I’ve got a TON of articles, and if you’ve never tabled and don’t have the time to read every single article here, I totally get it. Hopefully writing this article will prepare you for the most basics of basics before you start your first tabling.
-This isn’t in-depth. If you’re curious about a topic, check the links underneath for a little more clarification or additional reading if you have time.
-Some of these are personal opinions. Some of the questions I get asked I can’t answer myself. I’m not the all-knowing of everything. My expertise is selling comics, prints, stickers and buttons in Bay Area Conventions. Mostly prints, buttons, and stickers. In the Bay Area. Any knowledge outside of the Bay Area are passed down from my many other veteran artist friends and acquaintances, or personal research.
-If you have questions or want clarifications, feel free to ask.
What should I prepare for the convention?
-A waterbottle (don’t get dehydrated)
-Snacks (don’t starve)
-paper/pencil to draw on (helpful for commissions)
-tape (for taping emergencies. also, you might want to write your name on it)
-Change for twenty dollar bills (don’t bother bringing twenty dollar bills, trust me)
How much should I price my art?
-This is too hard to answer, because it varies depending on where you are selling. Here’s a good way of figuring it out: 1) look at all the other tables and find out what the average price is. 2) Never price your art lower than the lowest person’s pricing at that entire convention who is selling whatever the heck you’re selling–average is GOOD, underselling is BAD.
See “My Art is worth TOO MUCH!” for info about why under pricing your artwork may be frowned upon
Seller’s Permit? Taxes? What?
Oh boy…All I’m gonna say is that every state is a little different. You will need to do a little research, but you basically sign up for a temporary or permanent seller’s permit to use for the convention. After the convention, you count your earnings, calculate taxes, and depending on your seller’s permit you will file your taxes before a certain deadline. Like I said, it’s different for every state, so you’re going to need to do your research. I can only recommend you look up “[insert state name] Board of Equalization” as a little direction.
-A seller’s permit is a number you register with the state that you’re selling goods at, and is used to file taxes when you’ve earned the money. Pretty much every convention will ask you for this number, and you need to be ready to have that permit number to file in those taxes.
-Along with filling out a Seller’s Permit, you should also do some research if you need to do anything else while you are selling, such as owning a ‘Business Licence’ (there could be other things too!).
How many of _____ should I make?
-Prints: since it will be your first time, I highly recommend you only make a few copies. They MAY sell out, but then now you know to make more. But if it doesn’t, you’ll just have a bunch lying around. By the time you do your next convention, you would have a better grasp of what people might like, what doesn’t sell, etc., and some more revamped stuff. It’s my own opinion, but I wouldn’t go over five or six on my first print run. That way I won’t regret it as much if they barely sell. This is assuming you didn’t pay more than $80 on your table. Your first prints are most often your worst because you will find that the more you make them, the more you will improve.
-Buttons: Some people stock buttons by bringing the machine and only making them as they order with pre-cut templates. I can’t give you a definite count, but buttons tend to sell more often than prints, in my personal experience. From my own experience, I started out with making ten copies of each button, and just reprinted more stock of the ones that were falling down faster. Eventually I’d have twenty of one button and five of another, so it’s really sporadic.
-Stickers: It’s different for everyone, and just as sporadic as buttons. My method is similar to the buttons (except I don’t bring a button machine)–I make about ten copies, and after the first sale I determine which copies I should make more of and reprint extras of those.
-Comics: This one varies depending on which conventions you go to. I usually keep an incredibly low stock of comics (about 10) because they often don’t sell at anime conventions. In comic conventions, I bring about twenty. I’ve sat next to seasoned professional comic book artists, and they would load two entire cardboard boxes and run out of some titles…and I’ve seen some that would only sell four at a convention. I would recommend you print a low stock of comics on your first print run (usually the minimum is 25), and when you realize people find interest in it, give it another higher print run.
**For everything else, you should ask some other artists what their system might be. When I started selling prints/buttons/stickers, this was a long time ago, so it could be different with today’s demand. All I’m going to say is that if it’s your first time, don’t go overboard, because you’re going to probably end up with better stuff and a better understanding of things you’d want to sell on your second round, and third, and so on.
