Artist Alley First-Timer? What You Need to Know!
A little advice after my time at the artist alley.
An original article by ArtByMelissaM
Many of us have been to some form of comic or anime convention and traveled through the artist alley. The first time I ever went to a convention was WonderCon in San Francisco, California, and the first place I stopped was at the artist alley. I remember being so surprised that there was actually a place completely devoted to artists. After browsing through the artist alley and meeting some of the artists, I thought to myself, “One day, you’ll be here, too.” About 5 years later, I was coerced into getting my first artist alley table at Sac-Con in Sacramento, California on March 6th, 2011.
Preparing to have an artist alley table was one of the most stressful things I have ever experienced. I looked up everything I could on having a table. I asked various artist friends what their experiences were in the artist alley. I even tried to find books on the subject! Sadly, the books didn’t help me enough to prepare for the convention.
Most of you reading this are probably considering getting your first artist alley table or you’re still a novice and you want to get some tips. I hope this article will help you out enough to prepare for the challenges of preparing your first artist alley table.
“I want to get an artist alley table, but I don’t know where to start!”
The first step in getting an artist alley table is to pick a convention you want to go to. Start small at first; don’t try to get a table at San Diego’s Comic-con just yet! Look for local anime/comic cons and start there. Tables are usually cheap and come with admission badges for you included in the cost of the table.
Scope out the battlefield. The best thing to do that’ll save you a major headache is to attend a convention and do some research beforehand. Then plan on having a table there NEXT YEAR. This isn’t to discourage you from getting your artist alley table, it’s to give you time to prepare! Before getting a table, you should go and get the feel of the convention. Think of it as a research opportunity. Learn what type of fans go there, what the artist alley looks like, where the nearest pizza place is, etc. This gives you a chance to familiarize yourself with the area, so when you go to the convention you don’t feel so flustered!
Another reason to wait till next year's convention is because you probably don’t have a large enough collection of prints, business cards, signs, original art, books, stickers, pins, buttons, etc. to sell. If you give yourself a year to prepare and get the necessary merchandise, you’ll be a happy artist, people will recognize your professionalism and be interested in your products, and you’ll probably make more money.
You don’t HAVE to wait to get your table, but take it from my experience: it’s worth the wait. I got pressured into getting a table about a MONTH before the convention. So I had a month to get everything together, to create artwork, to make prints, and to learn how to promote myself. Had I spent a year preparing, I probably would have been more successful (and saved myself a massive head ache from all the stress).
“What am I suppose to do to prepare for the convention?”
All right. So you’ve picked out your convention, you've done your research on the table and such...now what? Now you get to work on your products.
Your original comic. If you have a comic that you want to sell at the con, this should be your first step. You need to get your comic prepared to print; I’m not going to go into too much depth just on this. Don’t worry, there are a lot of books and sites that are made for this subject. The reason you need to get your books printed first is because this is the longest step. It can take a few days or a few months for your books to be ready to sell, so if you give yourself enough time, you’ll do fine. You need to get your pages ready for print, first look for print shops that print comics. Look at their prices, customer reviews, and see if they’ll print out a proof of your book. A proof allows you to fix any errors on your end, and it lets you get a good look at the printing quality of the service before you place a full order.
Make your prints. I suggest you have a healthy mix of fan art and original prints. One of the things people told me to do is have plenty of fan art prints, because people rarely buy original art. What happened to me was I had people stopping by my table and saying they liked the fan art prints, BUT they never bought them. My best selling prints were my original art prints. So it really depends what type of people go to the convention. I found this to be a relief because I absolutely DISLIKE doing fan art, so it was refreshing to see that people wanted original instead of mainstream. I’ll give tips on print places in the bottom portion of this article, so stay tuned! Also, make sure to check with your chosen con's guidelines concerning fanart. Many cons are restricting fanart due to legal issues.
Merchandise. Key chains, buttons, stickers, bookmarks, etc. All of these other items have to be made with a machine (if you're making them yourself), or you can get them made by a company that specializes in making these products. These items are CRUCIAL to your table! A lot of people go to conventions and don’t have a whole lot of money to spend, so they look for small items like key chains or stickers, so if you have a bunch of these little money makers on your table, it’s another tool to get people looking at your stuff and make some con goers happy because they were able to buy something with pocket change!
