Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Convention Tip – DON’T Share a Booth

Sam Flegal Convention Booth
I do a lot of conventions, about 20 to 24 per year. I set up my booth, display my art, and sell to fans. For most illustrators in the field of Sci-fi and Fantasy art, conventions are a part of their yearly routine and income. It’s well known at this point that conventions are a great way to get your name out there, sell art, meet art directors, and other artists in the field. In my opinion doing conventions is key to developing yourself as an artist, with the added benefit of getting to participate in the greater community of fantastic art.
That said, most artists do about 5 conventions a year or less. They do the big shows, and maybe a couple of events where they are asked as guests. It’s a rare few of us that do more than 20 shows a year, which is fine. Not every artist is as extroverted and interested in salesmanship as I am. As an offshoot of the number of conventions I do, I often get asked a lot about the ins and outs of the con circuit. Every artist needs to do at least a couple of shows every year, so naturally they’re curious. To help answer that curiosity, I’ve decided to start posting some convention tips here on my blog.
Without further ado… Convention Tip – DON’T Share a Booth!
When I first got started in conventions I was scared (just like most folks). So I took several friends who worked in conventions out to dinner to pick their brains about the business. Information defeats fear! (Extra Tip – When you want to know more, take someone who does know more out to dinner.)
After one such dinner with my friend Sarah Frary, I asked her if we could share booths at some point in the future. [Now this is a natural thing to do, but understand why. You are afraid; if you have a buddy you will be less afraid. If your buddy has already done a few shows, you're thinking you can rely on their experience.] Sarah said, “No.” She then explained that first off, our art looks nothing alike and does not complement each other. (Take a second to check out her site HERE. She’s badass but imagine the two of us right next to each other. People would be, like, what does that have to do with that?) Secondly, she said, that sharing a booth rarely works out well, even if their styles mesh. Both artists are crammed into a 6ft or 8ft space, one person might get more attention than the other, and you might interrupt the flow of each other’s sales. All in all it’s a bad scene.
[As an aside I had also done something a little rude here without realizing it at the time. Essentially I was asking Sarah to teach me the business at the sacrifice of her own sales, space, and art. I was of course clueless to this, but as older-and-wiser me looks back, I'm a little embarrassed. The MUCH better way to handle this is to offer to be an assistant to an artist you admire at the convention. Pay your own way. They MIGHT be able to get a you a free badge, but don't expect that. Then do what they ask, watch, listen, and learn. Extra Tip - If you want to learn about cons, think old school and do a convention as an apprentice.]
I of course nodded, thanked Sarah for her advice, and told her I understood. On some level I was a little hurt, but as the years have gone by (I’ve been doing shows since 2009) I’ve come to realize what AMAZING advice Sarah had given me. I’ve seen a lot of artists share booths and I’ve NEVER seen it work out all that well (unless the artists involved were already famous and/or successful).
Don't be a Frowny Face!
I have, however, seen a lot of negative situations that relate to sharing a booth:
1. One artist outshines the other — better artist, better salesman, better display.
2. People typically make one purchase at a booth. It’s RARE a fan will buy from both artists. If you are sharing space, you are also likely sharing profit, too.
3. One artist has a bad time, looks moody, and drives people from the booth. Nobody wants to approach a frowny face!
4. One artist is very aggressive at sales and unintentionally steals a sale from their booth mate. “Oh you like unicorns, my friend here only has one unicorn painting, but I have five, check them out!” He’s having a good show and is excited, he didn’t mean to, but he just broke the vendor code (more on this in a future post) by pulling a customer away from his booth-mate.
5. One artist will not stay at the booth. They’re distracted by all the cool convention stuff or too nervous to sit still. To make matters worse, everyone likes his art more, so people keep complimenting the second artist on the absent artist’s work. Talk about resentment!
6. Art directors keep stopping by, but are only interested in one of the artists.
7. People get confused about who is who and at future events mix the two artists up. “Wait which one of you is the unicorn guy?”
Unicorn Guy?
I think that about covers it. In conclusion I’ll offer this final piece of advice: Take the pride in yourself and make the investment in your future. You owe it to yourself to get the credit you deserve. Even if you bomb your first few shows, it is better to fail spectacularly on your own, and learn from the experience!
Stay Strange!
Sam Flegal

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