Continuing the discussion sparked by a chat with Jes Schroeder, creator of Stacked Hand, this is the second half of my list of what to keep in mind for a first convention as a artist. You can find the first half, 5 Things I’ve Learned, in my Friday blog archives. As always, if you have any questions, leave a comment or Email me!
6. Have no expectations for the show, other than to do your best and learn everything you can.
If I expect a show to go well, it can never live up to my inflated expectations and I get discouraged. If I expect a show to go poorly, I will self-sabotage and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. I’ve found that I do best, and am happiest, when I aim for having no expectation for a show, other than to do my best and learn. I can control my own behavior (provided I’ve brought sufficient food and water to avoid a hypoglycemic melt-down) and by focusing on learning, it keeps me engaged in what is ultimately the most valuable aspect of the show. How can I improve? What is unique about the show? What should I change? Who did I meet?
The answers to these questions will pay off for many years to come!
7. Keep records
One of the things I did at my first convention that paid off well was taking a tour, with camera and notepad, of the floor. Seeing what other people did for their set-ups, and what I could include in mine. I’ve tweaked my table layout every year. Every show, even, since I’ve rarely gone to two shows in a row that had the same sized tables.
I also keep records of what I sold. (More on that in this WA article!) This can become exceptionally valuable data later on, because often my perception of a show is not accurate to the reality of the show. There are so many things going on during a convention that it is often hard to keep track of it all.
For example, after my first convention I almost decided not to make more softcover books. I was convinced that nobody was buying them. Fortunately, I had kept a record of my sales, so I checked the data. It turns out that I sold hardcovers and softcovers in equal numbers at that show! So why didn’t I remember the softcovers? Well, most people that got a hardcover didn’t mind the extra charge for a personalized sketch. However, many of the people who bought softcovers were not able to and/or interested in the extra drawing. As a result, I had personalized every hardcover book, but few of the softcovers, and my memory of hardcover sales was much stronger as a result.
These days, we actually sell far more softcovers than hardcovers at conventions! Good thing we had the data that let us know to keep them!
8. Don’t be discouraged if something sells poorly the first time
What sells will largely depend on the show and its crowd. And every show, in every community, has a slightly different vibe.
I’ve had shows where nobody wanted anything but books. Others where it was all art. And some where people wanted it all, or none of it.
…And then, even when you think you have a show figured out, the next year the vibe may change, and so will the response!
It’s a process of feeling out which crowds you gel with best, and how to present yourself to them. Chances are good that you’ll do amazing with one type, okay with others, and poorly with another. Then it’s just a matter of matching what you do to the shows you go to. I’m still figuring it out!
9. Starting small and local
For your first convention, consider starting with a local show. Many times there are great shows with fantastic opportunities that get overlooked because they aren’t Big Official Conventions. These shows have a lot to offer! You can meet local supporters and peers, connect to your communities, and at a fraction of the cost to fly out to a larger convention out of state. The value of the practice you will get pitching and networking is good no matter the venue, but smaller conventions are often much more low-key, relaxed, and operate at a slower pace. They aren’t nearly as overwhelming. As for sales, I’ve had small hotel conventions out-perform big 50,000+ attendee shows, and for a tenth of the cost to attend and set up. Not to mention, I could drive home to re-stock and sleep in my own bed once the day was over!
If you do apply for much larger cons your first year, don’t get discouraged if you don’t get into every one you apply to, or the spot you do get is not the greatest. A foot in the door is the important part, and as you as you build your body of work and your network, it will get easier. Keep an eye on the websites of the conventions you’re interested in and apply as soon as you can! Not only will this usually save you money, but once you have a spot in a convention, you often have access to early registration in future years that other people don’t.
10. Connect to people!
The webcomics community is a great one to be a part of, and there are lots of resources for you to learn more about how to prepare for your first convention. As a starting place, check out what my fellow Webcomic Alliance folks have to say on cons. Dawn and Chris, in particular, have WAY more experience than I do.
Don’t be afraid to reach out. You may find a fellow creator going to the same show that you can split a hotel or table with. If you get a spot in the show, check the listing for the people around you. You might be able to contact them on Twitter or their website and get to know them a little before the show even starts. I know I feel much less awkward meeting someone I’ve already met online.