Stoker weekend. Two tables. 1,200 miles away.
I’ll let you know how things turned out in a post-con addendum, but for now I want to focus on the preparation that goes into one of these. It’s not simple, and it’s not cheap.
First, there’s the determination of what to bring. The easy answer is to bring the work by the authors in attendance… but that easy answer is often wrong. If the authors are bringing their own work, I prefer to avoid competing with them. Moreover, if a publisher is attending, they are likely to have copies of the latest books by their published authors.
With this convention, many of the authors will be bringing their latest work. Also, the majority of the dealers’ tables will be stationed by publishers. This eliminates a number of titles which I would otherwise bring, and encourages me to focus on older titles and titles by publishers who aren’t going to be present.
Then, there’s the matter of the other dealers. In this case, I’m facing two different but considerable stores: Bad Moon Books and Dark Delicacies. DD isn’t one of the dealers in the room, but they are a huge fixture in the city, and the Thursday night mass signing is taking place there.
Dark Delicacies stocks most contemporary titles; their selection is excellent and draws heavily from the small press. People who will be going to the mass signing… I’d guess a third to a half of the attendees… will be able to purchase new books there, and it will also be the first stock seen. Bad Moon has an exceptional stock of small press items, complete with many ultramodern rarities.
A little competition with the pair of them is healthy… and it’s going to happen, because inevitably, there is crossover between tables. But I feel I’ll be better served if I can provide items which neither of the other is carrying. The decision is made to focus on what will likely be the gaps in their products. Part of my standard format is the $3/$5 boxes, consisting of boxes full with paperbacks (many hard to find) which cost either three or five dollars each, with one free for every purchase over $20. I’m going to have to bring at least one of these boxes. As I’m going to have a paperback presence, then, I decide to play to that strength. I have an excellent selection of rare paperbacks. While it’s tempting to go with favorites such as paperback originals by Richard Laymon and Jack Ketchum, those titles have been reprinted recently, so I set them aside. Instead, I gather some early Richard Matheson books, my one remaining Steve Brackeen (John Farris) paperback original, and some others from the attendees, and then I pick out books by authors who might be somewhat sought by an older, more sophisticated (i.e., Stoker Weekend Attendee) horror crowd: older books by Robert Bloch, Charles Beaumont, William F. Nolan, Manly Wade Wellman, Clark Ashton Smith and others.
Then, it’s time to select the hardcovers. sending books isn’t cheap, so I need to have a few high-ticket items which will hopefully help to offset the mailing costs when sold. The Richard Matheson: Collected Stories by DreamHaven is a given, as is the lettered edition of Gary Braunbeck’s Things Left Behind and the signed/limited of F. Paul Wilson’s Conspiracies. After that, I pick appropriate titles, focusing primarily on novels, then collections, and lastly anthologies. On occasion I grab an oddity… like the 1970 Cavalier issue featuring Stephen “Steve” King’s Graveyard Shift, or the magazine containing Harlan Ellison’s first pro sale… to draw attention.
I recognize that I need to provide a reasonable selection of the best-known attendees; some people will want to patronize me over other dealers, after all, and one reason why the guests are guests is that they are highly regarded and among the best in the field. People read their work, and in order to read it, they need to buy it. But horror authors, like other authors, are often broke… and many of the attendees are authors. I gamble on the possibility of Dark Delicacies having sold through some of the older titles and Bad Moon focusing on the limiteds, and select a strong sampling of trade releases.
Now comes another problem: transit costs. By this time, I’m up to ten boxes full of books… actually, rather small for a two-table spread; I’d normally have that many boxes for a single table, but I anticipate having space available for authors to set out copies of their books. But at roughly $35 each due to weight and insurance… each way… the postal charges are going to rack up quickly. I could save considerable money using media mail, but my experiences with media mail have not been good, either in treatment or transit time. I’ve had both good and bad experiences with UPS, and will possibly be using them to ship the boxes back, but after a bad experience in Manhattan I prefer to learn from locals how their UPS branch functions before trusting the boxes to them. In any case, I’m looking at $6-$700 in shipping charges.
That’s the preparation.
Now, the mindset.
Combine the shipping cost with the cost of the tables, and that’s how much money I need to clear… in profit, not simple cash… to break even on this convention. There will also likely be some value added, most notably if people do a walkthrough and sign their works before leaving on Sunday. A Galaxy magazine from 1950 will sell for considerably more if it’s been signed at the story by Richard Matheson; a copy of The LaNague Chronicles will sell for more if signed by F. Paul Wilson. That’s unpredictable, however. Neil Gaiman and Jim Butcher have camped out at my table and signed stock for me; Larry Niven has signed four books, gotten a call to help someone, and left; Bob Asprin would sign everything he’d ever written and some things he just liked… if he remembered, but he’d just as often forget and leave without signing a thing. And Jack Williamson, in his later years, would sign anything and everything during his assigned time, but was just too frail to be wandering through the dealer’s room signing table by table.
It’s a risk. It’s very plausible that I’ll lose money on this venture. But it’s also very possible that I’ll make some cash, in exchange for sitting for a bunch of hours in a dealer’s room, talking with other people who love books… authors, editors, and publishers…. and grabbing an anecdote or three to add to the file of stories. And in the evenings, drinks and conversation with people I rarely get to see, and to top everything off, the Stokers themselves.
How could I pass that up?