…and a few things I did right, too!
First posted on @dustygull in 2015. Did I learn from these mistakes? Kinda. Did I make a whole lot more since then? Maaaaaybe. Will I post updates? You bet.
I’ve sold at smaller markets and events before, and I was super-excited for Sci-Fi on the Rock — I’ve been attending for several years now, but this was my first year there as an artist. While I think I can count this one as a success, it could have gone a lot better. Luckily, I know a lot of the reasons why things didn’t go as smoothly as I’d hoped, and most of them are easy fixes. As con season is starting up, I thought I’d post them here for all of you — learning from your mistakes is good, but learning from someone else’s is certainly nicer.
I’m an optimist and I generally over-prepared for everything, and consequently I had way too many prints done. I came home with an awful lot of them, and while that’s not a bad thing — I won’t need to restock before my next event — packing up all of those things at the end of the weekend was a pain, and my bottom line definitely suffered from having so much done. Look at the con’s attendance numbers, ask artists who’ve done it before what a good number of prints is, and don’t shoot too high. Being well-prepared is good, but you don’t want to risk not breaking even.
Bring half of what you think you’ll need.
That old travel advice works well for packing for cons, too. I follow a lot of artists who table at cons, and most of them have big lists of must-haves, which I packed because hey, they’re the experts, right? And then the day before the con I got a little bit panicked and ended up walking around my house, gathering anything that looked like it could possibly come in handy.
Theoretically, having seven kinds of tape and a full tool set is good, but in practice, we were constantly unable to find things we needed. Envelopes and bags kept disappearing whenever we went to bag prints, I misplaced my phone several times, and our little space was cramped and uncomfortable. In the future I’ll be keeping it simple — it’s just a sci-fi convention, not the zombie apocalypse.
Anyway, the moral of this story: use packing lists as guidelines only, be mindful of how much space you’re going (or not going) to have, and remember that you’re going to have to lug all this around with you.
Don’t be self-deprecating.
Compliments can feel awkward, I know, and it’s tempting to dodge that awkwardness by downplaying your work. But if a potential customer is telling you that your art is awesome and you shrug it off by drawing attention to your work’s flaws, you run the risk of them going “Wow, I don’t even see those mistakes they’re talking about but I guess they must be there. I’m not buying that.”
Don’t be afraid to get away from your table.
On Friday I didn’t leave my table at all except for quick bathroom breaks, and it was my worst sales day. While there were multiple factors involved, I believe part of my improved sales the following days came from getting out and talking to other artists and con-goers. My spirits were lifted and I was much more animated, which in turn made me a better salesperson. You need to keep your energy up, and it’s difficult to do when you’re stuck behind your table all day.
Make sure most of your space is your space.
We sold friends’ and family members’ stuff alongside our own; some of the things brought in more customers, but some of them without doubt took away from our own sales. Make sure your stuff is the center of attention, and if someone else’s things are selling more, don’t be afraid to put their stuff away for awhile. After all, it’s your space and you paid for it. (If they put in money towards the table or other expenses, that’s a different story, of course — just make sure there’s communication between you and them, so that if your sales are hurting, you can figure out a way to fix it.)
Getting everything we had out on the table seemed like a good idea, and I’d heard other artists rave about how great wire storage cubes are. When set-up time came, we built ourselves an awesome little wire cubbyhole and had everything pinned up on it. The problem was that with two artists with a wide range of work, our table was a cluttered, ugly mess and we were mostly hidden behind the cubes. Taking down the cubes and reorganizing our things saw an immediate jump in sales, and made the con generally more enjoyable for us too, since we had a good view of everything going on and we were able to keep a better eye on our things.
Simplify your cash.
This is one thing we did hugely wrong — my co-artist and I were sharing the same cashbox, but we also had two other people selling their things at ours, each with their own box. As you can imagine, wrangling three cashes got a little complex, and we still haven’t totally straightened it out. Luckily, we ended up with money we hadn’t accounted for, rather than one of us being short, but it could easily have gone the other way.
While keeping money separate made sense at the time, it definitely added to the confusion. If you’re sharing a table with a partner, or selling someone else’s things on their behalf, it’s much better to keep everything together while keeping a simple tally of who sold what.
If you’re sharing a table or have someone to help you out, make sure your tally system is as simple as possible. My system of bookkeeping makes sense only to me, which definitely added to our cashbox confusion, since every time I took a break, I came back to a different method of sales-tracking that was difficult to consolidate with my own.
Simplify your outfit.
I love cosplaying and went as Jubilee on Saturday and Merrill from Dragon Age on Sunday. While I think this actually improved sales — some X-Men fans stopped by the table and bought stuff, and I even ended up selling a few of my co-artist’s Merrill prints because my costume had caught some Dragon Age fans’ attention — both costumes restricted my movement and made reaching across the table difficult. It wasn’t a big deal overall, but I was uncomfortable for a lot of the weekend. I also ended up being way too cold on Saturday, thanks to a crop top in a heavily air-conditioned room; on Sunday the air conditioning seemed to have disappeared, and I was sweltering in three layers of elf gear. It’s hard to be civil, let alone cheerful, when you’re that uncomfortable.
I’ll still be cosplaying at future events, but I’ll be keeping it as simple as possible — nothing that will restrict movement or interfere with working.
I’m not quite sure yet how you manage this in an overwhelmingly loud room, but it’s worth figuring out. There were times when I just couldn’t hear the person across the table, and while I don’t know that it actively hurt our sales, it made getting information from prospective commission-buyers a pain. Next time I’ll be making sure I have enough room to get around my table for a chat. Failing that, I’ll at least arrange things on the table to give myself some leaning room — every time I leaned in to hear a quiet speaker I knocked over a print on display, which made me look clumsy and unprofessional in addition to risking harm to the merchandise.
If a customer seems amenable to chatting, ask what type of items or fandoms they’re looking for. I ended up making a few extra sales when multiple people mentioned a particular fandom and I was able to do a bunch of quick sketches at the table.
Don’t lose momentum post-con.
Unpack your supplies, contact anyone who gave you their information for commissions or other work, compare your remaining inventory with your sales and take note of what your biggest sellers were. If you’ve got a lot of stock left, look at upcoming cons and markets in your area, or look at selling it online. Basically, do whatever needs doing and don’t let yourself sink into a lethargic haze of leftover snack food and Skyrim, which I am hypocritically doing right this very moment. (If I can figure out how to carry my merchant perk over into real life, though, I’ll be golden.)
I hope at least some of that was useful! If you have any questions or tips you’d like to share, please let me know in the comments! Unless it’s a packing list, because believe you me, I have already packed it.