Convention Tips for Artist Alley/Vendor Beginners
Whew…An all-genre geek convention is just around the corner, and in between my day job and writing I’m cramming to get new products done.
Though I’ve been to conventions in the past as an artist in artist alley, I still have to remind myself that something like this is a huge commitment. Putting products together is a huge, stressful undertaking that should not be underestimated. So to help alleviate my stress, I’ve compiled a brief list of things I’ve learned from conventions over the years (further procrastinating from finishing my products).
Whatever the convention’s theme, I’m positive these tips will still apply in most cases.
1.) Conventions will drain you if you’re going in with unrealistic expectations.
Even if you work your hardest and create products to the best of your ability, sometimes customers just don’t bite. There are many reasons as to why this is, including the audience’s preference, your skill level, and competition. If you’re just starting out, go with the intention of simply getting your feet wet. Some people get lucky and make a lot of money on their first go; others do not. The point is to experience and explore from a vendor standpoint.
2.) Engage customers/foster the community.
Even if your products don’t exactly fit the crowd, engage where you can. Especially with your neighboring tables. Conventions are a great place to meet people with like minds. Get connected and have some fun, because business doesn’t only come in the form of money. If you’re a nervous type, practice using the mirror at home. Think of some generic conversation starters just to get the ball rolling. If you want to do this well, you’re going to have to look up from the cell phone and wiggle out of your shell. (But don’t overstep boundaries. Remember that these guys are not your friends (yet) and don’t care to spend all day talking to you. Likewise with those customers that are overly attached, be mindful that you can’t spend your whole day with just the one.)
At a local convention I attended, there was a duo of guys who weren’t getting any customers whatsoever, even though their portfolio was amazing. Over the years, literally years, they very slowly gained an audience simply because they engaged with people and were amazing to be around altogether (it probably helped they had really cool 3d printed helmets displayed on their table, but their artwork was still great).
3.) Subject matters. Mood sells.
What I tend to find at these conventions is that it’s not just the quality, but the content of your products that makes it or breaks it. Quality will always be a factor, but unless you’re just that good and people love your original creations, you’re better off drawing what’s well known versus something obscure. Furthermore, consider that other artists have already worked on the same subjects that have been said to be easy sells. What puts your creations aside from the crowd? Does it affect the consumer in any way, to the point where they simply had to buy from you instead of someone else?
Personally, I go into these things expecting to make back, at most, half of what I paid for the table. I don’t care to draw Cap’n Murica as much as I would Judge Dredd. But you have to understand that my expectations are so low because I draw subject matters which are often outside the mainstream and are almost guaranteed hard sells. Which brings me to my next point…
4.) Consider your audience.
Knowing the demographic of your audience should help in figuring out what products to put out. Are you looking at primarily teenagers, parents, men, women, etc.? Little kids from the local elementary are very likely not going to be interested in artwork about ancient Sparta. From my experience, cute things generally sell better. I’m sure there’s a science behind understanding what certain audiences want, but as far as I know, no one has been able to provide a clear cut formula that works for the rest of us. Just consider this: if you were in the customer’s position, what are you there for, and what would you be thinking if you saw your own products?
5.) For your own sake, clearly define your intentions/goals for owning a table.
This easily ties in with #1 as well. Are you there to make money? Are you there to advertise your services to potential clients? To have fun, to experience the convention from another perspective? Once you have the goal defined, what tailored steps can you take to achieve it? How much work are you willing to put in?
I go to have fun. Oddly enough, I have fun not by participating as an attendee, but as a vendor. While my potential audience has been minimized by my offering products featuring characters outside the mainstream, with only a few popular characters here and there, I have fun engaging with people who do take the time to stop to notice my things. Again, these are the guys with like minds. If I can make an everlasting impression on at least one person, then I say it’s a successful convention for me. Losing money or gaining it is my last concern.
For a lot of us commoners, vending at conventions is oftentimes high stress, low payout. Unless you’re a veteran, you will very likely run into bumps along the way. Just remember, no matter how many times you attend, it will always be a learning experience. The rewards are what you make it. So take what you can get and improve for next year!