful raven full-head mask stopped to chat with us for quite a bit. We all admired his outfit.

Eight, Square is awesome. The current version of the app, at least on iOS, is very easy to use. It only took me a little bit to get into the groove of using it, particularly after another NIWA guy gave me the handy tip of bracing the square with one finger to hold it steady while running a card. And I was able to use it to do cash transactions as well.

Nine, there are a lot of aspiring writers in Cascadia. We had several delightful chats with folks who perked right up when I said “if you’re a writer, or know someone who is, we’re a support network for people who want to go the indie or small press route, and help produce work of professional quality even if they’re not associated with a big publisher”. Got a few prospects for new club members that way, so yay!

And to provide a delightful balance to the aforementioned unpleasant encounter, one gentleman of color stopped by and had a lovely chat with us. He was a prospective writer himself, and VERY interested in our group. Moreover, he told me it was his first Norwescon, so I made a point of welcoming him. And was very happy as well when he told me he had a daughter–so I told him about GeekGirlCon, and how he might want to take his little girl to that. He was very, very pleased to hear that such a thing existed.

Ten, people like free stuff. So being able to say “please feel free to take any bookmarks or postcards that look awesome to you” was a good attention-getter. Discounts, ALSO helpful. I got several interested “ooh” noises when I pointed out the coupon codes on the back of the Bone Walker postcards.

Eleven, some people also like digital, so it was helpful to be able to say “everything on the table is ALSO available digitally, please feel free to take a bookmark or postcard for anything you want to check on later, or take a picture of covers”. I even had one person actually buy the Faerie Blood ebook bundle on CD I was offering. Something I will need to look into for later is whether I can sell download codes for Faerie Blood and Bone Walker somehow.

And for the digital people, being able to point to my Valor of the Healer postcards and go “This is also mine, and book 1 of an epic fantasy trilogy, book 3 is coming out on Monday and you can read the whole thing for the price of a paperback” ALSO went over well.

Twelve, let it be noted for the record that the dealers’ room staff looked after us very well, and kept checking on us to see if we needed anything. Particularly when there were power and lighting issues. I felt like they were on top of anything going on in the room. Thanks to them for that!

Thirteen, I was kind of surprised by how much I actually enjoyed working the table. Enough that I more or less took over running merch during the music track on Friday night as well–not only for Dara, but also for Leannan Sidhe AND the PDX Broadsides. The Broadsides hadn’t shown up with a merch plan of any sort, just a bunch of Bandcamp download codes and some sampler CDs, so I volunteered myself as their merch person, entered their stuff into my Square register, and proceeded to sell $75 worth of THEIR stuff as well as the sales I made for Dara and Shanti. \0/ (And I was very, very pleased to be able to sell several of Dara’s discs as well–the Bone Walker soundtrack, mostly, but one person also bought ALL of Dara’s discs in one fell swoop. We gave her a discount for buying the lot!)

And oh yes, important note: the PDX Broadsides are AWESOME, and I’m still giggling over their song about the girl who Couldn’t Even, particularly the bridge where they all started singing in harmony “SOMEONE IS WRONG ON THE INTERNET!” Also, getting an entire room to sing “NATHAN FILLION, PLEASE TAKE OFF YOUR PANTS” was a joy and a pleasure to behold.

All in all this made the vast majority of my convention. I did divert on Saturday night to help run Cascadia’s Got Talent for the Masquerade half-time show–and that was new and different, too. For one thing, I’d never seen a Masquerade from backstage before. I didn’t get to see the actual Masquerade in progress from the audience, but I did get to see everybody’s costumes, which was cool. Cascadia’s Got Talent was a bit shaky in this whole new mode of “half-time show for the Masquerade”, particularly since we had to recruit a couple of judges at the last minute. But we did at least pull it off, and at a couple of points got the audience chanting “GONG! GONG! GONG!” Also, mad bonus props to Cosplay for gonging another judge in the middle of his commentary. XD

And I did do water fairy duty on Thursday and Friday nights. But other than that, I didn’t go to any of the programming.

I did, however, get very excited when they announced that Tanya Huff will be next year’s Guest of Honor. So although NIWA is already in talks about getting a bigger table for the dealers’ room next year, I will also be planning to go to her panels and signings and things. There are, after all, REASONS I kept mentioning her while pitching my own stuff!

One last big important note: Dara will be stepping down from running nwcMUSIC next year. She has a big post up about that over here in her own con report. The concom will, repeat, WILL need a lot of people to step in and fill her shoes, since they’ll need to split up what she was doing into smaller and more manageable chunks. So if you think you might be up for taking on some of that work, go read Dara’s post, and contact Norwescon’s people!

And see y’all at Norwescon next year!

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