Convention Facts I've Learned the Hard Way

When I first decided to write this post, it was after Sukoshicon LAW and Dashcon.  Heidi and I put our heads together to try and suss out how we could've spotted these problem cons from a distance, and came to the horrifying conclusion that from the website, a good convention and a bad convention often look the same.  Sometimes a fellow artist will be kind enough to tip you off before you spend money on a table, but there's been many times I was 'warned away' AT the convention by another artist who glibly claimed they could've just told me not to come if I'd only thought to ask them (I usually put out all calls on Twitter and Tumblr).  If spotting bad cons is difficult for people as experienced in conventions as Heidi and I, it must be extremely frustrating for artists just starting their journey.  Since I'm unable to give any sort of hard and fast rules for spotting a bad convention, I thought I'd share some generalities that seem to be true for me.

My definition of a 'bad convention':

  • Low foot traffic in hallways and artist alley
  • Disinterested or rude staff
  • Inability to make more than $500 in sales entire weekend (for conventions I travel to, and need to book a hotel room for)
  • Audience at particular con doesn't seem to be interested in actually BUYING anything from the artists, but continue to mill around the alley.

Of course, sometimes it's the artists fault, and not the convention's.  Furry Weekend Atlanta (link) seemed like it was a good convention to table at for the other artists, but because I was simply dabbling in the fandom, it was a bad convention for me.  Lack of preparation can make ANY con a bad con, but quick thinking may serve to turn it around.

My definition of a 'good con':
  • Audience seems to be in a good mood, receptive to what's sold in the alley.
  • Audience is enjoying the convention itself.
  • Staff is receptive and helpful.
  • Sales are brisk

  • Any first year con that requires travel is probably going to be a loss.
  • Any one day con that requires travel will probably cost me more money than I'll make.
  • Any con open for only two days will probably be a loss for me.
  • Given how far I have to travel, indie cons that I can't drive to aren't worth attending for me, as I can't make back the costs, and the chances of meeting an editor who can utilize my work is low on the East Coast at this time.
  • In general, I tend to do well at anime cons, especially cons that are at least 3 days in length, have been around for more than 5 years, and are half the size of Otakon.
  • For cons I have to travel to, if I make under $500 at the table, I can't afford to return.
  • Presenting panels costs me sales, so its important to find conventions that are willing to offer some form of compensation to help me offset the costs.
  • Conventions in economically recessed states tends to be really poor conventions for me, as the crowd doesn't have money to spend.
  • Conventions in states that already have a lot of conventions tend to be a bad choice for me (Ohio, lookin' at you.)
  • Conventions with Artist Alley heads that are unresponsive to email and take a long time to release the alley list TEND to present later problems to the artists, such as tables being smaller than advertised, the alley isn't actually locked at night, staff may not patrol the alley to make sure things are running smoothly.
  • I tend to sell poorly at large conventions like Otakon given the cost of table, attendence, and travel.
  • I tend to sell very poorly at superhero-centric events.
  • Although my work is entirely kid friendly and I have a children's comic on the table, I have difficulty attracting parents at conventions, but no difficulty attracting children.  Unfortunately, the parents don't seem to be interested in purchasing any of my work for their children, nor do they seem to be interested in even flipping through the book.  This holds true for all three major event types- indie, superhero, and anime.
  • Because events like MoCCA-Fest and SPX have grown so large, I no longer see job opportunities after atttending such events, as there's little opportunity to interact with people as the crowd and crush are so large.
  • If I share a table with someone, no matter how large the table or how different our work, both of us tend to see about half the sales we normally would.
  • While I enjoy presenting panels, I currently do not see an increase in meaningful sales at conventions I present at.  I need to find a better way to include a snippet of relevent self promotion into our panels.
  • At conventions I attend alone, I tend to be creeped on.  I need to find a better way to quickly shut these people down and send them on their way, as they tend to ruin sales for me.
  • Promoting future conventions is good for me, utilizing hashtags well has earned me sales I might not have otherwise had.
  • Convention appearances and panels produced do not necessarily equate to an increase of followers on any social network I have, as many attendees do not associate convention me with the possibility of there being a freelance me as well.  Need to work harder to change this perception.