Since I’ve been exhibiting at festivals for four years (about 14 festivals total), I thought I should do a post giving pointers to people who are thinking of doing the whole festival circuit. Not that I’m the authority on this subjects, but there has to be some valuable lesson hidden in my experiences.
So first of all, many people hesitate to take the leap and show at a festival. My advice is “just do it”. Preferably, take the plunge at a festival which isn’t expensive to attend and has decent publicity. Because that’s really the thing : as an artist, you have to be careful not to spend all your money on an endeavour that has no returns. At the very least, you have to make back the money you spent on the festival so this can be a self-sustaining thing. Given the two years of unemployment I’ve gone through, I actually aim for profit (not that I actually could make a living off of it). So here are the things to consider to make some money: presentation, product lineup and price points.
You have to put some thought into your “tablescape” (I stole that term from Sandra Lee…and before you ask, yes I am ashamed that I know that term). Your table is like your store window display. You want it to look inviting and not a scary mess or a barren landscape. Of utmost importance: get a table cloth. Some festivals provide free table cloths, some don’t. It’s better to be ready in case they don’t because those festival tables are extremely “rustic”. I wouldn’t go all out and get banners though. I’ve done pretty well for myself without one. Some small furniture to display your books and prints are nice. I get mine from cleardisplays.com (the plywood ones). As far as how to layout your table, I’ve found that having a busy table is better than one that’s sparse. Granted, since I’ve split table three-ways before, our table probably was waaayyy too busy and messy. But, I think a busy table forces people to come closer and see what you have, whereas if you have one book, people can see it from a mile away and decide it’s not worth coming closer. Which brings to my next point…
You absolutely need to have more than one product to sell. It seems like obvious advice, but I see so many tables with that problem. Now think for a second, if I had a store that just sold red dresses in the same style, I wouldn’t get as many sales than if I had a store who specialized in dresses in general (and even then, I’d get less foot traffic than a clothing store). So as an artist, don’t just place all your bets on the one comic you have, only famous people can take those risks and have it pay off. Consider printing the artwork from your comics on postcards, t-shirts, buttons. Also, have more than one book for sale because….
…People LOVE series. Not only do they love series, but if they like it, you stand to double your income. Why else are there so many book / film sequels out there? Because the people who buy into the first volume are pretty much guaranteed to buy into the second volume (provided the first volume wasn’t a total let down). And the people who missed out on the first volume when it came out, will often buy the two volumes at the same time. So if you want to make some money at festival, that’s really the way to go.
Another thing to consider: fanart. I don’t enjoy doing fanart because I don’t want to get busted for copyright infringement amongst many MANY other reasons, but the sad thing is people notice and like that stuff. If you don’t really watch tv, play videogames or read comics to base your fanart on, you could piggy back on trends, like cats. Cats are super trendy. Just draw a cat doing something slightly weird, and it’s money in the bank. What I’m getting at is, the only thing people love more than series is stuff that’s INSTANTLY recognizeable. It depresses me that I have to write this, but most people don’t have the time or care about your totally original ideas. It’s much easier to sell things to people they’re already familiar with.
But not all hope is lost. There is a way to get your totally original idea noticed by people: you need to go all out in the execution. That’s the idea behind my lemur carousel books. I’m usually the only person in a festival that has pop up books, and that gets me noticed. I mean let’s be honest, how many people out there care about lemurs? Judging by the fact that they’re endangered, I can safely say “not many”. The premise of my book isn’t going to stop anyone in their tracks, but the execution (that it’s a pop-up book) will. You can’t expect to stand out if you only have photocopied mini comics. Everybody at a festival has a photocopied mini comic so you need to have something that stand out.
Before I started doing festivals, one of my teachers said to price comics at $2-3 because that’s what people were willing to spend. I’ve since found that this is not true. Here’s some math: suppose you spent $100 to exhibit at the festival and you sell $2 comics. That means you need to get 50 people to buy your comic in order to break even. Unless it’s a really HUGE con, you’re not going to get 50 people to buy your stuff even if it’s priced cheaply. These 50 people are probably spending their money at other tables. Now, if you price your books $20, you only need 5 people to break even (obviously your $20 book has to look like it’s worth $20)
Now I know what you’re thinking: a lower price should drive up sales. In my experience, that is not the case. My cheaper items don’t fly off the shelf any faster than my more expensive one. And really THIS is why I’ve been able to make money at festivals: Not because I sell more, but because of my higher price point. Now don’t get me wrong, I think it is important to offer your work at different price points. Majority of people can’t afford to spend a lot of money, so it would be dumb to just shut out the majority of people (well truth is the bulk of the people are there just to look and not buy). Just offer a couple of higher priced item in the off chance somebody can afford it. That one sale can make ALL the difference.
You should probably get Square to accept credit card payments. I’ve had to turn down a lot of people because I didn’t have Square…well let me rephrase that: I DO have Square, I just don’t have an Iphone. Square on an Ipod just doesn’t work the same because the IPod needs a wi-fi network to log into, and most festival venues don’t have that. So have Square and an Iphone. But if you’re like me, and you don’t want to deal with monthly Iphone bills, then you can just pray there will be wifi at the festival.Also you should probably give away business cards at the festival. Apart from a slight spike in trafic to your websites, I don’t know what else business cards are good for. Maybe one person out of the hundreds you met that day will buy something from your online store…so far the conversion rate from “festival-goer” to “person who follows me online” has been REALLY low for me. Some of it is my own fault for not being into social media, but if my own behavior is any indication, I’d wager people just plain forget about the stacks of cards they amass at festivals. But that’s a topic for another post.
So that’s the advice I have to dispense on tabling at festivals. I didn’t want to go into the obvious “bring tape, scissors, change and be nice” because you can probably find that info someplace else. Admittedly the tablecloth tip is obvious, but it’s very important (who knew tablecloths could be important?). I’m thinking of doing a second part where I rate each festival I’ve been to.