Conosaurus (website) - Large database of upcoming conventions, filterable by region and type.
Prepping For Your First Convention (article) - Todd Telvin
2015 Convention Exhibitor Survey (PDF) - An in depth survey detailing how much was earned by creators at different conventions.
Webcomic Alliance: Conventions (podcast) - Archive of podcast episodes all about conventions
Ah conventions. For a majority of creators, myself included, attending conventions is the most intimidating step in the comics making process. Having to stand in front of a large mob of rabid comic readers to try to sell them a book just doesn’t sound like a fun time. However, attending conventions is a key way of making money off your stories and for many people, it’s the primary reason they’re able to stay afloat as full time artists.
Attending conventions is a great way to reach new readers, make some money, as well as network with other creators.
My goal with this section of the guide is to share the lessons that I’ve learned throughout my career that will ideally make your convention tabling more successful. Hopefully this will help ease some of the tension involved with attending conventions so that you can spend less time worrying and more time relaxing and having fun!
Okay, enough chit chat, let’s get into it!
How To Know You’re Ready To Attend A Con
Well, that’s an important question but a tough one to answer.
I’ve heard people have success at cons with a single floppy comic, some prints and a few buttons but I’ve also heard of professional creators with a full arsenal of comics making terrible sales at a con.
Everyone’s levels of success at cons tend to vary so much that it’s hard to narrow down a specific set of minimum tabling requirements.
That said, in an attempt to provide at least some helpful advice, here are some potential things to consider when investigating whether or not to apply for a con:
Have a goal in mind for how much money you want to end the con with. This is the total PROFIT you’ll make from the con (total amount of cash you’ll make, minus all your expenses). Maybe your goal is simply to break even. Maybe you need at least $500 profit for the con to be worth it to you. The number is entirely up to you but you should come up with one so you can know whether or not each con will provide enough value to you. How do you know how much you’ll profit from a con? Well you’ll have to factor in each of the following points to your calculations:
How many attendees will there be? In general, more people means more sales. (Really, it’s more complicated than that but I’ll explain later.) A zine fest probably won’t bring that many people out, but a fan expo could have thousands of guests walking past your table.
What kind of merch are you bringing? Buttons and stickers are popular with kids (and some adult collectors). Posters and mini-prints are popular all around but especially at the more all purpose, “fan expo” type shows. Fan art sells like crazy no matter what show you’re at. (Make sure to check if the show allows fan art though!) Trade paperbacks and graphic novels tend to make more money compared to single issue floppies because the profit margin of each book sold is larger. Con attendees also seem more interested in buying longer form stories from my experience. Having multiple books to sell is also a plus, as it adds credibility as well as more options for attendees. However, as I said before, bringing a ton of books won’t guarantee success at a con. It’s also important to consider…
What’s the focus of the con? The con itself could be massive, but if it’s not primarily about comics you might not sell as much as you would at a smaller, comics centric con. Similarly, do your products match the theme of the con? Some conventions have a central theme (flamecon, anime northwest…) and if your stuff doesn’t match, you might not get the sales you were hoping for.
How long is the con? The general belief is that the longer the con, the more money you’ll make since you’ll have more days you have to make money. This is not necessarily true. Sure you’ll make money each day, but it’s hard to say whether or not you’d make the same amount by attending a shorter event. What’s really important to consider is the amount of time you’ll spend attending the con. Most cons are three days but some might require you to arrive a day early and leave a day late. That could mean five straight days that you’ll have to dedicate entirely to the con. It’s important to consider whether or not that’s something you can fit in your schedule.
What are your expenses? Table costs, gas/bus/plane tickets, shipping for your comics (to AND from the event), hotels… Attending a con comes with a lot of hidden costs that people tend to forget about. Even things like eating out every day can really add a number to your expenses. Each expense will take away from your total profits so make sure to factor them in so you can ensure you’re still getting enough value out of the con (see my first bullet point). If the cost of a table is too much for you or you don’t have enough stuff to fill it, consider finding someone to share a table with.
