Preparation, Preparation, Preparation
What, you thought it was in the presentation? Where do you think the resources for a good first impression come from?? Natural pizazz and charisma? Folks, we are CARTOONISTS, not gods!
When I heard in October 2011 that the first ever Denver Comic Con was coming, I promised myself then and there that it would be the first con I ever had my own table at. Not only that, but I would make the best first impression possible. Nine months of prep work later, I thought I might be ready to face the wild world of comic conventions. The real test was whether it would pay off!
To give the Webcomic Alliance community the inside scoop, I’ll take you “behind the scenes” of my first booth experience! In this article we’ll cover all I did to get ready. In the post-con wrap up, you’ll get to learn how it all paid off…or didn’t!
No question in my mind – webcomics NEEDED to be a part of the DCC launch. I searched online for local creators, contacted them, and we crafted two pitches for panels, which were accepted by the convention organizers. We dubbed ourselves the “Webcomic Pioneers” — to show off our Western Pride — a had regular, monthly meetings to discuss the panels and do team building.
- If you want to create your own panel, start early! Many summer cons close for panel submissions in late January!
- Find the individual responsible for arranging conventions and talk with them directly. Ask them what their focus is, and what type of demographics they’re expecting. This may help shape your panel!
- Don’t just toss an idea out there and expect the organizers to make it happen for you. They’ve got a lot on their plates as-is! If you come to them with a team of panelists and a solid pitch, they’re far more likely to pencil you in just because you made it easy for them!
2. Local Networking
For nearly a decade I believed I was the ONLY comic creator in Colorado — it seemed everybody was on the coasts! However, once I started looking for my panel, I discovered a LOT of people in the area — creators and readers alike!
Whenever I found a local comic fan online, I made a point to reach out to them. Many became friends and several promised to stop by the booth to buy a book!
- Twitter has been a particularly effective tool for me to find people. A kind word and a friendly hello can go a long way there, and the worst that can happen is they don’t reply!
- Support locals, and they’ll support you! When I saw Girls of Geek (a local group of bloggers for all things Geek!) had made a neat count-down video for the convention, I shared it on my twitter feed and contacted them to tell them what a great job they did. Soon after, they asked to interview me, and provided me with a LOT of free publicity! Not to mention, I made two new friends and readers!
3. Booth Fabrication
I wanted to stand out of the crowd with my booth, so I spent a lot of time and brainpower on design. Color, shape, layout, no detail was too small! I did a lot of research and experimentation to get a set-up that I could put up quickly, but looked good.
- Before you get a table at a con, go to a few as an attendee. Find a nice quiet spot and observe different booth designs in action. See what works, what doesn’t, and why!
- Choose sturdy materials. I saw one booth made of thin PVC pipe rattle itself apart and explode at one convention, all because somebody bumped it with their shoulder!
- Create a mockup of your booth at home and invite friends over to give first impressions. We rearranged the layout of my booth FOUR times using this method! You’d be surprised how little changes can make a big difference!
- Use your booth to tell a story. Consider how the eye “reads” your booth, just like a person reads a page (up then down, left then right). Also observe your set-up from different angles, since most people will be walking by, not standing directly in front of you. With my first booth “draft” I discovered that from the right and left, over half of my merchandise was obscured!
4. Selling and Sales
Whether you’re alone or you’ve convinced some friends to serve as stalwart companions, there are several things to get in order before you hit the floor. Selling, making sales, and tracking sales can be done on the fly, but a little preparation can go a long way to turn your tiny operation into a well-oiled machine.
- To track sales, I created a booklet with basic demographic info and a checklist of all the products and prices, so when a purchase is made there’s a quick way to record the sale AND learn more about LeyLines readers.
- Beyond the logistics, my two booth helpers and I discussed event goals, practiced different pitches, and considered an evaluation approach for the convention.
- Practice your pitch out loud. Sometimes a great written pitch makes a terrible spoken one. Try it multiple times and you’ll start to naturally hone it.
5. The Rule of Threes…in Merchandise and Incentives
I created several price levels of merchandise, with the goal of providing something for everyone, regardless of the size of their bank account. On the lowest rung are buttons, both prefabricated ($1) and custom ($2), and bookmarks ($4 each or 2 for $7). In the middle range are posters ($10) and the paper-back books ($15). On the high-end are the limited edition, foil-embossed hardcover books ($25). (Which are now available on my online store…no, I’m not above a bit of shameless promotion. Besides, these things are flippin’ GORGEOUS.)
I also have three levels of incentives. The first are free sketches of LeyLines characters — it takes me about 2 minutes to make a sketch of a character. I’m hoping that will be enough of a draw to get people to the booth, at which point I plan to invite them to read the book while they wait. Who knows — maybe I’ll make some sales this way! The other incentives are exclusive items that can be earned by purchasing a certain level of merchandise. Buy $20 or more and get an exclusive “LeyLian” button. Buy $30 or more and get a special gold-plated “Moko elite” lapel pin. The only way to get either of these items is through purchases — they aren’t for sale individually! I’m hoping to use them as up-sale items, to convince people to go for the Artist Edition on the books, or grab an extra bookmark or button.
Will the panels be a hit?
Will my networking and booth research reel in quality traffic?
Will the incentives pay off?
Tune in for my post-Denver Comic Con wrap up to find out!
Robin Dempsey‘s been called a lot of things for her obsession with world-building, culture, languages, and mythology. “Crazy” is pretty common — but she prefers “eccentric!” Her work can be found for free at LeyLinesComic.com, but if you’d like to own a copy of the story, you can buy the books from her store! If you’re the type that likes a personal connection, she’s always available to chat with on Twitter!