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Author Topic: To Con or Not to Con--looking for advice, both general and specific  (Read 831 times)  

Online CathleenT

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I'm considering trying cons. I write fantasy, so I think there are quite a few that would be relevant. Also, I live in northern California, within commute distance of Sacramento and even San Francisco if I'm dedicated. I have intact people skills and know how to work a booth from our construction business. I even have a table, skirting, etc. from prior trade shows that I could use.

That's the plus side. On the down side, a tiny voice inside is screaming, "What?! Go to the bay when you don't have to? Are you crazy? Wouldn't you rather just go to Muir Woods and have a nice day?" And it's right. I really would.

I've never been to a con. Everyone has limited leisure time, and I tend to use mine outdoors. My idea of a good time is a waterfall I've never seen--or even just one I haven't seen in a while. Reading, writing, and taking my dogs for walks are my favorite things. So I know diddly squat about cons.

I tried Google, and I found some, but then I tried to search further, and it seemed like everyone was complaining about these things for various reasons.

It seems smart to simply attend one first, but what do I know? The only reason I wanted to do this is because I've read that making personal connections is one of the best things you can do to develop devoted readers. Apparently, the personal connection helps.

Is that still the case? There is absolutely no reason for me to do it otherwise. I'm not agoraphobic, but large gatherings aren't my idea of a good time. I don't even go to concerts anymore now that Rush isn't doing any. (Okay, I'd go to a symphony--but that's a completely different atmosphere.)

Note: I did read the thread with con advice--stuff like always have chocolate on the table, pair up with non-competitors, and have drawings and giveaways. I'm looking for more newbie advice, about how to approach even going to one of these things and checking it out.

It would probably be best to pair up with someone who's done this before, so if there's anyone in northern California looking to share a table, I could do that.

Or I could forget about the whole thing. Right now I'm exploring options.

For example, would it be better to explore cons or audiobooks? Or is the answer both? If so, which first?

Anyway, advice or anecdotes, tidbits, etc. all gratefully received.  :D
« Last Edit: June 13, 2018, 06:54:06 PM by CathleenT »

Offline Lorri Moulton

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Re: To Con or Not to Con--looking for advice, both general and specific
« Reply #1 on: June 13, 2018, 06:48:43 PM »
I just went to Lilac City Comicon and it was fun!  More art/comics and less books than I expected, but great people!  And I met Michelle Harrison...who was very nice. :)


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Online LilyBLily

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Re: To Con or Not to Con--looking for advice, both general and specific
« Reply #2 on: June 13, 2018, 07:18:00 PM »
The SF WorldCon is in San Jose in mid-August, and it's rather different from the enormous comic-cons and media cons of various ilks. More emphasis on programming. Less emphasis on TV and movie actors. Its celebs are usually writers. Check out its website to see what it offers.

If you're determined to go to one of those crazy "comic" cons at which 50k people show up, few of whom have ever actually read a comic book, my suggestion is at most to buy a one-day pass--the Saturday is hellishly crowded--and check it out. Three or four hours are more than enough to get a feel for what's going on. Unfortunately, unlike the sf cons, the comic-cons I've been to do not have freebie tables where you can conveniently put out sales material such as bookmarks, postcards, book samples, etc.


Online Cassie Leigh

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Re: To Con or Not to Con--looking for advice, both general and specific
« Reply #3 on: June 13, 2018, 07:21:41 PM »
LilyBLily beat me to the punch: http://www.worldcon76.org/

And there was someone on the boards looking for someone to share a table with just this week if you want to do a table or you could just go as an attendee and meet people that way.


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Online Mark Gardner

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Re: To Con or Not to Con--looking for advice, both general and specific
« Reply #4 on: June 13, 2018, 07:27:40 PM »
1. Do your paperbacks have a reasonable cost? ($4-$6 per unit with shipping factored in.)
2. Are they priced sufficiently to allow you to make a profit? ($15-$20 per unit.)
3. Do you feel confident in your ability to actively sell your books for 12-14 hours a day?
4. Do you have the capital to cover your table/booth/food/hotel/product? ($1000-$2000)
5. Can you miss the days before and after the con for travel, etc?

If you answered yes to all of these questions, then you should totally do cons. My personal policy is that if I can do a single-day event within two hours of my house, the attendance is expected to be over 2500, and the table fee is $100 or less, then I'm totally there. Multi-day events are a different animal, since there is a lot more to consider.

