In reality, despite titling this next article, “Convention Etiquette”, I’m not sure that such a thing actually exists. For the most part, people who present their work at conventions sort of live in their own little worlds. They do what they want, and they hate you for doing anything that annoys them, even if you don’t do anything wrong. This isn’t a culture of the most professional people. Some of them are sharp, some of them are hard workers, but a there are quite a few of them that will just despise you no matter what you do, and they’ll be open about that to everyone who will listen. I think that the healthy thing to do, then, is to just not worry about them. So, let’s talk about this practically.
If you’re reading this series as a study, you’re probably currently working in artist’s alley, or considering doing so. The complicated thing about doing that is how different each show that you will attend is. There are very few “tours” out there, so most shows are independently run, and they all have their own rules and regulations. Some of them are very organized, others are shows with big hearts but little organization. That being the case, here’s your first point to remember:
Read the application.
Every show that you apply for will have an application that you have to fill out, hopefully accompanied by a vendor information packet. Two of the best companies for this are ReedPop and Informa Canada. ReedPop is famous for their New York Comic Con and C2E2, and Informa runs the FanExpo in Toronto, and recently acquired the Dallas Comic Con. These two organizations have running a comic con down to a science. When you sign up with them, you’ll receive a book about what you can and can’t do at their shows, and that’s exactly what you want. You want to understand what you can and can’t do at the show. Is your table 6 feet or 8? Is there a height restriction on your display? What can you display on your table? You need to be aware of what you’re walking in to, because the true professionals will know, and they will use that information to get an advantage over you. If you’re prepared, you stand a much better chance of getting noticed by the attendees of the show, and that’s what’s important. So once you know what you can do, what’s next?
Go big, or shut up.
As I said before, there are a lot of different shows with a lot of different rules. Once you know what you’re allowed to do, you need to take advantage of your space. When I first started touring, I remembered that when I used to go to shows I saw a lot of artists with simple banners showing their name and a piece of their art, so I bought one.
To my dismay, I discovered that most people browsing through artist’s alley didn’t care at all what my name was, unless they were making fun of it, and one piece of my art really only ensured that fans of Nova might stop by my table. I was proud of my banner, but it just didn’t do a whole lot to bring people to my table. I would walk by other artists and their large, obnoxious displays, and I would marvel at how busy they were, regardless of the quality of their work. In order to compete, I joined the fray.
By the next year, I was experimenting with a few different displays, and ultimately settled on a grid of prints behind my table. At most shows I displayed a grid of prints 5 high and 8 wide. This gave browsers a good sampling of my work, and got a lot more people to stop at my table. Any time I could, I went even bigger. At a show in Houston, I reserve 3 tables, and went 24 feet wide with my display. What happened when I did that? I had the best show of my career to that point. If your work is good, and you have a large display, you’re just going to make more money. It’s not complicated. You don’t have to do it, but if you’re allowed to, and you don’t, then don’t be a jerk and complain about others doing it. What they do is their business, and you’re welcome to compete if you choose, so you have to call to give them any grief.
Now, this isn’t to say that even I didn’t out think myself every now and again. At points I saw things that worked for other artists, and wanted to try them myself. My set up at Planet Comic Con in Kansas City looked outstanding, and it got me a lot of attention, but it was such a pain to travel with and to set up. I honestly don’t think that it boosted my earnings enough to be worth it. Also, a lot of artists at that show hated me, which brings me to my last point of this post:
It does not matter what they think.
So, yeah. Once you start getting attention from more attendees, you’re also going to get a lot of attention from artists with big egos and small tempers. Here’s the thing, though: Why do they get to decide what is and what isn’t appropriate? The answer is, they don’t get to at all, so don’t listen to them. The artists that complain about you, if they had it their way, everyone would only be allowed to try just almost as hard as they do, and then shows would just get very boring. Fans like big displays. It makes their choices easier. Fans enjoy shows, but do you think that they really want to stop at every single table and look at every single print in every book? No, of course they don’t. When you are shopping for something, do you go into every single store and look at every single product that they carry? No. Not most of you, anyway. We look at ads, and we let that guide where we choose to spend our money. Convention attendees are the same, so give them something to look at. So some artists are going to dislike you because of it. Do you care? Do they spend money at your table? Do they do anything to help you? No? Then why does it matter what they think? It doesn’t. It’s that simple. If a show does not restrict how high you can go, then go as high as you can. If they have a restriction, then go as high as they let you. Do what’s best for your business. Be respectful to the show. They’re helping you earn money. If some bitter artist blows you up on facebook, though, don’t worry about it. Trust me, they 10 or 12 fans of theirs who comment on their complaint agreeing with how much of an asshole you are weren’t going to buy your work anyway, so it doesn’t matter.
Now, don’t go insane. Don’t put stuff on the back of your display, don’t play music at your table. Don’t do anything that extends you beyond your own area. Also, don’t stand in the aisle in front of your table. Wrangling attendees to an artist’s alley table is just inappropriate. If you want to do something like that, get a vendor booth. If you get a table, sit or stand behind it. It’s the nature of the area. Other than that, if you’re allowed to do it, don’t be ashamed of doing it. You have goals, don’t let anything get in the way of them.