With all the comic cons and comic arts festivals going on, creators and exhibitors are becoming increasingly picky about what shows they go to. A lot of it is scheduling, but more and more what makes a good show is whether it’s profitable or not. You may recall the the Devastator and The Beat did a survey to get an idea of how and how much money people are making at shows. And of course there have been various arguments over whether cosplay, celebrities or hot dogs on a stick have more effect on poor sales at shows.
A few posts have been going around this week with concrete hints on how to exhibit. Tumblr’s Derpygurl chimes in with 25 Reasons Why You Don’t Make Any Money At Comic Cons and she wastes no time jumping right on why mumblecore and tabling don’t mix.
Keeping your head down at your table – I see rows of people with their heads down drawing instead of looking up and engaging the people walking by. (What? are we boring you?) Offer to give a custom drawing to someone AFTER they’ve bought something.
Not being able to describe your book or product – If you can’t describe your book in one sentence, you’re doing it wrong. If you are uncomfortable describing your work, find someone who isn’t and bring them (If you hate people, go back to your cave and sell your stuff online)
Not telling anyone where you are – 2 weeks before every con you should be on FB, Twitter and IG telling everyone what your row/booth number is. Make sure to include your twitter handle and the hashtag for the Con itself. Cons notoriously run out of maps and have bad wifi, leaving the masses to wander aimlessly. If your fans can’t find you, they will NOT buy from you.
…and so on for 22 more reality check type hints. I see people ignoring these 25 reasons all the time, and generally speaking, if you’re Adam Hughes or Kate Beaton, flout rules all you like. If you’re somewhere below them on the comics world food pyramid, you should read this post! The comments are equally full of hints, tips and tricks from the field.
Onrie Kompan came back with a post entitled 3 WAYS TO MAKE MONEY AT COMIC CONS, and he respond to Derpygurl with some Tony Robbins level motivational hints on standing up, engaging and so on.
Prior to doing a convention, go to one as a civilian and walk the floor. Observe what you think is done well and what you think could be done better. Talk to other artists. Many of them will be happy to share their experiences with you. Take their advice with a grain of salt and keep in mind that what applies to them may or may not apply to you.
Pay attention to both the good and bad things that artists are doing. Watch them sell. Take notes. Don’t skimp on a single detail. Look at other table setups and pay attention to how you want to display your work. A lot of what derpygurl said about what artists are lacking at cons is true. The more reconnaissance you do prior to setting up shop, the more confidence you will have when you open for business.
I will note that Kompan is known as a pretty vigorous salesman at shows, but that works for some people.
As some people point out in the comments at Derpygurl’s post, sometimes the reason you don’t sell any comics is because not because the show is crap, but because your comics are crap. Artist Alley is a pretty competitive place these days.
I’ve written before about what I call “Artist Alley Comics” — books published by small presses or self publishers that fit into the genre/Big Two mold and ape their appearance, as opposed to the more personal comics you’ll find at CAFs. Getting the word out about AA Comics is hard. Most of them are by people who aspire to work at the Big Two/Next Three and the material is often in “workshop stage.” Developing good exhibiting techniques and accepting honest feedback about work is often the key to moving on and up.
But then again, sometimes a con really is crap. Here’s Jade Woodruff on “The Worst Con in Florida” —perhaps a bit of an exaggeration but the first time Collective Con in Jacksonville, FL has a lot of first time show problems: lack of communication, lack of effective promotion, tables that were smaller than advertised, costs that aren’t in line with other regional shows, etc etc etc. Woodruff was also alarmed by an email from one of the promoters with important logistical information that urged exhibitors “don’t be an ass” while whining that he had to give up his Neutral Milk Hotel tickets to help with load in. I think you see the problem right there. Woodruff has quite an exhaustive account of what went wrong at Collective Con,
Vendors and artists hung out in the aisles, talking to each other. Some of the comic book guests were just as bored as I was. The comic guests left around noon on Sunday. Everyone seemed to share the same opinion: a two day show with lower costs would have been much better. We all thought that the advertising was there but that information was lacking which directly contributed to the problems we saw.
It was hard to say how many attendees were actually there. Given that all of the music festival was free to attend, I am skeptical whether the convention will provide total attendance numbers or paid attendance numbers. I’d be interested in hearing how many attendees were in each camp. It certainly didn’t feel like everyone came into the exhibit hall.
I never did find the advertised Beer Garden (or was it the truck outside?) or the Food Trucks that were advertised. I have yet to hear if any of the Steam Punk Demonstrations actually happened. I didn’t even know there were demonstrations because I couldn’t find that information on the website prior to the con and there was no brochure.
Yes, just another first time show that was a lot more work than the people running it thought it would be. She does note that another one of the promoters took the time to listen to her when she gave him her complaints, and to any prospective show runners out there, this could be the most important advice of all: LISTEN. Don’t get defensive, just acknowledge complaints even if they are just petty grousing, and learn from them. Nobody’s perfect, but a willingness to improve goes a long way.
Conventions are here to stay, and they can get messed up from any angle. If you’re running one or just exhibiting at one, do your homework, and try not to be the problem.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.