My last appearance was at Phoenix Comic Fest. I think that the attendance was around 110k, and I was there four days. I did really well (over 50 books) but the event was a net loss. Even with the loss, I'd do it again and again, because the networking opportunities are so valuable.

Offline Phoenix61

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Re: To Con or Not to Con--looking for advice, both general and specific
« Reply #5 on: June 13, 2018, 07:54:28 PM »
I'm glad I read your post in full, because it sounded strange that you ask whether you should con, or not, when all I could think of was a con-person. I had images like book stuffing and click farms travelling through my mind. So glad you were not asking if you should do that or not. ;D
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Online CathleenT

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Re: To Con or Not to Con--looking for advice, both general and specific
« Reply #6 on: June 13, 2018, 08:24:08 PM »
And here I thought I was being clever, Phoenix. :)

Thanks so much, Lori, Lily, Cassie, and Mark. The answer to all your questions is yes, Mark.

So you don't need an audience going into these things, right? The whole point is that it's an audience-building activity. I guess I'm looking for reassurance that it wouldn't be a waste of my time with only three titles.

Or I could wait until next year. By then I should have six or seven. (Hope springs eternal.) :)

Offline CoraBuhlert

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Re: To Con or Not to Con--looking for advice, both general and specific
« Reply #7 on: June 13, 2018, 08:57:48 PM »
I went to WorldCon 75 in Helsinki last year and enjoyed it so much that I will definitely go again next year, when WorldCon is in Dublin and will probably do Eurocon in Belfast the weekend after, too. I didn't rent a table at WorldCon 75, because I had to fly and books are heavy, but I was on four panels and met lots of interesting people. Though I wouldn't see it primarily as a sales venue and more as a place to make connections and maybe find new readers.

Since WorldCon 76 is in your area this year, which doesn't happen very often (2019 is in Ireland, 2020 very likely in New Zealand, 2021 is probably Washington DC or New Orleans), I'd definitely go. WorldCon is not small, but it's not as crowded as the media cons and the focus is more on books than on media celebrities. They've also got lots of programming and as a WorldCon member you get to vote in the Hugo Awards and also get the voter packet with many, if not all, of the nominated works. If you don't want to buy a membership for the full con (which is not cheap, though Helsinki last year had a first WorldCon reduced rate), you can also buy a day pass. 

If you do buy a full membership and have no problems with public speaking, I would fill out the program participant form, so you might get put on panels. I did it on a lark last year and didn't expect anything to come from it and wound up being on four panels and moderating one. Or - since you're in the area anyway - you can also volunteer for the con staff, which means you also get to know people ahead of time. 

There are also several regular cons in your area. BayCon and FogCon are two that I know of, there probably are many others. You could always go to one of those, though BayCon 2018 just finished.

Regarding complaints and problems, there are always people complaining about conventions, sometimes people who weren't even there. There are also always scandals and uproars at a convention somewhere. The link round-up at the Speculative Fiction Showcase has a conventions and events section, so I see a lot of articles and posts complaining about this or that convention. And before I went to WorldCon last year, I was somewhat apprehensive, because I had read all those stories about harassment, about escalating panels, about people getting banned, etc... But guess what? Everything was fine and absolutely nothing problematic happened. That said, there are some cons that seem to attract drama or just a certain crowd and that I probably wouldn't attend. But a lot of complaints or problems are also manufactured. For example, in Bay Area there is a certain individual who has managed to get themselves banned from several cons and makes a lot of noise about it. However, this person uses outrage as a marketing tactic. So in short, do your research, but don't be put off by the scandals and uproars.





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Online C. Gold

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Re: To Con or Not to Con--looking for advice, both general and specific
« Reply #8 on: June 13, 2018, 09:04:31 PM »
What I'd do about a con:

Fly by night away from here....
 ;D

However, maybe you should go to at least one. I attended E3 a couple of times to help present a game and while I'm glad I went, I'm also happy to never ever do that again!

Offline David VanDyke

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Re: To Con or Not to Con--looking for advice, both general and specific
« Reply #9 on: June 13, 2018, 09:11:05 PM »
If it's between cons and audiobooks, audiobooks will usually make you more money for less effort.

I'd try a couple small cons first. Size matters. Don't overwhelm yourself the first time out. Also, small cons will have cheaper vendor tables.

With a couple small cons, you will get a feel for whether the con scene energizes you or exhausts you. It all depends on the person.



