It's called Vindaloo.
May 29, 2014 6:14 AM   Subscribe

Stickman's Tips for Having a Table at a Comic Book Convention is actually a pretty good primer for having a booth or table at any convention, ever.

A 2011 24-hour comic by Mark Monlux, who also does The Comic Critic and The Return of Stickman!.

For artists, Monlux also has a resources page that provides a number of useful tools for art freelancers.

I have no idea why he has an IP address instead of a URL.
posted by Shepherd (23 comments total) 65 users marked this as a favorite
That was very interesting; thanks.
posted by Curious Artificer at 6:43 AM on May 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

As someone who does about a dozen craft shows a year, 99% of this comic applies. Some things he left out + what has changed:

Square reader now has an offline mode to deal with the no-signal-in-a-bunker problem. This is new and very handy for those spotty locals.

Take pictures of your setup for reference; some shows require these so they know what you booth/table looks like (may not be common in comic land, but for juried shows, it is). Also helps with some inventory management.

Practice your unload, setup, tear down, reload and your arrangement before you do the show, so you know how long it will take from the time you park to when the show officially starts.

Show in town/close by? Drive the route to the location so you don't panic day-of.

Show in town/close by? Prepack the car/van/truck the night before so you don't have to do it at 4am the day of.

(these last steps also means you know when you need to get up and around).

Finally: SMILE! Don't be grumpy or ignore people!
posted by Old'n'Busted at 6:53 AM on May 29, 2014 [16 favorites]

This was well done.

I just packed up my record store and did a show this past weekend and I think he nailed it.

The shows are always a pain in the ass but they're always profitable.
posted by dobbs at 7:04 AM on May 29, 2014

  • Chewing gum. You often drink coffee, and you are trying to interact with people close-up. Bad breath is a no-no.
  • Paper hankies for emergency spillages, wiping your nose, cleaning your glasses... In one of those little packets, not in your pocket.
  • Powered booth? Charger for your tablet and/or phone.
  • Printed list ('phone list>) of People Of Importance you might see - exhibition organisers, industry leaders - but can't recall their names when they appear in front of you.

  • posted by alasdair at 7:06 AM on May 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

    This comic would've been wonderful last November, when some friends and I set up our Very First Table at C4 in Winnipeg. They (the friends) got the table to promote their independent publishing company and at that point my book was the only finished product to display. So it pretty much became my table. I had an absolute blast, met lots of great people and even sold some books & merchandise. Not a lot, mind you, but for a total unknown with a barebones table in a place bursting with talent? Any sales felt like a huge accomplishment.

    So yes, all that to say Thanks For Sharing This and I'll be emailing this comic around. Also bookmarking it for myself.

    I would add one thing as well -- if you have table buddies and one of them is sick, politely send them home / back to the hotel / away. I know they didn't do it on purpose but one of my friends was visibly unwell (not contagious, mind you) and I really felt like I had to work that much harder to attract people. I feel selfish thinking about it that way, but our table was visually kinda sparse and populated by an unknown property -- we didn't need more disadvantages.
    posted by Monster_Zero at 7:16 AM on May 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

    Penny Arcade's Strip Search had a challenge based around setting up the best conference table which was quite enlightening.
    posted by PenDevil at 7:47 AM on May 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

    Awesome, and I'm definitely bookmarking, but it's sucky to see that he seems to say / think the only reason to consider a woman as your booth buddy is to attract attention. Sigh.

    (seriously, who would it kill to draw the longer hair on all - or even some - of the other 'buddy' panels? It would take like 3 seconds)
    posted by Mchelly at 7:58 AM on May 29, 2014 [8 favorites]

    I don't know what the convention is for these type of shows but elsewhere, standing is important. Eye to eye with the attendee. If possible, have a raised table, waist-height, so bending over is not required. Then you can sit on bar stools.

    Signage in front of the booth beneath eye level is mostly wasted. Have a backdrop or easel. Have a large, attention-getting mounted graphic with enough detail to draw people in.

    No drink cups or takeout food containers on the surface. Bring trash bags and stow underneath. Extra pens. A pad of paper to take notes, yes it is faster than your phone and put that away, you're supposed to be focussed on the crowd.
    posted by TWinbrook8 at 8:06 AM on May 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

    After taking a few years off from shows, I "tabled" at six comics events in the past twelve months: SPX, MICE, MoCCA, Asbury Park, TCAF and MeCAF. Not as many as some friends of mine, but enough to get a sense of the current landscape and get back in the headspace of selling my books and artwork to (mostly) strangers in a giant, loud room.