Business Cards. These are THE MOST important part to your table! People will want to check out more of your art or read your comic, so you need to have business cards to give out to your potential customers! The main things you need on your business cards are
• Name (First and Last)
• Website (if you have a webcomic, site, ect.)
• What you do (Comic artist, graphic designer, writer, ect)
Your Table Kit. Be prepared for any table catastrophe! This is a list of things you’ll need to have your table in perfect shape:
• Duct tape
• Cash Box
• Safety pins, S hooks
• String (or dental floss)
• Silver/Black Sharpies (for signing prints and books)
• Small first aid kit (Medicine, aspirin, cough drops)
• Mints, gum, breath freshener
• Notebook/index cards/paper
• Receipts(for tax records)
• Extra business cards
• Table cloths(2)
Boxes, Bins, Storage. You’re going to need to be able to transport all of your products and table materials to the convention safely so you don’t mess anything up. I HIGHLY recommend getting cheap plastic storage bins (which you can get at Walmart for like $5). Also get a plastic storage bin with drawers (preferably with 2+ drawers), you’ll need something to hold all of your receipts, paper work, art supplies etc. These storage bins and drawers are life savers for conventions. Also, these storage bins should be used to store all of your extra merchandise, table supplies, and book keeping for the conventions you attend.
“Alright I have all of my table stuff ready, NOW can I get an artist alley table?”
Hold on there, you little eager artist! You can’t just sign up for a table out of no where! Believe it or no.t there are legal matters you need to take care of first. I don’t know if this applies to ALL conventions in other countries or states. But here in California, you have to have a Seller’s permit to go to conventions, but the following info is VERY IMPORTANT if you plan to have a table in a Californian convention.
Temporary Seller's Permit: If this is your first convention, start off by getting an occasional/temporary sellers permit first. It only takes a few minutes to fill out, and all you have to do is take it to the nearest Board of Equalization Office (BOE). It takes about an hour for the BOE to process your permit and get your packet of papers ready for you, so take this time to get some lunch, or to do a little shopping, and then go pick up your packet of papers. The BOE counter person will explain to you where your permit info is in the packet, show you some of your booklets on the tax info and will tell you the deadline for you to turn in your tax work. Even if you don’t sell anything, you still need to fill out the tax information stating that you didn’t sell anything.
State-by-State BOE Considerations. If you’re from out of state and want to do a convention here in California, you can do all of this by snail mail, it’ll just take a little longer. Here is where you can print out your permit application form for a Californian sellers permit www.boe.ca.gov/pdf/boe400spa.p…. If you have nothing to do with California and don’t want to ever do a convention here, go online to your states BOE website, and if you don’t live in the USA, then you’ll have to find out the terms and permit registrations for your country.
The permit. When you get your sellers permit you will need to keep it with you at your table. I’m not saying that their will be any problems, but if by some random chance a government official shows up in the artist alley requesting everyone show their sellers permits, you won’t have to worry about getting in trouble. I had my commission prices sitting on my table and in the back of the sign holder I had my permit in site, so if this situation had happened to me, all I would have had to do was turn my sign around to show my permit. It’s the little things that can keep you from having a fun convention to having to pay fines or leaving the con.
Price + Tax. You need to include tax when your selling your merchandise. I know I know, you’re probably saying right now “WHAT?!?! WHY SHOULD THE GOVERNMENT GET MONEY FROM MY ART WORK???” Sadly, I can’t answer that question. But if you want to avoid any problems, I suggest collecting tax while selling your merchandise. This is where the receipts come into play. Before you go to the convention, make a chart with the total price, tax and item price, the total price will have the amount the customer will pay. The total price is the tax and item price added together. So your $7 print will actually cost $6.44 + the $0.56 tax, so your customer will be paying the $7 and not having to worry about change being involved, which means less math work on your part. Your chart would do this for all of your merchandise, and you will refer to it every time you write out a receipt for your customer.
Receipts. Those little pieces of paper that remind you of how much you just spent on whatever it is you just purchased. Most people just throw them away. What you as an artist should be doing is keeping them so you can refer back to them when it comes down to your tax paperwork. I HIGHLY suggest you give out receipts to your customers when they purchase something, even if it’s a small button. It's better to take the minute to write a receipt than to not fill one out and have problems with the tax people. All you need to do to fill out a receipt is to put the date, your name (or your companies name), the name of the item and the cost of the item(the cost without the tax), the total tax, and the total(the total cost of the print + the tax). If you made your chart like I suggested, you wont have to use a calculator too much. If someone buys multiple items all you do is write all of the items bought, their prices, and the added tax, then the total amount paid. See, this legal stuff isn’t TOO bad.