How many copies of your books/prints will you need? This ties into the previous point, but the more copies of everything you need to print and ship to the con, the more you’ll need to sell to break even. Unless you already have your products printed and ready to go, you’ll need to consider the cost that you’ll face in doing so. (See my previous section on printing comics.) In the worst case, you’ll have some spare books to sell at the next con you attend, but you’ll need to bring whatever you don’t sell back with you from the con. Make sure to budget properly for that scenario.
Okay, so you’ve finally decided to apply to a con and… congratulations, you’ve been accepted!
So… what next?
Tell your social media followers. Your followers are interested in the content you produce so make sure to let them know about the con! A lot of people switch their Twitter name to include upcoming conventions and their table number (ex: Evan Waterman @VanCAF A123). You could even consider giving your followers some kind of incentive to visit your table (maybe a discount or a secret pin or print or simply a special autograph/doodle in any books they buy).
Consider offering pre-orders. If you allow people to prepay for your books before the event (so they can come pick them up from you at your table), you not only guarantee yourself some sales, but also more foot traffic at your table which could lead to even MORE sales from those people. I’ve also seen people offer pre-paid commissions for pickup at cons.
Post again to social media on the day of the event. People tend to get social media overload and might forget that you’ll be at the con. By posting again, you’re giving them a little reminder to come see you. I’ve seen people get really creative with this update and post a map of the con with directions on how to find their table.
Organize how to get you and your stuff to the con. If you’re driving, where will you park your car? Can you fit all your gear in the car or will you need to ship some of it? If you’re flying, can you fit everything in a checked bag? Make sure to also book a hotel or Airbnb far in advance (or find a place to sleep in your car if you’re REALLY on a budget).
Get the Square credit card reader. Not everyone at a con is going to carry cash around with them so you want to have a method of charging people to their credit cards. Square is an app that lets you charge cards from your phone or tablet. The Square reader itself is FREE (they’ll ship it directly to you) but they take a cut of 2% per transaction (or 10 cents from debit). The default reader only accepts credit cards so I suggest you purchase the tap/chip reader ($60) to allow your customers to use debit cards as well.
Create an inventory/stock of all your items. You want to keep track of the total number of each thing that you’re bringing with you to the con to determine your sales figures at the end of the show. If you downloaded the Square app, this step will be quite simple. With Square, you can manage your inventory, create deals and sales as well as combine items into bundles.
What To Bring To Cons
It’s time to build your convention checklist! These are all the things I would consider bringing to a convention but obviously feel free to adjust for your own needs.
Also, prepare to have all of your stuff ready at least a week in advance of the con! You don’t want to be stuck without comics at your table because your printer was late shipping them to you.
Your merch! Books, stickers, pins, posters, bookmarks, shirts, tote bags… This one might seem obvious but I actually have seen people forget some of their key merch at home.
A money box. You’ll get a lot of people paying cash at cons so make sure you have a money box and enough change (bills AND coins) to last the day. Get a box that’s lockable!
Your Square card reader. I talk about this in the previous section but if you don’t have a Square reader (or some other kind of credit card reader), make sure to get one! Some people print a little sign for their table to show passersby that they accept credit and debit cards.
Hand sanitizer. A lot of germs get passed around at cons. Make sure to keep sanitary to avoid getting the infamous “con flu” (for which Geek and Sundry wrote an entire article on how to prevent).
A price list. I talk about how to set specific prices in a later section, but whatever your price is, you want some way for guests to easily identify how much your products cost. I like to have laminated pictures of each book with the genre/age rating on them. I leave space on the card so I can write the price in with an erasable marker. This allows me to tailor the price of each book for each convention, or offer discounts on slow days (aka Sundays).
Stands for your business cards and books.
These will make your table less flat, putting your stuff directly in the line of sight of people walking by. Get collapsible stands if possible to save space when packing your supplies.
