So, your palms are sweaty your heart’s beating fast, you have your first book/series fresh off the steam press, and ‘Master piece’ lined up in front of you. This is the piece that going to put you on the map, gonna get you rich and respected amongst your peers, ‘You got this! You got this!’ Is what you say to yourself.
You hear the event organizers say, ‘Doors open in three two one!’ and a surge of people come flooding in. It’s overwhelming, you’re lost in both a sea of emotions as well as the ocean of potential clients enclosing from all sides. Oh No! You’re drowning! You’re drowning! Stand your ground god damn it!
Wait…. what now? The doors have opened your table is set but ‘La gasp!!!’ No one’s coming to your table…. Ok freeze let’s see what’s most likely going on here and let’s try to fix it.
Note- I’m speaking from a Comic Artist/ Illustrator’s perspective because this is what I know. But this advice can be applied to other areas within the ‘dealer’s area.’
Advertising and Online Presence
Ok lets start way back, ‘n I mean waaaay back, before you even ordered the first print of your book/prints. To ummm let’s say you’re still working on the final piece of your print, for this example it’s your comic.
You should already have at least two social media accounts and a main hub. i.e. Facebook, Instagram and a main hub (i.e Weebly, Wix, ArtStation as a main hub). Also, for the love of all things pure and good in the world, don’t mention your DA account. If you want to present yourself as a professional then use an actual online portfolio, there are many free sites out there such as: Wix, Portfoliobox and Weebly; all with their puck and pitfalls but theses are the ones I’ve personally found that work the best.
Believe it or not, there is a lot of stigma about the website Deviant Art in terms of using it as an online portfolio. No offence to the site, but it’s preserved as a gathering place for beginner/intermediate artists as well as its UI design being more trouble than it’s worth for people who are newer to the site, in addition to the content surrounding of other artist its algorithm generates.
Having a personal website is a valuable investment for illustrating your best work, experimentation and past projects. It’s much more appealing to potential clients, schools or employers. Also, your portfolio should be linked to your social media accounts and vice versa.
Leading on from there, Social media is your best friend, networking and advertising are free if you know what to do. Go out and explore child, take that in progress page, slam it onto the screen and share it with the world! Oh and don’t forget to tag the hell out of that sucker, it may take a little time for people to start looking your way and a fan base to form but little by little, interest will grow.
Content: Story and/or Artwork
Going on the assumption you have any idea on how to write and draw for comics, the one thing you need to remember, something I wish was told to me long before, I sold my first book is ‘The art can be redeemed so long as the STORY is on point.’ Think of the One Punch Man saying that exposition in moderation children, we don’t want a thesis crowding the pretty artwork. That and people will get bored. Comics are a visual medium that means SHOW don’t tell.
A good practice is to create a 12-24 page comic or one-shot. Don’t exceed the 24 pages, if the scene of exposition can be taken out of the story and not have an effect on the rhythm of the scene and story, then it’s probably best to take it out. Same rules apply if the same scene can be drawn in place of narration. Both the imagery and the dialog have to work together NOT compete amongst each other.
As previously mentioned your artwork CAN be forgiven if the story is halfway decent.
I remember the first comic I ever printed, when I look at it now and I think oh dear… The anatomy and perspective were worse than awful. But the story managed to save it.
Saying that, as my art skills evolved, it drew more people in; Prints and other content sold more often than not. It came to a point where I found myself needing to reorder in more stock for each convention. So bear that in mind and don’t use the excuse of STYLE to not know the anatomy of people, objects and setting to pardon yourself for knowing how to draw, paint etc. You need to know how to draw fetchers before you’ll know how to exaggerate them. This is advice I wish I knew before I started understanding the fundamentals will help in the long run.
Presentation: Your table, inventory and quantity.
One cannot stress this enough!!
Plan how you’re going to present your table, you want each section to be presented in a way that compliments the next. If you’re unsure how to do this, look at how other exhibitors have done in the past and replicate it in accordance to your needs. I’ve found that most 6 x 2 foot tables are never enough space. So what do you do when you can not build wide?… . You build up!
MOST exhibitors have wire racks, these handy little beauties free up the table space making the table less cluttered and more orderly. Also if you do digital commissions or even traditional one-off pieces, you can have more room to do so.
Next is the banner, think of this as a large flyer advertising your brand. While you don’t need to have a banner in the beginning, later down the line, once you’ve gained more traction, it’s advised as you’ll want your potential clients to know who and where you are and what you’re doing. The more people who know about you, the better! It might take a while but you will build a growing fan base this way.
Inventory, inventory, inventory.
Remember how I said take notes about how other people set up their tables? Well walk around the artist alley, see what other people are buying, not just what’s displayed. Keychains, stickers, badges, prints are all good but everyone and their grandmother has and is doing that and yes it’s fine to have it too but there comes a point where one gets bored with seeing the same old trinkets displayed across the black tablecloth. No? If you can try to break the mold. Mini clay figures is always good, keychains, phone cases etc. Yes these can be more expensive than your run of the mill badge and print but the fact that there’s a larger variety of stock draws people in for conversation, and conversation means better chances for sales.
