Hopefully this little post (okay, who’s kidding… when have I ever written a little post?) will help answer some of the questions I was asked in response to the Indie Author Lessons from a Comicon post & maybe even some I wasn’t asked which will help you (or your friend, or your alter ego) launch a successful convention (or comicon) event.
What’s required to set yourself up at a Comicon? Can you just by a regular ticket, pick a spot, and put your stuff up… do you have to go through more process before they let you… did you not really have a place of your own since you said you got lost sometimes? I’d like to hear more about how it actually worked.
Okay, here goes… Comicons (like many conventions, though these answers will be specifically for comicons so do your research on all others!) are a big beast. Depending on which one you go to, you’re either dealing with a small, evolving creature — a massive, organized chaos creature — or a creature somewhere in between.
That said, they all have procedures you must follow in order to sell at the convention.
If you were to buy a regular pass (ticket) you would purchase for one, a couple, or all days of the event itself. Then, you would be granted access to wander around the convention, around the booths, the events, the giveaways, the craziness, and all the vendors, artists, and celebrities. That’s great if you want to take a gander and learn more about this beast called a comicon, but you are not allowed to solicit or sell without following the proper channels. This means, that if you are caught hawking your goods you will be removed and (okay so this is extreme but some cons take their codes of conduct seriously) possibly banned or fined. So, if you’re going to go as a visitor – do yourself a favor and read the visitor code of conduct that you legally agree to when you purchase your pass. Sometimes there are little addendums in there that you’d never expect, so it pays to read the small print.
So, no you can’t just buy a ticket and sell your books. If you want a booth/table, you’re going to have to apply for and pay for one. That can be quite an investment depending on the respective comicon. Do some research and you’ll see that prices are all over the place for tables & booths.
STEP ONE: Apply & Pay for a Booth
Now, I personally stick to either the “Small Press” tables or the “Artist Alley” tables as I am an artist and I am a small press. I can fit into either category and pending on the convention, I’ll choose wisely. I personally prefer Artist Alley since I feel the vendors there are more personable and less robotic, but that might just be me. Sometimes, you’ll find that there isn’t a real separation of booths or vendors… either way, in all cases you have to apply to be a vendor.
Note on vendor definitions – they differ convention to convention so you should always verify where you would fall; however, here is what I have found from my research:
Small Press = a few authors/books under one company umbrella and can sometimes include indie authors/self-publishers.
Publishers = pretty obvious (multiple books/authors).
Artists = comic artists, illustrators, digital artists, inkers, indie authors, artists, sculptors, costumers, and other creative talent only.
Vendors/Exhibitors (general category) = any of the above or none of the above but must be relevant to the convention.
All of the above are on a case-by-case application basis only. There are no guarantees of acceptance & placement. Also, 99% of the time electricity is provided at an extra charge and you can purchase 1-2 additional exhibitor badges for a nominal fee.
Here’s a price list just for comparison’s sake of Cons I am attending or eyeing/dreaming about (I used to travel a lot so I pick cities I loved – don’t judge!):
ComiCon International (San Diego, California) – ~130,000 attendees & growing (biggest! note, a lot of small vendors/artists are starting to step away from this event as it is becoming too expensive for them to see any profit. I stand with those artists, but just for comparison’s sake, here are the stats).
