Selling Pages at Spooky Empire 2014


There’s nothing there on a Thursday night load-in. Its rows of white tables, a big room with low population density. But the population wears black t-shirts, tattoos on their calves, on their arms, on their throats. One blonde’s very short shorts allow me to read “White Trash” tattooed across the backs of her thighs. Cartons stacked to the height of a man and bundles of zip-ties peeping out of pockets promise that this place is going to climb sky high. These are the advance scouts of an army of freaks, and I am among them.

I’m here to sell and promote my book, The Berlin Fraternity. This is the DoubleTree by Hilton outside of Universal, but this is not the aluminum siding show. This is Spooky Empire.

It’s my first time as an exhibitor, and I’m keeping costs down. So preparing my table means stacking my book on it in an intriguing way and pushing my supplies underneath it. Then I walk around to see what other people are doing.

But from three rows over, I look back and see two men standing there, heads tilted down…studying my book. And the show hasn’t even started.

I scamper back there to meet Lee and Brian Parnell, who speak with accents like they’re wrapping up sausage on a David Chase HBO series. They’ve got the same Ceasar cut. They’re both wearing Spooky Empire t-shirts. They’re twin brothers, celebrating their 50th birthday at their favorite convention. “We’re a hundred!” One of them tells me. “How do we look?”

“For a hundred, you look great,” I reply.

One of them stands and talks to me, the other recons nearby. I think they switch these jobs at least once. They finish each other’s sentences, and they present me with a business card: “DaTwiins”. They urge me to find them online. “We’re the white ones,” I overhear one of them stage-whisper later, to another recipient of the card.

I hope I can sell fifty books. That’s my break-even on the show. Walking out on Thursday night, I feel revved up and ready to squeal the tires. By Sunday evening, the treads will have melted off and the tank will be empty. But what will I have won?

On Friday, the dealer’s room opens at 4 PM for VIP guests. The general public follows at 5. I’m my whole staff, so leaving the table is highly undesirable. I’ve got a big bag of trail mix, a sack of Snickers Bites, a gallon of water, and a Monster Rehab. I’m at the table by 3:15, when a tall, raw-boned exhibitor who looks like a Midwestern wheat farmer comes up. He’s Ken, from Alkemie Apparel out of Jacksonville.

Ken was my first sale of the show, before I was even open, and he wasn’t hard to convince. “Damn!” I think. “This book’s magnificence can’t be contained by dealer hours!” Ken filled me with hope. Thank you, Ken…I hope you are enjoying it.

The doors opened to VIP shoppers, and the first person to stop at the table was a man who thumb-buzzed one corner of one copy without picking it up, looked me in the face and said, “Eh, too much reading.”

“But you could take it in small bites,” I smiled.

The man shook his head dismissively. “I’m dyslexic.”

Keep it moving, Fuckhead. You’ve got to stop at the lemonade stand on the way home and tell the little girl there that you’re diabetic. Then hit the Humane Society, look them dead in the eye and announce that one of theirs is going to die, because you are allergic to cats. Have you been outside with your premium-priced VIP ticket, washing down handfuls of asparagus with a liter of Gatorade, to be the first through the door in the race to piss on the dreams of authors?

It is a fat book, to be fair. But a point that I will make throughout the show is that it’s like getting two books for the price of one. Besides, what else are you going to do if you are a reader? Read a short book? And then read another short book, and end up reading more pages than if you’d just read this long one instead?

Business slowed down after that. But selling a book off a table is an invaluable lesson in commerce and art – in fact, I’m going to charge people to sell my book for me, for the learning.

People would stand and stare at the book, face down, back cover blurb in full view, and ask, “So, what is this about?” People would look from one copy, to another, to another, and another…then their eyes would roam back to the second copy. Having found their favorite of four identicals, they would pick that one up.

People would walk by the table, slowing, slower, all but stopping, eyes skating from one copy to the next…and then walk on by.

And there were the people who would stand and stare at the book, read the blurb, ask me to elaborate on the blurb, bite their lip, breathe deeply, hard drive grinding, trying to decide. The only thing they would not do was pick it up and open it.

I did manage to sell a few. My favorite customer was a redneck in a camouflage John Deere hat and jeans. He stepped up, picked the book up, turned it over a couple of times, dug in his pocket for his cash, and said, “Here ya go.”

Thank you. I love you. Tell me how to do that 10,000 more times. And he was a redneck, not a hipster. I grew up in Ashtabula County. My brother is Roger McCoy at 99.9 Kiss Country out of Asheville. I know the only redneck at Spooky when I see him.

My second favorite customer was a Latina of about forty, pushing a baby carriage the contents of which I could not see. She asked me about the book, said it was right up her son’s alley, and reached into her purse. Then she said she wanted to read it, and so she bought two.

Damn! How do I make that happen again?