A table cloth. It makes your area prettier and lets you secretly store things behind your table. Make sure the colours and design meld well with your overall setup.
A banner. Banners are eye catching because they can be placed at or above eye level, allowing your booth to be spotted over the crowd. If you have a banner, make sure you have a stand or bring enough string to tie it up!
There’s some level of debate as to the usefulness of business cards at cons. I’ve had more than a few customers ask for them specifically and they’re relatively cheap to make, so I’m inclined to always have some on me at cons. Make sure your business cards have links to your social media accounts, contact information and website. Some people like to turn their business cards into mini comics to make them more interesting and to show off their style. I get my cards made through Vistaprint.
Lunch, snacks and a water bottle. Con days are long so make sure to pack enough food and drink to get you through each day.
An email list subscribe form. I like to offer people who buy my comics the opportunity to subscribe to my email list at cons. Having a tablet directly open to your subscription form is ideal, but if that’s not an option you can always stick to pen and paper. Also, consider ways you can award new subscribers. Maybe you have a piece of art that you’ll only make available to those who subscribe at the con. Maybe you’re offering a discount on your online store to those subscribers.
Cloudscape comics table setup
Your table layout might not seem like a big deal, but a good setup can mean the difference between someone checking out your table or just walking past it.
Some people like to practice setting up their table at home so they can make sure they have everything they need for the event.
When you’re preparing for your convention, your first goal should be to design a setup that attracts people to your table. After all, you can’t sell people your stuff if they don’t approach you! There are a few ways to achieve this:
Setup your banners where they can be seen from a distance. Get on eye level. I touched on this before, but banners are a main way of attracting people towards your table as they can be hung above the crowd. Some people also choose to have a second banner that they hang off the front of their table. This is less visible through a crowd but can make your table look more presentable.
Get vertical with your merch. If everything is laid out flat on your table, no one will be able to see your books unless they’re directly in front of it. That’s no good if you can’t attract people to the table in the first place! Get yourself some bookstands so your books directly face anyone who glances at your table. If you can get racks to hang posters or other stuff, even better. Showing off an awesome print is a fantastic way to grab people’s attention.
Vary the direction your displays face. If all your displays point straight ahead, people will only be able to see your stuff when they’re directly in front of you. Remember your goal is to attract people to your table. Instead, point some of your racks outward/inward so people from all directions can get a glimpse of your stuff early on.
Now that your table is designed to attract people, you also have to set things up so that your table focuses people on places where they can see or better yet, pick up, your best stuff.
Make your books easy to access. Remember, once people have reached your table, your main goal is to get them to pick up a book. There are a few ways to achieve this:
Put what you want to be picked up in the front. If people have to reach over your whole setup just to check out a book, you’re making it too hard for them. I like to put any posters/pinups, high and in the back (because you don’t need to hold a poster to appreciate it) and set up my book stands in front of those.
Stack your books. People are apprehensive about picking up or buying something if it looks like it’s the only one you have. By stacking a few of your books on top of each other, you make people more comfortable with grabbing one for themselves. This also ensures your table isn’t completely flat, making it more interesting to look at. Avoid building a wall in between you and everyone else though! Five or so books should be enough. I like to put a small pile of books in front of each of my book stands. This lets me display the books vertically to attract people in but also gives people easy access to each book.
Don’t make your setup too neat. Similar to the previous point, if everything on your table is perfectly straight, people will be afraid to touch anything. Obviously you don’t want things looking messy, just don’t worry about making perfect lines of everything. For example, I like to tilt the top book in all my piles slightly, as well as put a small, mixed up pile of business cards in front of my card holder.
Keep adult books out of reach of kids. My first time at a con, I had a kid walk up and grab one of my mature books off the table when I wasn’t looking. By the time I had realized what was going on, he had turned to his mom and said, “This book has bad words in it.” I’ve never seen people leave a table so fast. To avoid that situation, I try to organize my books by age range, putting the adult comics further in the back so kids can’t snag them by accident. I also like to add an age warning near the adult stuff, just to be safe.