Artist Alley Space (4′ table & 1 chair/badge) $350
Small Press Table (6′ table & 1 chair/badge) $400
Comic-Con Table (limit 2) (2 chairs/badges) $800-900
Exhibit Space (10×10 booth) $1750-2600 w/ Corner Premium upgrade +$600 OR w/ Island Premium Booth upgrade +$1400
Anaheim/SF WonderCon (California) – ~70,000 attendees:
Artist Alley Table (6′ table & 1 chair/badge) $200
Small Press Table (6′ table & 2 chairs/badges) $300
WonderCon Table (limit 2) (8′ table & 2 chairs/badges) $700
Standard Booth (10×10′ booth, 1 8′ table & 2 chairs/badges) $800-1200 w/ Corner Premium upgrade + $300-400 OR w/ Island Premium upgrade +$800-1200
Phoenix ComiCon (Arizona) – ~55,000 attendees & growing:
Their new prices are not out just yet. I do know the following as I am attending as a vendor next year…
Artist Alley Table (1 table/2 chairs & 3 badges) $250-350
Will update the others later once they release the 2014 prices (they were supposed to release on 6/5/2013 but alas…)
Emerald City ComiCon (Seattle, Washington) – ~53,000 attendees & growing:
10×10′ inline booth (1 table/2 chairs & badges) $695
10×10′ corner booth (2 tables/4 chairs & badges) $850
Artist Alley Table (No Small Press or Publishers) (1 6′x2′ table/2 chairs & badges) $295
Dragon*Con (Atlanta, Georgia) – ~52,000 attendees & growing:
Dealer’s Interior Table (1 table/1 badge + $65 for add’l badge) $550
Dealer’s End Cap Table (must be combined with interior table – 2 tables/2 badges + $65 for add’l badge) $650
Memphis Comic & Fantasy Con (Tennessee) – 3 days
10×8′ Vendor Booth $225
20×8 Vendor Booth $400
8×6 Artist Alley Booth $125
8×6 Crafters Booth $125
Corner Booth (additional) $50
Alternative Press Expo (San Francisco, California) – ~400 vendors/2 days:
Half Table (1 chair/badge) $175-200
Full Table (1 table, 2 chairs/badges)
ConDor Con (San Diego, California) – ~400-1000 attendees & growing (hardcore following)
6′x6′ Booth (1 table, 1 chair/1 badge) $60 (can purchase multiples)
Additional badges @ $25 each
STEP TWO: Seller’s Permits
Just when you thought you were done, eh? So you’ve got the booth and you’re ordering your product and marketing materials, right? Excellent. But don’t forget this step or you can (and will) be screwed.
Legally, all of the conventions require you to have an active seller’s permit for the convention location. That means if the convention is in California – you need either a CA Seller’s Permit or a Temporary CA Seller’s Permit and/or a special permit for Special Events sales.
Do not get conned by these websites that say they can get you one for $50.00! Yes, they do actually do it – but you can do it for free (paying the state fee if there is one, of course). And save yourself a lot of money.
I carry my home state’s seller’s permit with me to all events, even out of state. It’s just a habit. And, whenever I attend an out-of-state event where I am going to be conducting sales, I check with that convention for which type of permit I need to have. Then, I get it and I get it early.
Once you have your permit – be they long term or just event-specific/temporary – you need to abide by the laws of that state and permit. That means you have to pay taxes on what you sell, people. No exceptions! So, add that into the prices of your merchandise or add it on top of your purchase price – either way, you will be held responsible. From my asking around and experience, 99% of people add it into the purchase price to avoid the confusion of having to add on tax at the event or explain why you’re adding on tax (not to mention making sure you’re taking in the right tax for the right county & state)!
Side note: You can do the research on the seller’s permit necessity for online sales on your own – but the general rule of thumb is if physical property is being transferred, there’s tax. If it’s intellectual or digital property, there isn’t. At least, that’s what my accountant says. See what I mean when I said that this is not just your passion, but your business?
STEP THREE: Travel Plans
So you’ve got the booth, the permit and now you need to finalize your plans & order enough product. You have to consider food, travel, hotel stay (unless you live 30 min or less from that site), and incidentals. That’s some serious budgeting my friends.
Here’s how I did it for Phoenix (I was thinking I wouldn’t break even or even get into the green as mentioned in my earlier post, so this was more for exposure at this planning stage) -
- For my first time, I split a booth! Yay! Discount! If you can find someone who will split the cost of a booth with you, excellent. Ask other authors or a local friend. It’s worth checking out the possibility. But be forewarned, make sure you know who you are splitting it with and that they are trustworthy. If you both go in under one name and one of the two/three of you break the vendor code of conduct you can all get in trouble and/or banned. Ruh roh!
- I figured out how many miles it is to drive and then how much gas would cost me – I set that aside plus a little extra.
- I found a discount hotel and used some hotel points. Do note that most conventions strike deals with nearby, local hotels so check those out too! If you don’t have points, plan for more of a budget. Consider splitting a room with another vendor/friend that is attending. Oh, I also made sure that they had free breakfast. Yum!
- I figured out how long and far it was from hotel to convention and planned a schedule to get there on time with varied success (don’t ask, longer story than it’s worth.)
- I figured out parking costs. Most conventions have discounts for vendors so ask if you haven’t heard anything.
- I bought groceries and brought them in a cooler to the convention hall for lunch/snacks. That saved me a lot on my budget and helped me get through the long hours. That, and I made faster booth neighbor friends, especially with the pretzels and gatorade!
- I checked into the weather and planned accordingly. For Phoenix that meant giant water bottles. For Seattle, it would probably mean ponchos.