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Online CathleenT

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Re: To Con or Not to Con--looking for advice, both general and specific
« Reply #10 on: June 13, 2018, 10:19:57 PM »
Wow, Cora, what a treasure trove of advice. I always thought you had to be invited to be on panels and such. I don't really feel I could put myself up as much of an expert at this point, except maybe in not giving up. And the complaints had me worried, although I do understand that sometimes it's just human nature expressing itself.

I knew there had to be another Rush fan lurking, C Gold. Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose. :)

David, I'm pretty sure the con thing will wear me to a frazzle. Large numbers of people make me want to go find a nice tree somewhere and hide behind it. Or climb it. Anything. I know a few campgrounds in the area. I was seriously wondering if I could camp instead of stay in a hotel, just so I could be someplace, uh, real. Trying to run the cost-benefit of less sleep vs. being someplace natural, even if it's pitch dark.

But, y'know, I'm a bona fide adult. I do lots of stuff I don't want to do. Just trying to figure out if I should put cons on that list.

« Last Edit: June 13, 2018, 10:22:50 PM by CathleenT »

Offline Elliott Kay

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Re: To Con or Not to Con--looking for advice, both general and specific
« Reply #11 on: June 13, 2018, 10:56:46 PM »
Wow, Cora, what a treasure trove of advice. I always thought you had to be invited to be on panels and such. I don't really feel I could put myself up as much of an expert at this point, except maybe in not giving up. And the complaints had me worried, although I do understand that sometimes it's just human nature expressing itself.

Panel programming depends on the specific con, and every con is basically its own unique mystery box. Some conventions want aspiring panelists to send them an email or fill out a form on their website saying, "I'd like to be on your panel program, and this is what I can talk about." Others want you to pitch fully-organized panels with you and three or four other panelists. Some are primarily invite-only, some of them you have to proactively apply (and they're not always clear about how or when), and some you basically can't get into without a publicist or some other industry-connected type to help you. And even beyond that, the internal organization of a con can lead to different practices from one area to the next.

I would suggest going to one just to see what you think of the con experience before committing to speak as an author or sell books or whatever. Pick a con near you, check it out, and if you're interested you can find a staffer or just ask a panelist after a panel how authors get selected for programming.

For myself, I love doing cons and being on panels, but I'm an extrovert by nature. I also have a lot of teaching experience, so I'm comfortable in front of a crowd. But I will say for what it's worth that I've never seen much of a sales bump from doing conventions. My panel experiences have been generally positive, I usually see lots of smiles, but for every con I do I pick up only a handful of readers at best. It's a thing I do because I enjoy it, and being a writer makes it a tax write-off (it would be for you, too!), but as a financial investment there's nothing close to a profit to be made unless you're running a vendor table and you do well at it.

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Offline KateDanley

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Re: To Con or Not to Con--looking for advice, both general and specific
« Reply #12 on: June 13, 2018, 10:58:16 PM »
Soooo... I'm going to be a bit of a Debbie Downer here.  I've done many, many fantasy/comic cons.  They are a hoot.  I have made some wonderful connections with fans. I gained new readers.  Conventions are always valuable. 

That said, very rarely do you make enough money to cover the time, energy, and hidden costs of doing these weekends. 

WorldCon is a little different, but general fantasy/comic cons tend to be aimed at folks who are into artists and graphic novels and handmade crafts and cosplay, and they are tougher for us folks who paint with words.  What I might suggest, instead, is to attend one first just as an attendee.  See what sort of tables attract your eye.  What sort of signage do they have?  Promo materials?  Display?  How did they catch your eye and get you to come over?  See how people are positioning themselves.  If a comic con was a message board, lurk a bit and get the lay of the land before taking the financial hit of getting a table. 

An aspect that I think sometimes is easy to forget is that these are professional conventions and meant to provide professional guidance to people in the industry on a wide variety of topics.  If you go as just an attendee, take advantage of that and hit every single panel you possibly can (arrive early!  Panels almost always fill up!)  If you are running a table, you won't be able to go.  The panels (for me) have provided incredible insight into the publishing industry, marketing, trends (see what films are big and if you can position yourself to ride that wave), writing solutions, technology that's going to make our lives better... There's SO much.  And every convention has a different feel.  Geek Girl is very different from Jet City, which is very different from Emerald City.  But all are great as a writer to tap into the zeitgeist.