Pricing Your Merch
I struggled with pricing a lot when I first started selling comics. I didn’t want to price too low and not make money off sales, but I also didn’t want to price too high and scare everyone away.
Unfortunately, the price you sell your merch at depends on a large variety of factors:
- If it’s a comic, what’s your page count? The more pages, the more you can charge.
- Is it in colour or black and white? Having colour increases the value.
- What’s the overall quality of the book (page thickness, coating, actual print quality)? Higher quality, higher price.
- If it’s an art print, is it an original or a copy? Originals can sell for waay more.
- How big is it? The larger, the more expensive.
- Is it fan art? If so, you can probably up the price. (For better or worse, people go bonkers for fan art.)
Even factors like the size of the con and how passionate the attendees are will affect how much you can sell your stuff for. Because of this, I suggest you…
Keep your prices flexible. There’s no need to have a set price for the duration of the con. If something isn’t selling or you have left over stock on the final day, consider dropping your prices. If something is flying off the shelves, don’t be afraid to bump up the price. Just make sure that if you DO update your prices, also update it on any price lists you have displayed on the table as well as in the Square app! If you’re unsure about what prices to set at the start of the con, feel free to scope out what prices other people are setting for products that are similar to yours.
Determine your minimum price. This is the lowest you’re willing to sell your books for, no matter how slow the con gets or how few sales you make. If you’re keeping flexible prices, you want a minimum price because you want to ensure you’re actually getting value back from each sale of your merch. If you have absolutely no idea what your minimum is, there’s a general rule that states: don’t charge less than double the production cost of the book. If the book cost $3 to make (including shipping and taxes), don’t charge less than $6 for it.
Use whole number prices. This is more of a personal recommendation and is simply to avoid requiring having to manage all the change you’d get from people giving you $20 for a $16 book. People tend to round prices to the nearest $5-10 in their minds anyways so $18=$20. Don’t worry about this rule for the small stuff like stickers and buttons.
Making Sales At The Convention
How To Practice Your Pitch For Comic Conventions (article) - Todd Telvin
Understanding People Who Attend Comic Cons (article) - Todd Telvin
Alright, so you’re all set up at the table. You’ve got your books, snacks and moneybox on hand as you look up to see the first wave of guests pouring into the con hall. It’s time to sell some comics!
Be approachable. Remember that your primary goal is to get people to come visit your table. While a big part of achieving that is how your table is set up, how you act has an effect on that too. Take your hands out of your pockets, stand up from your chair, keep active and be attentive. I know putting yourself out there can be a challenging task (introverts I feel your pain) but you get used to it with practice. Oh, and don’t forget to smile :)
Understand how to react to people at different distances. You’re not going to want to shout at someone to come check out your table when they’re standing on the opposite side of the hall. You want to react differently when people pass by your table, depending on their distance away from you. If they’re quite far away, a simple smile is usually enough. You don’t want to put too much pressure on a person at this stage so just acknowledge their presence and get them looking your way. If they begin to approach, you can say hi or ask them a simple yes/no question. Make sure to make eye contact. If you find someone actually stopping at your table, you can start your pitch.
Ask questions where you know the answer will be yes. Once people have approached your table or are walking close by, you can try to engage with them. Questions like: “Do you like comics?” are great because not only are they conversation icebreakers, they also get the person saying “yes” to you. If you can get someone to say “yes” to your questions, it builds a level of trust between you and them, making them want to keep saying “yes” to you in the future. This will be to your benefit once you start actually pitching your merch.
