When faced with the fact that an old tactic doesn’t work, it’s time to try something new. That was the choice that confronted me when I started this “sf convention season.” My son Tyrell E. Gephardt and I typically attend 6-8 sf conventions in a normal year.
Because I don’t have a lot of different books available to sell in paperback format, I haven’t seriously considered setting up at a dealers table. I also don’t “do mornings” gracefully, because of my habitual “Graveyard Shift” work schedule (fewer interruptions then). Before the Pandemic, I normally could find a general bookseller with a table full of traditionally- and Indie-published authors’ work. They often were willing to set up an “on-commission” deal.
But that was then. Now it seems that the only people selling books in dealers rooms are Indies and author groups selling their own work. A changing market landscape meant it was time to try something new.
A Pair of Friends in Need
Especially since ConQuesT is my “home con,” I was able to ask around and soon found a friend, M. C. Chambers, who was planning to have a dealers table there. She and another friend, Karin Rita Gastreich, had already agreed to share a couple of tables. When I asked, they graciously invited me to join them. Time to try something new!
You already met my table-mates if you read last week’s blog post, but a brief re-cap is in order in case you didn’t.
M. C. Chambers
I first met Mary through KaCSFFS, the Kansas City Science Fiction and Fantasy Society. She just looked like an interesting person from the get-go, and we hit it off right away. We have many things in common (including our birthday). I invited her to join my then-current writers’ group, and we’ve been friends ever since. Her work includes a bunch of wonderful short stories, several of which have won awards, and the fantasy novel Shapers’ Veil. She’s also the mother of five boys (“Mother of Heroes”), a flutist, and a variable print programmer. She sold copies of several anthologies that contain her stories, as well as the novel.
Karin Rita Gastreich
Dr. Karin Gastreich, ecologist and author, serves as Chair of the School of Natural and Applied Sciences at Avila University in south Kansas City. But I met her in a different place entirely: at another writers’ group. I’ve recently had the privilege of beta-reading her latest (really wonderful) novel, which I don’t believe is available yet. She’s also written multiple short stories and won several awards. But she’s best known for her woman-centered fantasy Silver Web Trilogy, which she bundled and also sold individually at the table.
Welcome to the Itinerant Village!
I’ve previously remarked that the “sf con circuit” is like a small, traveling community. This weekend I discovered that folks in the dealers room are even more of a close-knit “village.” When I showed up at a table for the first time, a number of longtime friends made a point of welcoming me to a whole new level of the community.
Two of the longtime friends who deserve special notice for a warm welcome are author Dennis Young and Zac Zacarola, whose “Wall of Doom” has been a popular fixture of Midwestern dealers rooms for years.
I met the prolific writer Dennis Young (a Kansas-City-area “local”) at ConQuesT a few years ago. The first time I remember talking with him about writing was when he was a fellow panelist on one of the first writing panels I ever dared to join. Known for decades in fandom as an artist, I had not yet published What’s Bred in the Bone. It still felt audacious to call myself a writer. A teacher and mentor by nature, Dennis warmly encouraged me. To this day, he still does. Most recently he’s offered encouragement to become a dealers room “regular.”
As I recall, when we were on that early panel he was about 3 books into his fantasy Ardwellian Chronicles Series (it now numbers six books and has a new set of covers). Since then, he’s branched out in many other directions and offers collections set in several universes. They include his Mercenary Trilogy, the Bloodlines duo, and the three-book Earthfleet Saga. With an ever fertile imagination, he also has a whole array of other new ideas in varied stages of progress.
I’ve known Zac long enough that this actually is not the first time I’ve written a blog post that includes a feature about him. Trained as an analytical chemist, he’s worked in in Nuclear Power (Commercial & Naval Reactors) since January, 1980. Indeed, he worked at Cooper Nuclear Station in Chemistry for almost 22 years. Since 2008, he has strictly worked in the Environmental Group, with Chemistry. But he’s best known in fandom as the proprietor of Ziggy’s West.
