Ten Lessons Learned Exhibiting at New York Comic Con

| October 24, 2011 | 5 Comments

Well, it’s more than a week after New York Comic Con and I think I’m finally recovered from that  gauntlet  of a convention.  Here are a few things I learned (or relearned) at the show this year.

1.) Have a plan, but be prepared to adjust it. To say that exhibiting at NYCC is a logistical challenge is a bit of an understatement.  So, I definitely tried to err on being over-prepared.  I spent several weeks coordinating with my boothmates John Lees (The Standard) and Joe Mulvey (Scam) and traveled to the show confident I’d crossed all Ts and dotted all Is.  I even had a to-scale sketch of how I wanted our table set up.  Of course, that all got tossed out the window when we actually got to the space, and found that our corner booth was entirely eclipsed by a giant exhibit of some still yet to be determined Chinese company’s exhibit.  So, we had no corner. Now, our Reed rep was nice about it, and will refund us for the extra $250 for the corner, but being suddenly limited the amount of stuff we could get in front of people required some last minute adjustments.   Here’s a quick video of the set-up we went with:

2.) Traffic flow determines cash flow.  As I predicted after setting up, our booth set up was…problematic.  The Chinese exhibit jutted out much farther than our table, leading to the flow of traffic naturally passing no where near our table. People just weren’t getting close enough to see our merch. I had a set of prints I knew would sell like gangbusters, but they were too far back from the flow of traffic for anyone to notice while passing by.  As a result,  Thursday and Friday sales were disappointing…not horrible, but comparable to a second or third tier con…not the biggest on the east coast.  Saturday and Sunday, we were able to make a number of adjustments (some as simple as sending John Lees, “The Sellin’ Scottsman” out from behind the table to Pied Piper people passing by back to our table) that changed this dynamic and increased sales.

3.) Play with your pitch.  One of the great opportunities doing a show like NYCC gives creators is the chance to pitch their properties to a wide and diverse group of people.  And LOTS of them.  We must have pitched our books hundreds if not thousands of times that weekend.  While my EPIC pitch has been well honed through cons past, this was the first time I was pitching THE RED TEN.  NYCC was a great testing ground to try some things out.

For example:

I started out by calling THE RED TEN a “Super hero murder mystery, where a group of heroes go to avenge the death of one of their own, and one by one they start dying, only to suspect that one among them is the killer.”

Later, I toyed with the line, “DC Comics is never going to let me kill The Justice League.  But if they did…this is how I would do it.”   It turned out to be a  provocative  hook that when combined with showing some of the better parts of the book, usually did the trick.

4.) Quality sells.  I’ve been doing conventions for four years now.  I’ve done shows where I’ve literally sold two books.  This year convention sales have spiked upward, and NYCC was a record setting show as far as total books sold goes.  I’m incredibly proud of all of the books ComixTribe had on the table.  The killer covers, the strong pitches, and the great interior art made the books relatively easy to sell.  We weren’t pulling teeth or prying wallets out of people’s pockets.  And the best evidence was that several people who bought books earlier in the show CAME BACK to the booth later on, to either talk about the books or to buy the ones they didn’t snag the first time around.

5.) Sometimes enthusiasm sells even more.  In his recap of NYCC, John Lees wrote, “Here’s the thing that helped me a lot while pitching all the ComixTribe titles over the weekend: I didn’t have to be dishonest in my shilling.   My enthusiasm and passion for each of these comics and their quality was absolutely genuine.”  And you know what, John’s enthusiasm for the books was absolutely infectious, and led to quite many sales.   As the saying goes, if you’re not excited about your books, you can’t expect anyone else to be.

6.) Don’t make too many assumptions about your target audience.  I picked this one up from John Lees.  Having done a ton of conventions already, I’ve started to make some assumptions and generalizations about who is and isn’t going to pick up my books.  “CosPlayers don’t buy, Grandma’s aren’t in my target market, etc.”  John, however, simply didn’t care.  John pitched EVERYBODY.  If they had a pulse, they were going to hear about why they should buy THE STANDARD.  And many of them did.  Hell, he even got a guy in a full on Batman costume, carrying nothing all day at the show, to buy a package of all six ComixTribe books.  I shit you not, Batman had to go into a back pouch in his utility belt to pull out some money to pay.  And this happened all day long Saturday and Sunday, people who you might brush off as being uninterested walked away with books from our booth, thanks to John not profiling at all.

