#44: Sharing Space at Conventions
A year ago, I chronicled my first experience tabling in artist alley at the Baltimore Comic Con in this column. (Click for part I and part II if you want a refresher.) I returned to BCC again last month, and once again, the con marked another first. Not only was it the first time I purchased booth space at a convention, but it was also the first time I shared space with other creators at a show. As most Comic Related readers are aware, EPIC , a new superteen book I'm writing, was making its debut at Baltimore. EPIC co-creator and artist Matt Zolman and color artist Ty Tyner were flying in from their respective corners of the country to help with the launch. Sharing table space at cons with other creators offers both opportunities and challenges. This week's column will share what I've learned on the subject, as well as a few tips from other comic pros focused on making the most of joint convention appearances.
I was JAZZED about this year's Baltimore show. The EPIC team and I had our sights set on it for months, and had plenty of time prepare for the show. While I've had a very successful convention season this year, and have a good handle on the "sole proprietor," man-behind-the-table routine by now, I was much looking forward to exhibiting with the EPIC team. First off, this would be the first time the entire creative team met in person, despite working together for months online. In this age of digital collaboration, I'm guessing this isn't terribly rare. Still, face to face connections matter, and the con would provide that opportunity. I also saw plenty of potential benefits of working as a team. Three people in the booth equals three times the promotion power. When you're by yourself at a show, you're limited to one conversation at a time, and it's hard to be sketching and selling simultaneously. However...
...there are challenges that come with sharing table space. As my friend Dawn Griffin (Zorphbert + Fred ) has said, "every exhibitor has different goals, and a different audience, and therefore needs to prepare in different ways." Coming to an accord on the priorities and focus of the booth would be important. While we were there as a team launching a new book, we're also three individual creators, with other goals for the show (not the least of which was to leave Baltimore with some cash in our pockets.) Making sure that the team is in synch, with everything from the book's pitch, to the price points of merchandise would be necessary.
One of the biggest takeaways I've learned from doing conventions as an indy creator is that just showing up at a convention is no guarantee for success. At a show like Baltimore, with more than 400 artists, including some of the biggest names in comics in attendance, there's simply too much competition to expect to make a huge impact if you're prep is thrown together at the last minute. I think this goes double for sharing table space. The more issues you can take care of before the show begins, the easier it is to focus on what's important at the show: Making connections with fans, networking with peers, and selling your merchandise. To that end, here are some things to think about:
The money talk - Major conventions aren't cheap. The corner booth we got at Baltimore cost $650, which was by far the most money I've sunk into a convention. I recognized this to be a bit of a gamble, especially considering I barely made back my artist's alley table at the show last year, and that was only $200. But, by splitting the table with the team, and with another year of cons under my belt, I was confident we could make it work. But, first we needed to come to an accord on what an equitable split of the table rent would be. We settled this far in advance of the convention.
- Know what you're selling - In the weeks leading up to the convention, we created a spreadsheet that clearly listed all of the items we'd have available at the show, their price points, and how revenues would be split for each product. Fact is, we had a lot of product on the table. Three versions of EPIC #0, 7 different prints, sketches, sketchbooks, and copies of some of my other comic series. I think it was valuable to list this stuff ahead of time, so that there would be no surprises come con time.
- Set up early - One of the big perks of booth space over artist's alley was the ability to set up the day before the convention. Despite the difficulty finding the one entrance reserved for early set up (pretty sure Matt's arm still hurts from lugging a table all over the inner harbor), having time to leisurely set up our booth without the time crunch of doors about to open to the public was a real boon.
During the Con
While solid preparation and communication in the weeks and months leading up to a show can limit headaches, when it's game time, you still have to perform. Here are a few tips:
- Let one person track sales - When cons are busy and (hopefully) dollars are coming in left and right, it can be a challenge to keep track of everything. The system we used involved a clipboard with the spread sheet of everything we had to sell on the table, and used a simple tally system to record each sale. We made one person in charge of the clipboard, and that same person also held onto an envelope with all of the money collected. (Just don't do what I did once or twice, and that's leaving the table to go snag an autograph and forgetting I had all the con money for making change in my pocket!)
Note: This makes the most sense for teams that are exhibiting together, rather than two individual creators splitting a table and tracking their own sales.
- Co-ordinate - There's a limit to what you're doing behind the table. Usually, you're either pitching and selling or you're drawing commissions. Writer/Artist Jeff McComsey, who was at Baltimore with a team promoting FUBAR , a new zombie anthology book, shared this tip: "At the table it's nice if you aren't both doing the same thing. If one of you is selling a book it's nice if the other is doing commissions. It keeps the stepping on sales to a minimum." We didn't have official sketching hours blocked out or anything. But there was always at least one person taking point on pitching the book. If one of us took a commission, someone else would step up and take on the selling role.
