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Creator Tips and Tricks #18 : Creators at Conventions - Tabling and the Artist Alley

ArtCrumbs Community • Sep 13, 2022

The 2020 and 2021 convention seasons were rough, cons everywhere canceled, and digital attendance just wasn't the same. Now with conventions opening up again, more and more creators are looking at buying a table or booth and trying their luck. But is it luck? Not really. It's good preparation.

There are three reasons one could attend a convention:

  • Just for the actual enjoyment of it all, they are fun!
  • Tabling to sell products and goods
  • Networking, portfolio reviews, and other business work

 

Each of these is a good reason to attend a convention. In this first entry in a two-part series, we are going to look at the Tabling/Artist Alley aspect. There are things that you can do and prepare in advance to make your venture, whatever your reason, as successful as possible!
 


How do I get a booth at a convention?

The majority of conventions are going to have you go to their website and apply to have a table. When you are applying, understand exactly what you are signing up for. Oftentimes, at bigger conventions, there is a separate dealers room, usually, for larger businesses that offer booths, most tend to be 10ft (ca. 3 m) x 10ft. Some offer electricity and some don't. Some offer tables, some don't. Then they'll have a separate section for the Artist Alley, where single individuals or teams of artists can share a table (or two). Most of these tables are quite small, about 2.5 x 8 feet (2.44 m). Some conventions might only offer 6ft (1.83 m) tables.

This matters as the size available to you will affect your display/s, and you'll need to plan accordingly. Table and booth costs vary wildly by convention, some costing $50 or less at smaller cons, while larger conventions can cost hundreds of dollars for just a table and thousands for a booth. Some conventions will even offer “Premium” tables set at “Premium” spots, like the intersections of walkways or get doors and entrances where traffic is heavier and more people are likely to see you.

Additionally, a lot of conventions now are starting to ask for portfolios and samples of what you are selling. Many conventions have limited seats, and fill up fast! Much give priority to those from last year. Your portfolio work will let them know if your work would be good for that type of convention (gaming, anime, comic, or pop culture in general), but rest assured, not every convention asks for one. So don't slack on sending in your application! There might be a few steps you need to do before you can actually send it in.

So before you even think about that application, look into a budget and what you can ACTUALLY afford, this brings us to the next point.

 

The financial cost of running a booth or table

There are some people who will tell you to attend a convention, even if you operate at a loss. There is some truth that just jumping in is likely to get your work seen, but don't be foolhardy enough to negate the cost of these conventions.

Things to include in your budget are:

  • Hotel and Travel and parking costs (and possible cancelation fees)
  • Shipping if you need to send your display / merchandise in advance
  • Price of electricity if you purchase it for your booth/table
  • Bringing Cash in advance to have for change. A lot of convention goers still use cash! Be ready to accept this form of payment
  • Making Merch/Prints plus the boxes, bags, or other packaging to place them in for transport and when sold
  • Buying your display / Tablecloth / Banners / Replacing anything that breaks / BUSINESS CARDS
  • Food and Water while at the Convention, especially if you have a limited diet / allergies / intolerances
  • Other small and misc things you'll need: Hand sanitizer, cough drops, tissues, paper towels, tape, pen, scissors, painkillers, band-aids, etc. There are lots of things that can happen at a con, and sometimes it's better to have odds and ends just in case you require them. Being without something, like a cough drop for your sore throat after talking so much, or tape for selling a print sleeve closed, multiple pens for signing prints or taking notes.

 

Take all of these costs into factoring what you need to sell these items for to make it worthwhile financially. If you have prices set to sell that are so low that you don't make any profit, or a very small one; you'll need to decide if you want to raise your prices or do something to lower costs. It is said that the first few conventions, you might not break even, let alone make a profit. It takes some creators a few times to get a feel for the convention rhythm.



What merchandise should I bring?

Have a variety of price point, not everyone has the same budget. Bigger fans might be willing to spend a lot more if you are already established, but newer fans will be a bit more hesitant to draw larger amounts. Before leaving for the convention, take a note of all the inventory that you have. Exact counts of each book, each item,

Prints: Have a variety of sizes as well for prints, some might like larger or smaller prints. However, initially it might be better to limit this to avoid making a bunch of prints that won’t sell.

Books: If you already have a printed version of your work, bring them! Be sure to have a good display to have them sitting up, not just laying flat on the table where they will be hard to see! Office shops and magazine racks can be bought to display multiple books at a time! Another suggestion is to have a display copy that attendees can flip through and get a little preview of the book. This is really similar to having a few free pages on GlobalComix! Readers get an idea of your book and then can decide! Sometimes you can toss in a signature, a bookmark, or other small print/good as a thank you or incentive to buy!

