Sunday, May 18, 2014

MTAC Convention Recap

Ah!  After this recap is written, I'll be all caught up on my con recaps, at least, until River City Comic Expo this upcoming weekend.  Then I'll probably fall behind again.

MTAC (Middle Tennessee Anime Convention), April 18th-20th was the last convention in my 2014 Spring convention marathon, and possibly my most anticipated convention for the year.  MTAC would be my first Tennessee convention, an opportunity for me to meet locals and work to develop a fanbase in my new home turf.   Registration opened up in February, and I made sure to get my application in fast, since I desperately wanted an opportunity to table at the largest anime con in Tennessee (seriously!).  I bit my nails until they announced their acceptance list in mid-March, and gleefully made plans with Heidi (my con partner who also applied for MTAC and thankfully got in the Artist Alley as well) for her impending stay at my domicile for the duration of the convention.

I will admit that the long waiting period following submission and acceptance caused me some anxiety and made me question how MTAC would proceed.  This long waiting period interfered with my application to other conventions, since MTAC was my first priority and I'd have to cancel any conflicting plans.  When the list was released on the site, not only did the names not link to the artist's websites (a feature I find super helpful in checking out new artists at conventions I plan on attending) but they misspelled Nattosoup and didn't include a convention map.  I found this frustrating and a bit unprofessional, and my queries emailed to Marcus Moore, the AA coordinator, went without response.  Instead I started directing my questions to the MTAC Twitter, often getting the answers I needed, but occasionally being directed to email Moore.

When MTAC finally released a map of the convention, I was extremely concerned by the layout.  Tables were located in unsecured halls, which can mean bad news on a variety of levels.  A secured room means the artist doesn't need to break down their setup entirely each day, and can leave a lot of stock behind the table, since it will remain unmolested until the next morning.  A separate, artist-alley only room also means that foot traffic in the alley are mainly interested customers (or potential customers), and not people on their way to other events.  This may result in less overall traffic, but it's usually higher quality traffic.  Something even more concerning was that the tables weren't labelled on this map, and some of the locations were just awful.

With these factors in mind, Heidi and I bought thought the $125 we individually paid per table was a bit high, but hoped we could make up for that in sales.

Before the con: Mini Watercolors

















Wednesday and Thursday:


On Wednesday evening, Heidi arrived in Nashville after a five-and-a-half hour drive from Ohio.  We worked on art and caught up.

On Thursday, we made a trip to my local Office Max on West End to make prints and produce mini books.  Heidi helped me assemble a mini book of 2013-2014's mini watercolors.  Although the staff were given very clear directions on how to print things, the guy didn't listen at all, and we were sent away so he could complete our orders.  We were somewhat disappointed with the results at pick-up, but opted to make the best of it rather than file a complaint.

Demo Setup:





Friday:


On Friday, we made the 40 minute drive to Murfreesboro and arrived an hour before the convention fully opened to the public.  This should have been plenty of time to get set up, but we discovered to our dismay that the tables were actually 1.5'x6'- weird half size tables.  We were informed that the convention had run out of full size tables.   When we asked staff about this, we were informed that MTAC ran out of their normal size tables, so they opted to give the artists, who had paid $125 for their tables, the smaller size tables.  This was done without any prior notification to the artists, and it was extremely unprofessional on their part.  I suppose they assumed nobody would say anything about it, or maybe they even assumed we wouldn't notice.  We definitely noticed.

This is most definitely NOT a full size table.
On Wednesday evening, I did a shorthand demo-setup to make sure everything would fit on the 6'x3' table I was expecting.  I planned my setup carefully based on my experience at past cons.  When setting up on this half size table for MTAC, I had trouble even getting my wire cubes to fit on the table, which made setting up take longer than usual.  I was still arranging items long after customers had filed in.  Even when I managed to finish setting up, the cubes were somewhat unsteady on the crummy table MTAC had provided.  In addition to being shortchanged on tablesize, I had less than the standard amount of space behind my table because the wall protruded where they placed my table.  Rather than about 4' of space behind the table, I had 2' of space, which made it pretty cramped.  It was tight enough that I didn't have room to take at-con watercolor commissions, opting instead to work on them each night at home.

Given that our tables were in an unsecured hall and were half the size of normal artist alley tables, I have to wonder- where was that $125 going exactly?

On Friday, the hall Heidi and I were located in was the exit from the Dealer's Room, and we saw a lot more business than we expected.  The fact that MTAC was on Easter weekend had caused me some concern, but Good Friday sales were great.  Kids were out of school and eager to spend money before returning to school, and I sold plenty sketch commissions on Friday.  Although MTAC seemed fairly crowded, it seemed like the staff had a handle on crowd control, and we looked forward to a weekend of brisk sales.

At closing on Friday, I was so wiped out that I didn't want to do a full break-down of my setup, so I took the risky route- I packed everything down beneath the table and only took my most valuable things.