Find out what each guest is looking for in a story. Once you’ve gotten a person’s attention, you can ask them a personal question (or potentially two, but no more than that) to get to know them a little better. Ask them a broad question with a simple answer. “What’s your favourite genre?” is a good one. You can ask what their favourite book or artist is, but there’s a chance you haven’t read it or heard of them and that would simply kill, or at least sidetrack, the conversation. Once they’ve answered, tell them which of your stories fit that answer. Be brief at first and give them a few options. When they show interest in a specific book, then you can start to narrow in. You can skip this step if someone immediately begins to show interest in a certain piece of merch.
Nail down your elevator pitch. Once you’ve got your potential customer focused on a book, it’s time to deliver your pitch. Your pitch should be a one or two sentence hook that will inform the customer and get them interested in your story. “More Than Men is a dark, superhero drama where only the rich have superpowers.” The customer immediately knows the genre (superhero, drama), the tone (dark) and has hopefully been hooked in. You’ll know your pitch worked if it gets a visual reaction, they start asking questions about the story or they straight up tell you they’re interested.
While you want your pitch to really nail down the core concepts of your story, pitches can also be fluid. If I’m pitching to someone with kids, I’ll be more explicit in saying the intended audience (adults). If someone has already told me they like mystery stories, I’ll tweak the pitch to emphasize the elements of mystery that are in my books. The best pitches are ones that relate directly to your customer’s interests (which is why it’s useful to open your discussion by asking them a question). I never lie though. If someone says they like body horror, I’m not going to pretend they’ll find that in my stories.
Great pitches contain multiple interests points that you can narrow in on. If my pitch is: “It’s a manly men adventure story”, the customer won’t be hooked in if they aren’t into that. I could instead phrase it like: “It’s a knucklehead adventure story with lighthearted action and some romance mixed in.” That way, if they like romance, I can talk more about those aspects but if they like fun action scenes, I can zero in on that too. By including multiple points of interest, you give the customer multiple places to latch onto. This is especially useful if you’re unsure of what your customer’s interests are.
Tying into the above point, memorize a few interesting pages in your stories that you can flip to if needed. If the customer shows interest in comedy, flip to a section with a funny gag. If they like action, find them your best fight scene. By proving to someone your book has what they’re looking for, they’ll be more convinced to buy it. Again, don’t lie. If your story doesn’t contain what they want, that’s fine. Just move on to something else.
Get the book in their hands. This is hugely important and should be your main goal when pitching to a potential customer. Once someone has something in their hands, they’re way more likely to want to keep it, so if someone shows interest in a book, encourage them to flip through it. You can even hand it to them if they’re hesitant to disturb your table setup. I like to start this step early. I try to pick up the book and hold it in front of them while I’m giving my pitch. This allows them to grab it right away if they’re interested.
Slow down if they’re uninterested or intimidated. While your goal may be to hook people in, if your potential customer is becoming more quiet or even defensive, it’s probably because you’re coming on too strong. There’s nothing wrong with giving them a little space to explore your table for a while. Just make sure to let them know you’re there if they have any questions.
Once they really seem interested in a book, start digging into the details. Expand on your pitch (specifically the elements that the person has shown interest in) by talking more about your characters, the plot and the setting. Feel free to also talk about your goals and/or personal reasons for creating your book at this point. People like knowing there’s a passionate creator behind a story because it makes the purchase more intimate and personal. They feel like they’re supporting you directly and not some massive corporation. By the way, this idea extends beyond just books. I once bought a pin-up from a guy after he told me about his emotional reasons for drawing that particular piece.
Close the sale. Once you’ve shared some details about your story, it’s time to seal the deal. “I think you’ll really love this story. Can I pack this one up for you?” or “Are you interested in grabbing this one?” This approach works best for indecisive buyers as it forces a decision out of them but can also be dangerous in that it could just as easily push them the wrong way. Make sure they’re leaning towards a “yes” before you go for it. I personally don’t attempt this step very often because it makes me uncomfortable to force a purchase on someone. I just prefer to let sales happen organically. That said, I know a lot of creators who have had success with this method.
