With convention season swinging in high gear with C2E2 this weekend, followed by WonderCon, MoCCA and ECCC, let’s review a little bit of convention exhibiting basics, shall we. With the flood of smaller shows, the economics of attending have to be examined closely. If you’re a writer, even more so.
Matt Hawkins is the President/COO of Top Cow Productions, as well as the writer on most of their books, and he hits a lot of smaller shows and in a series of FB posts he laid out some thoughts on the economics of going to shows. Of course, your milage may vary; some people may get cheaper booths in AA, some may drive, etc but the basic numbers are pretty simple and explain why doing a lot of shows is not really a break even proposition unless you can sell art. In the comments, Hawkins explains that he does a lot of shows for exposure to new audiences and territories:
So rough example of the cost of doing a smaller convention (like the ones I do as a one man band). Lot of factors will change this. Sometimes the promoter will give you a free table and on occasion they’ll pay for your airfare/hotel. There are also the costs of eating and drinking, but since you’d need to do that anyway I leave those out (although I could argue that you will spend more on the road than you would at home).
Table cost – $500
Airfare – $500
Hotel – $300
Shipment of books (even if you put them on the plane you have to pay now for the weight and paper is heavy) – $250
So $1,550 on the cheap side to set up. Artists will do sketches and commissions and can make a decent amount at these shows doing that. As a non-artist, you have to sell books. Now I see people sometimes mistakenly take the full value of what they sell, not factoring in the costs of the books themselves. So if you sell $2,000 worth of books, you aren’t making $450…the product itself costs money to make.
I sell a lot of trades at shows. That’s the majority of what I sell. The vast majority are $10 volume 1 trades. So again, for ease of showing the math let’s say these books have a $3 per unit cost to make (printing, etc).
So how many books do I need to sell to break even? I have to sell 221 trades over the weekend…to break even. This isn’t factoring either the possible sales tax and the merchant fees for using a credit card. Square takes what, 8%?
Also…this doesn’t factor in your time. Even at let’s say a $10/hour minimum wage you’re losing 4 days with travel, you will work more than eight hours a day but let’s look at opportunity cost loss. Four days at $80 is $320.
That’s another 45 trades to justify the time (and I value my time WAY more than $10 an hour, but this is an exercise to show in general).
And this is just me. Imagine bringing a bigger booth, people to man it, cost of promotion materials and you start to realize how expensive it is for companies to do these shows. I look at it as a marketing expense, so I’m generally okay breaking even at shows…but even that isn’t easy to do.
Conventions are important for creators and small publishers. It’s one of the few ways to find new readers in an area. But it’s not easy. I’d recommend that you keep an expense journal when you do these shows.
In a later post, Hawkins gave some tabling basics, although a lot of them are basic salesmanship techniques as well; if you aren’t a chatty Cathy like Hawkins, find someone who is.
1) If you aren’t good at talking to people, you’ll need to bring someone that is
2) Best opening is “hello” or “would you like a free ______”
3) Best sales are always in the final hour of the day so don’t leave early
4) Ask people what they like to read, let them tell you which of your books they’d be more interested in (what kind of movies do you like can be good too).
5) Have 10 second and 60 second pitches for each book. With the 60 second know which key pages of art to show.
6) Have a cheap entry level thing they can buy to try (or give for free)
7) Have expensive quality items for your hardcore fans
8) Have a variety of things. Some people like to choose.
9) When you leave your table leave a sign saying when you’ll be back. I do this and every time someone is waiting for me when I get back (at the time I indicate so don’t be late!)
10) Take credit cards. With the square register there is no reason not to. You’re missing out on sales when you don’t.
11) Hand a person talking to you a book to flip through
13) Make positive comments about their cosplay, kid, t-shirt and follow it up with a question. Where’d you get the shirt?
14) Plan your calories. You need to eat to keep your energy level up
15) Have a clear display with your name, best known property (ies), even a single banner behind you is enough.
16) Have something visible with your social media. I have a “fan card” I give out that has my name and social media on it. Also good to give people who ask for your business card that you don’t want having your email or phone #
17) Bring a small water bottle you can refill at the water fountain.
18) If you’re getting angry, annoyed or are dead on your feet…take a break. Go walk around a bit. Bring a sheet or something to cover your table and as said earlier put a sign, be back at 3:30 or whatever
19) Try and make people laugh. Try different things. Practice and come up with one liners that will make people smile.
20) Don’t be pushy. People come to comic conventions to chill. You can actively sell them without coming across as a used car salesman. And yes you have to “sell” most comic books don’t sell themselves.
Do you have some convention dos and don’ts to add to this?
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.