Important: NEVER ASSUME YOU WILL SELL ALL YOUR STOCK IN ONE CONVENTION. Never, ever, ever! If you have such high expectations, and only two or three sell, you’re going to feel like shit. If you only brought enough to pay back for your table, and you only sold a little bit, you’re just breaking your own ego. Maybe for one convention, half my stock is gone for keychains, and maybe at another con, not a single one sold. So never assume you’ll sell out of everything in one convention!
How many things should I put on my table?
-whatever you can fit nicely, you can put it there. The limit is usually the height of your display, and sometimes you can’t put stuff in the front of your table (you need to check with the convention rules for this). Avoid huge blocks of space. Also, propping things vertically often gathers more attention than just laying them on the table top :)
If you want some recommended items for setup, check this out–there are many other companies too! I recommend looking at what other people use to display for inspiration on how to set your table up.
For tips on setting up, I found this Pixiv artist to have useful cheap DIY setups, and this pixiv tag to have others who have useful setup DIYs
Is fanart okay to sell?
-Depends on the convention. Usually yes. Not all though. Some require a percentage to be original art.
-It’s super controversial to side with whether or not selling fanart should be allowed due to intellectual property rights vs. creative rights. I’m not even going to state my opinion, because every time I’ve done it, someone who disagrees with my idea will relentlessly argue with me, treating my opinions as meaningless without a second thought that everyone has their own DIFFERENT opinions. BUT if you really want a very good answer in every perspective of the topic, ask this question at the Artist Alley Network International facebook page, since there are plenty of people who have their own different ideas on the concept.
-Some companies DO NOT want people to sell fanart of their stuff (of course it’s okay to draw it though), but they may not police it very well. It is up to your good heart to make the decision if you want to make fanart of that company’s intellectual property (their logos, their characters, etc) even though they would prefer you not to do it. Indie companies like Roosterteeth (especially RWBY) and comics like Homestuck are examples of such. OF COURSE, you will see people do it anyways, and just make excuses like ‘oh well, i’ll keep selling unless the company gives me a cease and desist’, which in my opinion is just getting a little too greedy as an artist, but like I said, this is up to you to make this decision. I’m not the police, I can’t do shit about this. But I personally follow this rule.
Extra credit homework: If anyone mentions Japanese artists selling fanart, then you can have fun and research about Japanese copyright laws, as they’re far more stringent, and you’ll be surprised about how their system works! You’ll also be surprised at what kind of stuff they sell compared to the bulk of America, and you’ll be even more shocked at their pricing!
Can I get paid to draw stuff for people at conventions?
Yes, that’s usually called a ‘commission’. They pay you some money to draw something they like. It’s usually fanart. Just make sure not to under price your work (it’s good to keep your pricing higher than the cost you are selling your prints).
-You are NOT required to draw every single commission that comes your way. If for some reason their commission request makes you feel uncomfortable, YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO REFUSE THE COMMISSION. Also, try not to judge people for what they commission for–everyone has their own personal fetishes, even you.
See “How do I order a commission?” for additional info on the process of ordering and distributing conventions
Also, check out “I’ll come back to your table later” to learn about a slightly more fool-proof way of making sure your customers don’t forget they commissioned you
Are there any rules I should know of?
-Don’t block your own table by sitting in front or having someone stand in front to help out. I don’t know why it’s not enforced enough, but taking advantage of an artist alley space you did not pay for not only makes it unfair, but also blocks the tables around you. There may be some exceptions, but you must ask the head of the artist alley department before doing so.
-Don’t play loud music without everyone else being okay with it. It bugs people. If you decide to bring an instrument, don’t do it in front of your table, and don’t do it on a constant basis (like more than twenty minutes straight, every hour, etc).
-When setting up, don’t lug all your junk on someone else’s table. put it on the ground under or near your table while you set up. If the other artist isn’t there and the convention begins, don’t start selling your swag on their table–wait a few hours, then ask permission from the head of Artist Alley before you do something like that, since you didn’t pay for that table.
-Some people find it easier to drag in customers by ‘calling’ them in. If you do this, there’s a point where you need to consider that grabbing attention from people who are staring at the tables next to you, and/or speaking so loudly over the people selling next to you can barely communicate with their own customers is very inappropriate.