    I remember seeing this comic go around a couple of years ago, and it's all very good advice, although some of it's a little dated. Some general thoughts, in case it's helpful:

    -- I have never talked to a show organizer on the phone. That part of the advice seemed very odd to me. Maybe this applies to larger "Comic Con" type shows?

    -- The signup process for every show is different, and often changes from year to year. Follow the show's Twitter account; sign up for their mailing list. Application periods can be very short; popular shows sell out quickly. Each type of show has advantages and disadvantages.
    • Juried/Curated: Longer application periods, which takes the pressure off. If you get in, you're more likely to do well -- a good show organizer knows their audience and will curate accordingly. Unfortunately, it can sometimes take a long while for acceptances/rejections to go out, which makes planning more difficult. MICE, TCAF and CAKE are curated shows.
    • First Come/First Serve: Equal opportunity, no gatekeepers! But sometimes this results in an insane rush for tables that crashes servers and ends in tears and heartache. See also: SPX's "Tablegeddon" of 2013 and the majority of Anime show artist alleys. MoCCA still uses this model, far as I know.
    • Lottery: You submit an application at your leisure, as you would for a juried show, except that tables are assigned by random chance. Again, it can sometimes take a while for the exhibitor list to be announced. SPX shifted to a lottery system (in addition to directly inviting a few dozen veteran exhibitors) for the 2014 show.
    -- Indy-focused comic shows are very different from Anime shows or big Comic Con events, particularly with regards to the crowd. At a small comic show, people are there to buy comics and artwork directly from the people who made them. Particularly at "elite" shows like SPX or TCAF, if you're away from your table -- even if you have a very nice friend watching it for you -- you are going to make fewer sales. Or maybe none at all. If sales are important to you -- either for financial reasons, or because you just want to get your stuff out there -- don't plan on doing much that weekend other than sitting behind your table and talking pleasantly to a LOT of strangers about your work. People's opinions differ on this, but personally, I only leave the table for bathroom breaks and for super-quick runs to pick up books from other people. The latter I usually save for slow moments around lunchtime on Saturday or the end of the day on Sunday. If I can do all my socializing/book buying before the floor opens in the morning, even better.

    -- It's much easier to catch people in the morning before the show opens than at the end of the day. Lots of us will not have eaten properly or used the bathroom often enough for hours and hours; we want to get the hell out of there and get dinner.

    -- If you want to get dinner with a bunch of friends, make a reservation first. Your life will be so much easier.

    -- If you find yourself without dinner plans, ask around until someone tells you where the after party is. If there isn't an official after party, there's probably a bar or something where people usually congregate. If the show is in a hotel, the hotel bar or the lobby are good places to start if you're looking for folks to hang out with.

    -- If you are not a veteran exhibitor, avoid doing a show entirely on your own if you can possibly avoid it. This can mean splitting a table with a friend who's also exhibiting, or bringing along your SO, or asking friends of yours who are attending the show to check in with you regularly. You're going to want someone to watch the table when you have to go to the bathroom, to bring you lunch when you're about to die of hunger, to refill your water bottle, to pick up the book across the show floor that Twitter says is about to sell out when you're too busy to go get it yourself.

    -- On a related note, find out ahead of time if anyone you know is applying to the same show as you! There's often a space on the application where you can request to sit near someone specific -- use that space! Having a friend as a neighbor can make a HUGE difference.

    -- Don't let your friends/SO sit behind the table with you unless they understand that this is a professional event for you. Unless the show is really slow, you won't have time to talk to them much; if they're going to be offended that you're ignoring them in favor of the people coming to buy your books, they need to find someplace else to hang out.

    -- Try to be surreptitious about eating behind your table. People understand that you have to eat lunch, but try and kind of hunch down and take quick bites. Try not to be chewing when someone talks to you. I get the gum advice above, but keep gum chewing to a minimum. Lots of people find it off-putting.

    -- I like to greet people once, very briefly, and then leave them be while they look at my table. If they have picked something up and are looking at it for more than ten or twenty seconds, I may tell them a one-sentence bit of info about it. If they ask questions, I scale up the length/depth of my answers gradually over the course of the conversation, based on how interested they seem to be. I try to find a balance between paying attention to what people or doing, but not giving them the impression that I'm watching them like a hawk. It's tricky, but you get the hang of it.

    -- Don't sit there looking at your phone. Everyone checks Twitter and texts people about dinner plans, but make sure you're looking up from the screen and smiling at/greeting people every few seconds. No one is going to buy a book from the top of your head.

