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The Dos and Don'ts of Convention Tabling

edited May 2013 in On The Road
I had thought about doing one of these for awhile. I've been tabling at shows for about six years, so this is after much trial and error. What do you think? Anything to add/subtract?

* Don't cover the whole table with dozens of copies of the same book, as it's perceived as having less value. This is especially true for variant covers.

* Have a reader's copy of each issue flipped open to a page you really like, so it's the first thing they see when they walk up. If you have a book that won't stay flipped open, hand it to them open to a favorite page. (Bookmarks help here.)

* Have your nametag standing at the front of the table so it's not obscured by books. You don't have a standing piece of cardboard with your name on it and whether you're a writer or artist, or both? Maybe even listing your most famous work? Get one.

* Elevate more. Check out my Facebook profile photo. (I put my nametag out right after this was taken, I swear.)

image 

I have almost everything elevated and almost nothing stacked. I have nice condition versions of all issues in a row with bags and boards, and my other works stacked vertically next to them. When someone purchases one, I take it from the back of the table, sign it, hand it to them and give them a bag and board. 

* The above is especially important if you have a variant cover with a cover price that's not what you want to sell it at, so you need to bag & board it to sticker a price on it.

* Sign with a cool looking but quick drying ink. This is one I recently learned. Nothing worse than having someone hang around for two minutes awkwardly waiting for their book to dry before they can bag and board it. Wait, there's one worse thing -- a smeared signature.

* Have a price list and a credit card sign, and use the Square or PayPal reader on your phone to take cards.

* Offer package deals for people that buy more than one comic at a time. My books are weird prices: $3 for #0, $3.50 for #1 and $6 for the #1 variant, but I was doing $10 for all three together. When I do my next signing on Wednesday I'll have #2 out, another $3.50 book, and can do $13 for the set.

* Have a five to 10-second pitch for your book when they walk up. Mine is: "Amala's Blade is the story of the world's greatest swordfighter -- just ask her!" Then I say, "It's got swords, romance, action, revenge, and a ghost monkey. Something for everyone."

* Banner stand, banner stand, banner stand. A horizontal one will do, but if you draw a crowd, walkers-by can't see it. The vertical ones help with this. Make sure your name is at the top of it and that it's advertising recent work that you're proud of, not just yourself. Most people won't know you from Adam.

I think that's about it. I sold 114 copies of Amala at ACen doing it this way and this is after a lot of great advice and trial and error. Good luck!
«13

Comments

  • edited May 2013
    * Have a five to 10-second pitch for your book when they walk up. Mine is:
    "Amala's Blade is the story of the world's greatest swordfighter -- just ask her!" Then I say, "It's got swords, romance, action, revenge, and a ghost monkey. Something for everyone."
    I can actually give the Luther Strode pitch will thinking about something else entirely - complete mouth autopilot.

    This all very good advice, none of which I actually do. Sigh.

    (Not a knock - Tradd and I are really poor at our tabling)
  • Also ... stand up as much as you are able, which helps you engage the audience. I can do about four-fifths of a weekend before my feet give out. I hear the gel mats help with that, especially on concrete convention floors. 

    And, of course, ABC ... always be closing. When someone's wavering, cut the price or throw in free stuff. You hooked 'em, now reel 'em in. And don't ever disparage your work to fans ... believe in it and they will too.
  • "
    * Have
    a five to 10-second pitch for your book when they walk up. Mine is:
    "Amala's Blade is the story of the world's greatest swordfighter -- just
    ask her!" Then I say, "It's got swords, romance, action, revenge, and a
    ghost monkey. Something for everyone."

    I can actually give the Luther Strode pitch will thinking about something else entirely - complete mouth autopilot.

    This all very good advice, none of which I actually do. Sigh.

    (Not a knock - Tradd and I are really poor at our tabling)
    That's OK, you're writing a boatload of books a month so you must be doing something right. You ought to start a thread about landing work from major publishers. :)

    What's your Luther pitch?
  • "Luther Strode is about a typical nerdy teenager who sends away for a Charles Atlas style bodybuilding course. He gets it, he does it, and he develops superhuman powers. Unfortunately, it also makes him the target of a murder cult as old as mankind"

    Hah, as far as career advice: Get lucky, be fun to work with and hit our deadlines. Pretty much it.
  • This is really for another thread, but did you have to go after any of your gigs or did they come to you?
  • Shadowman. Everything else I was offered. Although I did tell DC that I could write two books a month for them rather than just one, which may count.
  • Steve and I use all the same tricks... Except for the open book. I don't have the space for that.

    The thing I can emphasize the most is being on my feet and a vertical display. If you can't immediately connect with a customer, it's a lost opportunity.
  • I also don't have the space for open books or original artwork.

