Wednesday, February 22, 2017

ConLife: So What Can I Sell at Artist Alley?

Welcome to ConLife! Where in I tackle some of the questions people have asked about us travelling to so many conventions a year and selling our crafts, books and costumes. Have questions? Comment with them and let me know what you'd like me to answer!

In the last article for ConLife, I looked at the background of tabling at a con. Our con season is about to pick up again next month so I am jumping back into this grouping of articles.

On to this article: So how do you determine what you can sell at a convention?

Step into the Dealers Room and the Artist Alley at a convention and you'll be confronted with tables upon tables and shelves of all sorts of things to buy. A quick eye can easily pick out trends and similarities between products. Prints, buttons, plush animals and comics are some of the easiest to spot and the most common. So all you have to do is make those same things and you'll succeed right?

Unfortunately it's not quite that easy and just like pondering joining the fray there's a lot to consider. So hopefully these tips will help you figure out where you can fit yourself and your art. And, as I've said before, I'm not an expert on this so there will be some trial and error, but that's all part of the fun.

1. What do I like to do?

The first place you need to look is not in the Dealer's Room, but rather at yourself. Art wise, what do you like to do? This is especially important because if your plan works and you do start selling the stuff you make, you'll be making A LOT of it. So make sure whatever you're crafting is something you enjoy. Beyond that you want to make sure it's something that will keep you interested, with a bit of space to grow in the future.

For example, a large part of my life in Artist Alley is making plush animals and they've gone through many different versions over the years (I have an article planned on that later, I promise). The reason they've lasted so long is not just because I love making them, but because there was also a reasonable amount of room for me to grow my skills as an artist. Over time I've learned different sewing techniques, what fabric works for what and created many different patterns. All of this has to be taken into consideration. So if you hate sketching and coloring with markers, that's probably not what you should be selling. Yes, some things are more popular then others, but trends always change over time and those who really love what they do, are good at it and expand their talents are the ones who seem to stick around the longest, so it's real important to keep in mind.

2. What can I provide stock of?

Generally, when you're filling a table, there's two types of items, and each comes with pros and cons.

'Print button' items are the ones you'll see the most of - such as prints, buttons, charms, books etc. These are items which you make once and then all you have to do is order more. These are the quickest to stock, as they only take a huge time investment at the beginning. However, you will have to keep track of inventory and make sure you allow enough time for more to be delivered before each convention.

The other items tend to be custom, or limited items. These range much more in variety and generally take a longer amount of time each time you make them. Such as, if you were to sell any sort of plush animal, you do need to account the amount of time it takes to make each individual item, and stocking may take much longer between cons. (Unless you pay for a company to make them for you, then they would fall under the first type.)

So which is the best? There's no simple answer to that, because everyone's skill level and time is different. However we've found that it's good to have a variety, so that if you run out of custom and limited items your table isn't empty of stock.

3. What is ALL over?

Conventions used to be a lot less common then they are now. Now, you can find one almost every weekend somewhere in the world and many times there are multiples on the same weekends. What this means is that there's a lot of choices out there of items for people to buy and it's really easy for your table to drown in the crowd.

So consider what is already out there. Pay attention to the conventions you go to and what people like to buy, what seems to sell out, and what seems to never move from tables. This is all subjective and will change constantly, so there's really no way to predict. What you can do, however, is keep it in mind when you're deciding and make sure you give yourself a variety of options.

For example Pokemon Go is popular and if you love Pokemon and have a lot of Pokemon art, that's great! But not everyone loves it and if you only have Pokemon you're limiting the number of people who will stop by your table and buy your items. Conversely if you love anime that the majority of people don't tend to watch, your prints and art may not sell as well because people just don't know what it is. But when you find that one fan who knows what the series is, then it's even better!

This extends to the type of items you sell as well. If you're in an artist alley FULL of print artists, your prints may not stand out against the crowd. So offer a variety of items and fandoms and adjust as needed.

4. What is your brand?

This is something that a lot of business classes mention that you should consider and may seem beyond where you are now, just starting out, but hear me out. A brand is a cohesive image of you, your table and what you sell. This doesn't mean you have to make sure everything on your table matches, but little bits that make your table stand out could go a long way, especially if you plan on doing this more then once.

A brand can range from a full table theme, complete with bags and price stickers and flyers - to a simple matching color scheme across all your items. Find something you like, something small and unique that's you and keep it. Use this when setting up your table, marking the items you sell and on business cards. You want to give people something unique to remember that this is you, so in case they ever want to find you again, they can.

Now, as a note, a lot of tables around you will have fancy banners and large shelving units and awesome themes. I would actually suggest staying away from this at the beginning. The reason is because your table will shift and change as you figure out where you fit best in the con selling world. You want to give yourself room to expand and grown and the last thing you want is to be trapped with a banner or other expensive table accessory that you can no longer use. Safe those big purchases for later.

5. Con Rules

I can not stress this enough, but this is the most important rule you will come across. Pay attention to convention rules. Every convention will have a page or a document with the rules they expect artists and sellers to follow. Make sure that your display and what you sell fits these rules. Because, honestly, if you decide to ignore these rules you can lose your table and not get your money back. Worst of all, head organizers remember, and if you decide to disregard rules, word will get around and you may soon find yourself with many less cons to go to.

These rules will vary, so it's best to have a display that multiple options. Some conventions have height limits, rules about what can hang on the back of your display and even what type of display you can use. They will also have rules about what can be in your portfolio. Some conventions don't allow fanart, some want 50/50 and some have a lit of specific fandoms you can't sell from. You may disagree, but remember you're not running the event. Follow the rules and use the suggest page, forum and after-con surveys to POLITELY plead your case for change.

You can also use these rules to your advantage with a little careful thought. For example, we have a convention we're headed to that is a 50/50 fanart and original art rule. So we decided to use this convention to launch one of our new original books, because we already know that people who go to this con are used to seeing (and buying) original pieces. You can make almost any rule work for you, just give it a little thought.

Selling at conventions can range from a simple once a year hobby to a full time job and over all, what you sell will change with what you're comfortable with and where your abilities can take you. Don't be afraid of change - because honestly adaptation is part of the game. Instead try whatever you can and eventually you'll find your space.

Jessica and Briana (Snow & Brichibi Cosplays) travel to about 15 conventions a year, dressing up in costumes, giving panels about writing and body positivity. Frequently at these conventions you can find us in Artist Alley or the Dealer's Room selling their novels, art and costumes. Got some questions about Artist Alley and the convention life we live? Just comment and maybe it'll be the next subject I cover on my blog!

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