See “Great for You, Not for Them” for additional info about treating you and your neighbors with respect
Why don’t some people enjoy photos taken of their work?
Many artists I’ve met are photo shy, and don’t like cameras in general. Some people also want to reduce the risk of their artwork being stolen (people would take the photo and print them on the computer). Another thing is that some people would enjoy the art, take a photo to keep on their phone, but won’t buy the actual art. Lastly, some people take photos and post them without credit, thus leaving an amazing piece on the internet without anyone knowing who the hell made it. Sure, people would see it on the internet, but they wouldn’t care who the hell made it if your name wasn’t attached to it.
I’m not saying you should prohibit photos. This often gets misunderstood. If you don’t care, cool. If you care, then you might want a sign about asking permission first. If you’re really anxious, you can go full throttle and have a sign that indicates it. It’s up to you. Years of convention experience will dictate what your preference will be.
see “Do Not Photograph Signs” for more info and a free printable template
What if I don’t make much profit in my first time?
A few factors:
1) You were selling at the wrong place or wrong time. Basically, you did not go to the convention that suited you best, or it was at an awkward week or location.
(when conventions happen back-to-back with other conventions, or even multiple big events happening on the same day, there are usually less attendees or attendees aren’t as willing to spend as much)
2) Your work needs improvement. It could be improvement skill-wise, or that your work was not appealing to the right audience (again, to #1–not the right convention). To be honest though, it’s highly likely that it’s answer #1, and not that you need improvement. It’s pretty crazy how conventions can make or break your expectations.
3) Social skills. I have no proof of this one, but I know people who hide behind their tables and too scared to talk to customers don’t drag as many customers.
4) The con was too freakin fabulous–okay, that’s sarcasm. Maybe not. Actually, I’ve noticed when there are HUGE stars at a convention or have many, many panels or very long wait times for autographs and the such, attendees end up stuck in line and outside the artist alley longer. It’s not always the case, but definitely something to consider.
When Stan Lee comes to a convention, don’t expect a lot of people to walk in artist alley for hours XD
Some last tips on your first tabling experience:
Have realistic expectations. Don’t expect people to buy every single thing out of your inventory, and don’t expect every single person to go to your table telling you your art is the most amazing thing in the world. There will be many, many people walking past your table. Don’t sweat it, it’s your first time. It happens to everyone…all the time.
Your first time tabling is to gauge whether or not you want to do it again: It’s likely you tabled because you want to do it more than once. Well, don’t worry too much about sales on your first time. If you can handle whatever stress gets thrown in your way while you’re tabling, you’re good to go. If you didn’t make a lot of sales, or possibly sold out in the first hour, your first time is to determine if you want to try it again. If you make a lot though, I recommend you go celebrate :D
Bring change: Don’t even bother bringing $20s. You will be breaking $20 bills for the first half of the convention, trust me. $5 and $1s are very essential. In case of emergency, and your nearby table members don’t have $1s, go to your nearby coffee shop to break them.
Know the convention: Make sure you know where the convention is, where the food places are around the convention, where the bathrooms are, and where the atms are (so you can direct some people to the atm machine if they only have a credit card)
Advertise your spot: Before you go to the convention, tell everyone you’re going to that convention weeks ahead, and the moment you know your table number, post it all over your social media. Otherwise people won’t know where the heck you will be.
Business Cards: Make business cards with your web address and/or social media. Facebook, Tumblr, etc with your art–put it on a card. Or paper. Anything. People will want to follow you online to see what else you make :)
Don’t be stinky: If you have bad breath, or you have some body odor problems, please eat a mint/chew gum and wear deodorant.
Hai-Na-Nu Saluque, aka. “Nooligan”
This awesome dude is one of my top favorite artists I’ve discovered at conventions this year. I mean, holy crap that’s some really awesome style! The art is full of attitude and spunk whilst holding a very unique 1920s cartoon feeling to it. And he also made a comic called ‘Union St. Choir’. Just…yea, go check it out. I love the fresh style in all his work <3
You can check out more of his work here: