Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Con Wisdom #1

Since about 2005, I've been hitting various comic and anime conventions as an exhibitor, and as an attendee for a few years before that. Conventions are something I really enjoy doing. It lets me travel, see friends, and meet all sorts of new people in the industry. Plus, there are worse ways to spend a weekend than making a little cash from selling your work! Con-going has been essential to my career and it will be for yours, too.
Now, I've seen a lot of tables and con-goers and exhibitors while in the trenches. Some of it good, some of it really, really off-putting, all of it from either in front of or behind the table. So, I thought I would throw together a rather ad-hoc list of tips and tricks for your next comic show! It's a really simple bullet-list for exhibiting, and is in no way complete or a primer for such a thing. Although it might be a step in that direction. So, without further ado...

- If you don't talk to them, they won't talk to you. When people come to the table, I usually say hello. Say hi. Acknowledge their presence. For goodness' sake SMILE! It's a big turn-off to visit a table and feel like you're intruding or interrupting or are otherwise not welcome. But-

- Don't make your epic comic sales-pitch unless you are asked or unless it is DAMN SHORT. Really. Going to a table and automatically receiving an impassioned dissertation on why I should read your comic is kind of a red flag. If I want to know, I'll ask. Otherwise, I feel like you're pushing it on me and at best, I will be listening out of politeness, not interest. Now, if you can give me an idea of what your comic's about in a sentence, then go for it. But use your judgment. To that end-

- Avoid cute pitches or calling out to people unless you actually are charming and welcoming and a good people-person. And chances are, you're not. At San Diego Comic-Con, a friend and I were wandering the floor. While idly passing a table, a voice rang out "Hey! You guys like dark comedy?" My friend responded, "Yes, but I hate a hard sell." and we kept walking.

- Remember, there is a direct correlation between the quality of work and how hard someone hustles. I have never bought a comic because a freebie or flier was shoved under my nose.

- Freebies: To sample or Not to sample? A lot of people think logically, that offering a free sample of their comic will draw folks in. And it will. But honestly, 9 times out of 10, that's all they'll take. Postcards, fliers, and bookmarks are all okay for free promotion I think. And people do take them to legitimately remember a comic that they either don't have the time or money to purchase on the spot. But free comics or previews are tougher. First off, that's your main work and it should be of value. In my experience, when someone gets something for free, that is exactly what it is worth to them.

- Don't put out a bowl of candy. It's a lame ploy and disingenuous. I can think of exactly one example where I've seen a bowl of candy that was acceptable and relevant to the rest of the table. Unless you're that person, don't do it.

- Think about your display and placing interesting items out. Figures, cut-outs, relevant objects; they can all be useful in attracting people to the table. This is especially true when 95% of what 95% of the people are selling at these cons are rectangular and flat. But be prudent! Having a lot of junk out will minimize your table's real estate and, worse, will visually overwhelm your visitors. Also, think twice about fragile or precious items. You can put up as many signs as you want, but they WILL be handled.

- Commissions? If you want to do commissions or not, it's your choice. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don't. But I've found it very helpful to display sizes and prices. 9 out of 10 folks will know they want a drawing, but not in which format. Having predetermined sizes and prices will help both of you out immensely. And, you can always negotiate other types of commissions if the case arises. Also-

- Don't take commissions you can't finish! Granted, this may or may not apply to you based on your schedule or work ethic. But if you're anything like me (and I know I am) a take-home commission will get finished 9 months to a year after the con has ended. Yuck.

Well! That was a decent start! granted, I think this list focused on what NOT to do. But in a future Con Wisdom, I promise to rely more heavily on the great things you SHOULD do! Also, feel free to comment with any thoughts you might have. My list here is based purely on my own experience, which is the only experience I have. Til next time!


  1. Hi Zack! This is really REALLY good advice! I would really like to see your blog elaborate on the table display part (if you get a chance). I've done cons too and I feel like our table struggled with this alot and we were never happy with the result. Mostly because we always had 4 artists behind a table and everyone had different things to display, from paper goods, crafts, figurines, stickers... It was a mess an often looked like a flea market.

    I really dig your display! You have that pirate theme going on and for a moment your customers are transported to a seafaring adventure within that 6' x 3' space!

    Also #2, omg! I think it was NYAF 2008 I was next to a guy who had some comic schpheal like a broken record all weekend. I caught myself mumbling it to myself because I knew it so well. So annoying! The worst part is that he would do it to people who weren't even interested and would get upset that they wouldn't come closer. To everyone reading this, please don't be "that guy"!!

    Kudos! I like this blog!!!

  2. An awesome list filled with some absolutely essential info that, while extremely basic, many folks still need to check out, even seasoned vets!

    Though I do suggest amending the bit about hard sells, specifically how it's especially bad for those behind the table, like the neighbors. SPX of 2008 was a rather poor one for myself and the gf, mostly cuz there was this dude next to us who was WAY too aggressive with the sale pitches, plus was practically giving everything away. Which in turn led to the people avoiding our entire row in general. Though I'm sure you'll be going over how to be a good neighbor in the next installment!