    Also, the jury is out on stacking multiples of the same book.  I've have success with both variations.
    Stacking books is great when I have 4 or 5 people at my table.  I can't talk to them all at once, so while I engage one or two the others are flipping through the books.  If I only had a few then my table would look very sparse once the few are picked up.

    On the flip side, too many books (which I do have) makes me look more like a retailer more than an artist.

    In both cases I tend to have fresh inventory under the table -- which is what I sell (they tend to be cleaner and less handled).

    This is all well and good in theory -- but in practice  a lot of these rules fall to the flow of the crowd.

    It gets very wild when I'm trying to draw a convention sketch while also selling at the table and pitching to new readers and answering questions to current readers, etc.

    What I need to work on are *shelf talkers*.  Things that can help do the job of pitching and explaining when I'm not doing it or busy with someone else (or if someone is watching my table whilst I run to the bathroom, panel discussion, etc.).
  • My current thoughts nowadays are more with the *rear* display than what's on the table.
    Catching attention beyond the 24 inches of the table top is my goal.

    In a crazy crowd (i.e., San Diego) the table is often obscured by attendees.
    Even a propped up open book is invisible.
  • Did you say you have a Five Weapons stand to go with the Bomb Queen one?
  • I think having a stack of books on the table looks better than a single copy. It shows inventory, and the desire to sell. A well stocked store looks more inviting than one with empty shelves, right?
  • There have been psychological studies that show people are more inclined to pick up and examine something when there appears to be plenty for others to look at.  Less people pick up the last item of something.

    A bit like when people hold back from eating the last slice of pizza in the box.

    But I never go with hard and fast rules like that because the customer / reader varies too much.
    There is no right or wrong way.  I admit, there are good ways and better optimization of ideas.
    Whatever works for ya'.
  • For me the biggest problem is working out how to stock the table, becuase I have a lot of books and they appeal to different kinds of punters. McBlack is an action book and that has the biggest appeal at big cons where the punters are interested in superheroes, but there's a quite distinct audience that wants Sixsmiths or Ungenred. I give McBlack more table space because I have more titles and it attracts a bigger proportion of the crowd, but I think the other stuff gets a bit lost as a result.

    I now have a third class of punter coming to my table, too, looking for my novel, but these are generally not random passers-by. But then I've been in the artist's alley--prose authors are generally located with the book retailers.

  • @JasonFranks - I'm in a similar boat for obvious reasons.  I have Bomb Queen and I have Five Weapons.  A mature book and an all-ages book.  And then I have it in various formats, et. Singles, multiple trades, hard covers, whatever.  I can't tell you how many times people has asked, "Which one do you think is the best to start with?"

    For many consumer psychologists this could be seen as a negative because too much choice can paralyze a buyer.  Likewise they might feel a tinge of regret because only buying one type, when presented with multiple options, means there might be doubt that they made the right choice.  The grass is always greener theory.

    I think the trick is finding the balance.  The right product mix.  The right show.  The right crowd.  The right display / table, etc.  It's tricky.
  • Hey Steve, throw a picture of my table,Trevor's and johns up here, too. They're all on my FB or Trevor's.
  • Jimmie, I solved that problem by asking the shopper, "what kind of books do you like?" And then delivering.
  • I know this is not something that is handy to implement for AA set-ups, but what if a rather small-pressish publisher ditches the table and uses a spinnerrack or something and a sofa for the artist/writer to sit and sign.
  • Always do a checklist when packing for a convention.
    Have a dedicated convention bag/suitcase that carries your stock, display stands and everything else you need. You can cut down on prep time for conventions immensely by being mostly packed at all times.

    Some of my "must haves" for my convention suitcase include:
    - comics/artwork
    - display stands/signs/table decor
    - duct tape (you may not need it, but someone always will and it can be a great icebreaker)
    - scissors
    - bulldog clips
    - snacks
    - water

    I agree with everyone else here, go up with your displays at larger conventions. You will be overlooked if you don't at least have a banner stand or something to draw the eye from across the convention hall. I don't have a banner stand, but I set my table up so that I have two towers of displays on either side of me. It's different and easily recognisable from a distance.

    Know when to "delete" a book from your inventory. What I mean is, don't feel the need to table all of your books. Especially if you have more than enough books to fill a table. 
    Everything you put on your table is taking up real estate so what you need to ask yourself is, does this item deserve to be here? Is there another item I can put here that's more valuable to me (when I say valuable, I mean more of a priority to display)?
    Take a step back and try to figure out the priority of the books you want to display. This helps when you come across "convention surprises" such as tables that weren't as big as advertised, or an overbooked convention where people get doubled up on tables.
  • I know this is not something that is handy to implement for AA set-ups, but what if a rather small-pressish publisher ditches the table and uses a spinnerrack or something and a sofa for the artist/writer to sit and sign.
    This is exactly something I've been planning.

