Finally Finding My Place

Post-Con Report | Ancient City Con, Jacksonville, Florida

This article first appeared in the August, 2012, issue of Self Publisher! Magazine.

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My first 3 years of tabling at comics conventions were grim. High hopes going in, stark reality waiting back at home. Low sales showing me that I just wasn’t reaching the right audience. Scant pageview increases after each show for my webcomics, but not much else. I knew my premise was sound and my skills, though still improving, were there, I just hadn’t found the right way to connect with potential readers.

Luckily I’m persistent (read as: stubborn) and I had more than just the one idea up my sleeve. After taking a year and a half off from conventions I’m happy to report I’ve made my come-back, and finally figured a few things out in relation to coming home with more than questions after a convention.

In its sixth year, this was the first year Ancient City Con filled out into a full 3-day convention. Since it was just a couple hours away, it seemed the perfect place to put What to Feed Your Raiding Party out in front of strangers and see if this dog would hunt. Not only did it hunt, it tracked, treed and brought the prize home!

Keep It Simple, Scribbler

Unlike other conventions, where I stuffed my table with 2 books, 4 minis, merchandise and prints, all I sold at Ancient City Con was my newest work. I noticed, at previous conventions, that people would glance at my table and their eyes would glaze over and move on, quickly, to the next table. I think there was just too much going on that they didn’t know what to look at, so this time I streamlined the table and I think it helped.

But Not Too Simple!

Not that I went ultra-modern with just the book on the table, that’s too far on the other side of the spectrum.

We kept varying heights on the table by placing the Wheel of XP on one end and an 11×17 sign on the other, along with our chef-monkey-mascot. The Wheel was also useful for keeping the cash box out of view and the sign for tucking away my tall glass of hot tea and messy art supplies. We put small stacks of books at the front of the table and some leaning on stands behind.

Have Something Folks Want to Touch

Comparing past cons to present, because of the number of items for sale, I would keep only one of each book standing up and the rest in a rack behind. If there’s only one of something, most people aren’t going to disturb the display to flip through it. Having multiple copies around made them feel more accessible–I’ll bet that’s why bookstores do those big displays, huh?

The Wheel of XP also generated interest. I mean, you’ve got a wooden wheel with values on it, who wouldn’t want to give it a whirl. We had plenty of folks walk up and ask “What’s that” or “Can I spin the wheel?” The fact that the Wheel was a glorified “gift with purchase” made it a great lead-in to start the sales spiel.

Bribery Works

Folks, I was selling a cookbook, it only made sense to give away samples from the book to get people to stop at our table. Instead of selling my book the moment they came into table range, it was like I was hosting a party at home and offering my guests something to eat. As someone who hates the hard sell and never wants to come off like a huckster, being able to offer something people were more likely to take and enjoy calmed my nerves considerably.

Granted, plenty of people declined, but enough came up and accepted my offering, and a good portion of them took a moment (usually while they were chewing) to glance at the table, giving me an opening to say “If you like them, the recipe can be found right here…” By the end of the 3 days I had my pitch down pat (mostly) and some people were handing me their money before I’d even finished.

Breaking Even, and Then Some

While it’s true I consider the long-term effects of getting my name out there just as much as I do sales, it’s the numbers that are the best measure of whether a convention was successful or not. Because I’d made enough in pre-sales and first-month orders to cover the table fees and hotel, my break-even point was around 18 books to cover gas, meals, and the extra costs associated with the samples I made to share at the table. Not only did I meet my break-even point, I also made enough to start planning for conventions for later in the year.

And just to put things into perspective, about ? of the way through Day 2 of the con, my helper monkey informed me that I’d officially outsold my first 3 years of conventions. Combined.

More Than Just Money

But sales aren’t everything. We were lucky to be placed between writers and artists that were friendly, the staff was amazing, and the attendees were some of the best I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet. Again, it probably didn’t hurt that I was feeding anyone who stopped by, but there’s a reason southern hospitality is so renowned.

Ancient City Con proved that I’d finally created something people were interested in and would happily buy (or trade for, in the case of fellow vendors). With patience, I have hopes that my webcomics will find their places, too. That’s when I’ll have to spring for the 10x10s so I’ve got enough room for everything!

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Jennifer “Scraps” Walker is the artist behind the webcomics Cocktail Hour and Where the Geeks Are. Her newest project, What to Feed Your Raiding Party, is the comic book cookbook that challenges gamers to cook their way out of the fast food dungeon. All of her current projects–blogs, cocktails, and comics–can be found via her online hub, www.jenniferwalkeronline.com.

MobiCon Wrap-Up

So, we’re back from our 2nd con of the year and I must say I think I prefer the smaller cons like MobiCon to the major media cons like MegaCon. The smaller the con, the smaller the dealer’s room, the more chances of repeat visitors, the more opportunity to have conversations with random con-goers and, yes, the more sales could happen.