“Okay. Is there anything else I should know about?”
Here are some quick tips for your table set up:
Keep your cashbox/cash register out of sight! usually the best place is under your table.
Don’t put all of your merchandise on your table! Put out 1 of each item for people to see. You don’t want people to man handle all of your merchandise and find out 5/12 of your prints were damaged. Have 1 of each product on the table. I keep my prints in sheet protectors. If you have a book, keep a few on your table. Like one on a stand and one open for people to look in.
Protect your merchandise. KEEP AN EYE ON ALL OF YOUR STUFF! Keep all of your extra merchandise under your table or behind you. If you have items under your table, use your boxes and carrying cases as shields from people whom might try to crawl under your table to steal something (highly unlikely, but better safe than sorry).
Stay organized. Keep your stuff organized! Have your extra prints where you can reach them, your buttons where you can see them, and your books close at hand!
Strength in Numbers? Bring ONE friend to help you watch your table. Remember 3’s a crowd and more is just a disaster.
Break time! Take breaks occasionally! That’s why you bring a friend, they watch your stuff and handle sales while your gone to the bathroom or to look around.
Be mindful of the time! DO NOT spend more than 20 minutes away from your table! The longest I would ever stay away from my table was 5-10 minutes.
Leisure Time. Bring something to do, use the time when people aren’t stopping by your table to work on the next page of your comic, or to get some more art done. If your working on the next page to your comic, people will walk by once and wonder, ”What are they working on?” then they’ll continue to walk by and see the progress on your work, then they will most likely, buy your book, or a print!</blockquote>
“NOW CAN I GET A TABLE? PLEASE!”
Alright, alright! Go on, my little artists! Be free into the world of Artist Alleys and Conventions!
BUUUUUT, before you take the plunge into the scary Artist Alley world, here are some good reads that’ll help you out even more! I know they’ll help, cause they helped me!
Ehow.com: The Basics of Having an Artist Alley Table
How to Successfully Run an Art Table
Manga Tutorials: Artist Alley
Evolution of the Artist Alley Table - Part 2 - Part 3
Book Rec: How To Make Webcomics By: Brad Guigar, Dave Kellett, Scott Kurtz and Kris Straub - Published by Image Comics, Inc.
This book has an amazing chapter on comic conventions and artist alley tables. This book is like my second Bible
Thank you for reading, and I hope some of this is helpful to you!
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Art quality is pretty relative anyway, so you can get a table whenever you feel like you're ready. And don't feel bad if you don't get in. Even seasoned and pro artists get rejected from the AA.
I'm (hopefully) going to my first Comic Con ever (even as a guest) with my web-comics in April and I'm super excited. No, I haven't got all the legal stuff worked out yet, nor have I registered, but mine's fairly new and there are still some booths left, so I have SOME time.
Anyway, thank you SO MUCH for this! You have no idea how helpful it was, I truly appreciate it!!
By the way, thank you so so much for this! It's really cleared up many of my questions and I'm thankful of the links you provided as well.
P.S. I'm not entirely sure about California's laws as everything I do is for my own state, which is on the lenient side of things. But this (www.boe.ca.gov/sutax/faqseller… implies you need to apply for a temporary permit in Cali for even rummage/garage/yardsales! It seems to me after reading that you would need a temporary permit for specific cons (or a specific con in California) or a yearly permit if you do cons year round in California. Hope that helps!
FROM CALIFORNIA STATE BOARD OF EQUALIZATION (www.boe.ca.gov/sutax/faqseller…
Who must obtain a seller's permit?
You must obtain a seller's permit if you:
- Are engaged in business in California and
- Intend to sell or lease tangible personal property that would ordinarily be subject to sales tax if sold at retail.
The requirement to obtain a seller's permit applies to individuals as well as corporations, partnerships, and limited liability companies. Both wholesalers and retailers must apply for a permit.
If you do not hold a seller's permit and will make sales during temporary periods, such as Christmas tree sales and rummage sales, you must apply for a temporary seller's permit. Such permits are normally issued to selling operations lasting no longer than 90 days at one location.