- I took a shot at estimating how many books to bring to sell. I researched what others had done and then took into consideration how many attendees there were. For Phoenix, you’re looking at 35,000-55,000 over four days, right? So that’s about 13,000 a day. Now figure that there are over 1,000 things for people to shop at (more, but it is an estimate) and my booth is one of those 1,000. So, that means I could maybe expect 13 people to visit my booth a day. After that, it was up to me to convert them. With 13 a day, I’d need 52 books. But then, what if there were more? What if someone wanted two or three? What if there was a mad rush at a booth next to me so I got 30-40 passing my way a day? So, I doubled that number. 104 books – I ordered 100 and prayed that I’d be lucky enough to beat my researched average of 20-25 and tucking away that it was more for exposure and networking than sales at this point.
And I used my sales experience to come up with an exclusive deal for the convention only. People like to get things that they know won’t be available anywhere else. So, I made one of those deals. And, it worked – wonderfully well at that too!
And as far as e-books, did I sell them? Yes, but it wasn’t advertised. I wanted to sell my physical merchandise first and foremost but, instead of losing a customer, I would offer the ebook as an option. This only happened twice, and both times they became customers.
Side Note: Every customer I had the pleasure of meeting I asked permission to send them occasional non-spam updates from me regarding the series. They all said yes, without hesitation. Bam! Instant marketing boost!
- I also ordered promotional/marketing materials. I had the advantage of having a local Phoenix legend do my cover art, so I had a mini display at her booth that brought over about 10 purchases. I had cover art for sale because of her status, and I did sell a couple. I raffled off another for charity, which brought people over too (it was more of an upsale though). I had my business cards and candy. (Hey, it’s a long convention and who doesn’t want to visit a booth with candy?!) And, I had my secret #1 weapon.
Bookmarks. They were promotional bookmarks for my entire series with a link and QR code. And, they were free. Even if I sold only 1 book to the 13-26 passing by, I made sure EVERYONE took a bookmark. I don’t know many people who would say no to something free – do you?
So think about it – if the 26 passing by took bookmarks (they usually travel in pairs so that’s really 52 passing by) that’s 52 new eyes on my promo materials. And what’s more awesome? They then walk around with them and others at different booths start to ask questions.
Oh, and when you get the browsers who aren’t sure? Close the deal. Be friendly and understand that most attendees wait to buy things until the last day or two. So what did I do? I offered them a free bookmark and offered to write my booth # down on them. Out of the 43 I did that for, 16 came back and bought a book later. That’s a 37% c0nversion rate that I wouldn’t have had without those bookmarks.
Bam! Instant exposure. For me, bookmarks are a must. And not shoddy, cheap ones. Take pride and design them well. Make them something you, even if you had no interest in the book matter itself, would want to use. And remember that it isn’t just for booth visitors. It’s for you to use while networking! When I went around to visit and network with other vendors, I brought a couple business cards but I brought my bookmarks and gave them to every single one, with a smile.
I got my bookmarks by making postcards at VistaPrint. 1,000 cost me $40. Those $40 are probably the best money I’ve spent on marketing thus far. Here’s a mockup of the bookmarks before print:
Note: At conventions, you may not solicit without someone expressing interest, but if you start a conversation and transition to mentioning your book – they’ll want the bookmark and your information.
How do you best use your time at a convention?
So far, this is how I broke down my time –
On set up day, I set up and made an eye-catching, come hither display. My manager had fun making cool book towers and fortresses that people complemented on (I was astounded at first but then went along with it because hey, it was working!)
Once I was all set, I scoped out my neighbors. There are aisles and then on each aisle, two sides of booths. I personally went around and introduced myself to every single one. I ended up meeting really cool people and great networking opportunities in those 20-30 minutes.
Then, I ventured out of my aisle and started looking for vendors that were a) related to my book/genre b) caught my eye with my promotional materials in hand (or pocket). When I found one, I marched on over and talked to them. It helps that I have experience in small talk for my day job, but if you don’t – don’t fret.
Be yourself. Smile and introduce yourself as their aisle/booth neighbor. Listen to what they say. They’re friendly people and they’re as excited as you are. If you like their work, say so! Find a natural transition into introducing what you are doing at the convention. 9 times out of 10, they’ll take the conversation there themselves.
From that alone I walked away with 2 small run art deals and 2 offers to produce products for my series. These people became as excited about my book series as I was because I took the moment to interact. If you just sit at your booth terrified and wide-eyed, you’ll regret it later.
During the convention, 90% of the time I was at my booth talking to people.
Was it always about my book? No.