    -- Same goes for drawing. Sketch behind your table, by all means, but don't get so absorbed in your work that you aren't paying attention to the people looking at your table.

    -- Unless you have people helping you carry things who you KNOW will be around when you need them, try and fit everything you need for a show into luggage you can move by yourself. I usually try to put as much as possible inside a single piece of rolling luggage and maybe a backpack.

    -- Don't share a hotel room with a bunch of people unless you absolutely have to. You will need your sleep and you'll want some alone time, even if you're very people-oriented. Shows are exhausting and emotionally draining.

    -- When you're just starting out, try to do ONLY local shows that are inexpensive for you. If you're in NYC, MoCCA is great because the table itself is your only real expense; MICE is perfect for people in the Boston area; MeCAF is amazing for New Englanders with cars. If you don't have and local shows, find shows near friends or family who can put you up. Hotel expenses (and car rentals) are no joke. You can find a $15 bus ticket to Boston from NYC, but you're still going to have to sleep somewhere.

    -- Keep in mind, though, that local shows are often more exhausting and stressful. When I went to SPX, all I had to do on Saturday morning was get up, get dressed, and take the elevator downstairs. When I did MoCCA, I had to get up, get dressed, walk to the subway, spend 45 minutes on the train, then walk to the Armory....and then do it all again, in reverse, at the end of the day. If you're staying with a friend, unless you've hit the jackpot and they're easy walking distance from the show, you'll be in a similar situation.

    -- There will be a lot of free food and alcohol at some of these shows, particularly when there are exhibitor-only after parties. Don't get carried away, no matter how broke you are and how exciting it is to be handed a free glass of not-actually-shitty wine. You will REGRET IT SO HARD.

    -- Unless you're paying to ship your books, bring more than you think you'll need. Not like...a LOT more, but don't be overly cautious. No one will know if you bring 50 minis and only sell 10, but you'll feel really stupid if you bring 10 and sell out halfway through Saturday.

    -- Try and have realistic expectations! But understand that "realistic" is different for everyone. For a sense of scale, I had what I consider to be a pretty good con season, but at my BEST show I sold about 40 copies of my most popular book. I have friends who have never sold that many copies of anything at one show; I have other friends who sold out of 90 copies of their new book in a few hours. If you're brand new to doing comics shows and don't have a big following online, don't beat yourself up if your book sells less than 20 copies, or even less than 10. This stuff is hard; people don't always have a lot of cash; it's not personal; audiences build over time.

    -- But seriously, audiences build over time. That friend who sold 90 copies of her book in a few hours? At that same show, a couple years earlier, she could hardly give the thing away.

    -- I know it can be really discouraging when it's noon on Saturday and you haven't sold a single book. I know I know I know, it's awful, I have been there and it makes you want to dig a hole and crawl inside it. But whatever you do, keep your negativity to yourself. If you absolutely HAVE to say something, text a close buddy of yours who isn't at the show. (DISCRETELY) Don't complain to other exhibitors. Don't glower or sit there with crossed arms or roll your eyes. Don't side-eye other exhibitors who're doing better than you. Don't say ANYTHING TO ANYONE LOOKING AT YOUR TABLE. If they ask how your show is going, shrug and smile and say something like, "Eh, not so bad!" You can say "It's a little slow" if the room is so sparsely populated that it's impossible to ignore, but otherwise just stay pleasant and positive and smile. Not like :D :D :D just you know. A normal, low-key smile. Your day will probably get better! I promise!

    -- If the exhibitor next to you has a large crowd and that crowd is blocking access to your table, be careful about how you deal with it. There are some tricks! If you see that someone is trying to look at your table, make eye contact with them and greet them out loud -- the people blocking your table will probably notice that someone's behind them, then, and move aside on their own. If there's a line forming at your neighbor's table, smile and point it out in a helpful tone. Generally speaking, though? There's only so much you can do. Never speak rudely or in an annoyed tone to people in front of your table unless their behavior is beyond-the-pale bad -- like, they are putting sweaty cups of liquid on your books, or saying shitty things to you, or hassling other people trying to look at your stuff. And even then, be polite whenever possible. Being negative on the show floor is almost never worth it.

    -- If your own table is attracting a large enough crowd that it's affecting your neighbors, try and help. Ask them to form a line. If the line is really big, see if you can get a friend to help manage it. If you don't have a friend handy, flag down a volunteer working with the show.

    -- Treat everyone like they're a famous comics reviewer who wants to write a piece on your book. Because you never know...THEY MIGHT BE! And by that, I don't mean suck up to them -- just treat them respectfully and give them your full attention.