Friday Commissions:


















Saturday:


On Saturday, Joseph decided to accompany us and utilize his Press Badge to interview artists.  Saturday's drive to Murfreesboro was a little harder, as both of us had stayed up to work on commissions.  I think we arrived as the convention proper opened, and hurried to get our tables set up.  Heidi had sold out of prints on Friday, so Joseph made a run to the nearby OfficeMax (and after Chuy's for lunch) while we stayed and made sales.

On Saturday, the staff and fire marshall decided to make our hall the ENTRANCE for the Dealer's Room, which meant there was a non-stop line for the duration of Saturday.  The crowd was so bad that attendees in line for the Dealer's Room were forced to stand with their backs on the wall, on the opposite side as our tables.  The entire time, a staff member yelled instructions to the attendees, which I suppose was necessary, but it was extremely annoying and disrupted business constantly.  Attendees were also not allowed down the hallway to view the artists located there at various times because staff members weren't informed that artists were tabling down that hallway.  I spoke with one of the staff volunteers about allowing attendees to leave the line to check out our tables, and while that helped somewhat, the line was still a major issue all day Saturday.

Even with this problem sales on Saturday were booming, and commissions moved fast.  I had a backlog the entire day, with several watercolor commissions to work on Saturday night.

On Saturday, we also met Emily, the AA coordinator for Hama-con, a convention Heidi and I will be attending in June.  She seemed like a fantastic person and I really look forward to Hama as a result!

Saturday Commissions:























Sunday:


I stayed up late on Saturday night working on commissions, and continued to work on a couple of leftover sketches during the drive to Murfreesboro.

The Dealer's Room line situation was even worse on Sunday, with even more noise and even more mis-informed staff preventing attendees from checking out the artist alley.  Sales were much slower on Sunday, although attendance hadn't waned, and I'm going to chalk this up to bad staffing, poor organization, awful locations, and just general Sunday sales.  Even with these issues, I saw some sales, and even had to turn away quite a few $5 sketch commissions who weren't interested in upgrading to mail-in status (+$2).

Sunday At-Con Commissions:

I was so busy on Sunday that I missed taking photos of most of my at-con sketches.






Booth and Convention Photos














































Mail in Commissions:













What I learned:


Due to the layout of the convention, the only time I ever left my table was to venture ten feet over to get water from the fountain.  Even when we weren't seeing much in sales, the hall itself was crowded with attendees eager to enter the Dealer's Room.  Despite wait times upwards of 3 hours at some points during the weekend, many attendees braved that line SEVERAL TIMES (by their own eager admission) to get another shot at the Dealer's Room.  I'm not sure what on earth they were selling to attract that sort of attention, when Heidi and I passed through during sign-in on Friday, I saw nothing I hadn't seen at a dozen other anime conventions.

Even with the massive problems, MTAC was an extremely profitable convention for me.  My overhead was low:

Cost:
Table- $125 for 1.5'x6' of space
Food-
Coffee $10 (Friday and Sunday, on Saturday I brought a thermos)
Lunch Saturday- $7 (skipped lunch on Friday and Saturday, ate snacks at table instead)
Dinner Friday- $15 (Thai take out on way home)
Dinner Saturday- $5 (pizza, order in)
Gas- comped by Heidi since she stayed with me

Total Cost: $162

When I say I sold well, I mean I broke $800 the entire weekend, which is my highest sales record yet.  I ran out of several sticker designs, and one bookmark design, and spent the majority of the weekend drawing.  I sold several mail-in watercolor commissions, and possibly could have pushed more sales if I hadn't spent so much time with my head down, drawing.  I had to turn several sketch commissions away, simply because I didn't have time to fulfill them at the convention.  I sold out of mini-watercolor books (I only had five copies, and I sold them for $5 each because they were misprinted on a lower weight paper than I had specified), and probably could have sold more if I'd printed them.  I sold a few copies of 7" Kara, and had several people read it, which is extremely unusual for me at an anime con.

Of course, MTAC had some massive problems which were glaringly apparent even to someone who couldn't leave her artist table.  Our tables were undersized for what we paid, locations were spotty and liable to change without notice all weekend, the halls our tables were in weren't locked, crowd control was horrific, staff communication was equally bad, the Artist Alley head didn't reply to emails prior to the con or during the con, it took way too long for MTAC to decide on the 30 artists who would be in the Artist Alley (for a con of it's size, and considering how supportive Nashville fans are, they could've increased that number easily), Murfreesboro is a 40 minute drive out of Nashville proper, making it a not-really-Nashville convention (in prior years, it was in the convention center, but that change isn't MTAC's fault), and the artists were treated very much like an after thought.  If I lived outside of Nashville, it'd be a coin toss as to whether I attended MTAC again, because while I loved interacting with Nashville's fantastic, supportive anime community, there were a lot of things about MTAC that made me upset.

Despite MTAC's problems, I really loved doing a Nashville convention.  The attendees were AMAZING, and made it one of my best conventions either.  I would love to do more Nashville events, and it seems like the Nashville geek community would be happy to have me, since I gained 10 followers on my Tumblr after MTAC.  This has really encouraged me to attempt to dig in and make Nashville a more long-term home, and I hope to explore other sales opportunities while I live here.