Convention Thoughts and Decisions

The Bright Moments:

Getting to visit with our friends Jim Zub and Stacy King, whom we don’t see nearly often enough. Our table was right next to theirs, which gave us lots of hours to talk and laugh.

The ten year old girl who came to our table and looked through Howard’s sketch book. I was able to talk to her about drawing every day and about the scribbled page where Howard was just experimenting with new pens. It was such a brief interaction, but I could tell that this young artist was absorbing information to take home and use.

Another little girl about the same age who listened to Howard talk about art. Her eyes alight with possibility and dreams. Her dad was taking her from table to table to talk to all the artists.

Reconnecting with friends who come find our table and take time to visit with us.

The moments when fans seek us out to tells us that they love Schlock. Whether or not they buy things at the booth, they give us energy and remind us of why we do the things that we do. Those moments are treasures.

Getting to sit on a panel with six other creative people and talk about how to make space in our lives for creativity. It is always amazing to hear the different approaches that people take and the ways in which creative processes are similar. Then after the panel, having an audience member come up and thank us. I could see in her eyes that something said in the panel had given her hope and a new drive to create.

Talking with the convention center sound guy in one of the panel rooms. He’s spent fifteen years working at the Salt Palace convention center. He’s seen all sorts of shows. He told me that the comic cons are in his top three favorite shows because of the positive energy that the crowds bring. He loves seeing the creative energy and the inclusiveness. He loves seeing people realize that they are not alone. Listening to him talk reminded me that these shows are amazing and joyous gifts for many people. It was a reminder that I very much needed on a morning when I was feeling convention burned out.

Seeing creative energy and passion on display in all the costumes that walk past. It is always fascinating to watch costuming trends. Two years ago Loki was everywhere. This year he’s not. This year I can’t turn around without seeing Rey or Kylo Ren. Star Wars in general is much more popular. You can pretty much predict what costumes you’ll see based on which movies have been popular in the past year. But then there are some costumes that are evergreen. I always see Dorothy with Toto. There are always Tardis dresses. Browncoats are out in force. I saw a Merida that looked like she had just stepped out of the movie Brave, and it was the girl’s real hair. In front of my booth I watch people thrilled to see each other’s costumes and pause to take pictures.

The things that require decisions:

In between these bright moments are long hours of sitting at the table while people walk by, barely glancing at our books. It gives me lots of time to think about how each convention has it’s own created culture and feel. At GenCon people come for the games. They play games, they buy games, they talk games. At LTUE people are there to learn. They learn writing, art, and other creativity. This show, Salt Lake Comic Con, people come for the spectacle. They want to see the costumes, see the stars, get pictures, get autographs. This means that in the vendor hall, people are looking, not buying.

There is nothing wrong with any of these show focuses, but we have to guard our time and energy. This means we should attend the shows that feed our creativity and avoid the ones that drain us. It wears me out to sit at a vendor table for long hours during a show where most people are looking, but not buying. And most of the people are looking for something that is not us, so they walk by our table as if we’re invisible. Being stuck at the table means I can’t wander and go see things myself. I can’t sit in the green room to visit with other panelists and creators. I can’t hide and re-charge.

We’ve given it several years and experimented with several formats for our table, but this year I’ve come to the conclusion that the emotional costs of running a table outweigh the benefits. If we do Salt Lake Comic Con again, we’ll just do panels.

This is an important key to being a successful creative professional: recognize what marketing strategies work for you and which ones don’t. I have friends who avoid conventions altogether. I know people who shine at school visits or book signings. I have friends who swear by blog tours and others who say they’re useless. There are people who are running booths at this show and selling piles of things. There are people who love standing at a table and talking up their wares. There are people who love vending at this show. I’m not one of them, and that is fine.

*Note: This entire blog post was written while sitting at my booth with people walking past. This is a measure of how slow things are for us at this show. I’m very grateful that our costs are so low that I don’t have any financial regrets about this experience.

*Addendum note, added 3/30/16: I did the math. We earned $6 per hour for our time running the booth. That is not nearly enough money to pay for the inevitable energy drain where I have to fight off the fear that the disinterest of the comic con crowd is a harbinger that everyone everywhere has begun to loose interest, thus we are doomed.