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Preparing for a BIG Con (Part I)

| August 15, 2011 | 1 Comment

A few weeks ago, I announced that myself and ComixTribe would be setting up shop at the 2011 New York Comic Con.  That show is just two months away.

While I’ve certainly been active on the convention circuit these past few years, NYCC will be the largest show I’ve tabled at to date.  And while I’ve become quite comfortable with doing small and mid-sized shows, New York is definitely in another league from what I’m used to.

So, the question is, how do I prepare for a show like this?  Now, if you’ve been following my columns for a few years, you know I’ve tackled the topic of conventions before.  I wrote about prepping for my first comic convention back in 2009, and followed that up with an article on attending Baltimore Comic Con, my first mid-sized show, a year later.  But again, New York is basically the equivalent of ten Baltimore Comic Cons under one roof, stretched out over twice as many days.  It’s a different beast all together.

What I’d like to do is walk through some of my thinking regarding how I plan to tackle a show like this. Maybe these thoughts will help you prepare for a major show in the future.

Tip #1 – Recon

While this will be my first time tabling at NYCC, it will not be my first time attending.  I’ve actually been to New York Comic Con twice, so I know how the show works.  I know the general layout, and how crazy it gets on Saturday.  I’ve been to a bunch of panels, and remember many of them quite well.  So, while setting up as a vendor will be a new experience, the show itself will not.  In general, I’d recommend checking out the big shows as a spectator once or twice before setting up shop there.  You’ll find plenty of examples of folks doing things right, and a few who are clearly doing it wrong.

Short of actually going to the show, I recommend conducting some internet research, to get a sense of how past shows have operated.  A quick Google search will unearth tons of blogs full of NYCC recaps from other creators and vendors. There are plenty of podcasts out there with archived episodes discussing big shows like NYCC in detail. Learn from other’s mistakes and successes.  That’s not cheating.  That’s smart.

Tip #2 – Take Advantage of Free Publicity

One thing you’ll quickly find out about these BIG shows…they’re BIG money makers.  Shows like this attract major crowds, major crowds equal major numbers of eyeballs, and where there are eyeballs, there are plenty of huge companies looking to get their products in front of them.  And the companies that run these shows (Reed in the case of NYCC) aren’t afraid to charge for it all.

Want a banner add on the Reed website?  Pay $1,500-$4,000 a month.  Want to put something in the official NYCC VIP gift bag?  $2,000, plus the cost of producing 5,000 units of your schwag.  Want to upgrade your listing on the NYCC interactive map?  They’ve got plans available from $99-$500.

We live in a capitalist society, and good for Reed for charging for things that have real value.  I’m sure some companies with six figure marketing budgets  find these offering well worth the investment.  But for the bootstrapping young creatives, most of those “marketing opportunities” seem comical.

That doesn’t mean you don’t do anything, however.  The first move is to make sure you take advantage of all opportunities that don’t cost you a thing.  These are things like:

  • Submitting images and bios for the official websites.
  • Submitting information about show exclusive books and merchandise. (You ARE going to have show exclusives, aren’t you?)
  • Submitting panels.
Now, I think panels are the biggie.  The great thing about doing a panel at a big show like this is it gets you in front of a large audience, and has the potential to put you on the radar of many people at once.  I first discovered the Half-Pixel crew at a New York Comic Con panel.  (I’ve since bought a bunch of their work.)  Same goes for Jonathan Hickman, who I saw on a “Breaking In” panel two years ago.
The only cost of doing a panel are the cost of prepping for it, and the time away from the table at the show. In exchange, you get a have an audience with people who might be interested in the stuff you’re doing. You’re panel (and name) will be listed on the show’s website and in the program (something that they charge a lot of money for otherwise.) At many of these shows, other websites will record the panels and post-online, so the reach may end up being much greater than the people in the room. Panels are an opportunity for essentially free publicity, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that I’ve submitted ComixTribe for a couple.

Tip #3 – Pre-Show Promotion

With thousands of vendors, and the biggest names in comics in attendance, the little guy can’t expect to just show up and do well.  I really believe successful shows are determined long before the doors open.  It’s up to us to do as much as we possibly can to build awareness for us and our product, and to provide strong incentive for folks to seek us out at the show.
NYCC is my biggest show yet.  I’m going to honor that with my strongest pre-show promotion effort to date.  You’ll be seeing some of these things unfold on the ComixTribe site, of course, and there are still some things in development.  But here are a few things I’m planning on doing:
  • ComixTribe Takes Manhattan Digital Preview Book . ComixTribe will likely be debuting five new books at New York Comic Con.  That’s exciting, but that’s also a difficult venture.  It’s tough to get interest and eyeballs at the show itself, as it’s an environment that lends itself to sensory overload.  So, next month, in advance of the show, I’ll be releasing a special digital book previewing all of the new titles, featuring covers, 5-8 pages of the books, and more.  This will be a release similar to the FREE COMIC BOOK DAY offering, which, to date, has been read by more than 10,000 people.  That’s a lot of eyeballs, and can only help add interest and awareness to what we’re doing.
  • Video Promos – I’ll be working on short video trailers for all the comics we’re debuting at the show.  YouTube is the second most searched engine in the world behind Google, and video is incredibly powerful.  With NYCC coming up, and debuts about to be made, I can’t think of a better time to release some video content for these books.  Here’s an example of a video I just cut to tease THE RED TEN.

New York is a big show, and preparing for it as it turns out is a big topic.  As such, I’ll return next week to share more preparation tips, including communicating with fellow creators, merchandise planning, and money.
Next: More Tips for Preparing for a BIG Con

 

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About the Author ()

Tyler James is a comics creator, game designer, educator, and publisher residing in Newburyport, MA. He is the writer and co-creator of THE RED TEN, a superhero murder mystery, EPIC, a superteen action comedy, and TEARS of the DRAGON, a swords and sorcery fantasy. Tyler is the publisher and co-creator of ComixTribe, which is both a new imprint of quality creator owned titles, and an online community where creators help creators make better comics. Follow him on Twitter @tylerjamescomics, or send him an email at tyler.james@comixtribe.com.

Comments (1)

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  1. Steve Roman says:

    Addendum to Tip #1: Recon: Research your neighbors. Once the list of exhibitors goes up, I start researching who’s around me to see if we have common interests (I’m a horror novel and graphic novel publisher). For the 2010 NYCC, doing the research for the small-press area spared me from being placed between a rap-tracks producer and a yaoi fan who sold stuff in her etsy store. I notified NYCC of the problem and asked to be moved near other publishers, and they immediately placed me in a better location.

    BTW, I’m YOUR neighbor this year–booth 2539. See you at the show!

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