But if you do decide you want to display, look for conventions with tables under $300.  Look for conventions that are big, but not huge (everyone I know has stopped showing at San Diego because it is SO crowded, shoppers can't stop to browse.  There are so many people in the aisle, there's nothing to do but shuffle along.)  Make sure they aren't too small (I did a convention once where maaaybe 100 people showed up the entire weekend.  This is not good for sales.)  Look for a convention with celebrity guests (they draw out the crowds.)  And keep your expectations low, so that everything that goes right is a delight.

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Online CathleenT

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Re: To Con or Not to Con--looking for advice, both general and specific
« Reply #13 on: June 14, 2018, 06:10:23 AM »
Thanks so much, Elliott and Kate.

Currently, I'm thinking a single day at World Con, as an attendee. Would it lack class if I had business cards printed up with my covers and "Three Free Fantasy Reads" or something similar on them? Then I could pass them out to people I talk to. :)

Online LilyBLily

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Re: To Con or Not to Con--looking for advice, both general and specific
« Reply #14 on: June 14, 2018, 06:29:35 AM »
Business cards or bookmarks, or postcards. Always have something to give people so they'll remember you and remember your books.

Offline Elliott Kay

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Re: To Con or Not to Con--looking for advice, both general and specific
« Reply #15 on: June 14, 2018, 01:11:04 PM »
Thanks so much, Elliott and Kate.

Currently, I'm thinking a single day at World Con, as an attendee. Would it lack class if I had business cards printed up with my covers and "Three Free Fantasy Reads" or something similar on them? Then I could pass them out to people I talk to. :)

If you're going to identify yourself as an author, you absolutely want business cards. It won't matter in every conversation or what have you, but I can practically guarantee that if you don't have them, you'll kick yourself. It sure happened to me.  :)

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Offline doolittle03

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Re: To Con or Not to Con--looking for advice, both general and specific
« Reply #16 on: June 14, 2018, 01:33:40 PM »
Great advice in here. Great question, CathleenT.  I've done three cons ranging from small to large and I wish I had this info then. Not knowing what to expect drained me rapidly. Not knowing that I WOULD be drained turned me off cons for years. Mark's post was particularly on point as a guideline for me. I have no advice, only a thanks for asking the question. Good luck! (I would choose trees over a con too, but that isn't going to sell books. Sadly.)

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Offline Uproar Books

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Re: To Con or Not to Con--looking for advice, both general and specific
« Reply #17 on: June 14, 2018, 01:37:48 PM »
If it's a choice between audiobook or con, then audiobook is an easy winner, especially if you're not someone who would go to a con just for fun.

Working a con can be a blast if you think going to a con is a blast (which I do). If not, it's a heavy time investment for the low number of sales you'll get out of it.

If you do go, I highly recommend biz cards or push/rack cards because a fair number of people would rather buy your ebook later for cheaper than buy your paperback on the spot. Without a handout to give them, there's zero chance they'll remember your name or book title (or even your existence) the next day after a hectic con.

Also, the best part about selling books to con-goers is that they tend to be uber-fans of the things they like, meaning if they fall in love with your book, they'll talk it up a lot. So even a small number of books sold can lead to a decent amount of word of mouth.

Also, too, keep an eye out for people with "media" tags on their badges. Ask them if they want a free copy to review. Most will say they don't do book reviews, but some will.

Oh, and if possible, have a partner to share your table so you can take turns taking long breaks during slow periods. The days feel really, really long otherwise.

Offline MyraScott

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Re: To Con or Not to Con--looking for advice, both general and specific
« Reply #18 on: June 14, 2018, 02:29:22 PM »
I would say cons are more about making contacts than actually selling books or building a fanbase.

If you go, push yourself to get to know the other vendors, get on a panel if you can, and really schmooze with the industry people more than fans.  Fans are fun and sure, ostensibly why you go, but I think the real value is making friends and shaking hands with people who can become allies, collaborators or just part of your network over time.

Sitting at your table and making small talk with people who wander by is fine and you'll sell a few books and get some people to look at your work, but probably not worth the time, energy and money you'll put in.  But you never know when the people you meet in the business will be useful to you, or you to them! So plan to meet and greet and go to the events and be charming.  Make an impression.

Offline munboy

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Re: To Con or Not to Con--looking for advice, both general and specific
« Reply #19 on: June 14, 2018, 02:55:41 PM »
Start with small cons with a small table fee. That's what I did. Not only is it less overhead, but you'll have less competition with other writers. Also, don't go expecting to make bank, especially if you have to travel. I go for the networking with readers and other authors and editors. If I happen to break even in sales (factoring travel, table cost, ect), I'm a happy camper.