It wasn’t a stellar con, sales-wise, but I’m okay with what I did sell. I’m getting a better idea of what is going to work for Cons and what might not, and better ways to focus a table on them. Of course, the next con is DWEX so it’ll be a different crowd so, well, who knows?

Always a learning experience!

I didn’t do a lot of shopping this con but I did pick up a pair of earrings (from a girl whose card I neglected to get) and a Romanti-Goth coloring book from Seraphemera Books. I’m not goth of any kind, but I love the idea of an alphabetical goth coloring book–just need to stock up on some darker shades! I had a great table-neighbor in Professor Tesseract of Gryphon Arrow. It was great to see Aardvark Screenprinting again–they have awesome shirts and Waverly’s smiling face is always a happy sight! We also made a new friend: Miki of LaCourse Studios. She’s got great jewelry–those pictures hardly do her clay-work justice–and if you’re in her neck of the woods (North Carolina) she teaches classes, too!

Finally, I had to great fortune to meet some of the folks from CoastCon! CoastCon 34 will be next March and I’m already making plans to be there and be a part of it. It just so happens that the fine folks from CoastCon (at least the one’s I met) also happen to be a part of Area 504 (warning: flash intro with music, if you have to skip it because you’re at work or something, use this link instead): a group that considers themselves a drinking club with a science fiction problem. How perfect is that?

Sales may not have been astounding, but the people were awesome and that’s why it was a great con.

Con Update: MegaCon Day 3

And it ended much the way it began: not exactly promising.

Ah, well, it wasn’t all bad. I got some drawing done, some work on next week’s strips, walked around the Alley and checked out some of the other artists. There was a lot that just wasn’t my thing but there were some fun finds that I’ll go through and link to later. Tonight, I’m just plum exhausted.

There will be some serious thought given as to whether I’ll return to MegaCon next year. The girls beside me? Did gangbusters all weekend. They were doing chibi art of popular manga and pop-culture properties. Talking to other artists the story was the same: MegaCon is not the place to try and sell original ideas (unless you’ve got a huge community built already). Still, there were some awesome moments and fun, but mostly with the other artists and we’re all in the same boat.

Looking forward to my first local appearance next weekend, the Bizarre Bazaar at Railroad Square. Hopefully the crowd there will be more receptive to what I have to offer. I’ve always done this for the fun, the make folks laugh and look at life a little differently. But, like most people, I’d also like to be able to make this my business, not just something I squeeze into every available moment. Until that happens I will continue to spend my time, compensated or not, on this and hope that I keep making folks laugh.

Con Update: MegaCon Day 2

A much better day.

It started with a familiar sight: a backlog of cars trying to get parking anywhere near the West Hall. Anticipating the impending hike from the back 40, Todd dropped me off out front and then went to find parking in the nearby (relatively speaking) hotel parking lot, grabbing one of the last available spots. Meanwhile, I wondered where on earth I was going to enter from the lobby (having never really seen the Con from this side) when I spotted Doug Sneyd and his lovely Booth Babe (not what you’re thinking) walking with a sense of purpose. I followed them right through the security line.

As we walked I asked how their day was, yesterday, and we chatted about his book doing very well and how accommodating the show organizers were being. All good to hear. She also mentioned that the book came with an original sketch inside and he’d even draw you’re profile and add bunny ears if you want them! Uh, sold! (For those who don’t know the name, he’s famous for his Playboy cartoons–really great stuff! One of our local bars has those sorts of cartoons plastering the walls in the ladies room. I presume the mens, as well, but I’ve never been in there to check!) I snuck over to their table during an afternoon lull and had a nice chat with the both of them. Just great people.

Unfortunately, my would-be Character Cocktail patrons didn’t make it back to the table today (maybe tomorrow?) but I did get to chat the service up to others who may order later. I sold a couple of books, a mini and a whopping 5 mini-martini glasses! We’re down to a stock of 2! I’m glad I have more blanks ready to go at home 🙂 A couple of folks from SoulGeek stopped by the table to say hi, it was good seeing them again, and I met a new reader (Hi, James!) who’d flown out from California to attend the show! Wow! (Not just to see me, of course, he was meeting up a group of Kevin Smith fans, who could be seen roaming the ailses in Mooby gear. Very cool.) I also had some nice chats with other vendors and got some random art done while manning the table.

Sales haven’t been going like gangbusters, I won’t lie, but I made people laugh today and I think that laughter is slightly more precious than dollars. Too bad my landlord doesn’t agree. As such, I’m hoping to convert a few more browsers to buyers tomorrow.

Don’t forget, tomorrow is Pi day. If we were at home I’d be baking a (preferably) square pie. Instead I’ll have to settle for some of the restaurant variety. Also, remember to set your clocks ahead or you’ll be an hour late somewhere.

