Thoughts on Exhibiting at a Con as a Woman

This past weekend I was exhibiting at Stan Lee’s Los Angeles Comiccon (AKA ComiKaze). This is only my second con and was my first big con.

We’ve all heard the horror stories about how women are treated at cons, whether as a cosplayer, a panel participant, or just an attendee. Sometimes you get harassed–verbally or physically–as a cosplayer because, to some men, a costume gives them permission to ignore societal norms and stop treating you like a person. Sometimes you get talked over because obviously a man understands the subject matter better than you do in your tiny woman brain. And sometimes guys are just jerks and you get treated like shit so things like The Backup Ribbon Project has to be created.

We all get this. We get it because it’s really not all that different from our day-to-day lives except maybe we’re in a costume this time, or our harassers are.

But today I’m gonna talk about having a table at a con as an artist and the bullshit I had to smile through. These were mostly microaggressions, so I’m sure some will dismiss them, but I think they’re indicative of the crap we are trained to put up with because it’s easier to just smile and avoid rather than confront. And, who knows? Maybe a guy will read this and see himself in these douchebags and maybe he’ll try to change. That’s all we can hope for, right? A little bit of change.

So, if you’re reading this, you probably know who I am and know that I’m a writer. If you’re here because you saw this linked on Twitter or somewhere and don’t know who I am, well, I’m a writer. I have three series out under this name, all various shades of Fantasy.

I am very lucky to have a supportive husband who will go with me to conventions to help me man the table, move the heavy boxes, share the long car rides, watch the table to let me take much-needed breaks. But that’s all he is at these things: my helper. My husband is not a writer or an artist (though he his a martial artist, that doesn’t apply here). He wears shirts that promote my books and website, he passes out business cards for me, he supports me.

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But guess what reader? 7-8 men out of 10 who approach my table automatically assume he’s the writer/artist at the table. Now. I know what you’re thinking, “Shauna, that’s an honest mistake.” So let me further explain.

Behind my table are two huge stand-up banners that have “SHAUNA GRANGER” written across their tops. Affixed to the front of my table is another banner that says, you guessed it, “SHAUNA GRANGER” in bold white lettering against black.

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Now, fine, maybe their eyes miss the last ‘a’ in my first name and they think it says “SHAUN” but give me a second. Behind the table are two chairs. I sit in one, dead center of my table with a clear space in front of me for signing books. My husband sits in the other, off to the side, and slightly behind me.

And, I’m not counting the people who also looked at my signs before making eye contact and asked, “So, who’s the writer?” Because, yeah, there’s a chance we’re just manning the table. No. I’m talking about the men who would look at my banners, glance at my books, then look right at my husband, never at me, and say, “So, you’re the writer?”

Now, here’s another funny thing, reader. People who assumed I was the writer, or who didn’t assume either of us was the writer, would smile at me when they realized it was me. They would ask me about the books and nod and listen. When they bought books and I offered to sign them, they’d light up and say, “Yes, please!” The guys who assumed the writer was my husband? Would then lose their smile, lift their eyebrows, and then very quickly leave the table when my husband would direct them to me, the writer.

What the fuck guys? What the actual fuck?

This happened a lot. A lot.

At one point my husband looked at me and said, “Wow  they really do just assume it’s me, don’t they? Just because I’m the guy at the table. What bullshit.”

Another thing that happened that really tested my patience were the guys who made fun of my books or my very presence at the con as a novelist, not a comic book artist.

Yeah, that’s right. You know these guys, the ones that think it’s funny to tease you about who you are or what you’re doing. I’ll give you an example of a conversation I had with a guy who was probably ten years younger than me and had absolutely no intention of ever buying my books.

Guy: So, I imagine it’s pretty hard to be a novel writer at a comic book convention.

Me: No, not really.

Guy: Really?

Me: Really. I have a different product, so it stands out.

Guy: People actually buy your books?

Me: Yes.

Guy: Do you sell a lot?

Me: I do alright.

Guy: *smirks* Right.

Me: Well, when people do buy, they buy whole series.

Guy: Right because they can’t buy them anywhere else.

Me: No. My books are available at all retailers.

Guy: Really. (no, not a question)

Me: *strained smile*

Guy: So. Tell me about this series. *points at Elemental Series*

Me: *Give brief explanation because it’s 5 books*

Guy: The Elemental Series.

Me: Yes. *Starts to explain what “elemental” means*

Guy: *cuts me off* So, Potassium, Magnesium…? *Stupid asshole smile*

Me: Yeah, alright.