    -- Some shows are standing shows. Some shows are sitting shows. Sometimes it varies depending on where your table is located. Read the room.

    -- These banner stands are great. I have the smallest one and it's perfect.

    -- Stickermule for stickers, Keness or RA Comics Direct for small runs of books.

    -- These bags are amazing if you sell small, flat objects.

    -- These are the things I always have behind my table: a pen knife, a cutting board, metallic sharpies and a red pen for signing different kinds of books, a mechanical pencil, an eraser, a pair of scissors, a small measuring tape, a roll of packing tape, a roll of double-sided tape, scrap paper, some small pieces of cardboard for mounting last-minute signs, a bag for trash, a water bottle.

    -- I usually put a couple of copies of my big, fancy books and art prints on the table for people to pick up and look at. When someone makes a purchase, I get them a book from under the table.

    -- Always ask if people want their book signed BEFORE you sign it.

    -- If you want to personalize signatures, never assume you know how to spell someone's name, even if the name is "Bob." They may spell it "Bawb." And once you've written a name in a book it's practically worthless.

    ....okay wow I could basically just sit and do this all day.

    I need to go get some work done, now, but hopefully some of this is helpful!
    posted by Narrative Priorities at 8:24 AM on May 29, 2014 [47 favorites]

    Also: it's really really great when friends of yours come by to say hello, or pick up your new book, or otherwise touch base with you while you're behind your table. But make sure that you aren't ignoring other people -- they might want to ask you a question or make a purchase but are reluctant to interrupt your conversation. Don't make them interrupt -- check in with them, briefly, and let them know you're available.
    posted by Narrative Priorities at 8:43 AM on May 29, 2014

    just came in to say this is all amazing advice for really any sort of exhibition. I've done many, many bicycle shows and a few trade shows for the pharma industry, and helped sell tee shirts and stickers at an art fair for a friend. 2 critical keys worth repeating whether you're selling comic books, tshirts, $5000 bicycles in volume to dealers or prescription drug manufacturing services to Fortune 50 companies:

    1) decide on a simple pitch beforehand that everyone in the booth understands.

    2) engage with your audience, and by this I mean you need to believe in your product. If someone doesn't enjoy or get the product, they really should not be in the booth unless they are literally just hired muscle / gopher service that will never talk to a customer.

    everything else, the planning ahead and the box of ready supplies and whatever else is good stuff but without those 2 keys there, your show really won't ever gel.
    posted by lonefrontranger at 8:44 AM on May 29, 2014

    Small water bottles (for both you and customers) go over well, especially at outdoor events.
    posted by ancillary at 9:06 AM on May 29, 2014

    I've done a few trade shows back when I had the startup. Retractable signs were worth every penny.

    Having lots of candy on the table, something visibly name brand and popular like Resse's, is surprisingly effective. Most people feel at least slightly obligated to listen to your spiel if they've taken candy. And it led to return audiences. The conventions I did were for professional organizations, so I'd get regulars showing up in between presentations for the free sugary goodness. Most of them were just moochers, but I made a few very good contacts that way.
    posted by honestcoyote at 9:27 AM on May 29, 2014

    A lot of good points in the comic & a lot of good ones made here. Just a few things to add:

    - Not all shows are going to be for you. Your fantasy comic may not find an audience at a show known for autobiographical stuff, just as the autobiographical stuff may not work at a fantasy con. Sometimes you won't find these things out until you're at a show, of course, but it's definitely a matter of knowing your audience.

    -While they want you to have a good time and sell lots of comics, you probably don't know more than the people organizing the show. Yes, there are certainly people who are on a power trip and there's always room for legitimate concerns or complaints, but there are many, many things that are outside the control of the organizers. They will do what they can for you, but they can't do everything. (They also have long memories and remember when you were a jerk.)

    -Be social and make connections as much as you can! Not all shows are just about making a profit on your comics. Yes, it's hard, but comics (especially!) is tight but welcoming scene. Don't worried about being awkward. Don't worried about being inferior to that artist you've admired. You never know when that person who has a table next to you will be able to recommend you for an opportunity (or you for them).
    posted by darksong at 9:45 AM on May 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

    My biggest protip: Have a Con Suitcase. Pack your merch and as much of your table display into it as possible. When you come home from a con, throw it into the closet. Do not unpack it (well, take out clothes you wore and stuff you bought at the con, but leave table stuff and merch). Next con, take it out, add more merch if needed, and you're ready in minutes.