Don’t be afraid to upsale. If someone is already buying one of your comics, they’re more likely to be willing to say yes to adding something else onto their purchase. That’s why fast food places always ask “do you want to make it a meal?” Introduce buyers to any deals you’re giving out or about another of your books that’s similar to the one they’re already getting. If possible, phrase it as a question they can answer “yes” to. Ex. “I have another book I think you’d enjoy. <Insert one sentence pitch that relates to why they’re buying the other book>. Would you be interested in grabbing that too?”
Include a way for them to stay in touch with you. If you have one, now would be a great time to bring up your email list signup form. By buying your merch, they’ve already shown interest in your stuff so you can mention to them that your email list is a great way to see more of your content. If you don’t have an email list, you can always just clip a business card (which has your social media links on it) to each of your books. Personally, I like to do both. Before they leave, I make sure to tell people they can visit my website (I’ll then point to the link that’s on my business card) to get a free comic as well as a discount on all my other digital products.
Thank them! You want people’s experience at your table to be a positive one, so regardless of whether or not they buy something, make sure to thank them for stopping by. By showing kindness to them, they might just come back again later, you never know. (Plus being nice to people is overall just a good thing to do.)
Record your sales. Again, this is just to manage how well each of your products sell. Include details like price or any deals included in the purchase. You can even include the day and time of the sale. I like to keep a manual transaction list, but I also use square for this by putting all my cash sales through the app.
After The Con
It’s over! After a few straight days of hard work, you’re back home with all your stuff. All that’s left to do now is some final housekeeping tasks:
Send a personalized follow up email to your new subscribers. If you had an email list sign up sheet at your table, make sure to send out an email thanking any newcomers for visiting your booth and try to give them some sort of reward for signing up. It could be as simple as a digital drawing or a behind the scenes shot of your next comic. You just want to make sure they’re immediately gratified for joining your list.
Get in touch with any other creators you met at the show. If you bonded with any fellow artists, send them a follow up message or email. Remind them of what you were chatting about at the con and continue developing that friendship. A lot of the time, being successful in comics is about who you know, so don’t be afraid to build up your network. At the same time, you don’t want to pester anyone. Sometimes just following someone on social media and liking/sharing their stuff is a big enough first step. Know your boundaries and be respectful.
Review your inventory. How much of each product did you bring? How many sold / how many did you have to bring back? How much PROFIT did that product bring you overall? (Make sure to factor in any costs it brought you, including having to ship it back with you.) By investigating these numbers, you can learn where your money is coming from and how much of each product to bring or print for the next show.
Similarly, consult your sales/transactions list. This will help show you what deals worked and which ones didn’t. If you adjusted your prices, you’ll be able to see if that had an effect on your sales. You’ll also be able to see what your busy days and times were.
Make a note for yourself of how the show went. Did you meet your goal? What went well? What lessons did you learn for next time? Did you network with anyone? Was the show worth it for you? Will you be applying again next year? By asking yourself these questions you’ll ensure you’re always growing, and allow yourself to have a better understanding of your future goals as a creator.
Pat yourself on the back. You did it! You put a lot of work into attending the show and in doing so you got your name out there to people and hopefully made some money in the process. Remember that cons are a huge effort, so whether or not you met your goal, it’s okay to take some time to recharge. Congratulations!
Table of Contents
Before You Start
- It All Starts With An Idea
- Thought Dumping
- World Building
- Writing Scenes
- Breaking Scenes Down
- Choosing A Title
- Writer's Block
Hiring A Team
- Sorting Out Your Budget
- Writing A Solicitation
- Where To Find Your Team
- What Makes A Good Partner
- General Tips
- Standard Black vs Rich Black
- Choosing A Font
- Font Types
- When To Bold Text
- Sound Effects
- Getting Print Ready Files
- Offset vs Digital Printers
- Why Page Count Matters
- Book Formats And Binding Types
- How Many Copies To Print
- Tips For Saving Money
- Printer Comparison Table