Once you start making the rounds, look into bigger cons. I attended the Emerald City Comic Con this year, which was by far the biggest for me (selling, not attending). I lost money, but I met a lot people...readers, writers and artists. I also made some contacts and picked up a possible freelance job.

Also, don't just buy a table and go. Contact the organizers and ask to be on panels. If you want to bring people to your table, that's the best way to do it.

Offline KateDanley

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Re: To Con or Not to Con--looking for advice, both general and specific
« Reply #20 on: June 14, 2018, 11:25:37 PM »
Thanks so much, Elliott and Kate.

Currently, I'm thinking a single day at World Con, as an attendee. Would it lack class if I had business cards printed up with my covers and "Three Free Fantasy Reads" or something similar on them? Then I could pass them out to people I talk to. :)

Definitely have business cards printed up!  But I would recommend not pitching to vendors.  Folks have come up to me with their pitch and their cards go straight into the trash.  It's one of those things where if I've spent hundreds of dollars to vend, it's a bit gauche to have some random person wandering through try to sell me their products.  But if you're in a genuine conversation with someone and seem to make a connection, hand them a business card with your info on it, and just have it mention on the back that your books are available for free.  Another option is that a lot of time these conventions have a "Freebie" table.  You can leave bookmarks and cards there, and fans will flock to the table looking for goodies.  But most of all, just have fun.  WorldCon is a hoot.  George RR Martin and John Scalzi were just wandering around the time I went, interacting with everyone as peers, which is pretty cool.

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Online C. Gold

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Re: To Con or Not to Con--looking for advice, both general and specific
« Reply #21 on: June 15, 2018, 01:25:16 AM »
...
I knew there had to be another Rush fan lurking, C Gold. Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose. :)
...
I'm old... so back in the days of cassette tapes (no, not eight tracks, not that old!), when my Signals tape got eaten, that was the first CD I ever bought even before I had a CD player. :) I also admit to having a very soft spot in my heart for their sci fi/fantasy albums 2112 and Hemispheres where they told a story across several songs. That was awesome. :)

If you go, have fun!
« Last Edit: June 15, 2018, 01:35:55 AM by C. Gold »

Online CathleenT

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Re: To Con or Not to Con--looking for advice, both general and specific
« Reply #22 on: June 15, 2018, 06:53:22 AM »
"Though his mind is not for rent, Don't put him down as arrogant, He reserves the quiet defense, Riding out the day's events. The river..."

Moving pictures was my first Rush CD. These lines seemed appropriate in context. :)

I've been thinking of printing up business cards anyway, and I totally concur with the advice that you don't pass these out randomly. It would just end having to write down "https://cathleentownsend.com/mybooks/" on random Starbucks napkins, etc., so it would be useful even if I don't go to cons. But I think I'd like to try one, just strolling around to start.

Thanks so much, everyone, for helping to give cons some context. :)


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Re: To Con or Not to Con--looking for advice, both general and specific
« Reply #23 on: June 15, 2018, 07:33:38 AM »
I'm in the Bay Area, and I've been doing FogCon on a regular basis and would recommend it - not necessarily for sales (I haven't tried selling there myself yet), but for making connections and getting your name out there. It's small, has little drama, is reasonably priced, and it's in Walnut Creek so the traffic to and from is bad but not horrendous. It's also a great place to get your feet wet reading or speaking on panels. Takes place every March.


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Online C. Gold

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Re: To Con or Not to Con--looking for advice, both general and specific
« Reply #24 on: June 15, 2018, 02:43:46 PM »
"Though his mind is not for rent, Don't put him down as arrogant, He reserves the quiet defense, Riding out the day's events. The river..."

Moving pictures was my first Rush CD. These lines seemed appropriate in context. :)

I've been thinking of printing up business cards anyway, and I totally concur with the advice that you don't pass these out randomly. It would just end having to write down "https://cathleentownsend.com/mybooks/" on random Starbucks napkins, etc., so it would be useful even if I don't go to cons. But I think I'd like to try one, just strolling around to start.

Thanks so much, everyone, for helping to give cons some context. :)
As an angsty teenager who felt alienated in school, Subdivisions was my anthem. This line seems to work for this forum as well:

"Conform or be cast out!"

also

"Nowhere is the dreamer or the misfit so alone"

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Business cards are a great idea, especially if you are going to a con or anywhere where you think people will be interested in your books.