Working as a creative person is difficult and can be confusing at times. One of the biggest concepts that I have been exploring is what exactly makes working as a vendor at conventions and events “successful”?
We often measure “success” by the amount of income or profit we make. This can be per month, per event, or per year. But there are other factors that also go into making yourself into a successful vendor.
Of course, profit is king, and I have expense reports that I track after each event. They track both what I sold and what expenses I had for each event, as well as overall since I started selling in April 2018. A big part of my consideration for attending a convention or event again in the future is dependent on how much I sold at the event, and how that weighs against what I paid for the table, badge, and other fees. However, I do not have to make a direct profit from the event in order for me to consider the event successful and repeating the event again the following year.
For example, Printers Row Lit Fest is an event I have worked as a vendor for two years. The first year I only sold a handful of books, but it absolutely poured rain both days of the event and it was cold. Attendance was low, and we were given a really bad location on the grounds, but I was still able to sell a handful of books despite these conditions. I gave Printers Row another shot this year (2019) and was not disappointed. Again, it rained both days, but it was only a light rain and it was fairly warm out. Attendance was much higher, and I had secured us a much better location on the grounds. While I still did not make a profit doing this event, the amount of books I sold had dramatically increased. I also received many new emails for my mailing list, and made some great connections that have since benefited me.
It is also worth noting that Printers Row is a very expensive event ($650 for 2 tables with a better location, and I spent $50 on parking for the weekend). Printers Row is essentially the “Super Bowl” for authors, and therefore a very important event to be seen at. The fact that I sold enough books to make my expenses minimal is incredible. It also tells me that if we have a perfectly sunny and warm weekend for 2020 I will most likely make a reasonable profit!
Some of you may be thinking – why on earth would you do these events at a loss? How can you call yourself a “successful” vendor and author if you’re operating at a loss? The answer is – you have to spend money to make money.
A big part of the struggle as a working creative person is the upfront cost. You have to build a following in order to make an overall profit, and that takes time and money. As I have mentioned in previous posts on social media, my expectations for 2019 are not to turn a profit so much as to build my branding and my following, as well as determine what conventions I want to have as my regular yearly schedule going forward.
This brings us to the next factor of what makes you a successful vendor – knowing your audience.
My goal for 2019 was to vend at as many conventions as I could manage with my schedule and finances. This is so that I could get a feel for what conventions are my “real” audience. Three factors go into determining whether or not your wares suit the guests at a convention or event – budget, demographic, and fanbase.
Budget is king at any convention, festival, or event. If your guests simply don’t have the budget to spend, it doesn’t matter how much they like your wares. Sometimes you won’t know what the “real” budget of the attendees are until you actually attend a convention. This is usually the first factor that indicates whether or not I will repeat a convention, as this is often the “all or nothing” factor. I will either sell many items at a convention, or I will sell absolutely nothing.
The second factor is demographic – more specifically the general age group and the general culture of the attendees. I tend to do better at events that have a 16-30 age group that have more liberal values, especially if they are pagan, enjoy fantasy and history, collect art, and typically do not have children. Events that I do poorly at are where the age group is significantly older and more conservative with lots of children under the age of 10. Knowing the your ideal audience demographic is key to selecting conventions to attend and repeat attend.
Keep in mind that some conventions and events may surprise you. You may find a demographic that you would never have imagined would buy your wares. It’s worth trying out conventions and events outside of your general wheelhouse, but it’s smart not to repeat these events that you do poorly at.
The last factor is fanbase. This is separate from demographic as this is often tied more specifically to the overall convention rather than the attendees. I have found that anime fanbases often buy my artwork the most often than other fanbases. But more fantasy based fanbases like Harry Potter buy my books. Many conventions will be geared around specific fanbases (Firefly, War Hammer, Furries, Disney, etc). Pay attention to what fanbases seem to correlate to your wares and seek out other conventions that cater to the same fanbases.
Working as a successful vendor also means paying attention to factors outside of the conventions and events. This means taking into account how many sign ups you had for your mailing list, how many online sales you made after the convention, and how many sales you make at a future convention because an attendee from a previous convention recognized you and decided to finally purchase your wares. In addition to these factors, you may also meet coordinators who invite you to vend at their upcoming events, or coordinators that want you as a special guest at an event. While none of these factors put money in your cash box at the convention or event itself, it is future money and marketing that is just as valuable.
The final item that makes you a successful vendor at an event is how much you enjoy doing the event. There are certain events I have done that are not the most profitable, but I have a blast participating. This can mean a convention where many of your other vendor friends and attendee friends are participating. It can also mean a convention that has a particular theme or particular panels and events that you really enjoy. Your personal joy and fun are a big factor in whether or not to vend at an event and repeat the event in the future.
The biggest lesson you can learn from all this is that direct income and profit at each individual event is not the only factor that makes an event successful. Carefully weigh your sales, referrals, post-con sales, future invites, and personal enjoyment against your profits when deciding whether or not to attend or repeat a convention. You might be pleasantly surprised how the numbers will play out and how your following will have grown by the end of the year.