Scraping Booth Barnacles
Yes, I coined the term in 2002. Consider it my linguistic gift to webcomics.
Booth Barnacle (barnaclous blahblahblahblus): A fan who stands in front of your booth for way too long. Sometimes they’ve bought some merchandise, and sometimes they won’t buy a thing. Sometimes they’re talking incessantly, and other times they’re just… standing there. But they’re making it impossible for you to do what you came to the convention to do.
I know what you’re thinking: Clearly, these are the wizened musings of an aging comics curmudgeon. The poor, old fellow has had one too many exhibitor badges slung around his veiny neck, and he’s finally hardened to the loving fan interaction that once brought him to webcomics.
First of all… ouch.
Secondly, it’s not that I have allowed myself to devalue the worth of a fan who thinks enough of me that — out of all of the things he could be doing at this convention — he can only imagine standing there talking to me. Believe me. I have a keen awareness of the importance of the super fan — and I know how they can propel a comic’s success.
But facts are facts.
Total up your hotel costs, travel, booth costs and the cost to ship your merchandise to the convention. And then divide that amount by the number of hours the show is open.
That’s your hourly con rent. You have to average that amount — every hour — to turn a profit at the convention. And if you’re not selling, you need to justify that rent with promotion, and that means handing out flyers and making elevator pitches.
All of this is impossible, however, when you incur a booth barnacle.
You must be able to politely, kindly and efficiently draw the interaction to a close when it threatens to take too much of the time that you’re renting. And that’s much easier said than done. Here are a few pointers.
Give them the wave
I will sometimes hand out flyers right around the person. This has two affects. First, usually the person has to step aside slightly to avoid my poking him in the ribs (not that I would). Secondly, it increases the chances that someone else will step up and allow you to turn your attention away.
Drawback: On more than one occasion, I have ended up with two barnacles this way.
(Hand)shake ’em off
Spontaneously reach out and shake their hand and say, “Thanks again for coming out. I really enjoyed talking to you.”
I’ve become convinced that barnacling is, more often than not, the result of not being able to recognize closure in a personal interaction. It’s like that guy who stays at the party long after the other guests have left. The party is over, but this guy hasn’t picked up on the fact that his hosts are clearing dishes and changing into their pajamas.
So I try to incorporate as many familiar end-of-meeting phrases and actions as possible into the situation. Handshakes work well, and so do phrases like: “Thanks for coming out. I really enjoyed (past tense) talking to you.”
Sometimes, in my phrasing, I’ll make the assumption that they are leaving: “Thanks for stopping by. Do try to stop back sometime before the end of the show.”
Drawback: Often, they do.
“I don’t want to be a barnacle…”
Ah, the self-aware barnacle. You’d be surprised how many convention-goers know the term “booth barnacle.” And they know that they’re doing it as its happening. They’ll step to the side, and politely chat away (or worse… stare…) as you try to adjust to performing for an audience of one.
I’ll be honest. As long as they’re not blocking the table, I really don’t have a problem with this sort of fan. If it seems to go on for too long, I try a few of the “closure cues” mentioned previously.
Drawback: They might just stand there all day — or worse yet, try to engage the other people to walk up to the booth.
The back-to-the-booth barnacle
This one is infuriating. He’s not a fan — heck he doesn’t know you from Adam. But he’s decided that your booth-front is the excellent spot to wait for his friend who is waiting in line to ask Dave Kellett* if it’s pronounced FLAH-co or FLAY-co. And that’s a long line.
This is one of those times that you just have to come right out and say it. This usually goes best if you suggest a suitable alternate waiting place and level with the guy.
“Excuse me, but would you mind moving off to the side somewhat? I’m afraid you’re blocking my ability to do business here.”
Yup. I say “do business.” It kinda jerky, but it reinforces that I’m not standing there for fun.
Drawback: Sometimes they indicate that you are, in fact, a jerk. *Shrug* But they usually say it over their shoulder as they stomp away, so you’re a jerk who is back in business.
At this point, it’s useful to mention a kind of barnacle that actually isn’t a barnacle at all. These people block your booth while waiting in line for the cartoonist exhibiting in the booth next door.
First of all, let’s make this clear. If any of you are ever in the situation in which you’re drawing a crowd that inhibits your neighbors, con etiquette demands you take reasonable steps to mitigate the effect it’s having. That means line maintenance — directing your fans to queue up in such a way that they’re not blocking others. This might mean doubling the line back on itself or directing the line around a corner that isn’t serving as active booth space or asking the convention staff for assistance.
However, not everyone follows con etiquette. So, in the course of exhibiting, you will ocassionally find yourself hemmed in by a line of someone else’s fans.
It’s like that game, Red Rover, in which a line of people link up hands and the other team sends someone charging towards them to try to break through.
You have to gauge this one and measure your response carefully.
If this is a reasonable line, and if I see that it’s going to move in a short amount of time, I start handing them flyers. “Would you like something to read while you’re waiting in line?”
Heck, I’ve been known to start elevator pitching people as they’re standing there.
However, if it’s a long line and you can see that you’re going to be effected by it for a while, you have two options.
Politely — and in a friendly, non-confrontational way — ask the person in the other booth if there isn’t something he can do about the situation. Scope it out beforehand and be prepared to make suggestions. For example, if there’s another way to queue up that doesn’t block your booth (or someone else’s), then be prepared to suggest it. It’s unfair, however, to interrupt someone’s fan interaction and ask him to solve a “problem” that he’s probably delighted to have. So you’re going to have to offer a solution — one that benefits everyone involved.
If that’s not possible, you have to get the convention staff involved. They might be able to help the person manage the line. Or they might be able to direct it in a way that can benefit everyone involved.
But remember, this is touchy territory to tread. You can easily come off as looking jealous of another person’s success. This takes a little finesse. And a little smile.
The bottom line: Smile
You’re a cartoonist, so you ought to understand that it’s all in the presentation. Any of the approaches I mentioned above can be disastrous if you try to pull it off in a surly or aggressive manner. You gotta remember… except for that last lot, these are some of the people you’ve worked very, very hard to win over. It would be foolish to lose them over something like this.
So smile. Shake hands. Place a hand on a shoulder in a friendly way.
If you handle it with kindness, it won’t be “good-bye.” It will be “until we meet again.”
And, yes, that’s a good thing.
* To clear up confusion before it starts, I would never say this to someone who was waiting for a friend who was waiting to talk to one of my boothmates. In the example above, if I was exhibiting next to Dave, I would be honor-bound to hold my tongue lest I ruin a sales opportunity for my friend.