Small Goods: Stickers, Postcards, Bookmarks, Keychains, Button, Pins, etc are great items that don't usually cost a lot of money to make and are good cheaper items to have available. A lot of creators sell these in bundles so that buyers are encouraged to purchase more at one time. Buyers LOVE deals and things being cheaper than normal, so be sure to offer those if you can!

Convention exclusives: You can take advantage of FOMO (fear of missing out) and fans who tend to be collectors by offering convention exclusive or “yearly exclusive” items. A special print, a special pin or maybe a keychain if you spend a certain amount, or let attendees buy it outright. It's a great way to get more established fans of your work to come visit you!

Business Cards: These aren't necessarily merch, but it's something you want to bring that you can give away with certain merch or to a fan / connection that you make with someone you'd like to meet up with later. ALWAYS have some cards on you, before, during, and after the con as you are heading to the hotel for the night or on your way there. Do be careful, or at least mindful of how many you give away.

As an important note: Make sure you bring the packaging to be able to send off your merchandise with your customers! This is just as essential as your merchandise itself! This could include things like boxes, bags, protective sleeves (especially for books and prints).


Should I sell Fan art or my Original IP Content?

This is definitely a gray area, and I don't want to encourage you to sell artwork that you don't have IP rights for. However, the rule of thumb is to read the room. Some companies and publishers are very particular about their IPs, and some don't care as much. Free advertising, right? Some conventions also may not allow fan art, especially those that specifically cater to indie creators and only allow original material.

Starting out with only original content will be harder, you’ll have to sell your characters AND your merch at the same time. Be consistent in your branding and brand style. You won’t necessarily have time to explain it to them. Know your brand and what you are selling. Be confident in your work as well, and don't be shy!

Practice your elevator pitch for your story and every single product that you have, you’ll only have about 6 to 10 seconds to explain yourself and your work or your story max. Convention-goers are on the move and are on the fence. Using your story/pitch to interest viewers grabs you a little more time to make a sale, or at least convert them into a follower.


What is the best way to set up a Booth or Table?

Keep it simple and make your content easy to understand. You only have a fraction of a second to grab their attention. Focus on one thing as your primary product to make your content digestible. So for a comic or manga creator, that is most likely going to be the book. Use signs and something that can catch their eye to bring them to your booth. Sometimes doing less is more.

Frame the work in a way that makes your booth appealing. Don’t put things in random places. Make everything visible and interesting to look at, just like an artwork. Have things laying down flat and standing up. Different sellers approach the con in different ways. Memorize where your work is, maybe put a post-it note on the back of the product to know what is placed where.

Before you leave for the convention, do a practice set up at home, plan where you are going to place your products and merchandise. How it looks from various angles can make a difference on attendees being able to see your wares. Presentation does matter! Remember, you only have a few seconds at most to grab the attention of those passing by.

Have a sign-up mailing list as well for those who would like to have more updates about your work as well as easy to see signage with your social media handles! If a new fan can't purchase something right now, they might buy later or another con. Following you is another chance to convert them into a loyal fan.


Final notes about the Artist Alley or Booths

Do not undersell yourself or put yourself down in front of a guest. It is easy to let any insecurity or bad days affect your mood when at the con, or you are jealous of others doing better in sales than you. There is humble speak and then there is awkward lack of self-confidence.

Be active, be engaged, smile, even if you don’t feel like it. Making eye contact can be uncomfortable. As much as we want to work on sketches or artwork to pass the time at a convention; sometimes being more active and engaging, chatty (even with the people next to you) can be a really great way to bring attention to your booth. Commissions and don’t badmouth the con if it isn’t going well. Stay positive, that person might have been having a good time and your negativity could bring them down, and now they’ll associate you with negativity.

Value also will come from more than just sales, as a final reminder, networking and talking to others around you can be of wonderful value. Conventions might also have industry parties or exhibitor only dinners and events. Be sure to attend these if you feel it's safe to do so. Pay attention to your energy level, the area you are in, and the time you have available. Don't do these things at the expense of your own health, but if you manage to go, they are fantastic networking and socializing opportunities.
 



That's all the tips and tricks we have for now! Our next Tips and Tricks will cover how creators can make the most of a convention if you aren't tabling! Networking and roaming around can be just as valuable as tabling. In the meantime, we recommend preparing for the convention by answering the question
What market do you want to operate in?

If you know a tip and didn't see it here, please leave it in the comments below! Thank you for reading and we'll see you soon! As always, we've left some resources for you for continued reading below!

Resources

 

Image Credits