Also, I was fortunate to luck into a "shopping cart" sale at a local thrift: for $10 I filled a cart with almost 200 quality SF and Fantasy paperbacks - about $0.05 per book. Not bad considering that quality paperbacks often sell at $3 or more at an SF convention. I would estimate that better than 90% of my stock would grade between Near Fine and As New, and since new paperbacks retail in the $7 to $8 range (does anyone else find that shocking?), my convention customers don't mind spending $3 to $4 for a quality paperback, especially if the book is out of print. And while they could probably find the book for less online, add in shipping, and they would still end up paying the same amount.
Paperbacks, by the way, are especially suitable for sale at conventions. As discussed above, they can cost next to nothing to buy, even in great condition. Moreover, they take up much less room than hardbacks and are much easier to pack and display (some important discussion about this later). They are also easier for the buyer to carry and pack - an important consideration at large conventions, where many attendees are from out of town. Yes, hardbacks will sell, but in my experience the sales ratio is about 2 to 3 paperbacks to every hardback. For this reason, I would recommend stocking at least 2 paperbacks for every hardback.
The great advantage here is that the kind of stock you need for con sales is readily available at all the places you already go for your online stock. To repeat: be picky about condition, and spend as little as possible.
Selling at genre conventions is not for everyone. For one thing, a strong working knowledge of the genre is necessary, and you should enjoy talking about it. Your target customers are genre fans, and it will be obvious to them if you don't know your stuff (see "fakefan" above). There were several instances where I was able to make a sale because I was knowledgeable enough to suggest titles or authors based on a conversation with the customer.
Looking back on my initial experience, I would conclude that this was hard work for a modest profit. However, I suspect that my profit margin will increase as I am able to refine my convention business model. Also, there were some startup costs that I won't incur again. But for me it's not all about the money. I enjoy spending the weekend talking with other SF fans and selling them my books. It's also a great way to make contacts in the field - both authors and other sellers. And cool things sometimes happen. A woman I met brought in a big box of Locus magazines and traded them for a $10 paperback.
Next time I will discuss the nuts and bolts of running a book table at an SF con. Topics will include how to build a sturdy, portable shelf system for under $100, how to display your books effectively, tips on how to streamline setting up and packing, how to keep track of inventory sold and manage sales tax, how to choose books that sell particularly well (and avoid ones that don't), and how to sell high-end, collectible books. I will also make some sales comparisons: hardback vs. paperback, fantasy vs. SF vs. horror, etc. I, for one, am really looking forward to seeing the results of that analysis!
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Questions or comments?