Now if your main priority is to sell books…. I have some harsh news for you… most of your sales will come from your merch, and on the day commissions. Assuming this is your first convention, don’t make the mistake that many Exhibitor first timers make and print of fifty plus books expecting them to sell over the course of the two-three day event, it most likely than not will end in heartbreak. As you’ve over reached, and overestimated the crowd. From personal experience, I would say 15-30 books is a safe number with a variety of 4-5 titles people can browse and pick their favourites. Have them similarly priced, with your Showrunner and or your newest piece front and centre. Remember this is the book/s you’ll be pushing the most and while you’re holding the clients attention with that then slyly worm in another title.
Note: The longer they’re at the table, the more likely they are to actually buy something.
Body Language and Networking
I cannot STRESS how important your body language and personal presentation is, not only when you’re selling work but also networking.
Listen t’ eh me now! From the moment you step into the event hall, till the moment you pack up, you ARE in a professional setting. You are the SALES AGENT and shopkeeper, it is in your best to remember A.M.A (Attitude, Mannerisms, Appearance) there all small things that can make or break your sales. You don’t know how many times I’ve seen zombies out because of long trips, long nights etc. and because there not recharged and look friendly, people who were somewhat interested in their work just walk on by.
Deodorant/body spray is your best friend! Those tight spaces generate a lot of body heat. Body heat leads to sweat and sweat leads to BO and BO leads to people trying to get away from you as fast as they can. That’s the same with oral hygiene same rules apply here, even more so to be precise. Also, you’re gonna be in close proximity with other people, touching things and handling things, hand sanitizer is your best friend! A lot of colds get contacted before and after the 3+ days… just saying.
Stand/sit up straight, look people dead in the eye, smile and speak clearly, enunciate your damn words, remember that sales pitch and sell it sell it like a used cars salesman, trying to trade a lemon for a Lamborghini. You’re in it for the win, your goal is to make back the cost of your table/hotel/print costs and travel expenses. Everything else is your profit. You’ll be surprised how far a winning smile and a good personality can get you, you might be even able to network… oh, that reminds me!
Networking, well she’s your other best friend. You know the one friend who knows everyone, and get them to all be friends or at least acquainted… yea her! Truth be told, she’s one of the hardest yet the most easiest friends to hang with. For example look left and look right again. What do you see? You have an artist on either side of you don’t you? Yes, great! Now lean over and ask: How’s the sales going? Slow/busy day right? Do you have a business card? So what is it that you do? Do you have a portfolio? etc.
There just a few openings to get the conversation going.
There is so much you can learn what and what not to do from just a simple conversation with others. That triad of business cards and a simple discussion. Other exhibitors tend to be some of the funniest, most open people around. If you’re feeling nervous there’s a chance that there feeling the same. Some of the veteran sellers may be beyond that stage and may give you advice as needed. In that community, that information is worths its weight in gold and hey, when you’re up to a certain standard, you may get a commission/job out of it.
The power of the Portfolio: All must bow before it!
Young hero, you’ve almost reached the end of our journey…. now you must slay this final 15-20-30 paged beast. It may very well be the hardest for you to come across but know it is not your rival no no no… tame the beast and it will assist you on your creative journey. Cultivate it and give it skills and all shall fall at your feet in its glory!!!!
Uh… anyway. Your portfolio should only consist of what you feel is your best work: project, sample piece, commission work, experimentation etc. Whether that be in the literary scene or the artistic. This should also be reflected in your online portfolio. Though they can be interchangeable, they’re not always so. Remember there are different formats and should be treated as such. An A4 ring bound portfolio works just as well as an A1 portfolio, even more so as they’re generally lighter in weight and easier to maneuver around the sardine tin that we call conventions.
Remember, this is a tool. After your conversation starter, politely ask if they could have a look at your work, they might be able to give you criticism. Whether good or bad take the saying ‘all criticism is good criticism’ with a pinch of salt, weigh down what they say and see if you can improve upon your work.
Taking Breaks & Perseverance
So we’re coming to the end of our adventure…. It’s time to take shelter in the storm…
OK, you’ve been at it for a few good hours now, it’s now time to take a break though so take it! Take a moment to recharge, refresh, and get away from the hussel and bussel from the noise of the cons walls.
Know when to keep going and when to stop, you’ll do more harm than good trying to ‘Man it out’, you’ll be left physically and mentally drained. The best thing you can do at any sort of event, is take regular breaks. If you’re not at 100% then your A.M.A won’t be either.
Now your final hurdle to face is an ongoing trial, for success at a con is not to go to one or two and expect instant success…. It’s to go to numerous and expect failure, taking each con as a lesson and trying to better at the next, meet new friends and go further. Whether you’re an artist or a developer, a noob or a veteran, like this blog, take it with a pinch of salt and keep going, you never know when that one sale will come or what it will bring. So keep your head up, remember your A.M.A and above all, don’t forget to have fun.