7.) Don’t do it alone.  I’m a con veteran.  I’ve done plenty of one and two day shows before.  They’re a grind, but as a one man operation, they’re doable.  Not New York.  No way.  If I hadn’t been able to take a long lunch on Saturday, far away from the table, I might not have made it. And if I hadn’t been able to walk the floor a bit and goof off with my sister Leighann who came to visit (see us in Goblin masks) I would have missed a fun moment at the show. Hell at NYCC, even a trip to the bathroom can be a 1/2 hour endeavor.  Any time away from the table is potential sales lost.   There were several creators I intended to spend money on who were never at their table for me to do so.  This is where having a team of guys to work a booth with pays dividends.

8.) Pre-promotion works.  I sent out a lot of stuff before the convention.  Tweets, emails, press releases, free downloads, the works.  And while it’s hard to measure that impact, there were plenty of people that came to the booth looking for stuff they’d seen elsewhere.  A number of people mentioned the Bleeding Cool preview of the books, or came with their wallets open wanting to buy the books they’ve seen previewed here.   If your promotion starts when the show opens, you’re already behind the 8-ball.

9.) Less can be more. With less table space than anticipated, I made the decision on Saturday to remove Tears of the Dragon from the table.  I’d only sold a couple of books, and decided I wanted to put the emphasis on the six new books we were doing a package deal for.  As a result, the packages started flying.  And in truth, sales of TOTD didn’t actually suffer that much, as several people came to the table asking for it by name.   (That’s the power of serializing as a webcomic.)

10.) Push the package.  Okay, that sounds unnecessarily dirty.  But there’s something powerful about a package deal.  26 people left NYCC with the ComixTribe package…in this case (6 books: EPIC #1, THE RED TEN #1, SCAM #1, RUNNERS #1, THE STANDARD #1 & #2, a print of their choice, and a sketch card.)  We priced the package at $25.  People felt like they were getting a lot for their money, and it made it relatively easy sell.  I’ll continue to make sure to ALWAYS have a package deal of some sort at every show I do from now on.

And finally, a bonus lesson…get some sleep.  Can’t say I learned that one at this year’s show, because I was running on fumes come Sunday.   Next year, I’ll need to remember it.


Tyler James is a comics creator, game designer, and educator residing in Newburyport, MA. He is the writer and co-creator of EPIC, a superteen action comedy, and Tears of the Dragon, a swords and sorcery fantasy, and writer of the upcoming superhero murder mystery mini-series THE RED TEN. His past work includes OVER, a romantic comedy graphic novel, and Super Seed, the story of the world’s first super powered fertility clinic. His work has been published by DC and Arcana comics.

Tyler is the publisher and co-creator of ComixTribe, a new website empowering creators to help each other make better comics.

Contact Tyler via email (tylerjamescomics@gmail.com), visit his website TylerJamesComics.com, follow him on Twitter, or check him out on Facebook

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Category: Comix Counsel

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 (5)

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  1. Lance Boone says:

    I’m glad to here the con was a success for the comixtribe imprint.

  2. Lance Boone says:

    I guess comixtribe’s not an imprint…it’s a publisher, or is it a brand? 🙂

    Regardless, well done.

  3. Tyler James says:

    I’m gonna go with “All of the Above” Lance.

    ComixTribe is…
    …an imprint…
    …a brand…
    …a website…
    …and a community of hardworking creators like yourself supporting each other to make the best damn funny books possible.

  4. Neil says:

    Couple questions. How do you prepare for the show, ie, do you get a registered attendee list you can contact to ask to come by your booth? or is it just who walks buy?

    Do people come with cash, or do they offer checks or credit cards?

    Are there any pre-marketing efforts you have done either before the show, or during the show, that you have found really paid off attracting people to your booth?

    • Tyler James says:

      Neil, registered attendee lists are pretty hard to come by, and in most cases, that isn’t something the con organizers are going to share with you. However, you CAN be proactive. Usually there’s chatter on social media (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) by people talking about going to the show. No reason you can’t engage those folks prior to the show.

      Most people bring cash to shows, but credit cards purchases have become more common with the rise of things like the Square reader. About 15-30% of my con sales are CC transactions these days.

      And yes, I have done pre-marketing efforts, (something like this, for example) and yes they have been VERY effective at getting people to seek out my booth among the sea of others at large shows.

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