Archive for the Conventions Category

Continuing the convention theme

Posted in Comics, Conventions, Fantasycon, The House of Murky Depths on 22 November 2012 by Lucifal

Thought Bubble is the biggest comic (only) con in the UK. Of course, it’s never going to be as big as a US con, but, then, we haven’t quite the same audience size – and there’s likely a growing percentage who can’t read English, or is that a contentious statement to make? Whatever.

I wrote the following for someone else’s blog in reference to Thought Bubble, with some minor amendments in this version:

It’s very difficult for those of us who have tables at conventions to fully appreciate the success or otherwise of a particular convention, particularly if you’re the only bod manning the tables. Dealers tend to gauge success purely by sales, and one dealer can do well while the next dealer has a bummer. Thought Bubble has to be the biggest comics-only con in the UK and is blessed with a multitude of amazingly talented people, both famous and aspiring. I don’t think there’s any other comic con in the UK that has such a huge yet somehow integrated mix. You can’t help but respect the time and commitment that the creators have put into projects whether it’s their own or commissioned – and, as a publisher, the amount of money! I challenge any other con to equal the Thought Bubble party on Saturday night in the awesomely breath taking Corn Exchange. That has to be the icing.

I was then asked my views on how the downturn has affected publishers:

Well, starting a publishing house as a recession hits (that was back in 2006) is probably not a good business plan, but to even think about starting a business you need optimism in gargantuan proportions, and a bottomless wallet. You hear tales of small press publishers mortgaging their houses, and I could have saved up and been able to buy a brand new BMW with what The House of Murky Depths has cost me, but we struggle on with our dreams. Marketing is the downfall of the small press – we just don’t have the budgets – and social media isn’t all it’s cracked up to be for the majority who try to use it for promotional purposes, unless you just hit lucky. High quality limited editions still seem the best bet for small press, but then production costs are higher and margins lower, but talk to a small press publisher, after a few drinks, and he’ll boast about all the boxes he has stacked away somewhere with unsold stock. Most of us talk ourselves up when in fact we’re all struggling. The downturn has certainly a lot to answer for but I think it’s always going to be difficult for small press publishers. We still struggle on with paper too, when online content is beating us down. Bottom line? If there hadn’t been a recession there’d be a lot more comics around but we probably wouldn’t be that much better off (or should that read, we might actually be breaking even).

So, what does all that mean for The House of Murky Depths?

We’ll be looking a lot closer at what conventions we attend. We won’t be attending the likes of Fantasycon (World Fantasycon next year) and Eastercon unless there’s a big upturn or organisers make their table deals more attractive. Sure, you’ll most likely achieve greater sales at these cons … but at a cost. Of course, there’s always an optimistic dealer who’ll take up a table, if you don’t, so it’s unlikely that table prices will go down, and organisers have to pay their bills too. The main difference between a comic con and a literary con is that the former has the dealer room as its main attraction whereas the latter tends to just tag the dealer room onto a busy panel schedule.

Another option we’ll be investigating is more one-day events or conventions that allow us to book just one day (many don’t), thus avoiding additional hotel costs. Each one will be weighed up against the pros and cons (snigger). Of course, you never can tell from one year to the next how a convention is going to pan out. A good con one year can be a disaster the next, and vice versa. Have no fear, you’ll be seeing us somewhere next year. In the meantime we’ll be a feature in the Lincoln Artists’ Network shop from 6 December until 9 December (18 – 20 Sincil St., LN5 7ET). Lincoln has a lot going for it, so if you haven’t visited this city yet, pop along and say hello.

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Con support

Posted in Comics, Conventions, Dead Girls, Murkee, Murky Depths, My stories, The House of Murky Depths, Vampire Gene on 26 October 2012 by Lucifal

The House of Murky Depths has supported Bristolcon since it started, and the first year there was virtually just Murky Depths in the dealer/panel room, so unusually I was at all the panels and talks. A bonus. There was I believe around 60 people at that event. This year it was nearer 250; I sign of Bristolcon’s success, and I think one of the reasons is that it runs for just the one day and therefore makes it possible for people living within a few hours journey to avoid the problems and added cost of staying in a hotel – though missing some of the evening entertainment. A reason why I liked Thought Bubble in Leeds which has now gone to a two-day event. Great for visitors, not so good for dealers.

For me it’s a chance to visit my son, so the stay-over at his amazing new pad was worth the visit and a few bevies catching up on his achievements and plans is always enjoyable. Aside from that it’s good to meet old con friends for a drink in the Ramada bar, and leaning on it and sharing whiskey tasting with Jim Burns was the Friday night highlight after some quick catch-ups with Robert Harkess and Kim and Del Lakin-Smith. This year I set up the dealer tables on the Friday night so it was a casual ten-minute stroll in the morning for a Colosseum (just around the corner from the Ramada) breakfast – something I always look forward to, though this year the two pissed young ladies with wine and lager alongside their platefuls made me feel a little queasy.

