As previously mentioned, part of my purpose of spending so much time at Stumptown Comics Fest, and subsequently Orycon, was to get some ideas of TO DO and NOT TO DO if/when I attend conventions/shows as an exhibitor. The following arose from my thoughts and observations from the two events. I’m not saying that people are wrong for not doing things the way I suggest. But in my efforts to be very intentional about how I present myself and my work, these are some things that occurred to me:
THINGS WHAT I WOULD DO AT FUTURE SHOWS & CONVENTIONS:
Prepare a Month Ahead. I’d talked with R about working the Dragon’s Head Books table at Orycon early in 2006, but when we finally came around to it, I had very little merchandise ready. Since there wasn’t much name recognition for me at the con, I don’t know how much difference it would have made there, but in the future, I’d like to have everything planned out and all my materials in hand a month before the event. If anything’s delayed, I won’t be scrambling at the last minute. Which means I should probably figure out now what shows I’m going to in 2007.
Have a Food Plan. On Saturday, I carried a couple trail-mix bars with me for sustenance. They kept me going for a while, but after about five hours, I started fading. Often in such venues the food that’s easily available is pizza or sandwiches, and when one is sensitive to wheat and dairy, those aren’t the best solutions (and when I’m hungry, I often think “Oh, I’ll have this sandwich and it will be fine!” and then it ISN’T and I feel really crappy afterward). Since Orycon was in a hotel, there were more choices, but they cost more. If I’m going to do a show and be on for eight or more hours, I’ll want to plan in advance how I’ll supply myself with filling and non-transgressive foods. Yes, it’s a bother, and most people don’t have these sorts of food issues, but it would make the whole convention experience much more pleasant for me.
Get Good Rest. Regular readers of this blog know that adequate sleep is a constant battle for me. These issues are further complicated by travel and stress. If I’m going to do a show away from home that spans two or more days, I’ll want to prepare myself with adequate rest beforehand, and have a place where I can get sleep during the event. This probably means a hotel room so I can nap during the day if needed. There’s also a tendency for the exhibitors to party late into the night, and it would be nice to not pumpkin out at 9:00 pm.
Have Specific Goals. It might be as vague as “Go and See What Happens,” but I’d like to be more specific about what I’d be aiming to achieve. Maybe I’ll be selling merchandise or promoting a book. I’d think that the Basic Goals would be to have as many attendees as possible: 1) Notice my presentation, 2) Remember me and my works when they leave, and 3) Want to check out my website after the show. I’d also want to network with other artists and writers. And meet groupies.
Have a Visually-Compelling Presentation. A table with just a flat layer of books or prints doesn’t stand out very much in a large room of tables (and Stumptown was a small show). The exhibits that I remember used things like action figures, colorful signs, multi-tiered display racks or a variety of products for sale. I know this is harder when one travels out-of-town for a show, but it makes a big difference.
Have a Gimmick. There’s something about that phrase that sounds manipulative to me, but I mean it in the sense of doing something other than what everyone else is doing. I’d guess that most attendees spend less than two hours at a comics show (perhaps even less than an hour). So how does an artist stand out and grab some attention while they’re there? Sanguinity and grrlpup suggested digital photos with foam-core standup figures of characters. One could also have a laptop with a video or animation on continuous loop (with no audio, or sound on headphones, so one doesn’t go crazy listening to it for hours and hours). It would have to be something that could travel easily enough, and yet be worth hauling about.
Display My Name. When I’d approach a table, I’d try to identify who I was talking to based on what I could see (last resort was the name on the exhibitor badge). Surprisingly often, the name of the artist/writer wasn’t clearly shown, and I’d have no idea whether I was talking to an artist, writer, inker, publisher, distributor or vendor. I would ask if I couldn’t tell, but why make someone ask?
Give Away Cool Stuff. I’d definitely give away business cards and 4x6 flyers, but so does everyone else. I’d like to give away buttons or trinkets; especially if they’re unusual and attention-grabbing.
Have some Top-Shelf Bonus Lagniappe. As I mentioned in another post, Paul Guinan pulled out a party invite from his secret stash and gave it to me. How thrilled do you think I was? I like the idea of having some extra-special giveaway items to hand out to particularly enthusiastic fans and exhibitors.
Clearly Mark Which Stuff Is Free, and What’s For Sale. At some tables, little quarter-fold booklets were free, and at others, the same sort of booklets were $3. They weren’t always marked, though. I prefer having it clear what’s free, and what the prices are for the other items.
Price Intentionally. If I bring fifty shirts to a show, I’d rather sell forty-three of them at a profit of $2.73/shirt than twelve with a profit of $9.82/shirt.* Another idea would be advertising a “Show Special;” so people feel like paying admission is getting them a better deal. I might sell one item at a loss, if it’s likely to be purchased with other items that sell for profit. I’d also charge either whole-dollar amounts, or split no lower than 25¢ increments. And if I have to deal with sales taxes, I’ll price so the item cost plus tax equals a whole number (e.g. $13.83 + 8.5% tax = $15 from the customer).
Have Lots of Change. At one point during Orycon, the cash box only had a handful of ones and a cluster of twenties. Based on how much we’d sold, it looked like R had brought a bunch of twenties to the con. In my retail experience, if people have cash, it’s usually right from the ATM. I suppose it’s possible that in the first few minutes of sales, someone might try to buy a $3.00 book with a $100 bill. But we would have been better served by converting the twenties to smaller bills before we arrived. If I’m going to be selling merchandise, I’d rather have far more change on hand than I’ll need, than to scramble during the event to find more.
Get Names. It’s one thing to hope that people will think about my work after the event, but giving them the chance to sign up for the email Newsletter means that they’ll at least be reminded of it afterward. And after the show, I’d send a “Thanks for stopping by!” message within a day or two, as another reminder.
Be at My Post. I would have liked to chat with Shannon Wheeler, the creator of “Too Much Coffee Man” and drop lenser’s name (Wheeler was displaying the TMCM magazine with the cover photograph by lenser). I think Wheeler was at his table once when I went past, and at that time, he was talking to a large cluster of people. Perhaps he has a perfectly good excuse for not being around, but I never got to talk with him. So if I was going to be away for a while, I’d want to have a sign saying I’m sorry I’m not there, but I’ll be back at a certain time.
Be Engaging! The Librarian talked about the difference between exhibitors that looked away while she examined their materials and those who interacted with her somehow. I also found myself much more interested in those who greeted me and seemed interested in talking about their work/wares. I understand that not all creative people are extroverts ([*raises own hand*]), but I like to think I’ve got enough theater experience to act like an extrovert when the situation calls for it.
I found one event particularly thought-provoking. I approached one table where the Artist (A) was selling a $6 book to a Customer (C). A was saying “Instead of $4 change, you could have one of these other books, which are normally $5.” I thought that was a clever bit of salesmanship, so I chimed in “Hey, that’s a good deal; you should take it!” C laughed, and asked if we were working together. I denied it. C ended up taking the second book, and wandered off. I’m checking out A’s artwork, and she pulls out a book to read, while I’m standing there. No “thanks for helping.” No eye contact. She doesn’t even look at me. I shrug it off and move on.
I admit that I don’t know what it will be like trying to meet these objectives in the field. I think that if I go into an event with these things in mind, I’m more likely to make a favorable impression on the attendees, and perhaps the other exhibitors. And if nothing else, after my first show, I’ll be able to evaluate how well I did at meeting these objectives.
* I know, I’m messing with you. 43 x $2.73 = $117.39. 12 x $9.82 = $117.84.