Guy: So what’s the story about?

Me: I just told you.

Guy: No but what’s it about.

Me: Each book?

Guy: Yes.

Me: *starts to explain book one*

Guy: *cuts me off* Do people ever come back the next day and tell you they liked your books?

Me: The very next day? No, I don’t expect people to read a whole novel series in less than 24 hours.

Guy: So they don’t.

Me: They usually find me online later.

Guy: Online. Right. *walks away*

Yeah. Bullshit like that happens to us all the time. See, I consider everyone who comes to my table as a potential new reader. Even if they start off as a jerk, I am in sales mode so I don’t treat them like jerks, even if they deserve it. But if you’re never going to be interested in something a woman has created or if you’re coming up just to be a total asshole, don’t waste our time. Move along and find a table only manned by men. Only go to a table where you might spend money, not just to make yourself feel like a big man because you’re not. You’re a tiny man.

Guys, don’t be these guys. Because, honestly, we only have so much patience and you might be the one we lose it on.

ETA: The guys who would wait to approach until after my husband would leave the table. I’d see them lingering, their eyes glancing in my direction, not really talking to anyone at any other table, and then my husband would leave for a minute and the lingerers would swoop in to talk to me. It was creepy and they never bought books.

ETA 2: The asshats who tell you to smile. I have been told to smile by men my whole life. My whole life. I don’t stand around or walk around like a grinning idiot. How weird would that be really?! But men would come up to my table, from the opposite direction as the one I was looking and would say shit like, “You’re supposed to smile when a customer comes up.” Like, bro, I wasn’t looking in your direction, but thanks for the advice.

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My First Con

So, if you were following along, you know I was going to have a table in Artists’ Alley for the first time ever at a Comic Con this month. Welp, that was this past weekend at the Ventura Comic Con, aka Central Coast Comic Co, aka C4.

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I learned a lot over the two and a half days and I had a surprisingly good time. I thought it would be good to share my experiences with you, dear readers, in case this is something you’re ever considering doing. I’m not going to get into the specifics of the behind-the-scenes stuff at this particular con because there were some issues, but they were specifics to this con. I’m just gonna give some generalities.

So, going in I was ridiculously nervous for a few reasons. First, this was the first time I’d be in public, face-to-face with people asking them to buy my books. Secondly, I have social anxiety and I have a hard time dealing with the unknown if things aren’t organized well. Third, I am not artist who draws or paints or sculpts, I write books and would be selling books alongside talented drawing, painting, sculpting artists. What the hell was I thinking?!

Well, amazingly, I did really well. I beat my own expectations of what I would sell. I met some awesome people. And I got to have some fangirl moments myself.

When I went in I said I just wanted to sell one book and get a picture in Baby (the Impala from Supernatural) and a picture with Doug Jones.

So I bought a table banner from esigns.com, which was reasonably priced, easy to design, and the quality was awesome. I bought bookmarks and pins and business cards (the cards were minicards from moo.com which were super popular) that featured my book covers for people to take in case they wanted to check out my stuff online later. And I had around 50 copies of my books, ready for sale. I had more of book 1 than the other two in the trilogy, thinking most people would want to buy the first, not the whole set, to see if they liked it. Boy was I wrong.

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I sold about 50% of the stock I brought with me, which is pretty fricken amazing because most people looked at me with furrowed brows when they found out I was selling books at a Comic Con so I really thought I wouldn’t sell anything. But of those sold, only 3 were singles. Everyone else said, “Well, if I’m gonna buy them, I’m gonna buy the whole set.” Which I cheered while being totally shocked on the inside.

So, first thing I learned – not for the first time: don’t under-value yourself. I was super worried my price of $9 for a paperback, or $25 for the set, would be too high. But I saw people walking around with $9 cups of Budweiser, so I decided I would be confident in my price point.

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Second thing I learned: don’t freak out. This is the hardest thing for people like me, with social anxiety, to learn. Because of some of the behind-the-scenes stuff, me and a few other locals, or lesser-known peoples, had no idea what the hell to do or where to go and some things weren’t done on time, which stressed us all out. But the fact is, for a table, you don’t need a lot of time to set up and people are pretty forgiving if you’re running late or setting up late. I am so lucky I had my husband with me, helping me and supporting me all weekend. He took a lot of the stress off of me just by being there so I didn’t feel alone. I don’t know how anyone does this alone. Even just for the bathroom breaks! So lesson 2b, bring a partner or friend to help you.