- Support Your Tablemates' Sales - It's hard to escape a zero-sum mindset at conventions. After all, the money attendees have to spend is limited, and a sale to someone else isn't a sale to you, right? Well, not really. The more people that are having success at show (creators AND fans) the better it will be for all of us. Because I had another strong pre-order commission campaign, I was confident I was going to have a successful show. So, I tried to put some effort into making sure my collaborators did too. One of the things I did to help color artist Ty Tyner put a few extra bucks in his pocket AND provide added-value to attendees, was letting people who purchased original pencil and ink sketches from me know that Ty, our color artist, was hand coloring pieces for just $10 more. Turned out, about 80% of the people who purchased art from me at the show opted to have Ty color it as well. This resulted in some great collaborative original art, and increased profits for the table. Another example happened while Matt was off doing his digital art panel. Ty engaged a father and son in a conversation about EPIC, and learned that what the dad REALLY wanted from the show was a great Thor sketch. Ty told him that Thor was Matt's all-time favorite character (true) and could draw a killer Thor (also true.) An hour later, the guy and his son came back and commissioned Matt for that sketch. Now that's teamwork.
- Make mid-con adjustments- Despite all of your best planning and guessing about how things will sell, and what table arrangements will be best, there are some things you're gonna get wrong. Especially at two-day cons, there's no reason not to make a mid-con adjustment to see if such a move can improve sales. When sharing booth space, just make sure all creators are in agreement and aware of these changes.
Here are some of the examples of mid-convention adjustments the EPIC team made:
- Reduced the merchandise on the table - I took copies of "OVER" #1 off the table for Day 2. The fact that Baltimore is primarily a superhero show, that I also was pitching Tears of the Dragon and EPIC to attendees, and the fact that I didn't sell a single copy day 1, made it a somewhat easy move. The more books you have to pitch, the less strong the focus of your pitch. I discussed this with Jeff, who agrees: "If you are selling a book, you do better when you only have one book you're pushing as opposed to having everything you've done in the past five years on the table. I know from experience that it is hard to not bring all the books you have around for each con but I've seen how effective it is when folks are browsing your table."
- Increase visibility of prints - We had some REALLY nice Baltimore Exclusive prints that we collaborated on. And yet, they weren't selling. Part of the reason...people just weren't seeing them. So, for Day 2, we rearranged our table display, to put a focus on selling prints, or at least using our prints to catch passerby's eyes. It worked.
- Adjust deals - We considered adjusting price points on a few of our products, and did, but the move that was most effective was throwing in a free print with the purchase of some of our highest margin items, including the EPIC #0 Comic Related/BCC Exclusive book. Given the low unit cost of the print, we still made a healthy profit on every sale, and quickly sold out of the exclusives. People love a good deal!
After the Show
Conventions are certainly exhausting (especially if you have a 500 mile drive home like I did from B'more.) But before the convention is too far in your rearview mirror, I recommend contacting your collaborators and doing a convention post-mortem. Ask for honest feedback on what worked, what could have been done better, and what you might want to try next time.
Happily, it was mostly positive stuff coming back from the EPIC team. "I've never worked so hard, or had so much fun at a con (and I've done a lot of them since I've been in the industry)" Ty Tyner let me know. Getting honest feedback from people who are in the trenches with you one of the best ways to improve your con game.
All in all, once again Baltimore was a great experience. This time, I got to share that experience with an awesome couple of creators. We were able to meet fans, sell a ton of books, put money in our pockets, and finally meet face to, as Matt put it, "Solidify this team and our friendships. I say we make this con our annual EPIC corporate retreat!" Sounds good to me!
Tyler James is a comics creator residing in Newburyport, Massachusetts. He writes and draws Over , a romantic comedy online graphic novel updating every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. He also writes Tears of the Dragon , an epic fantasy webcomic, and EPIC , a new superteen comic. His work has been featured at Zuda Comics, and includes Interrogation Control Element , a political action thriller, and Super Seed , the story of the world's first super powered fertility clinic. When not making comics, Tyler works as a game designer and content producer for a software company.
Attention Readers: If you enjoy this column, you might be interested in checking out The ComixStreet Recap . It's a new series I've begun where I share and comment on interesting topics, resources, and events relevant to comic creators. The column is bi-weekly, and posts on Thursdays.
1: Big Goals
3: The Great Idea
4: Research Part I
5: Research Part II
6: The Killer Pitch Part I - The High Concept
7: The Killer Pitch Part II - The Synopsis
8: Pay Your Artists
9: Zuda Comics- A Tale of Five Submissions
10: Creating Great Characters Part I (Or Why Wolverine is Everywhere)
11: Creating Great Characters Part II (Or Why Wolverine is Everywhere)
12: Structurally Sound- The Beginning
13: Your Reputation
14: Structurally Sound- The Middle
15: Structurally Sound - The End
16: Your First Con
17: Beat It
18: Memorable Scenes
20: Comics Dialogue - Part I
21: Comics Dialogue - Part II
22: Baltimore Comic Con - Part I
23: Baltimore Comic Con - Part II
24: Is It Worth It?
25: The Re-Write Part I
26: The Re-Write Part II
27: The Re-Write Part III
28: Taking Initiative
29: Setting the Table for a New Year of Creating Comics
30: Ready to Script
31: An Artist Ready Script
32: Going All In
33: The Dip and Being the Best in the World
34: Patience Pep Talk
35: Tools You Should Be Using: Viddler
36: Zuda Says No More Competitions
37: Business Mailbag
38: 30 Characters Challenge Post-Script
39: Google Wave - 5 Uses for Comic Creators
40: What May Be Holding You Back, and What Definitely Isn't
41: The Danger of the New Idea
42: When Collaborations Go Sour
43: The Lagniappe
blog comments powered by Disqus