Here’s why – these attendees came to have fun, to have an experience. They didn’t come just for me so I refuse to act like it. I wanted to talk to them about their time, their fun. Then, if I ever noticed them eyeing the book, I put it in their hands. I told them to read it, check out the back, etc. I made jokes with them. I laughed and smiled and talked about their costumes with them.
8 times out of 10 these people stopped to chat which brought over more people wondering “Oooo, what’s this all about?” Even if those people weren’t book readers, the more interaction I got, the better my chances of sales became. Oh, and every single one of them walked away with a bookmark.
Sometimes, my conversations became 20-30 minutes long. I learned a lot about my audience that way. I had no idea most people at comicons prefer indie authors. I had no idea that so many teachers attend. I had no idea how hard it was to make different cosplay outfits – I can admire and did admire their work verbally.
The other 10% of the time I was walking around talking to people.
I had the luxury of knowing a few people attending from my day job so, of course, I hopped out to say hi to them in between their appearances. I also visited my cover artist and got stopped to explain my book there a couple of times. I walked around and met some of my favorite writers/graphic novel artists. I talked and revisited the vendors from the first day and chatted. The more out there I got, the more often Media Badges or Event Staff walked by to check on or chat with me when I returned to my booth (scored 2 interviews from this without even meaning to!)
When the day ended, I went to dinner – wearing my marketing stuff (t-shirt and/or bookmarks in hand) and chatted up the people at the restaurant. Most of the time, they took a bookmark too. Then, I went to the hotel and passed the hell out.
What are some things you will do differently next time now that you know more?
- Not stress so much. I didn’t show I was nervous, which was a huge thing, but I was. Now that I know I can do this – that stress is gone. I hope this blog and the other will show you that you can do this too and eliminate your nerves just a bit.
- I’d probably try to sneak out of my booth more… it seemed that the more often only one of us were at the booth, the more books we sold. It was probably just a coincidence but I started to get superstituous and kept sending out my manager to get marketing/publicity photos of famous and attendee cosplayers for my social media outlets.
- Try to attend one of the after events no matter how freaking tired I am. Not only are they a great opportunity, but they’re a lot of fun from what I hear.
- Learn the layout better. I know that the aisles were marked but amongst 20,000 or so people a day, you will get lost! It was fun getting lost, of course, but sometimes I just wanted to get back to my chair…
- Bring my own chair. I don’t know about other conventions, but from now on I bring my own chair to make sure it is comfy.
- Have another person at my booth to help. I was usually sending my helper out to take social media publicity photos, so I could’ve used an extra body. I actually have an additional badge for next time because of this. Oh! And get someone to dress up as a character. A few people actually offered, so who knows — next year that just might happen! Freaking awesome!
- Bring merchandise related to my series that I can sell. They usually have the rule that it has to be things you created but merchandise for my series falls under that as long as I hold the exclusive right to sell it from the artist on behalf of my series. I have made a few deals recently and will start doing this quite soon – and that will carry over to my next convention.
- Make sure I have my own WiFi connection. I did have one, thankfully, but the WiFi and connectivity of an over-saturated convention center were bad. They actually prevented some credit card transactions. I was lucky and had a means around that and ended up being one of the few that could accept credit cards. Yikes!
- Have a way to accept credit cards & and back up way to accept them. I use PayPal and the PayPal Here card reader. I love it and I am sooooo glad I had it. But next time I’ll bring a back up way to take credit cards just in case my reader stops working. There are other options like the Square reader and the Intuit reader.
- A big ol’ dolly for books. We used the loading dock (most big conventions will have one) to unload the heavy books, but it would’ve been better with a dolly. Even if I rent one. My back will thank me… so will my helper (aka grunt labor).
How do you walk around a massive crowd without tripping on some cosplay props?
Not very well… I do have some massive crowd experience from football games which includes a lot of bobbing, weaving, ducking, and bending around people and their elbows/costumes/props. Saying please usually isn’t heard and tapping a cosplay samurai isn’t usually advised – and don’t even think about trying to get past a trio of Predators…
So you just walk, walk fast, and learn to hop, skip, jump and twirl around people. Nimble feet, nimble shoes. Don’t wear sandals – seriously, just don’t.
That’s pretty much it…
That I can think of sharing anyhow. I hope that helps anyone thinking about or soon-to-be attending a convention to sell their treasured book(s).
Dang, is it next year yet? I can’t wait!
adviceauthorboothbrandingcomiconconventioncraftdragonics & runicseventshow toindie authorlessonsmarketingprocesspublicitypublishingsalessellingstepswriterwriting
Leave a Reply
Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked
You may use these HTML tags and attributes:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <s> <ins> <strong>