The dealer room at Bristolcon has never been huge but spills out into the corridors, and I sometimes think the corridor might be a better place. At least everyone passes you, whereas some people never visit the dealer room itself. This year Murky Depths was at 90 degrees to Forbidden Planet, who invariable have the best spot – directly facing the entrance – with Danie Ware promoting her new novel Ecko Rising amongst other best-selling book.

From a dealers point of view, well mine anyway, Bristolcon has never been a viable proposition. I rarely sell enough to cover travelling costs let alone anything else. Initially I’d made the excuse it was a promotional exercise but, now that Murky Depths is no longer published, plugging the publishing houses, that’s The House of Murky Depths and the new YA imprint Murkee, and new titles alone doesn’t seem to excite me so much.

Despite being unable to visit the panels and reading – I’ve always been there on my own – I know it’s a good con from the attitudes of the people who speak to me at the table, or maybe my ukulele playing just makes them smile! There were several con virgins who seemed to be having a good time and I’d suggest Bristolcon for anyone unblooded at a con. It’ll give you the right vibes.

It’s a hugely well-organised con. And how many cons have you been to where tea and coffee is available all day for free! I hope everyone who picked up a goody bag on the Saturday were pleased with their free copy of Murky Depths and a big thank you to everyone who purchased a signed copy of my new short story collection Probably Maybe Perhaps.

Will The House of Murky Depths be at next year’s Bristolcon? We’ll have to wait and see what next year brings. Cons are beginning to be a liability as far as finances are concerned – maybe they always have been – although some are still a good earner. There will always be traders willing to take up tables so organisers rarely feel any obligation to dealers who have supported them from the off (Bristolcon’s an exception there too), but if more organisers don’t help us out with deals then you won’t be seeing The House of Murky Depths at so many cons in future. Shame, but that’s the way it is.

Not another con!

Posted in Comics, Conventions, Murky Depths, The House of Murky Depths with tags , , , on 14 October 2012 by Lucifal

The Cult Publishers Expo was an interesting little gig yesterday. In the dark depths of Kennington at the Cinema Museum (even the locals, hah!, didn’t know where it was). But, heh, worth the trip if films is your thing (even without the expo). It was well organised so I’d like to thank Dexter and Fat Bird in particular. Financially lucrative? – who else but me gives a flying frak about that – Paid for the tables and half the travelling costs (parking was free!) and I didn’t pay myself for leaving home at 7am and getting home at 9.30 pm including the six-hour round-trip drive. Then, I never do (pay myself, that is).

Good to have Richard Calder at the table signing the first three Dead Girls comics, and Lavie Tidhar rushed back from his Croydon (Osama) signing to be on hand to sign Going To The Moon.

My brief interview in the panel room seemed to go okay, and that should be available online soon.

Asked by the organisers if I’d be back next year I probably hesitated too long, but I would like to return. Needs a bigger footfall but it was the first one so fingers crossed.

That old convention chestnut

Posted in Conventions, Fantasycon, Murky Depths, My stories, The House of Murky Depths on 3 October 2012 by Lucifal

If you’re a member of a convention, and I’ll use the recently passed Fantasycon for my example, you may have been lucky to pay your membership at last year’s event which was, if I remember rightly, £40. You would have been very pleased to receive a full goodie bag at this year’s event; lots of free books and stuff like that.

As a dealer you still have to pay the membership fee plus table costs – for me, that was £70 – so a total of £110 gets me stuck behind my table all day unable to go to any panels, signings, readings, workshops, etc. But I do get to hang out with people in the evening, and a single price with a couple of free memberships is what you’d get at most other cons, so can’t really grumble at £110. If you’re a dealer though (and it’s your living) you expect to get decent sales.

The trouble with everyone getting so many books in the goodie bag means there’s a reluctance to actually buy any. I’d say that of the 500 or so members at this year’s Fantasycon less than half actually looked in the dealer room – that wasn’t why they were there. Not what a dealer wants to hear. And positioning – I was facing the back wall (that’s not a complaint as I always accept where the guys who do all the arranging put me) – can be all important to sales.

The hotel price seemed a bit steep to me so I bagged a b&b not far away – Joel Lane was staying at the same establishment, though he probably doesn’t remember handing me the Best Magazine award for Murky Depths back in 2010 – for two nights at £110.

Travelling costs at 45p a mile came to nigh on £183 and the car park was £50 for the weekend. A couple of evening meals came to about £30 and I did over £100 on booze (though I never put alcohol on my expenses, so I shan’t be putting that in these calculations).

My costs for the weekend was therefore £483. Like I said, not many people were buying books, and it takes a lot of book sales to get anywhere near £500 so I actually lost nearly £200. If it wasn’t for the sales of my new short story collection things would have been a lot worse. Next year, World Fantasycon prices are double what I paid this year so I can add another £135 (at present costs). That means I have to make £600 before I even start to think about production costs and paying out royalties. If the argument is, ‘you’re product’s no good’, or at the least, not suitable for the fantasy market – which I would strongly argue it is, then there is certainly little point in attending Fantasycon. I can no longer say I’m there to promote Murky Depths. I really want to be at Word Fantasycon but the scales are tipping against it at the moment. What to do…

Dealers at conventions

Posted in Conventions, Fantasycon on 25 March 2012 by Lucifal

Well, the heading says plural but this is mainly going to be about The House of Murky Depths and our experience of conventions.

