Sales Per Day, Pro-Gun Fiction, and America's Demographic Future: Notes From a Gun Show
On May 19 and May 20, I attended the Eastman Gun Show at the Gwinnett Infinite Energy Center in Duluth. Rather than going there to sell guns, I went there to sell books, specifically my Lovecraftian horror novel The Thing in the Woods and the sword-and-sorcery collection The Best of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly Vol. 2, which contains my short story "Nicor."
I had several reasons to think that these would sell well. Thing is set in Georgia and although it's not a "message book" in the vein of The Handmaid's Tale (written by Margaret Atwood in response to the rise of the Christian Right in America and the Iranian Revolution), if one conflates "political" and "reflective of the author's values" than the book is strongly pro-gun. Some characters use personal firearms to fend off an attack by tentacle-god cultists (and to later mount a rescue mission after another character is kidnapped), since "when seconds count the police are just minutes away." And in the case of fictional Edington, Georgia, you might not want the cops to show up in such a situation--the Sheriff's Office and to a lesser extent the Edington Police Department have been infiltrated by said cultists, much like how even in less-nasty Atlanta a quarter of the police in the 1940s were in the Klan. I've gotten kudos from a conservative writer for depicting the residents of Edington as intelligent and three-dimensional characters rather than dumb redneck stereotypes. Author Larry Correia's Monster Hunter International series' initial customer base was gun enthusiasts and he's become quite the success. Meanwhile, I've observed from Facebook posts and some academic reading that the gun enthusiast community tends toward masculine and traditionalist, so sword and sorcery stories with heroes like Conan the Barbarian and the like, might be of interest. Also, there simply might not be much competition for selling books at a gun show.
Superficially my plan worked. I sold 14 copies of Thing and seven copies of Best Of over the two days, grossing over $200. That's better in terms of raw sales than the time I attended Griffin's Mistletoe Market, in which I sold 18 copies of Thing.
However, I reexamined the numbers after talking to my dad and my friend Nick, and things started to look less rosy. The costs were higher at the gun show than the Mistletoe Market ($85 for the table as opposed to $50 and I spent probably around $9 as opposed to $6 on gas and $8-12 on candy for the table). Nobody seemed to have small bills and only one person wanted to use a credit card. To encourage people to open their wallets, I ended up selling both copies for $10 cash each, making a $5.50 profit per copy instead of the usual $7.50 (for Thing) or $6.50 (for Best Of). I made around $10 profit for the whole weekend, which is better than outright losing money but not by a whole lot.
The price problem is the single biggest confounding variable to determining whether gun shows are worth the time to sell books at, but even if I'd gotten my ideal price for all of these books--and that's not a given, as people willing to pay $10 for a book might not be willing to pay $13--I'd have made at most $60 profit. That's somewhat less than one of my lowest-performing book signings. And those 21 copies were also spread out over two days--11 copies on the first day and ten on the second. 14 hours of work as opposed to eight for the Mistletoe Market and 2-6 for the first two book signings. As Dad points out whenever I have some scheme to make or save money, my time has value, and I'm only a few hours' worth of work from finishing the first draft of The Atlanta Incursion (the sequel to Thing). It is possible I made some additional sales due to handing out VistaPrint cards with QR codes on them--I saw one person scan the card to find the Amazon link to Thing and a couple people asked if they could get it in audio--but I cannot quantify those sales, so for the sake of caution, I won't include any guesswork.
(Also, at the Mistletoe Market and the bookstore signings I only had Thing. I might've made even more money if I had Best Of as well.)
Based on this one event, I suspect that gun shows might not be the most profitable environment for book sales, especially if the table costs are high. There's a gun/knife show in June in Atlanta proper that won't require driving as far and the table costs are cheaper so I might give that one a spin, but the weekend before that I'll be out of town for three days for the Lizard-Man Festival and a book signing in Augusta on the way back, so I wouldn't want to go back out again so soon. Especially since I want to produce more material rather than market more intensely what I've already got--I want to finish The Atlanta Incursion and I've got some ideas for a space opera novella trilogy.
(Also, the candy was an additional expense but I don't think it was the deciding factor in bringing people to my table. Going forward I'm not going to bother.)
Meanwhile, one event that proved extremely profitable, even more so than the bookstore signings, is the Atlanta Sci-Fi and Fantasy Expo. There I grossed nearly $400 with only one book over the course of two days. Had I thought to bring Best Of with me, I might have made even more money.
Consequently, generally speaking fandom conventions are a much more profitable use of my time than gun shows, especially if there're unfinished projects on the table. I might give a gun show a spin later once The Atlanta Incursion is available for purchase (so someone who buys Thing might buy TAI as well, to have more of the story) and if the table cost is low enough, but that's a ways away. I'll also make sure to have more small bills to make change if the environment is cash-heavy. I will continue with my plans to attend the Lizard-Man Festival and the Atlanta Comic-Con this summer, since those are more explicitly fandom-focused and look to have much larger numbers attending.
On the brighter side, given today's polarized political environment, the gun show was totally apolitical. There was nothing pertaining to either Donald Trump or Barack Obama, nor was there anything extremist like Confederate flags or swastikas. This I credit Eastman with, since their rules specifically rule out anything that promoting hatred or violence or denigrating the presidency. There were a fair number of children there as well. Everybody was pleasant and it wasn't too loud. It was like a standard trade show, except focused on firearms and not Tupperware.
And although the media and popular culture often stereotype the gun-rights movement as a white-male phenomenon, there were a great many African-Americans and a fair number of Asians attending as well. Speaking as a gun-rights supporter, that's a good thing. The U.S. is becoming less white every year and if non-whites become alienated from the cause of gun rights (see the Philandro Castile screw-up and the cases where "stand your ground" should have applied like the Airman Michael Giles and Marissa Alexander cases if you want examples of the gun-rights movement letting down African-Americans), the anti-gun coalition becomes stronger. Groups like the Deacons for Defense used personal firearms to fight the Klan and even deter attacks on civil-rights activists by police and firemen, so even though anti-gun people have used anti-racism as a pretext to attack gun rights (props to The Root of all entities for taking that apart here), there's a strong history of racial minorities' use of guns for self-defense and racist whites' attempts to disarm them that needs to be emphasized.
So those are the things brought to mind by my sales excursion to a gun show. We'll see how the Lizard-Man Festival goes, since that's my first out-of-state event.