In 2019, I finally checked off one of the things in my creative business bucket list — selling my art in a local convention! It was such a rollercoaster experience; there were definitely a lot of ups, downs, and loops along the way but overall, it was enjoyable and something I would love to do yearly. In this blogpost, I’m sharing everything that I’ve learned as a beginner and a couple of practical tips on selling your art in conventions.
Let’s start from the beginning.
I first discovered the world of conventions when I was reading a Tumblr post (yes, Tumblr!) from one of the artists that I’ve followed for quite some time. Being in a room filled with art and artists? It sounds insanely exciting. Since then, I’ve always dreamed of being able to sell my art in one someday. Took me a few years of self-doubt, a few more years of procrastination and finally in 2019, I jumped in, heart first.
Selling my work at Papercon PH was such a nourishing experience but it’s not without its fair share of confusion and frustration (oh, and our good ol’ feelings of imposter syndrome). If you’re planning on joining your first convention and looking for a simple guide on the whats and hows of selling your work, you’re in the right place.
You’ll find a good amount of practical tips below on applying for your first convention, preparing for it and finally selling your work so keep on reading!
Application: Booking your slot in a convention
If you’re completely new to this, picking your first convention can be quite tricky as there are a couple of things you need to consider. There are a LOT of conventions across all themes and audiences, some more popular than others. I do have a couple of tips on how to pick your first one but honestly, it really comes down to preference and what you feel you’ll enjoy participating in.
I recommend picking one that is small to medium-sized as those are generally less overwhelming in terms of the crowd and the number of exhibitors. You’ll get less foot traffic but you will have a better chance of getting used to interacting with people and selling.
Each convention has their own character and theme so make sure that you do a bit of research on the kind of products that are usually sold in each one. Some conventions only accept original work, some allow fan-art, some are focused on stickers while some are dedicated to publications like zines and books. Checking out blogposts and Youtube videos is a good place to start your research.
Once you’ve picked a convention, check their website and social media accounts for the application process. Depending on the size of the convention, usually the application period opens six months to a year prior to the convention date. The best way to be informed is to follow their accounts so that you’re notified when the application window is open.
It varies from convention to convention but the three basic things that you need to prepare for your application are:
- A short description of yourself / your business / your products
- A portfolio or sampler of the products you intend to sell
- Your brand assets (such as logos, headshots, etc.) and your website / social media accounts
My first convention was Papercon PH (last October 2019) and it’s a stationery / journaling themed convention. It was also their first year of hosting the convention so it wasn’t as intimidating for first time exhibitors like me. I applied for a booth (shared with a friend) in July and received my confirmation two weeks later. I didn’t have any products at that time since I was just starting out so instead, I submitted mock-ups of the products I was planning to sell.
Once you’re confirmed for a slot in your chosen convention, they will typically send you a contract with details on ingress/egress, things you can and can’t bring, and the cost of the table/booth, among others. Once you pay for your slot and send over the signed contract, you’re all set for the next phase: preparation.
Preparation Process: Getting all your products produced and ready
Now that you’ve been confirmed as an exhibitor for your chosen convention, it’s time to design and produce the products you want to sell. This is the hardest and longest part of the entire process, especially if you don’t have existing products.
The process for conceptualizing, designing and producing your products is going to vary depending on the type of product you’re thinking of selling. In my case, I sold stickers, postcards and journaling kits so it involved designing everything, sending it to a printer/manufacturer and then packaging it to sell at the convention.
I filmed the entire preparation process for Papercon PH so you can watch this (looooong) video if you’re curious:
Some practical tips:
## Start early! I cannot stress this enough. Make sure that you start your preparations as early as possible as you are bound to encounter problems when producing physical products which may delay your timeline. This is especially true if you are using a third-party printer/manufacturer to produce your products.
## Create a timeline for your preparation and set deadlines. Plot out when you want your designs to be finished and when to send it to the manufacturer (do this for each product!). Include some buffer time to anticipate delays from printing issues, shipping, etc.
## Always create mock-ups / test prints for all your products. Sometimes, the design on your computer screen doesn’t translate well into the physical products. Things like color and sizes are always a little bit tricky and require a fair amount of trial and error. Making mock-ups before bulk producing anything will save you a lot of frustration, time and money in the long run.
## A great way to promote your table / booth is to upload ‘behind the scenes’ content on social media. You can publish previews of your products on Instagram or share a short video as you design a product, anything really. This is a great way to get people excited to visit your table/booth during the convention. Most convention organizers will also re-share your behind-the-scenes posts on the official social media accounts which you can benefit from in the form of new followers. I personally gained 150+ followers on Instagram because the Papercon PH organizers were re-sharing my Instagram Stories.
## Do a mock-up of your table / booth set-up. This is very important, don’t skip it. The way you display your products has a significant effect on your sales. If people have a hard time browsing through your booth or if it doesn’t look interesting or enticing, they will not be inclined to purchase from you. Take a photo that you can reference it during the actual set-up.
## Prepare coins / smaller bills to make it easier to give people their exact change. Don’t forget this! If you can’t provide change to your customers, they might decide against buying from you. Take into account your prices and prepare adequate change for it. For example, if your products are priced at Php 50.00, you might want to prepare a lot of Php 50.00 bills as change since people will probably pay you with the Php 100.00 bill.
Convention Day: Selling your work, finally!
We made it to the convention day!
This day is honestly equal parts nervewracking-to-the-point-that-I’m-doubting-myself and too-freaking-excited-to-form-coherent-sentences. You might feel small and awkward (especially when a lot of the artists know each other already) but don’t worry, you’ll start to really feel this collective creative energy in the air and it’s the best feeling, really.
The feeling that everyone in the room are your people. The feeling that you truly belong in this space.
I do have a couple of practical tips for you to make sure that you have the time of your life during the convention.
## Give a business card to anyone and everyone who checks out your booth. You’ll definitely use up a LOT of business cards but it does go a long way. Seriously, business cards still work! Conventions can be hectic and people will not remember your website or Instagram handle if you don’t give them a card.
## Bring a belt bag (or something similar) to store your money. It’s a lot easier and safer to keep the money on your person at all times. Fiddling with a cash box is a lot more tedious than just using a small belt bag. A bag with at least two compartments work best since you can separate coins from bills.
## Bring lots of water and snacks! You’ll be talking a lot as you interact with convention goers and you’ll find yourself parched sooner that you think. If you’re manning your table alone, it’s actually quite hard to leave to get water and snacks. Just between you and me: I will ALWAYS bring water and small snacks (think: crackers / snack bars) even if the rules say you can’t.
## Say hello to your neighbors and get to know them and their work. One of the best things about being an exhibitor is that you get to meet other artists. Even if you’re introverted (I am too!), you’ll find that being artists in the same convention makes it easier to strike up a conversation. Ask about their art, support them by buying if you can, and get a business card from them. In this age of social media, being able to connect with fellow artists physically is such a gift.
And the most important tip of all…
This is the culmination of weeks (maybe months) of hard work. Allow yourself to bask in the joy of seeing someone physically hold your works in their hands. Be in the moment: have conversations with people, actively seek out works that inspire you and just feel the creative energy of the occasion.
I truly wish that this blogpost helped you in some capacity. Cheers to your first convention!