Freelance Friday 10: On Selling at Conventions

Happy Friday everyone! This post is a response to some good posts around the net this week. Earlier in the week, Matt Badham posted some excellent thoughts on selling comics at conventions. This was followed by a great post by Joanna Zhou of Maqaroon, on tabling at trade shows (of course, lots of crossover to comic cons!). Both are great reads!

So I thought I’d join in on the theme-of-the-week and post some thoughts of my own, especially as we’re just coming into fall con season. (For those interested, this year I’ll be at Nerdfest, Nottingham; MCM, London; Comica Comiket, London; and Thought Bubble, Leeds.)


So here are a few assorted thoughts, trying to add something to the conversation with hopefully not too much repetition. Take everything I say with a grain of salt though – despite doing cons for years , I still have very mixed results!

-Conventions are unpredictable

Or they are to me at least. A dense, opaque mystery. I’ve been tabling at cons for, hmm..12 years, I think, since I started doing anime cons as a teen. So you’d think by now I’d have a good sense of which cons are a good bet, what works and what doesn’t. Yet I still never have a clue how a con is going to go until I get there. One con was my most successful con ever one year, and a loss-maker the next! I’ve had superhero cons (not an obvious fit with my work) go extremely well sometimes. I’ve had indie cons (a much more obvious fit) go very badly sometimes. That said, it does make sense to use how a con went for you the previous year or two as a significant factor in whether you choose to go or not, as well as the audience you expect to attend and how that fits with your work. Feedback from other artists can also be a big help, but make sure you get a range of views, as every con seems to be really successful for some and not worthwhile for others (and often people on either side of that will be artists you’d expect to have a similar audience to each other!).

-Find a way of selling that works for your personality

I tend to favour the “don’t sell, just be friendly and engaging” school of selling. For me, this is based on my own personality…but we’re all different! Likewise, it’s also based on what I, as a customer, like. I’m turned off by being sold to. It makes me uncomfortable and I will leave that table faster or perhaps avoid it altogether. I know many others feel the same way. But, just like there are many kinds of personalities doing the selling, there must also be many kinds of people doing the buying. Probably not all customers feel the same as I do. Indeed, I’ve seen tables doing the hard sell which, while they scared some people away, also seemed to sell a lot of books.

I think if you’re not a natural salesperson, and are the sort of person who likes to browse in a relaxed way, then create that sort of work persona, create that sort of atmosphere at your table. And if you’re a gregarious person who likes a bit of salesmanship, by all means use that sort of strategy. We’re not all the same, and neither are all the potential customers passing our tables.

There are a wide range of approaches that still manage to fall within the “friendly, professional and respectful” spectrum. I think the key is just making sure that you are in that spectrum.

-Learning from the other side

Having just said it’s a spectrum, I realize it’s a bit facile to divide ways for selling into two categories, but for the sake of simplicity, I’m going to do that for a second…because I think often, the things that are easy for us can lead us to lean a bit too far in one direction. Trying to add a little bit of the things that are harder for us can help us achieve a slighty more balanced approach.

So for those who like the relaxed, non-salesperson-y approach, we sometimes run the risk of seeming unengaged or miss chances to catch people’s interest and communicate our enthusiasm for our comics. I know I could stand to pitch the work to people stopping by my table a little more. I’ve got a new book out for these cons coming up, and I’ll be working on my one-sentence elevator pitch to try and get people interested!

On the other side of things, those who have more of a natural talent for salesmanship may sometimes miss chances to engage in a more individual, off-script way, or may perhaps miss subtle cues that a person would rather browse at their own leisure. They may want to put a little extra work into paying attention to body language and how a person responds. Or they may want to challenge themselves to ask questions, compliment costumes, and otherwise make more personal connections, making sure that nobody feels like they see them as a walking wallet/sales target.

These are very generalised, of course, and are just examples. I’m not saying “if you are good at the sales pitch that must mean you’re not reading peoples’ reactions” or “if you’re relaxed about it, you’re not engaged”. But looking at the other tables around us while we’re selling at a con, we’ve got such variety of personality types and selling styles. I think we could all boost our performance a bit by looking at what others do well and learning from it – not trying to be someone else or ignore our own personality, just pushing ourselves a little bit to grow the skills that might come less naturally.

-A few practical bits:

-Greet people when they come to your table, give them a smile, perhaps ask how their day’s going or if they’ve been to any good panels, compliment or ask questions about their costumes. Let them know they’re welcome to flip through any books you have.

-If doing sketches, have one on the go before you get customers, as often seeing them being done is what makes people ask for one themselves.

-Drawing at the table is generally great for both attracting people’s attention, and giving them non-awkward space to browse. But some people feel they shouldn’t interrupt you, or may even feel you’re ignoring them, so make sure you interrupt your own drawing frequently – shuffle things around, check the time, take a sip of water, give them a smile…make spaces where they can ask questions, buy things, etc.

-Don’t neglect some notes when prepping your cash float – while you need a lot of coins, Murphy’s Law if you just have those, the first three customers will all have twenties.

-Pack scissors, tape/bluetack, and a Sharpie for every con. Always needed!

-Biscuits/cakes for making friends with your table neighbours! (Especially if your neighbour is me ^_~ Extra points for homemade chocolate brownies!)

-Button badges seem the most likely item to go walking, which makes sense since they’re tiny. Put them a bit further back on the table so they’re less easy to palm inconspicuously. (That said, I’ve experienced extremely little theft at cons, which is good.)

-To reiterate both the other posts, prices on everything! People may very well simply not ask, rather than risk the ask-then-have-to-awkwardly-extricate-themselves-if-too-expensive-for-them thing.

-Shoulders back, open posture, be positive about your own work…you’re being yourself, but a version of yourself who is selling your work. If anything helps with that mindset, like thinking of a persona, imagining people responding positively to your work, whatever, go for it! Nothing is silly here…lots of us artists don’t find that this selling thing comes naturally, and any strategies that help us here are good things!


Would love to hear your own favourite tips in the comments!

Related post:

 Freelance Friday 06: Networking at Events