  • @pjperez @marioboon That's something you can do with many dealer/exhibitor spaces. As you say, not for the AA. I don't know many that have done it because of the cost of bringing in the extra stuff, but people that have done it have said it's very effective. They shoved the table in the back and either brought in a couch and/or some chairs and small tables. 

    Most AA's don't allow the flexibility. But if you pay for the premium space, they'll give you a lot more leeway. Especially if you ask them in advance.  

    I really need to do some different anime cons or change my approach. Out of the 40-ish AA vendors at the last con, only 5 even sold comics of any sort and no one sold many. Art and everything else sells. That's why only half of my table is comics. The craft stuff is what sells. But I think I've overfished this pond doing the same three local cons every year.
  • See, I love it when we're some of the only people selling comics in the whole place. Big fish, small pond.

    That said, the trend of Artist's Alleys filling up with substandard, bootleg crochet, sticker, print and button makers is troubling. This is why juried systems are best.
  • @GregCarter - there is some truth to overfishing the same pond.


    @SteveHorton - Yeah the craft culture at conventions can be a rather gray area.  But every time I make a tchotchke based off a character of my book I hate myself a little for joining that gray area.  Hahah!  My problem is that I like the spin-off stuff.  Just by the numbers I can cover my table on my books and art.  So adding buttons, T-shirts, bookmarks and such is just a personal thing.
  • It's different when it's something you created! If I started mass producing Dragonball Z merchandise, I would expect to get asked to leave by any reputable convention.
  • <<<<<It's different when it's something you created! If I started mass producing Dragonball Z merchandise, I would expect to get asked to leave by any reputable convention.>>>>>

    Bingo.
  • Agreed about always standing (you're more engaging, and have more ability to move and articulate your words visually when standing), attractive and colorful displays, having a quick pitch ready to go - and always be closing!
  • The only issue I have with *standing* is that I'm often asked to do sketches and commissions.
    So I can't always stand in the limited space that I tend to get.
  • Standing is more of a writer / sales thing. If you're an artist, chances are your head is going to be down - but it would probably be helpful to have someone at the table standing to sell your book while you do commissions.
  • edited May 2013
    Nah, you have to right-click on the image and grab its URL, then click the "insert image" icon above and paste it.

    image
  • edited May 2013

    Thanks, Steve.

    So, in the above picture, you see me and my traditional 8-foot table layout. When I'm at a con with 6' tables, the layout is slightly different. Because man, those extra 2 feet are really valuable.

    These are the keys:
    1. A black tablecloth, 8' long. Black hides stains and pulls and looks professional.

    2. The banner, which I typically attatch to the front of the table or (if I'm against a wall) to the wall behind me. Why don't I have a vertical banner yet? Laziness.

    3. Unseen: a blue tablecloth I use as an overnight drape. Also a rubber floormat, a handcart, a plastic tub full of supplies, markers, etc.

    ON THE TABLE: 1. A pricing sign.
    . 2. The big vertical rack on the right side. This serves two purposes: Vertical rack gets people's attention, and because I have so many books, they're all available to see without eating a lot of tabletop real estate.
    3. Next to that are two stacks of the Strawbery Shortcake Digests. Why aren't these in the vertical rack, you ask? So kids can see them and grab them and say BUY THIS FOR ME, DADDY!
    4. Next to that is a binder of sketch cards. They're $5 each or 3 for $10, an easy price point.
    . 5. Next to that is a small (8.5x11) portfolio of sketches. Most of these are mine, but a few of @Marvinmann's pieces are here, too. Prices range from $1 to $30.
    6. Next to that is a large portfolio of comic book pages from the books I've done with @Marvinmann. I exhibit more than he does, and I offered to sell the pages for him. We split the proceeds. I write him a lot of small checks.
    7. FInally, all the way on the left is a shortbox of comics from my own collection. I started offering this at a small show in the Chicago suburbs this year, and it's been a huge hit. An estimated 1/4 of the $$$ I've made at cons this year has been from that box, about $630 so far. I've refilled it several times. Books range from $1 to $50. That box is all the way at one end and the rack is all the way at the other to give me a clear line of sight and a workspace in the middle. It seems to work out OK. Although, honestly, the table doesn't look as nice as when I had shorter vertical book racks running across the 8 feet of space. But, my sales haven't suffered.

  • God I'd love to have a rubber floormat and stuff. But I always kill myself just getting my existing con kit in and out of shows, I can't imagine adding all that other stuff.
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