The Mystery of the Works of Hieronymus Bosch (1450-1516?)
It's All Relative
Fierce and Sweet
Down to the Wire
No Foolin'! April news
by Ursula Vernon
Ladies and gentlemen, I am in Con Prep Mode.
It is a sign of how passionately I love y'all -- and more importantly, how much I owe Ellen Million -- that I am hammering out this article on the night before I hop in the car and drive up to Virginia for a convention where I am the art guest of honor, and I haven't packed yet.
On the other hand, maybe it's not such a bad time to write about cons, because it means that a lot of things are fresh in my mind about the fine art of con survival.
It's easy enough to write about the stuff you should take to cons to sell—print books (three ring binder full of plastic sheets with prints of your art) are the usual for us artists, comic books if you're a comic book writer, whatever merchandising you've got. (I've got t-shirts and I’m trying some new lapel pins.)
What's hard is to write about all the OTHER stuff you need, because you generally don't remember it until you're looking for it at the convention.
For example, you need tape.
Look, trust me on this one. You NEED tape. And you need a pair of scissors too, or at least a knife, because otherwise you’ll be wandering around hunting for one. There is always a moment at every con when you need these items. Trust me. (I bring a Leatherman. I've never needed it, but you never know.)
And bring pens. A couple of them. More than one. And a calculator, unless all of your stuff is priced in round numbers and you aren't charging tax. Receipt books are also handy. And business cards. (Note to self: go find the business cards.) Don't neglect something to put the business cards in -- those, and the little signs that hold up your pricing, cost maybe a buck or two at the office supply place, and make things look a lot neater.
On that note, a tablecloth or length of fabric to cover your table can add a definite panache. Display will not sell a bad product, but it can certainly draw people in to consider a good one. Mine cost all of nine dollars at a fabric store, and I don’t know why I didn't get one five years ago.
And a cashbox. And change. I recommend around fifty or sixty bucks worth of change, heavy on the fives and ones. (Note to self: Hit bank tomorrow morning.)
I also recommend bags. If I had a nickel for every time I’m the only person there who has bags to put prints in, I would be a reasonably rich woman. You can get 'em fairly inexpensively in a lot of sizes from www.clearbags.com and they're really handy -- and if you ever want to generate a load of goodwill, offer a bag to somebody who's got their hands full of prints, even if they're not buying anything. Costs you maybe five cents, and I generally find people to be exceedingly grateful, because prints are way too easily damaged without proper storage.
More importantly, more than any material supplies, you need a con buddy. There should be someone there, preferably at the next table, who can be trusted. This is partly because it's a helluva lot easier to have somebody watch the cashbox while you sprint off to the bathroom or decide to visit the dealer's room, and partly for safety purposes. You're in a strange city, and nobody is expecting you back for a couple of days. Particularly if you are an unaccompanied female -- sorry, gang, I'm in the same boat, and it's just the way of the world -- for god's sake, make sure somebody there will start to notice if you drop off the face of the earth, and preferably knows your hotel room/cell phone number so that they can check up on you.
(I'm not trying to scare you, here. Generally cons are as safe as can be -- I joke that I could walk through the dealer's room at Anthrocon nude with dollar bills taped to my nipples, and receive only polite interest and concern from my fellows* -- but safety is a Good Thing.) And hell, it's always better to have a con buddy, because that way you have somebody to make snide comments to, and who you can hit up for change when you run out of fives, and who can act as a human shield when the one really creepy fanboy shows up (and sooner or later, O Best Beloved, you will meet your own personal really creepy fanboy, and you will learn the value of this.) And you can split hotel room costs and so forth, and somebody can go out for coffee and…look, just trust me, bring a con buddy.
You should also bring food. If you are like me, you spend the entire day behind your table, and you generally do it while running on the cheapest possible thing available from the hotel breakfast bar, which will be overpriced and mediocre no matter what hotel you go to. (The bacon will always suck. I have been in more con hotels than I can remember, and I have never ONCE had good bacon. It's a crime.) You will be happier and healthier if you remember to bring some granola bars and/or beef jerky, particularly because any venue which has food will likely be charging you an arm and a leg and a spleen for it, and the quality is never more than passable and usually not even that.
One of my more memorable con food experiences came while stationed at a table next to a friend who is prepared, for deeply terrifying values of "prepared." As in, I said "Christ, I'm getting hungry," and he handed me a roast beef sandwich assembled from the contents of his cooler. You probably don't need to do this -- unless you want to impress the blazes out of your tablemate -- but at least stock some power bars or something. I generally bring trail mix, granola, and beef jerky myself, because if I don't, I get into this "I don't need food! I can live on PURE CAPITALISM!" mode and then somebody has to sit on me to make me eat lunch, and that's just no good.
There is also a lovely fan who attends some of the conventions who brings a cooler packed with various iced tea and Snapple and whatnot and brings it around to various artists, thereby endearing himself to us forever. (If you would like to do this, I hasten to add -- sealed bottles, just to assuage the paranoia.) It's very easy to get parched back there.
…Which leads to the next thing, which is that a roll of paper towels is a Very Very Useful Thing to have a convention.
Whew. Okay. That's all I can think of off the top of my head. One of these days we'll have to talk about con displays and whatnot, but for now, I'm going to go see if I can figure out where I left my business cards…
*No, I haven't TRIED it. Sheesh.
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