I’m Not Everyone…

…and that’s important. Different folks have different approaches to conventions. We want different things, we chase them in different ways, and we make different decisions. This is how I am looking at pursuing conventions with Vengeful Ghost for the next year or so.

I’m also not an expert, and that’s also important. I’ve gotten great advice from friends and mentors, but their experiences don’t map to mine 1:1. That means I’m figuring this all out as I stumble along. If I write a followup to this post in a year, I won’t be surprised to see it is totally different.

Follow the money? Not this time…

Some people go to conventions to sell their product and make money. I don’t think that’s possible for me and Vengeful Ghost at this stage.

Here are the numbers. Conventions I’m looking to attend cost ~$300 to reserve a table. I can double up in most cases, so my cost is $150. If we assume I also split the hotel, lodging will cost about $60 a night, so between $120-240, depending on how I can schedule my setup, teardown, and travel. Let’s assume $180. Then there’s travel expenses–fuel or plane tickets, food, and booze for socializing. I don’t have a good rule of thumb for those so we’ll ignore them for now, but remember that our estimates will be low on costs because of that.

Both Vengeful Ghost books I sell right now (shameless plug to check out the store) sell for $5. Roughly $3 of that is profit–but only compared to the print costs. Neither book has recouped the cost to commission editing and art, but let’s ignore that too. I’d have to sell 110 books before I’d start earning out on a convention.

At Baltimore Comic-Con 2016, I sold a whopping 22. Hell, I haven’t even done a print run of 110 books yet. Right now, I only have 70 VG-original books in stock! My chances of earning out aren’t looking good.

So if it’s not for the money, why do I want to go to a bunch of conventions in 2017? What is it Ariel says?

Where the People Are

I want to go for the same reason you do (for certain values of “you”)–I want to meet the pros.

I am firmly convinced that a huge discriminator in this industry is who you get to know. Lots of folks out there have good ideas. Fewer but still lots write scripts. A bunch bum around DeviantArt and R/ComicBookCollab, begging or paying artists to make their dreams come true. I’m not special. We’re all just trying to make that key connection, getting our work in front of that editor or artist or Big Name who will pluck us up like Cinderella (guess I’m in a Disney mood?) and reward us with an ongoing at Image or a Big 2 exclusive.

The more connections I make in general, the further my network reaches and the better my chances of eventually crossing that guardian angel’s path.

Conventions offer unique opportunities to make connections. That’d be true even if I were one of the hopefully-washed herd of badge-buyers shuffling past booth after booth–but being on the other side of the table gets me even more. It gets me all-day exposure to my neighbors. It gets me early and late access to the convention floor. It gives me something to chat about when I’m in the elevator with other attendees. Hell, it gives me an excuse to be in the elevator in the first place.

And to be clear, I’m not just talking about the Guests. Artist Alley attendees are my people. They’re other folks struggling to make this thing work–and they’re potential collaborators for future projects.

Making connecting with other Artist Alley attendees or pro Guests my priority has a serious  effect on my convention strategy.

Parker’s Principles (for now)

First, it frees me from the tyranny of profit. I’m not there to earn out. Any book I sell, now, is a bonus–it defrays some of the costs of doing business, like my table and badge, my food, my hotel room.

Second, it indicates how I should spend my time. If meeting people is my priority, then I should do things like take strolls around the Alley; spend time with people in the evenings and mornings for breakfast, dinner, and/or drinks; and, perhaps most importantly, stay in the convention hotel.

This is one of my biggest regrets about how I did Baltimore Comic-Con. It looked like a slam dunk. It’s my hometown con. My table cost me under $100; I slept in my own bed; a friend hooked me up with free parking. Awesome!

But the shortcuts and saved costs had social costs. My free parking was about a mile away from the convention, which meant I spent a lot of time walking that I could have spent talking. I had previous commitments in the mornings and evenings that pulled me home. My drive was easy, but not as easy as stumbling back to a hotel room.

The entire experience can be summed up in one moment. On Saturday night, the convention threw a cash bar mixer event with free food in the top floor lounge. It was a late-night thing, after the Harvey Awards. The schedule said it started at ten, and me and some other local buddies showed up right around then. We hung out for an hour or two, met a few folks, but at close to midnight I was dead beat. I’d had a beer or two. It’d been a long day. I had at least a twenty minute drive to get myself back home to flop into bed. I told my buddies goodnight and got ready to walk the mile back to my car.

But on the way out, I passed a steady stream of pro Guests on their way in, awards show over and ready to party. The lounge was small. It was going to fill up fast with people I wanted to meet and have conversations with and buy drinks. And if I’d just been walking back to a hotel room, I might have sucked it up and spun on my heel and followed them in–but I couldn’t, not with the walk and drive that still waited ahead of me.

Lesson learned. From now on, I’m staying at the convention hotel.

The Plan (for now)

So that’s what I’m chasing going forward–maximum social exposure, with everything else an unasked for bonus. Of course, I still need to try to minimize costs, but not at the expense of doing the thing I came for.

Right now, that looks like three or four cons next year. Baltimore Comic-Con is a must, of course, just with a slightly different approach. Some friends have had excellent experiences socially at HeroesCon in North Carolina. I’ll be entering the lottery for SPX, since that’s right down the road too. And I’m thinking about one more–maybe Boston? The jury is still out.

That’s what looks good to me, anyway. You may have a different approach, or you may think I missed the mark. I’m eager to hear from you if that’s the case–let’s trade notes!