But before we discuss dealers we’ll look at the two main types of conventions. There’s one that requires you to purchase a membership for the weekend (or single-day memberships) – such as Eastercon, Fantasycon, etc – and there’s the kind that has a one-off entrance price – such as MCM Expo, SFX Weekender and most comic conventions. Similar, but the latter is usually far cheaper for the con-goer. The difference is more pronounced for the dealer. They will have to buy membership to the former (though will be unable to experience the benefits, like attending daytime talks or workshops) but also pay additionally for a table, whereas the latter require a single table cost that also includes entrance. Despite me always bemoaning the fact that there are two costs to bare at the likes of Eastercon and Fcon the combined cost of membership and a table is usually cheaper than the comic-type convention.

At a comic-type convention the dealers hall/s are generally as important as the panels, whereas at the more literary conventions the dealers are often squeezed into a pokey windowless room, seemingly as far as possible away from the main talks.

So, why do conventions have dealer rooms? In my mind they are offering the con-goer an additional experience, and somewhere to browse between panels or a place to find a book or item that has been recommended at one of the panels. Often the dealers will be offering special rates on some items – we always have – to make the trip to the dealers’ room an attractive proposition.

What do the convention organisers hope to gain from the dealers’ room? I’d expect the above to apply but sometimes wonder if the real reason is purely to generate more income – we’re just there to ensure the venue is paid for and entrance fees are a bonus. I’d arrived late to a convention once – the three-hour journey taking almost four-and-a-half because of traffic jams – to be told my table had been given to someone else!

What do dealers’ hope to gain from attending conventions? You’d expect the answer to be, ‘To sell shit loads.’ But with Murky Depths it was always about promoting the brand. Maybe the brand wasn’t what the punters wanted as sales from the website following conventions rarely increased. Since its demise though we’ve had loads of people – mostly writers – saying how important Murky Depths was; a shame only a few showed their support by subscribing.

I digress. Having been stung financially by the costs of producing a high quality print magazine we have to take far more care in choosing the conventions we attend. Distance, hotel costs, membership and, of course, table costs, are a major consideration. Over the last five years we have probably only broken even or made money at five or six – that’s barely 10% of the conventions we’re attended. Not good business. But from year to year you can’t guarantee a good convention (based on sales) will always be a good convention, and one that was bad one year can be good the next. Like the products we invest in – the book and comics we publish – the investment we put into a convention is just as much a risk.

SFX WEEKENDER

Posted in Conventions on 31 January 2012 by Lucifal

Pop along to the Murkee tables this weekend. Sam Stone will be signing on Saturday midday – and unofficially at other times too. And BSFA nominated (this year) authors Kim Lakin-Smith and Lavie Tidhar will be signing their new books we’re launching at the Weekender. Oh yes. Happy for you to buy me a drink!

Conventions and the dealer

Posted in Conventions, Murky Depths on 12 September 2011 by Lucifal

Why do conventions have dealer rooms? A cynical response might be that the organisers need the revenue to run their event. An organiser’s response might be that they are offering their members an additional attraction. Some conventions charge dealers just a nominal rate for tables, although the dealers still have to pay the same membership fee as others but without the ability to visit the panels, while others will shock you with a mortgage! Some conventions make the dealer room the main attraction while others add a dealer room almost as an afterthought. But what are dealers doing there in the first place? Selling their wares seems the most obvious answer but that’s often too simple. Of course dealers need to cover their costs – that probably happens less than you think if all costs are taken into consideration – but for the likes of Murky Depths and our publishing arm it’s also about promoting the brand, to let people know what we’re about. It doesn’t follow that the bigger the show the better the sales. MCM Expo get thousands through the door but it’s always been one of our most disappointing events, no disrespect to Bryan Cooney who made a bold pitch to get us to take a table again during Asylum – and we all think we can organise something better . . . Eastercon is a much smaller affair despite being probably the biggest ‘purest’ science fiction convention in the UK and, though this year was very disappointing for us (but that may have been due to the venue), it’s usually one of our most fruitful events. The SFX Weekender, with its membership of ‘ordinary’ SF readers with a far more open mind than the pure genre cons, and with no preconceived idea of what is ‘trendy’, has so far been our most lucrative event ever, but from year to year it’s difficult to predict what your sales are going to be. But, like I said, it’s not all about sales when you’re at a convention. MCM Expo might have been a financial disaster but we spotted and commissioned five new artists.
At the end of the day do convention members want dealer rooms? It’s somewhere to go and browse between panels, but if browsing is all that’s done then some dealers will eventually not support the event any more. Organisers can sometimes forget that that is exactly what the dealers are doing . . . supporting the event. There has always been a new dealer ready to fill the table of the ‘fallen’ with aspirations and hopes of success, but will that always be the case?