Heraldry, Pt 3: Charges
Designing New Characters
July, 2006: Mischief
Doing ConventionsWombat Droppings
by Ursula Vernon
Weíll take a break from art at the moment to discuss another aspect of art, and a scarier one, in many ways, then just slapping paint around. Doing conventions.
Now, if youíre a small-scale artist selling prints, as I am, youíll probably eventually want to cash in on the Sweet Sweet Convention Money, or at least, try to. Once you achieve a certain level of notoriety, people will start sending you e-mails that include phrases like, ďAre you doing any conventions?Ē And if youíre anything like me youíll stare at the screen blankly and go, ďUh . . . uh . . . how?Ē
Relax. I canít say itís painless, but itís not that hard. Itís tiring and time consuming and requires an initial cash outlay that you may not earn back until several cons later, but itís ultimately worthwhile. And your kindly auntie Ursulaóno, who am I fooling? Your crotchety chain-smoking lunatic aunt Ursula, the one with the fifty cats and the inch-long purple fingernails, will give you a rundown.*
Now, there are two aspects to convention art salesóthe art show, and the dealerís table. (Weíll lump Artistís Alley into the dealerís table for the moment.) Thereís money to be made in either one, and a lot of considerations for either one. However, let me tell you right off the bat that the money is in the dealerís table. The art show is a nice extra drop of cash, but the table is where the money is at. However, with proper preparation, there is absolutely no reason you canít do both, and in fact, I recommend you do. Due to space considerations, weíll handle the table first, and the art show in the next column.
Now, dealerís tables cost money. How much money depends on the Conómedium and small cons may charge $50, while stuff like Comic-Con requires you to mortgage your house, organs, and firstborn child. I suggest starting with a medium-sized local Con, franklyósomething right around a thousand people is fabulous. The really small Cons are fun, but thereís not as much money, and you may not make back the price of the hotel room and the investment in materials, which will discourage you, and thatíll be bad. (If you can find a con sufficiently local that you donít need to get a hotel room, on the other hand, thatís awesome.)
Cons will also require you to register for a dealerís table well in advance, often as much as six months. You will need to plan ahead for this. This is actually a good thing.
There are those who say, ďAttend a few cons, see how they work, before you get a table.Ē This is great advice. I didnít follow it at all. I worked the first Con I went toóMidwest Furfest, a fabulous medium-sized Con that I recommend highly for anyone in the upper Midwest just starting the Con circuitóand I have worked every Con since. This has done wonders for both my ulcer and my pocketbook. Remember, if you have a dealerís table, you are CHAINED to it. Your foot is manacled to the table leg, and they only let you loose to use the bathroom occasionally. This is not a vacation. This is a weekend of hard labor. If you want a fun, relaxing Con where you see your friends and hang out, skip the dealerís table. This is for working artists wanting to make cold hard cash. You will fit your fun in around the edges, if at all. The best Con for money is the one where you are so busy filling orders that you barely have time to wave to somebody across the room.
Thereís a middle ground, mind you. Most conventions have an Artistís Alley, which you can arrive for on a first-come, first-serve basis, and which require minimal prep on your partóa print book and some pencils, pretty much. There is less money involved, but much less stress, too. If youíre looking to get your feet wet, Artistís Alleys can be a good choice.
So youíve got a dealerís table. Weíll say you paid a hundred bucks for it. According to the pamphlet, itís six feet long. ďSix feet!Ē you think. ďMy god! Thatís taller than I am! How will I fill this space?Ē
Now, the thing you will most likely be selling to start with is prints. Eventually, particularly if you use the services of our gracious hostess Ellen Million, you will also have magnets, mousepads, T-shirts, etc. But in order to sell prints, you will require: prints, a cashbox, (office supply stores carry these) change ($50 in coins and ones is generally good. The bank will be happy to provide this for you.), a receipt book, pens, a three-ring binder, and a whole bunch of 3-hole punched plastic sheet protectors. (All also available at your local office supply store.)
In order to do this easily, efficiently, and with a minimum of anguish, you will also want: a good friend, a price chart, a calculator, plastic bags (I use www.clearbags.com and believe me, laying out fifteen bucks for a hundred plastic bags is infinitely worth it, and not just because people will show up going ďOh god! You have BAGS!Ē as if youíve just committed the miracle of the bags and fishes.), a file box, some bottled water, and if you can swing it, bring your damn printer and set it up in the hotel room.