Until tomorrow!

Con Update: MegaCon Day 1

Thankfully the predicted torrential rains turned out to be more of a steady drizzle when we arrived at the convention center this morning. Also thankful for the fact that we were able to back right up the loading ramp and unload the trunk in the overhang there, not getting wet in the process.

Turns out our booth neighbors are Tally girls, too. Both students at FSU, they have a webcomic as well but I neglected to get the url today. Oops! I’ll fix that tomorrow. Actually, it didn’t seem crucial because we didn’t think our hotel had wifi, seriously hampering our evening productivity. This info has been updated and I am typing from the comfort of our comfy hotel bed. (I know, I know, we’re not the post-con party types.)

Traffic today was slow. Partially because of the fact that it was Friday and los of folks were still at work/school, partially because the weather was absolutely icky the entire day. Still, for a slow day I manged to connect with a few folks, made some people laugh, helped some people out and got some folks interested in getting a Character Cocktail* done, which (hopefully!) will pan out tomorrow. It would awesome considering there were absolutely no sales today.

But it’s early days & I remain optimistic.

*What’s a Character Cocktail? It’s a custom-made cocktail recipe (alcoholic or non-) that is based solely on you! With the recipe comes a ready-to-frame piece of art with the recipe and a little drawing. Price is $30 (includes shipping the art) and the process takes about 2-3 weeks, total, to allow for recipe testing and art creation. All you have to do is fill out a fun little questionnaire so I know who I’m creating the drink for and around. Interested? Shoot me an email at randomactscomics[at]gmail[dot]com and we can get the process started!

Wrath of Con 09-Part 1

Okay, I should probably say (public service-like) that’s is generally not the best idea to accept a drink from a stranger, especially if they won’t tell you what’s in it. However, we’re talking one of those huge, field-capacity sports drink containers that everyone, including the offerer, was drinking from so I felt fairly safe from a Jim Jones wanna-be.

And it wasn’t Otter Pops. Which, for those who don’t know, were (are?) a brand of freezer pops that had cute otters with descriptive names printed on the plastic tubes. Originally I was going to have to go to a Dragon*Con party to meet the 2-party minimum to find out the secret ingredient but I can be pretty persistent (and he might have gotten drunk) and I got the real answer. But I’m not telling. Just that Jolly Ranchers were the closest guess I made.

Con Prep 2009

You’d think, working in the printing industry for the past 15 years I’d know enough to expect these sorts of things! But you’d (and I’d) think wrong. I mean, sure, I avoided a LOT of first-timer mistakes that we see new designers struggle with (sometimes for ages) but I still managed to fall into some technical dodginess on my own.

And, before it reads wrong, my print connection is AWESOME but their workflow requires placing the pages in the pdf themselves rather than using my pre-made ones. Which, I might add, worked fine on 3 different computers running 3 different operating systems (Vista, WinXP and OS X) but somehow, in transit, ended up with some extra artifacts over the entire text font. But, hey, that’s when you find out there are free conversion programs that’ll take 80 pdfs and make 80 tif files from them and get you back on track.

Now, of course, I’m in the exact same boat with being behind on Year 2, only with no cruise in sight! Granted, MegaCon isn’t until March, this year, so there’s still time for me to pull it out 🙂

Don’t forget, you can order the Year 1 book and any of the available merchandise through my ecrater store!

Appearances: Wrath of Con, May 29-31, 2009, Panama City Beach

Wrath of Con, May 29-31, 2009, Panama City Beach, FL

Wrath of Con, May 29-31, 2009, Panama City Beach, FL

Convention season continues and Random Acts Comics (along with Where the Geeks Are) will be at Wrath of Con at the end of May. Now, last year was (I believe) the first year for this Con and, though on the small side, there was a very high ratio of Guests to Attendees and a lot of fun to be had. The hotel (Bay Point Marriott) is very comfortable and we  had a lot of fun while there, last yer, and are looking forward to returning. If you’re anywhere in or around the Florida Panhandle there’s really no reason to miss this Con!

Vulkon 6

Not that that was going to stop Dino from telling the SoulGeek story–even 1 person at a time! We gathered one or two others before our time was up, but it was still a turnout indicative of the convention as a whole (lots of already paired-ups at this Con, not our prime demographic, you know?).

And this wraps up the 2008 Con covereage here at Random Acts…!

Vulkon 5

Talk about Stranger Danger! You just never know what you’re going to get when you say hello to someone from behind a table.

Please do not misunderstand, I’m not making fun of this guy for having a stroke or for his political beliefs, those are his own and I’m not getting into it, period. But, seriously, a simple “my handwriting is kinda rough” would have sufficed. And it wasn’t just him, we had a lot of experiences like this where people hit the overshare button immediately.