When you’re making and selling your own comics, a website – preferable one with ecommerce (shameless plug!) – is an absolute requirement. But cons are just as important.
For me, cons aren’t just an opportunity to sell books. They’re also an opportunity to introduce my work to a new audience. Since a lot of people don’t like to read comics on a screen, a large number of readers will never see Split Lip online. But those folks might be interested if they encounter one of the TPBs.
I learned a lot of things at shows — things that I’m good at and that I need to get better at. I’ve learned that some people are naturals – gregarious, engaging, endlessly energetic – and that some people are terrible: unable to make eye contact or speak loud enough to be heard over the din. Most people – myself included – fall in between.
With about 10 cons under my belt so far – and a handful more coming this year – here are some of the things I’ve learned.
It’s Work – Cons should be fun, but they’re work. I’m selling my work and interacting with potential customers. Dealing with so many people can seem intimidating, but many of us have to do this in our jobs. Whether it’s making sales calls, giving presentations, or serving customers who walk through the door, we all interact with people we don’t know. I approach cons with that mindset; that makes things much easier.
Have Fun – If you don’t, you won’t make it. For me, this means talking to the folks exhibiting next to me, finding common ground with people who come to my table, laughing at the strange stuff that happens at every con. I find reasons to smile and joke. Cons are long; having fun makes them enjoyable.
Go Near Friends/Family – Cons are expensive. If I go to one where I have a close connection, I can usually stay on a couch or in a spare bedroom, saving the cost of 2-3 nights at a hotel. This is often the difference between being profitable and losing money.
Go (Relatively) Local – Unless I’m sure I’m going to move big numbers of books (and I never am!), I never go to cons that require flying: too expensive. Instead, I go local. Cons that I can drive to in a few hours or half a day cost much less than those that require airfare (and hotel and shipping).
Don’t Exhibit Too Soon – I probably waited too long to start going to cons, but starting too soon is tricky, too. Having just one comic is probably too soon. You won’t cover your costs in most cases (though if you can split the cost of a table, that helps). Wait until you’ve got multiple things to sell. At my first cons, I had Split Lip vol. 1, two Australian editions, and a minicomic.
What I Bring (comics) – This is what I bring to every con: TPBs (always 10-15 more than my most optimistic projections); t-shirts, minicomics, a retractable banner stand ($279 for an 8-foot tall, full-color banner at Kinko’s; a good deal, I’d say); big stacks of promotional postcards; signs with prices and stands to display books.
What I Bring (everything else) – Con preparation is also about bringing things that make me comfortable. That includes a few bottles of water, some snacks (I go with high-energy things like protein bars), hand sanitizer to prevent con crud, paper and pen for recording sales and ideas, and, if possible, lunch. It can be hard to slip away for lunch, so getting a sandwich or other meal that keeps a few hours is a good idea. A filling lunch is the difference between a peppy afternoon and a logy one.
Stand Up – Some people find it kind of confrontational, but I try to stand as much as possible during cons. It’s active, easy to look people in the eye and get a sense what’s going on, and it shows that you’re working, not just sitting around. My feet are incredibly sore at the end of the day, though.
Put Things In Hands – I try to get people to pick up my books. Many people do this instinctively, but for those who don’t want to touch the books, I always invite them to browse. Sometimes I even hand them the books. Putting something in their hands feels like it makes the sale easier. And, if they don’t buy something, I make sure they leave with a postcard and the knowledge that they can read and buy comics online.
The Pitch – You’ve only got seconds to explain what your comic is and why they should buy it. I learned this the hard way at SPX 2009, when a guy cut me off a few sentences into explaining Split Lip, saying, “you need to do better than that. You need a shorter pitch. Boil it down to a sentence or two.” He said it in kind of a sharp way, so I was a little surprised, but he was right and I tried to learn from it. Now, my pitch is:
Split Lip is an anthology of short horror comics written by me and drawn by artists from around the world. It’s along the lines of the Twilight Zone or Tales from the Crypt, so if you like those, you’ll probably like Split Lip.
It works, but I’m not sure it’s great. What do you guys think? I’d love your feedback.
Be On Time and At the Table – I’m always surprised how many people get to their tables late, especially on the second day of a con. Sometimes people show up an hour or two late. Not only does that look unprofessional, but every second I’m away from my table, I’m paranoid that I’m missing sales.
Network Before the Show – Cons are also about networking with other people making comics and publishers. But those people are there to sell books, too. Because of that, I always try to find the people I want to talk to in the morning before the show starts. That way, I’m not distracting them from customers, and I get more of their attention.
Etiquette – This is one I struggle with. Other exhibitors sometimes buy copies of Split Lip, which I really appreciate. Some of them, though, then wait around my table, expecting that I’ll buy their books in return. But I only buy when they have something that I’m genuinely interested in and can be enthusiastic and supportive about. What do you think: is that bad etiquette on my part or should other creators not expect a thank you purchase from me?
Every con I exhibit at delivers new insights. I always come away with new ideas for how to work the next show I attend.
My next show is the Baltimore Comic Con, Aug. 28 and 29 at the Baltimore Convention Center, followed by SPX in Bethesda, MD, on Sept. 11-12. If you’re going to be at either show, please stop by and say hi.