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In the end, we got our table, had everything set up nicely, and met our table neighbors who were just as nice with time to spare. I was even lucky enough to be across from Brian Pulido, the creator of Lady Death, and his beautiful muse and wife, Francisca. I read Lady Death and Purgatori as a teen so I got to squee over him and he even traded me two gorgeous prints for a copy of my book – which still freaks me out!

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With my husband there to help man my table so I could take breaks as needed, I even got to meet the astounding Doug Jones. If you don’t know him, you probably do and just don’t know it. He was Billie the Zombie in Hocus Pocus. He was Abe Sapien in Hellboy. He was the Faun in Pan’s Labyrinth. And much, much more. He was amazing. He was so sweet and approachable and he kept the same amount of energy for every fan. He cradled my face and hugged me so many times.

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Then my husband told me “Hey, Xander’s here.” Xander, Nicolas Brendon, from Buffy the Vampire Slayer was at our con. I grabbed my phone and ran. The day before he’d tweeted with the hashtag, hugtheshitoutofme, so when I found his table, I smiled at him and asked, “Can I hug the shit out of you?!” And he jumped up and hugged me. Both of these guys are great huggers. We saw Nicolas Brendon again the next morning passing my table and he stopped to hug me and my husband. Such a great guy, hug him if you ever get the chance.

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And, I got my picture in Baby.

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So, another lesson, try to have fun. It’s stressful and overwhelming to do this for yourself, so try to have fun while you’re there, even just a little. And if you get to know your con-mates, they may want to trade with you if they’re interested in your stuff.

A commision I got from my table neighbor, Jenney Martinez of one of my characters! (instagram.com/jenney_todd)

A commision I got from my table neighbor, Jenney Martinez of one of my characters! (instagram.com/jenney_todd)

Another thing you should do is make sure you take both cash and cards for payments. With Square and PayPal nowadays there’s no reason why you can’t. I had people totally relieved when I told them I could take their cards for payment because there were actual booths that were only taking cash. Don’t let someone who wants to buy your product walk away to “come back later after the ATM” because they probably won’t.

So who bought my books? The majority were grown women, many who were mom’s coming to the Con with their kids. Which was great. They were lugging things around for family that they’d bought, but they’d stop at my table, talk to me, and then buy the whole set for themselves. So it was good that I was different from those around me. Some said they were buying for them and their kid, which might be true. Lots asked if they could buy my stuff online. So you know, just like the card reader, always be ready to say “Yes!” But my favorite sale was to Darth Maul who said, “I have a growing TBR pile, but I can’t help myself.” Yeah, those are my people.

I had people tell me “cosplayers don’t buy” but Darth Maul and this awesome Steampunk lady bought full sets, so… yanno.

And lastly, probably most importantly, have a good attitude. This was a smaller con with a lower attendance than a lot of the other, more established cons out there and a lot of the other vendors maybe didn’t realize that and were disappointed in the turn out and let that show in their faces and tone of voice. Don’t do that. Try to stay positive and happy to meet people. There were things that bugged me about the con and some of the attendees, but how would that have helped me make sales and meet potential new readers? It wouldn’t.

So yeah, I’m exhausted, my back still aches, and I don’t have a lot of mental bandwidth left over, but I feel good. I feel excited for the new readers. And I am so glad I did it.

Things I might do differently: no candy on the table, have a raffle, and calm down.

I brought Dum Dums to have on my table to attract passersby, but the truth was, people who bought from me didn’t stop for the candy. 97% of people who took candy didn’t even talk to me. People were happy to take the candy, some were polite, others super rude about it (had two kids dive bomb the bowl, dig around, and get pissed at me when they couldn’t find the flavor they wanted), but if they wanted the candy and asked about my books, it was only because they thought they had to not because they were ever intending to buy a book. Just because of the rude people, I wouldn’t do it again. People who were interested in my books/table didn’t care about the candy.

I thought about a raffle, but I couldn’t think of how it could work for me. I mean, who would buy a book if they could win it? But I could give extra tickets for every book bought. So next time, I’ll raffle a toy, like a Funko Pop figurine to entice more people.

Now that I’ve done it, now that I know how quick I can be since I am organized, the con could be a shitshow behind-the-scenes and I know I’ll be okay.

So that’s how it went, in a condensed nutshell! If you have questions, please ask, I’m happy to answer. I skimmed over a lot because there was a lot to cover, but if there’s something you’re curious about, as a vendor or attender, let me know and I’ll try to help!