Since the show season is wrapping up, I thought I would avail you of my convention strategy, going all the way back to when I started doing shows, as you plan for 2023 and beyond.
If you wanna get to the next level as a creator quickly (aside from making better comics) then here’s the game plan I recommenda you should follow for shows.
Please note, this presupposes that you have a good comic, but very few creators in your network, and even fewer fans in your fandom.
In all instances, if you are doing shows, you should ALWAYS try to speak on a panel/workshop. This will set you apart from just attendees/vendors, and give you the stamp of approval from the show. This will help your relevancy.
This is all about how to be judged RELEVANT by the creator community. If you are already relevant, or established, these rules don’t apply to you, but if you’ve fallen out of relevance, then maybe they do.
Some of these are harder than others, so I ranked them, but if you want to be “relevant” to other creators, editors, publishers, etc, this is the game you have to play, especially in the beginning of your career.
I’ve ranked them in descending order of impact/importance on a national, then regional, then local level. You will probably have to work from the bottom of the list to the top, but there’s no way you can’t be working on them all at once.
These are also ranked in how it will impact your relevancy score in the industry as a whole.
1. Get a table at FCBD.
It can be at ANY shop, but the whole industry looks on FCBD and judges relevance, so if you can get into a shop for FCBD, it looks positively on editors and other creators.
Difficulty level: 2/5 (this only comes around once a year though, which is the problem)
2. Get a pro badge to either SDCC or NYCC.
Generally, most other shows are regional, but if you can make it to either or both of these shows, then your relevancy score will increase. If you can get an AA or Small Press table, even better. You’ll never get an exhibitor table, but you can get one of these tables b/c they are judged every year. Again, this is just one more check box in relevance, as SDCC/NYCC is a well-known entity and they consider you a professional.
Difficulty level: 2/5 (pro badge), 4/5 (table/speaking on a panel)
3. Get a table at your biggest regional convention.
You don’t have to go to every show in your area, but if you want to be judged relevant by your regional creator community, you should find your biggest regional show and find a way to get a table. Most people just buy a table, and you can absolutely find the vendor manager and just buy a table in most, but not all cases. It will cost you between $200-$700 for an artist alley/small press table, depending on the show.
This could be C2E2, ECCC, Planet, Megacon, Denver, DragonCon, NYCC, Baltimore, Rose City, Wondercon, etc, and your area might have multiple of them. These are shows that are very well respected regionally, but aren’t part of the national conversation. This is most shows, save for NYCC and ECCC.
What you’re looking for are the “hub convention(s)” that everyone talks about all the time. Note, if you are going to travel to shows, these are the ones that you would do to gain relevancy in that market. It’s not good enough to have “relevancy” on the national level, you also have to break into each region, as they have different rules and customs.
However, if you wanna know what shows I mean, it’s the ones people always ask “are you gonna be at X show?” when they talk to you.”
Difficulty level: 1/5 (pro badge), between 1/5 & 4/5 (table/speaking) depending on the show, 5/5 (getting a guest table).
4. Get a table at a collection of good, local shows around you.
These are the shows that don’t have big name recognition except in your city/area. However, they are solid local shows that have a good reputation with creators.
Again, if you’re trying to get into a new region, then this would be #2 thing to do. Start with the big shows, and then funnel down from there into these types of shows. There will be a lower ROI, but this is where you meet and connect with real, hardcore fans.
These shows can also include themed shows like Gaslight Expo or Oddities and Curiosities Expo, which are much smaller than other bigger shows but perfectly tailored to your audience. I have a lot of success at horror conventions, for instance. I can make as much at a 5-10k horror convention as I do at a 50k comic convention.
These shows should be between $100-$500 for a table. The problem is that it’s hard to know which ones work for you.
Difficulty level: 1/5 (attending), generally 2/5 (table/speaking)
5. Do signings at local shops.
When you have a new book coming out, call the local shops and do signings. Even if it’s not coming out in Diamond, there will likely be at least ONE indie friendly shop out there that would let you do a signing.
This should be free, but depending on the shop they could ask for up to 60% of the sale of the book. Many shops will just give you all the money, or let you collect sales yourself.
Difficulty level: 2/5 (you have to call a lot of shops and get a lot of rejection)
6. Speak at local writer’s conferences.
This is further down the list, but if you want to boost your cred as an important creator, one of the best ways is speaking at a writer’s conference in your area. Most areas have one at this point, and it’s a great way to show that you have something to say.
I literally just contact the coordinator of the show, usually not the show-runner but somebody on the volunteer or other relevant committee and start a conversation. The more credits you have the easier these conversations go, and if you’re speaking at conventions, even local ones, then it will boost your case.
You might offer to volunteer or just simply attend the conference to learn before you speak at them. Usually there is some good information there. I put this last not because it’s not important, but because it will ONLY affect your relevancy with creators, while everything else will help your relevancy with fans, too.
This is ALWAYS my first goal at a conference, equal to selling books. My main goal is “How do I use this to boost my overall credibility in the industry”.
Difficulty: 3/5 (you usually need some experience to do these)
You might be saying at this point “wow, that’s great but you’re talking about thousands, maybe tens of thousands of dollars. I don’t have two pennies to rub together”. Which is valid, and why you need good books, a great portfolio, or some other way to break even or better at a show, because it doesn’t matter if it costs $10,000 to do a show if you make $20,000 doing it, right?
I mean, it definitely does matter b/c that’s a lot of money to front, but if you can reliably make money at a show/book enough gigs to more than cover the costs, it makes the medicine going down easier, but that’s a story for another day, and covered in our book.
BONUS: Join, or start, your local creator organizations
In Los Angeles, we have CAPS, which is national but the local chapter is the main chapter. I also was part of a creator group that met at a local comic shop. If you have a local chapter or something like this, then you should join it, as it will give you access to other cool creators all trying to level up together. If you don’t have one, then call on some shops and see if anyone would be willing to host you one night a week, or a month.
Difficulty: 4/5 (building and maintaining a network is hard, but rewarding)
Please note, it will likely take a couple years of running “the circuit” before you see any huge gains (the circuit being the group of shows you choose to do; many people will run “the circuit” of the biggest regional shows, for instance), but if you can do this for a couple of years, you WILL gain traction, especially if you spend this time to network with creators and build a fanbase by getting people who are interested on your mailing list.
This looks different to everyone, too, but you can have a lot of impact in 5-6 events a year. Convention pros generally do 10-12, and I’ve done as many as 30-40 a year.
Over time this will evolve into a strategy you can use every year, but at the beginning I recommend not doing any big show you can’t drive to, except for SDCC and/or NYCC.
If you want to learn more about what shows are coming up, you can rely on Conventionscene.com or one of my favorite Facebook groups Let’s Do All The Conventions (And Take Over The World), or you can just walk into your local shop and strike up a conversation.
Honestly, most shows are discussed word of mouth between creators, so the easiest way to get into shows is to do what I said above and become part of the community.
If you want to learn more, then you can get lots more in Monica Leonelle and my book, Get Your Book Selling at Events and Book Signings.
I write cool things, filled with monsters, humor, action, adventure, and generally awesomeness. Then, I sell those things to humans. I am pretty good at it.