Behind The Table: 9 essential tips for a having succesful comic convention, with Penned Guin’s Alan Henderson

With the convention scene now in full swing, Alan Henderson, creator of webcomic Penned Guin shared these 9 essential convention tips over at the Awesome Comics Talk Facebook Group and he kindly agreed to let us share them with you here too. He told us he has learnt each of these from being on both sides of the con table for the last 18 years and they hopefully give some insights into how to run a successful small press table at a Con.

Before we start, I’m taking the elements of – have a clean table cloth, be polite, look up and smile – all as a given.

1. Price points
Always have an array of options on your table, people might be really interested in your work but if the cheapest option is £10 they might not want to commit. Have a smaller item that might act as a ‘sampler’

2. Price tags
People (or at least I do) get embarrassed going up to a table and having no idea how much things cost, then asking and having to pull that face where you politely nod but inside are screaming “are you kidding me! £5 for a 8 page photocopied piece of…”. You should have clear price tags on your table or a price list if that works for your stock.

3. DON’T hand over the book
People don’t like taking things – the commitment is too much. Maybe it’s something I’ve learnt from living in Edinburgh where during the festival every second person is trying to hand out a flyer, I will stare you down and not take hold of any piece of paper you try to shove under my nose. Here’s what I’ve found sometime works – say “have a look at this book” then place it on the table in front of the customer, it’s then their decision whether to pick it up and they know that they can as easily put it back down.

4. Learn a doodle
It amazes me how much happier you can make a customer by adding the simplest doodle into a book they’ve bought, happy customers return and they do the cross sale into their friends. But you need to learn to do your doodle standing up, with a sharpie, and not keep the customer waiting. (note: I’m treating doodles/signatures, sketches and convention commissions all differently). BTW writers – you should also learn a doodle or something similar, everyone loves a bit of personalisation, for a long time Ian Rankin used to draw a half completed noughts & crosses game with every book he signed.

5. Get the name right!
If you’re going to sign a book “to..<insert name here> best wishes from <author>” have a spare piece of paper and get the person to write their name down. No matter how simple their name is…. I’ve had Alan, Allan, Alen, and Alex….

6. Twitter/Facebook avatar
It might come as a surprise to some of you but I don’t look like a skydiving penguin in a crash helmet. If your choice of avatar is not a photo of you then please have something on your table or banner or similar that allows people to identify you.

7. T-shirt
Building on the avatar point, why not get yourself a t-shirt with your character, or latest cover on it. Vistaprint do sales every now & then where you can get an individual shirt print for about a tenner – and that includes the postage. At last year’s Thought Bubble I was wandering round wearing a Penned Guin shirt and twice was asked “are you the guy who runs that strip…”

8. The return customer
How often have you gone to a small press table and said “I saw you before, but can’t remember what I picked up” from behind the table you should always be able to answer what is new since the last time you were at that con/location. That might be a different answer to ‘what’s new’.

9. Business cards
They are a necessary evil, a cost that has no clear return. It should be fairly obvious but have some clear contact details on the card. Also try to have something on the card that make people remember why they picked it up – I’ve got a stack of cards from comic cons and a good half of them I could not tell you anything about why I picked it up. Personally I’ve put a comic strip on the back so there is call back to “oh yeah these were the ‘funny’ penguin comics”….

You can read Alan’s fantastic penguin themed comics at pennedguins.tumblr.com and purchase collected editions from his Big Cartel Store. You can also follow Alan on twitter @shadow1972

Author: Alan Henderson