My table was next to Lyn Gibson, a daughter of the Louisiana delta and the author of the Adrian paranormal romance series. With my book about a man who hunts the undead during World War II, I was the vampire slayer, and Lyn was the vampire layer. We made a deal where anyone who bought my book got $2 off her book, and vice versa. We sold a few to het couples that way.

Stonehenge Niki dropped by my table more than once. She and her companion were on the trans-Atlantic flight home to England on Monday morning, and their place in Salisbury, a few minutes away from the famous ring of stones. But in the meantime they were at Spooky, and they bought an autographed copy of my book. So now I’ve broken into the European market. Thank you, Niki – display it on your tea service.

An indie movie company booth babe came across the aisle to say hello on Saturday, and, as a joke, I said, “You look very familiar to me.” She’d been standing twenty feet away from me all that day and the day before.

With a kittenish grin, she leaned forward on her heels and said soto voce, “I used to do porn.”

Annnnd you’ve been standing right over there for a day and a half, which is what I meant, but it is nice to meet you.

At a writer’s panel, I met Heather Brewer, the well-known author of YA horror novels. She’s small with spikey yellow hair, and in our conversation she mentioned her great interest in the decayed, melancholic, haunted places of the world; the hulks of old insane asylums were a particular favorite. I offered to show her the abandoned mansion to which I enjoy access, if she could fit it in to her schedule on Sunday night. She regretted that she could not. That’s a pity. The mansion is something after dark.

Saturday night I bombed around the after-hours party with some friends. I saw a Predator lounging by the pool; he’d been appearing and disappearing all day. I saw many robots and ghouls and sucubi – I paid $10 for a walker to rub me all over. I had my picture taken with Frankenstein’s monster. I got into a conversation about semiautomatic rifles, but that happens whenever I am among friends.

I met a space Nazi stormtrooper and his Harley Quinn girlfriend. We dropped by his hotel room so that he could get his helmet and machine gun. He also picked out a quart mug, filled it up nearly to the top from a handy gallon of Wild Turkey, splashed in some Coca-Cola for color, and announced he was ready to roam. Impressively, he was still roaming in a straight line two hours later. Welcome to Spooky Empire after hours!

There was a woman whom I had confronted about her politics at my table earlier that day, because she had an Imperial symbol tattooed on her neck. But she was quite nice in spite of her allegiance to Emperor Palpatine, and that night on the pool deck she pulled up her t-shirt and pushed down her shorts and panties to show us Poe’s Raven tattooed on her lower abdomen.

I saw a repair crew rush to curtain off an area of hallway where fluid was pouring out of the ceiling, tearing away sodden chunks of plaster with its force, flooding the tile floor by a bank of elevators. It looked like an escaped genetics project had gone on a rampage.

And that was all before 11 PM. It takes a lot of work to put on a gore bath like Spooky, and I had to be back at my table in the morning, in some condition fit to talk about literature. So I said my farewells.

For an exhibitor, Sunday at Spooky is a stimulant-shaky race against time, waning consciousness, and a small brightly burning hope for a last rush on sales. I was surprised at the number of new faces I saw coming through the dealers’ room. And the popular wisdom that buyers you saw earlier that weekend will return to your table to make a last minute purchase proved true. I sold more books on Sunday than on either Friday or Saturday.

I asked my friend Brett Sloan about the damage that the hotel had rushed to close off the night before. Brett is a Spooky volunteer who looks like a circus strongman with his bald head, handlebar mustache, and tattoos. He conspicuously made no mention of the escaped genetics experiment, or of casualties. Instead, he gave me conflicting stories about drunks swinging from fire sprinklers, before denying any direct knowledge of the incident.

I had a conversation with a clown about calling down airstrikes in Iraq and drinking Everclear out of his Camelbak, two things he spent the late 2000s doing. I saw friends and acquaintances come by whom I hadn’t seen before at the show. And at the end of the day, I saw a bellhop with a luggage cart appear as from an Arabian lamp when I started to pack up my gear.

As far as sales go, I lost money. But no more than I would have spent as an attendee. And I did get some networking done.

I had happened to meet Petey, the motivating genius of Spooky Empire, at a street fair a couple of weeks before. When I’d told him I was an author and an exhibitor, he’d instructed me to find Alisha Sams, the writer who organizes Spooky’s literary programming, and get on the list of author guests for next year. So I tracked her down at the show and we have an appointment to discuss that sometime this November. That’s how you rise, my friends.

In the photographs below you will see the Predator, as well as this correspondent with the author Lyn Gibson, and with Dr. Frankenstein’s monster. Ms. Gibson is the blonde.


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Author: Brian Downes View all posts by
Brian Downes is a writer who lives in Orlando, Florida. His novel, The Berlin Fraternity, about a man who hunts vampires for the Third Reich, is available on the Kindle and through He enjoys pen and paper roleplaying games and geek culture. He clearly remembers waiting for The Empire Strikes Back to hit theaters, and vindicate his opinion that of course Vader was not Luke's father. You can't trust Vader's word!

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