    My con suitcase is huge. I also put my clothes for a remote con in it. Those get removed (along with the bag of bathroom stuff) and put in the hotel room, then it goes onto the show floor. If your packed Con Suitcase is more than 50lb, put some stuff into a smaller bag that you can pull out and check at the airport - heavy bag fees keep rising. Less things to wrangle in and out of the car, onto the bus, onto the show floor, into the hotel, means less stress. Refining my Con Suitcase has been the biggest improvement in my con experience.

    Eventually you will start moving enough merch that you have to ship it instead of packing it, but for the first several years a single suitcase can be awesome.

    Decide what kind of display suits you. Some people love huge constructions of PVC to hang a banner and/or tons of prints, probably of other people's popular characters. I keep it minimal to match my art - a tablecloth (a black sarong with rainbow dragons, actually), my books, price signs, my banner on the stand behind me, and my best attempt at a smile. Which may fade on days when Nobody Is Buying.

    Some cons are just Not For You and this may not be apparent until you're there. I went to a comic con last year that was advertised as being for All Queers, but was populated pretty much by gay dudes who breezed by my table like I was selling vials of cancer (I'm a lady with a non-smutty comic about a bi robot lady). Understandable but discouraging; I blew off the last day to hit the beach instead and turned a shitty con into a good vacation.

    You want to keep your hotel room until the morning after the last day of the con if at all possible. Packing up after a weekend of selling and partying is hard enough without doing it on the morning of the last day of sales. And if there is a Dead Dog dance, it can be a great way to ceremonially close the con. A relaxed Monday of packing, bumming around town, and traveling home beats hopping onto a plane after a Sunday of sitting hungry and thirsty on the show floor.

    Don't expect to make a profit your first time or three at any con. It's advertising and networking.
    posted by egypturnash at 10:34 AM on May 29, 2014 [4 favorites]

    Least I Could Do runs a few strips now and then on their favorite con tales. It's invariably hilarious.
    posted by Ber at 10:49 AM on May 29, 2014

    OH AND: opinions vary on this enormously, but I am personally borderline superstitious about packing up my table before the end of the show. And even once I do start to pack up, I have a very particular way of doing so that involves leaving my display intact for as long as possible. Sometimes it doesn't make any difference, but more than once I've had someone come over (usually another exhibitor who's been too busy to get away) and pick up a bunch of my stuff at the last minute, after the show floor has officially closed. I don't want to linger and make things hard for the show staff who're trying to clean up, but I don't rush out of there either.

    I would also, personally, never leave a show early or skip a day. This happens all the time -- sales are slow, the crowd is disinterested, people are eager to just get the heck out of there, I sympathize. But you paid for the table and your hotel room and whatever else -- if you can stand it, I always encourage people to tough it out. Even if it means you're just sitting behind your table drawing your next mini comic or chatting with other exhibitors.

    Which is another thing -- slow, shitty shows are a great place to make friends, or to get same-day commissions from other artists who're normally too busy for that sort of thing. I've made great friends at bad shows. It's a bonding experience!

    Also, if you want to socialize, the best time to do that is often the night before the show officially starts. On Saturday, lots of people have commitments like parties of publisher dinners or whatnot they have to go to; on Sunday, everyone's exhausted and either want to go home or decompress in their hotel rooms.
    posted by Narrative Priorities at 11:11 AM on May 29, 2014

    I love this comic so hard! I saw it last year and sagely nodded as a craft sale veteran. This past April I was actually an exhibitor at a comic expo and was surprised by how the two experiences were so different, although I got most things right. If anything, the comic expo was more exhausting because it ran three and a half days and the aisles are much wider.

    My best idea was remembering that I had a small, XPower portable battery. It was a lifesaver for my cell phone.
    posted by Calzephyr at 11:19 AM on May 29, 2014

    After a few years teaching backpacking to kids at summer camp, and then taping grateful dead shows, I concur with the advice to practice beforehand to ensure you've actually got everything.
    posted by mikelieman at 11:35 AM on May 29, 2014

    Don't forget the hand sanitizer. You will be in contact with a LOT more people than normal and your immune system will thank you later.
    posted by bigbigdog at 12:07 PM on May 29, 2014 [3 favorites]

    I get the gum advice above, but keep gum chewing to a minimum. Lots of people find it off-putting.

    1,000 times this. I suppose chewing gum is preferable to having horrible breath, although I've never observed it to have much effect beyond giving a person horrible breath with a hint of mint, but there are few things that make an otherwise presentable person look less intelligent to me than gum chewing.
    posted by slkinsey at 1:36 PM on May 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

    Love the IP address, wow.
    posted by sudama at 11:17 PM on May 29, 2014

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