Tabling at conventions is one of my favorite things to do. For a day or two I can finally settle into my true environment: the comic book scene. Conventions bring together creators big and small, and for a small press creator, gets your work out there to the almighty reader. Now, all of this being said, I’ve only tabled a handful of times. But, I’ve had a lot of experiences in that small number.
Tabling is all about being attentive and friendly. There have been a number of times that, when walking around at cons, creators are looking down at their phone, or they look like they don’t really want to be there. I get it, some weekends can be long, and looking at your phone at some point is unavoidable. However, you’ve got to avoid looking at it for too long. That shows disinterest. And, personally, I feel like I’m interrupting someone when I have to get their attention. Part of that is on me, but when I’m behind that table, my phone is out of my hands for as much time as possible. You want to look inviting, because, well, you should be.
It’s an interesting environment, you want to sell stuff, but you aren’t going the retail route where you’re trying to sell a toaster to someone. You’re trying to sell something that you made to someone. I always feel that small cons are far less pressure to buy something that a regular sales transaction. Which is funny because when you’re out there looking at other creators, that’s when you most want to buy something. But in a normal retail situation, I feel a lot of pressure from salespeople, but I don’t want to buy something as badly. But to be fair, that’s because I want to support an independent artist over a big store.
Accurate. You can take it from me.
Gosh, I think I’ve strayed a little bit from my original point on tabling. The point is: be engaged. If you’re not excited about your work, why will anyone else be? The other big survival tip about tabling doesn’t have to do with selling, though. It’s simple: be a good table neighbor. You will probably be surrounded on all sides by other people at their own tables. You’ve got to be considerate. Don’t take up too much space! You want to have good relations with your neighbors, you’ll be with them all weekend.
I’ve been lucky enough that, as of this writing, I’ve never been stuck next to someone who I can’t stand. In fact, I’ve ended up becoming friends with the people located around me. We are able to talk about what sort of comics we like, and tips and tricks of the trade. It goes a long way. Plus, you will be in close proximity, so it will just be awkward if you’re silent the whole time. Not to mention that those people will watch your booth if you have to go pee! That’s invaluable. All of the people that I’ve sat next too were very cool. If/when I see them at different cons, I’m always quick to go over and buy something from them. These bonds turn into friendships, and those are important in life and in making comics.
Now, all of this isn’t to say that I haven’t been host to some pretty weird things at cons. I won’t get into specifics in case any of those people read this (odds are small, but I don’t want to get murdered at my next con!) Those odd characters are pretty much unavoidable at these things. Conventions and weirdos go hand in hand, after all. So all I can say about that is be prepared to deal with the strange. You will have to listen to some peculiar things, smile and nod. Smile and nod. That’s how you get through the rough times. Then, once those people leave you, you can look at your table neighbors and have a good laugh.
I will also add this, tabling can be frustrating. People will come look at your work, flip through it, tell you it’s good, but not buy it. Now, don’t get me wrong, this is not an art I pursued because of the riches. I know better than that. But, during a long day of tabling, it can be irksome when you can’t make that sale. Sometimes you’ll go hours without making money (OK, that’s my experience anyway) and that starts to wear you out. You start to wonder if your stuff just isn’t any good. But hang in there. You’ll make the sales. And equally important, you’ll get your name out there. You’ll make connections and the more conventions you attend, people will start to remember you. In the end, take a deep breath and realize that there are a lot of other people there, and everyone has different taste in comics. But if you do make a sale, show some gratitude. They didn’t have to buy anything. So always say:
Now, if you’re reading this and do not table, never fear, I have some advice about that too! When I go as a fan, and not a creator, I’m always conscious about how long I stand in front of a table. I try to look at everything, and have a bit of conversation with the artist and/or writer. But, I don’t like to block the way for too long. That could cut off potential business. Especially if I’m not going to buy anything. It is pretty easy to get caught up talking to other creators, and they really don’t mind, but I try to be mindful.
I guess that comes more from some of the stuff I’ve seen (i.e. standing in front of a table for 20 minutes giving a complete presentation on your own hobbies). There’s been a lot of times that I see other creators give the look…you know, the “what are they doing?!” look. The “Please go away” look. But they are all too polite to say this. Just be respectful to the artist or writer, or what have you. As a con goer, you have no duty to buy everything, just make sure that you don’t turn your visit into a filibuster.
I hope that all doesn’t sound too harsh. As much of a passion as this is for me, cons are my biggest way (as of now) for making money to continue doing what I love. And I suppose this really comes from a few bad apples making it harder for everyone else. Most everyone at cons is great. They come, they talk, we find things we love, and we form a genuine bond. So don’t take anything I’ve said the wrong way.
As I said, behind the table is the place I feel like I truly belong, so I’ve got a lot of feelings about this. And I’m sure there’s a ton of stuff I left out, but let’s be honest, you’re tired of reading this by now. So I’ll see you at a show sometime!
1 thought on “On Tabling”
Again, another insightful and interesting article by someone who is ‘in the trenches’! You are so right about ‘tabling’. One must be interesting, and interested, not just a cashier. The few times I have done it at historical societies I have to admit I mostly looking for the next good story I can steal! Thank you for a reminder of why we are doing this in the first place–the people and the art. Jeff Wilson