Knowing When to Throw In the Towel

Don't worry, I don't mean comics.

Cancelling Conventions

Last weekend (November 16th through 18th) was Sugoicon, an anime convention held in Cincinnatti.  This convention coincided with the first weekend after finals, the weekend before Thanksgiving.  My family was scheduled to arrive in Savannah that Monday, making Sugoicon a tight squeeze into our already packed schedule.  Heidi and I were slated to have Artist Alley tables there, but decided rather late in the game to back out.  This is my first time cancelling on a convention, and honestly, I have no regrets.

No Rash Decision

Our decision to bail on Sugoicon was not an easy one.  Heidi and I did several conventions this semester- Mechacon, Interventioncon, Anime Weekend Atlanta, New York Comic Con.  Each of these was expensive in its own right- table costs, transportation costs, hotel rooms, food, new supplies, and for many (ourselves included) the chances of making all these costs back at an artist alley table are low.  Preparing for each convention is stressful- inventory is taken before, during, and after each cons, reprints must be made, bags must be packed.  Conventions are time and labor intensive- preparing new material makes time and often does not coincide with class assignments, time spent at the convention itself is usually occupied with filling commissions, talking to potential customers, and leading panels, leaving very little time to fulfill freelance commitments or class obligations, and we usually have to miss at least one class during transportation.  By midterms, I was juggling attending a series of doctors appointments that caused me to miss classes, as well as conventions, class obligations, and trying to catch up, and spent the remainder of the semester at a constant run.  When it came time for us to book our transportation and lodgings, I don't think our hearts were really in Sugoicon anymore, and when Heidi didn't win the free night's stay at the Doubletree in Sugoicon's art contest, we decided to take that as a sign.  We'd had some trouble communicating with the staff in the weeks before, but still wrote individual letters of apology letting them know we were relinquishing our respective tables.  We still haven't heard back.

I'm satisfied with this decision to cancel.  Cancelling Sugoicon allowed me to focus on finishing my pages for Chapter 1, prepare for the Ink Jam gallery show, put a focus on freelance work, and generally stay sane while finishing finals.  I know that I've done a lot of conventions this semester, so of which paid off more than others, but my overall feeling for this batch of conventions is that they were not as productive as I would have liked.  I feel attending Sugoicon would have cost a lot of time, energy, stress, and money that would be hard to recoup.

An Under-Rated Skill

I think this brings up an important skill that many artists may have trouble with- knowing when to call it quits.  I'm not advocating taking the easy road in becoming a professional artists, but I believe that being able to successfully access the effort to value ratio of an undertaking is important and possibly undersold.

For many kids in Sequential Arts at SCAD, there's a underlying encouragement that we should be constantly pushing ourselves to produce more work, to attend cons, to talk to more editors, and to take on more freelance.  Although it's said that we should take breaks, that can come across as lip service.  I'd started making wishful-thinking plans for the break as soon as the semester started to really heat up- I'd wanted to improve my watercolor technique, wanted to accomplish more sketching, wanted to script out Chapter 2 and start thumbnailing it, wanted to do more freelance, wanted to open up commissions again, wanted to get back to blogging on a regular basis.  Unfortunately, to do these things that I wanted to do (and can possibly benefit my career, if not directly benefit my career), I needed time to do these things.  Juggling another convention followed by a weeklong visit from family would make for a rocky start.  By cancelling Sugoicon, I freed up some valuable organization and planning time that I was able to put to good use.

Sometimes to do your best, you need to create the time to actually create your best work.  And sometimes attending every convention that comes along isn't the best way to grow your career.  For me, now might be a better time to focus on becoming a better artist than trying to grow a fan base, especially since I'm still developing the comic I plan to launch as a web comic, and I'm not ready to promote it yet, and especially since the product I usually promote (this blog) has taken a back seat.  Rather than push through with sadly limited stock, and risk botching the remainder of my semester trying to accomplish too many things, I'm happy that I decided to focus my energies.

Do I Stay or Do I Go?

So how do you know when to throw in the towel?  How do you know when an opportunity may not be worth the sacrifice, especially when you lack experience?  For me, I've attended plenty of anime conventions, so I know a few things about me, anime conventions, and how my work is received.

In general, I know that:

  • Minicomics don't sell
  • Black and white prints don't sell, even on nice cardstock
  • Paperdolls (at least mine) don't sell

  • Charms sell well
  • Buttons sell very well
  • Sketch commissions sell, if I can figure out what the hot item is for that year

  • For things to sell on a regular basis, they have to be very low priced.  Sketch commissions don't sell if they're over $5 each.
  • If I'm charging $5 per commission, even if I'm busy the entire con drawing, I won't make more than $200 (selling commissions alone)
  • The amount of time spent talking to potential customers is not worth the possible money I may make, as there are A LOT of people willing to talk your ear off and buy nothing.
  • My stats for the blog don't really spike after an anime convention, even when handing out promotional postcards.
  • I don't see an increase in more expensive color or ink commissions after anime conventions
With that in mind, I made a list of pros and cons for Sugoicon, and discussed my list with Heidi.  We went back and forth but eventually agreed that cancelling would be best for us at this time.  So I suggest, when you are trying to decide whether to back out of a con you've already signed up for (and paid money for), you consider your options very carefully.

Keep in Mind:

Why are you considering backing out?
Cold feet isn't an adequate excuse for backing out of a convention, especially if it's your first.  And fear of failure, especially if you have little information to go by, is not a good reason to cancel a convention either.  Are you backing out because all your stock is old stock that the audience has already seen, or because you don't have any stock prepared at all?  Are you backing out because everyone else in your group backed out and you can't afford to attend anymore?  You need to decide what your time is worth, and how it's best spent.
When are you considering backing out?
Are you backing out months before, and have only booked the table?  Or is it the weekend before, and you've already paid for your transportation?  Though you lose little money backing out months in advance, you may not be giving the convention a fair shot.  A lot can be done in two weeks- new illustrations can be completed for prints and bookmarks, if you know someone with a button machine, buttons can be cranked out fairly quickly, you may even have time to create and print a new mini comic.   However, if you are tired, stressed out, and pressed for time, reconsidering a convention may be a wise course of action.
How much money are you losing?  Is this a $30 artist alley table at a first year anime convention, or a $300 table at a major super hero con?  Have you already booked your plane tickets, or were you planning on driving?  If you've already sunk a lot of money into the convention, and you can spare the time, it may be worth attending just to gain some exposure.
How does your backing out affect others?  On the flip side, does your backing out of a convention mean that your hotelmates can't afford the hotel rate?  Will it affect the transportation of others?  Did you promise to lead panels, or did you agree to a book signing?  If you backing out of a convention negatively affects a great number of people, maybe you should consider (if possible) sucking it up and attending, for the good of your reputation.

Wordcount: 1,488 Words


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