For years his “Wall of Doom,” a stunning array of bladed weapons, has acted as an irresistible magnet for kids of all ages and genders. Ziggy’s also offers an array of sf & f collectible figurines, sculptures, and other cool art objects, ranging from eclectic salt-and-pepper shakers and sword canes to handcrafted leather journals. He also has acted as the agent for the artist Jeliza.
Try Something New and Meet New Friends!
I had not regularly frequented dealers rooms for a while. My last few conventions, both before the Pandemic and in recent months, have kept me hopping between programming items. About the time I’d get a break, the Art Show and Dealers Room were either about to close or had closed. If either was still open, I usually opted for the Art Show, to see if I or friends had gotten any bids.
Thus, when I decided to try something new by spending more time in the Dealers Room, it stands to reason I’d meet new people. The first table I really paid attention to, after those I already knew, was the one directly across from me. One of the banners over there featured a striking image of what looked like a Roman centurion wielding a bloody sword and carrying . . . a baby? Yes. Definitely a baby. It’s the cover of Richard E. Friesen’s book An Uncivil War.
But more than that: the artwork has a very distinctive signature-style that I recognized immediately as that of Chaz Kemp. He’s the Colorado artist who created wonderful covers for my sister G. S. Norwood’s two short urban fantasy novelettes, Deep Ellum Pawn and Deep Ellum Blues. He also has created cover paintings for the Weird Sisters Publishing reissue of my late brother-in-law Warren C. Norwood’s Windhover Tetralogy, which we’ll unveil this summer. As I write this, he’s also helping me with the cover of a Newsletter-exclusive short story, Anywhere but Sixth Level, about my characters Pam and Balchu (only available to Newsletter subscribers).
Meet Peter and Richard
Richard E. Friesen’s banner and cover art may have been the thing that drew me across the aisle, but the guy manning that table at the time was his friend Peter Sartucci, whose covers were done by a different, but also very accomplished artist, Claire Peacey.
We struck up a conversation. Both Peter and Richard are from Colorado. Like Mary, Karin, and me, they had decided to team up and share a dealers table. If you’d like to try something new, you might want to check out some of their work. Here’s Peter’s Amazon author page, and here’s Richard’s.
After the Dealers Room officially closed Friday night, the Art Show stayed open a little longer so dealers could get a chance to see it (Thank you, Mikah McCullough!). Peter and I toured the show together. I was able to show him my paper sculpture and tell him a little about the background of nearly every artist in the show (most of whom are my friends). Check back in next week for my Art Show post!
Did it Pay to Try Something New?
Since this was my first dealers table, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Did I sell well? Depends on how you define “well.” I know I sold almost all the books I had, and that’s a heck of a lot better than I normally do selling books out of my rolling luggage “traveling show” after a reading or panel.
Likewise, while Karin and Mary weren’t so rushed they couldn’t keep up, both sold many books, and Mary sold out of one title. She said she’d never sold this well as a “solo” act. We hypothesized that with three of us we had more variety to offer, and perhaps that appealed to people.
We also probably benefitted from the fact that people have been on lockdown for the past two-and-counting years. They’ve been unable to go to sf cons all that time, unable to buy art or books or anything from our speculative genres in person – so some of it might be “making up for lost time.” But whatever caused us to do well, I’m glad I decided to try something new!
I (Jan S. Gephardt) took all of the photos in this post that aren’t specifically credited. I also created all montages. Ty took the wide shot of the DemiCon 33 Dealers Room. Many thanks to M.C. Chambers and Karin Rita Gastreich for their author photos, as well as Amazon for the photos of Shapers’ Veil and the Silver Web Trilogy.
Dennis Young publicly posted his author photo and the photo of his ConQuesT 53 table on Facebook. Zac Zacarola posted the photo of himself with his Ziggy’s West table (including the Wall of Doom) as they appeared at TopCon in 2017. And Deb Branson, my intrepid proofreader, took the photo of Mary and me at our table.