Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Artist or Author's Alley Booth Tips


Here's some advice on running a booth from someone who has done so once and therefore can now be considered an expert. These are general tips that are a supplement to some of the more common things you'll see in other advice for artist alleys.

My table with my lovely assistant, Sir William
  • Have fun! Working a table has been some of the most fun I've ever had a con. Talk to people, for reasons other than trying to get them to buy your stuff. Take someone with you so that you can take breaks and walk around, and go to panels after you close your table down.
  • Set up your table before you go. Ask how big the tables are going to be and make sure everything fits.  I had to leave some books behind, because they would have taken up too much space on the table.
  • Get a Pay Pal credit card reader. If you're a merchant, it's likely you already use Pay Pal for commissions or your Etsy store. Being able to take credit cards saved me 4 sales I wouldn't have made otherwise.
  • Rolling bags are your friends. Stuff's heavy, and you have to haul it from your car.


  • Use catchy wording. The two items that drew most of the attention at our tables were the Say No to Sparkles poster, and the Awesome like a Possum book. The simple wording and the graphic images pulled people over to our tables.


  • Clear labeling. We had almost no families stopping to look at the kids books the first day. My biggest display was of my prints, and I think they assumed the rest of my table was also prints. That night I went home and made a Kid's books sign to hang above my booth (we were lucky to have metal walls behind us to hang stuff on). The next day I could see it catching people's eyes, and they'd come over. (Yes it's really bad, I made it at midnight after working a booth for 8 hours, but it worked.)
  • Bring your own tablecloth. Some cons have a tablecloth already on the table, but you should bring your own, so that you stand out from those that haven't brought their own. Also, keeping a consistent branding is vital for a professional look.
  • Keep a log of what you sell, and if you're interested, the demographic of people you're selling to. This helps you figure out how well you did, and helps with book keeping afterward.
  • Have your free stuff clearly marked. 



  • End caps. Put something facing the direction people are coming from, so they see it from a little ways away, and they don't have to be standing right at your table to get the impact of your display.



  • Price SOMETHING at a dollar (or have something catchy to yell at people). I had miniature prints that were 2 dollars, and I wasn't doing well, so I lowered them to 1. After that, when someone walked by and looked interested, I could holler, "The little ones are a dollar!" and people would get all excited and come over. Then sometimes they bought the bigger ones instead.
  • Some people say to have a binder of your work for people to flip through. I had one on my table the first day and not a single person touched it. I found it better to one of each of my prints out. If you have too many to put on the table, scale it back. Pick your best ones, and put them out there.


  • Set your prices and have them listed, even if you're willing to barter with people. At a booth, I was interested in this old copy of Nichelle Nichols's book, and I asked the guy how much it was, and he clearly sized me up, and decided how much he should charge me. It made me very uncomfortable, and then when I expressed interest in another item, he put me on the spot and asked if I would still want to get the biography, and I didn't really have an answer. If I hadn't have desperately wanted the old magazine with the super weird illustration of Spock with his arm around Darth Vader and a Grey I would have just walked away.
    • What you should do is say something like, "Oh, that's 10, but you can have it for 8 if you still want the other book, too." It's a positive statement, and it makes the customer feel good, and also like they can also still say no.



  • Don't make off color jokes. I handed a girl a postcard I was giving away and I said, "The first taste is free," and I clearly made her really uncomfortable. She didn't come back to my booth, and I felt like a heel. In case you're really not sure what's inappropriate, here's a handy list:
    • drugs (as I learned)
    • how sexy someone is
    • how incorrect their costume is
    • how ugly someone else at the con is
    • quizzing someone about how much they know about a subject
    • Really just mean jokes in general
    • killing people

  • Good things to say:
    • Complement something they're wearing
    • ask them about the con
    • are they having fun?
    • what's been their favorite panel?
    • did they get a picture with the TARDIS?
    • did they see R2D2 around here?
    • Tell them about your buy three get one free deal!


  • Things to bring:
    • scissors
    • tape
    • a notebook (I used mine to write down people's information and to take notes on the business cards I was given)
    • a sonic screwdriver (and a real one)
    • food for lunch, dinner, and plenty of snacks (nothing kills profits like dropping 10 bucks on lunch from the cafeteria)



























    • something to read or do (you will be there for 12 hours, three days in a row, and it makes some people uncomfortable if you stare at them from all the way down the hall until they're right next to your booth, though I have no idea why [I do know why, its creepy. Don't do it.])

    • pillows for you to sit on, those hard plastic or metal chairs they give you are not made to sit on for 8 hours.


For those of you that have stuck with me this far, thanks for reading my longwinded advice. Here's some numbers, so you know what you can expect at your own con.


It's hard to know how to price stuff, and I had a hard time finding out how well other people do at these things. So I'm going to tell you what I did and how I did, with numbers, real numbers, so you can make your own decisions based on my experience.

My con was in Birmingham Alabama, and it was it's second year of operation. Before the con they estimated about 3,000 people would come. I have not heard about the actual final count. I was in the author's section because of my children's books.

How many things I sold:

  • 32 mini prints (post card size)
  • 5 8x10
  • 2 11x17
  • 13 buttons
  • 14 children's books
The size of the con, your table's location, and your engagement techniqes are going to effect your sales.

Good Luck!

Some more good advice:

Take the Starving out of the Starving Artist
Artist Alley Beginner Guide
Big Truck's Massive list of things to think about
Pricing Advice

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