Now, this is pretty simple stuff. You stick one sample of each of your prints in a plastic sheet protector, you pop the protectors in the three ring binder, and voila! You have a print book. Set Mr. Print Book on the table, open to a particularly eye-catching page near the front, and wait for the customers to drift over, flip through, giggle, and hand you money. When they have done so, you go to your file folder, you pull out the print they want, you asked them if they want it signed (they almost always will) you pop it in a bag, you take their money, you give them change, you record the transaction in your receipt book (INCLUDING SALES TAX, unless you want a nasty surprise later) and give them their print.
Rinse, repeat, ad infinitum.
In time, if you are as stupidly prolific as I am, you will have multiple print books. This is actually pretty useful, because it means no one person hogs the whole print book while other customers wander away.
If you have adult material, depending on the specific rules of the Con, you will need to put it in a separate, clearly marked book, and you may have to stick little smiley faces or something on the plastic sheet over the naughty bits. If you see a small child come your way, throw yourself on the thing like a live grenade in a foxhole.
If you have a lot of prints, itís best to work out a filing system. I have three print books, A, B, and F, and each print has a numbered entry: A1, A2, A3, etc. A little sticker in the corner of each plastic sheet tells me the number of the enclosed print, and I pull it from the correspondingly labeled folder. When you reach your last print, take it out of the book and sell it to them. You are now Sold Out of that print (or else youíve sent your husband up to the room to run the printer).
Now, the amount of money you make at a Con hinges on any number of factorsówhether itís a Con with sketchbooks, (Lord, thatís a third column right there . . .) how many prints youíve brought, whatís selling that year, the state of the economy, the location of your table, your popularity with the fan base, the size of the con, etc. Many of these are not under your control. You will not make a lot to start, most likelyóthe first few Cons may be a ďbreak evenĒ kind of thing. The hotel room is the big one to pay for, since thatís money youíre not getting back. If you donít sell all your prints right away, though, itís okayóbring Ďem to next Con. Itís not money lost unless the prints are destroyed in some fashion.
I am a fairly successful Con artist, at least with furry consónot the top tier, but arguably the second. I currently make about 1.50 per head at a good Con, which means that at a Con with two thousand people, I hope to make three thousand dollars at the table, and after paying for hotel room, gas, ink and paper, etc, I should clear around two grand. (A thousand dollars is not at all unreasonable for expenses at a big Con, most of which is hotel. You can make serious inroads on this by sharing rooms, packing your own lunch, etc. This is also all tax deductible, so save your receipts, kids!) Uncle Sam claims an extra chunk, but the remainder is usually more than enough to get me working for the weekend, and over the years, that amount has been inching up. (A downturned economy can tank the numbers for everybody, mind you. These numbers are what I shoot for. Sometimes I get it, sometimes I donít.) Some people make a lot less, and I assume some people make a heckuva lot more, but that at least gives you an idea. (This is furry cons, which are the main ones I do. SF cons may differ wildly.)
Do not expect to make good money to start out. I certainly didnít. Your expenses, however, are going to stay fairly flat, with the occasional outlay for T-shirts or whatever, whereas as you get better and better, as you build up a stock of merchandise, as you gain popularity, youíll clear more and more money. However, pay attention to both your expenses and the numbers of people who come to a conóif youíre paying a thousand bucks in hotel, food, gas, etc. and thereís only 200 people at the Con, itís possible that even a very good Con just wonít have the sales numbers to make it lucrative.
As you make more money, you can afford to offer a wider range of merchandise. I have good luck with T-shirts and jumbo prints. But that table fills up fast! I had to get a magazine rack-type affair to hold the jumbo prints (in clear plastic bags with backing boards, so they donít get damaged by handling) and a set of wire shelves for T-shirts. This sort of stuff is fairly cheap, and while you donít make money off it directly, you can fit more stuff on the table, and that means more sales.
Itís exhausting and time consuming and not cheap to start, I wonít lie to you. But itís worthwhile to do.
Next monthóthe Con art show!
*One cat, no fingernails of note, and I donít smoke. But just like that, otherwise.
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