Mailbag: What to Sell at a Con?
Q:Do you have any suggestions for someone attending their first convention? I’ll be in Artist’s Alley. What should I bring to sell?
This is a question I’ve been asked both in the Forum and in private e-mails, so I figured I’d address it out here in case there were others wondering the same thing.
A: There are two main reasons to attend a con: To sell or to promote. Of course, if you’re going to sell, you can promote, too. But if you’re going to promote, you shouldn’t be distracted by trying to sell.
How do you decide?
You don’t. Your situation decides for you. You must honestly judge where you stand with your webcomic, and then you decide which option would benefit your comic more.
Look at it this way, exhibiting at a convention is like renting real estate. You sign a lease for a finite amount of hours in exchange for your hard-earned cash. What is the best use of that space during those hours? If you have a smaller readership and little merchandise stocked up, it sounds as if you’d better be focused on promoting.
Here’s another dead giveaway: If you have to ask what you should be selling, you should probably be promoting. You’ll know that you’re ready to focus on selling when you have a basement full of merchandise that you need to sell and you’re wondering how to display a range of price-points on your table to effectively move your stock.
Going to a Con to Sell
If you have something to sell, you have to be reasonably sure you’ll at least break even. Otherwise, you have to weigh whether this convention appearance is worth the time, money and effort.
You have to have merchandise that you honestly believe people want and a large enough readership to support your appearance.
If not, you have to take a long look in the mirror and ask whether your money isn’t better spent elsewhere.
If you have quality merchandise — say professionally printed books — then you can present a table with a nice variety of price points: Buttons for a dollar, T-shirts in to $15-20 range, original art for $50-up range, sketches for $10 and up, etc.
But if you find yourself trying to get merchandise out just so you can attend a convention, you’re putting the cart before the horse.
Going to a Con to Promote
Of course, you can always attend a convention to promote your work. But you have to be advised that there are tons of better ways to spend that money. Even a banner ad has a better return-on-investment. Nobody can click an Artist Alley table and go to your site.
You can attend a convention to promote and hand out flyers and free mini-comics and all sorts of stuff. And a percentage of people who receive these things will actually find your site eventually.
But in this case, your primary reason for being there is to promote — not to sell. Your money (and mental effort) should be going into spreading the word on your comic. Splitting your efforts between the two is only going dilute that effort (and waste your money).
Why are you going? To promote or to sell?
And now a note from 2001
The advice above comes from a guy who has been attending several conventions a year for almost ten years. I’m pretty confident in its veracity.
And if I had heard it in 2001, I would have had a list of “yeah, buts” a mile long.
I would have been dead wrong, but I would have insisted I knew better, too.