The 5 Best (and Worst) Conventions of 2016

December 20, 2016

Conventions are the life blood of any artist. They allow us to meet new fans and connection with existing ones. This year saw me make 45 appearances overall, and exhibit at 37 conventions. I thought it would be a good idea to do a recap of all my conventions for anybody crazy enough to attend as many conventions as me, and pull out my favorites and least favorites so you can add or remove them from your own list for 2017.

These are completely subjective and I know some people who hate the conventions I pulled out as my favorites and maybe even liked the conventions that I didn’t. Across the board, I think that these conventions, even the one I didn’t like, were generally well run and the organizers were nice. A lot of this is just personal preference, and honestly where I made the most, and least, money, because this is how I pay my bills at the end of the day. If I’m not making money at a convention, I need to be doing something else.

These top five conventions were not only the ones I made the most money but where I had the most exceptional experience of 2016. I felt like the attendees wanted me to be at the convention, and the organizers treated me like a human being instead of just a booth space.

Before I get into the convention list, I should tell you about my expectation at a convention. I expect to make 3x my booth costs before I even consider doing a convention again. If I can 3x my booth costs I can break even for the convention day and maybe buy some street tacos for dinner.

I expect to 10x my booth costs at a convention. If I can 10x my booth costs, I will buy a lifetime pass to a convention on the spot because I know I can not only pay for next year, but I can pay my mortgage with sales from the convention.

Make sense? The let’s get to it.

The five best and worst conventions I attended this year. This is a long one, but it’s packed with value. Not only do I talk about why a convention worked. I talk about what I did to make it successful (or why it was a failure) and who would be a good fit to table at each convention. These are in no particular order.

BEST CONVENTIONS OF 2016

  1. Bakersfield Comic Con & Bakersfield Mini— November

Steve Wyatt knows how to put on a convention. He keeps the tables cheap for artists and brings in people who want to buy independent books. I’ve been to three of his Bakersfield conventions and the Pasadena convention he throws with Scott Zillner (more on him later), and I made a ton of money and had a ton of fun every time. I think part of the reason his co are so good is because he’s the president of CAPS (Comic Art Professional Society), and CAPS is full of amazing independent artists like Lonnie Millsap and Travis Hanson, along with being founded by Sergio Aragones. You don’t get much more indie than that, and their fans are filled with people who love and buy indie books, which means they buy other indie books. Additionally, the fans truly appreciate you making the trip to see them. This convention, and all Steve’s conventions, is a hidden gem.

What I did to make this convention successful: I drove up with my buddy and we found the cheapest hotel in the city. Then, we split an artist table for $80 instead of a vendor booth and the person next to us ended up not showing up, so we got an additional table for free which helped our exposure.

Who this convention would be good for: Independent artists, craft people, and comic book creators.

  1. Wondercon— March (used to be on Easter weekend)

This is the first convention I ever did that I made money hand over fist. Previously, I made some money at conventions, but Wondercon showed me that you can make real money and a ton of it at a convention. Not only that, but you can also have a really good time. Wondercon is full of small press people and fans who really loving talking about indie comics. Some of my best friends in the comic world came from this convention. It’s put on by the people who own San Diego Comic-Con, so it’s meticulously run every single time. Even when it moved to Los Angeles for a year because of a remodel at the Anaheim Convention Center, this convention was smooth as silk. Everybody can make money at Wondercon, from indie artists to people who sell toys. That’s why it sells out so quickly. If you don’t sign up at the convention, and I mean on Friday or Saturday at the convention, you probably won’t get a table the following year. At least not an artist alley or small press table.

What I did to make this convention successful: I bought a $300 small press booth (they also have a $250 artist alley option) and brought one of my artists to help with booth and parking costs. Then, I asked to be set up on a corner and brought my own table to that I could get the advantage of the main row traffic. That gave me an additional table on the main thoroughfare which helped boost traffic exponentially.

Who this convention would be good for: Everybody.

  1. Palm Springs Comic Con— November

I had some issues with Palm Springs Comic Con when I first learned about them. The organizer and I even had words over email. However, we were able to squash our issues and I was blown away by the quality of the convention. I will admit that part of my enthusiasm comes from the fact I moderated 4 panels at the convention, including spotlight panels with Irwin Yablans (creator of Halloween) and Lincoln Castellanos (who plays Tobias on Fear the Walking Dead), but even without those things this small convention made a huge impression on me. The people were super friendly, the venue was great (though small), and the people were there to buy things. I mean seriously, the amount of money I made at this convention was insane. However, it wouldn’t have made my top list just because of money. It was also because the founding team was on point and delivered a great experience for vendor and fans alike, all while keeping costs down. I probably wouldn’t travel to this convention if I had to fly, but if you are driving distance it’s definitely worth it.

What I did to make this convention successful: I split a table and a room with my friend and made sure to sit on four panels to drive traffic to my booth. I made $225 directly after my panels and another $125 throughout the rest of the con. My total booth costs were $40 for half an artist booth, and then another $50 for a hotel room for the night. We drove up Saturday morning instead of Friday night to keep the costs down even more.

Who this convention would be good for: Indie artists, creators, and craft makers. There weren’t a ton of people so I don’t know how good the convention was for other vendors who sell other people’s work, but if you sell your own stuff you should do well.

  1. San Diego Comic-Con— July

This is the Mecca of comic book and geek culture conventions, and it’s one of my most fun convention s all year. Small press comic book creators and artists from around the world fly in for this convention, but for me it’s only a short two-hour drive. San Diego Comic-Con feels like four conventions in one. There is the big, monstrous pop culture convention, the toy convention, the artist conventions, and the small press/independent press convention. Small press doesn’t get a ton of traffic comparatively to the rest of the convention, but everybody that comes through your row has self-selected as a fan for indie books, and in a room of 160,000 people, even if 20% roll by your table that’s a lot of customers. Many creators complain that they don’t make money at San Diego, and I agree it’s a tough convention because there’s so much to see. However, if you can be aggressive in getting people to your table then you can do really well there, especially if you can accept the fact that attendees are there for an experience. If you can provide them with one, then you have a very good chance of winning their money at this convention.

What I did to make this convention successful: I applied and was accepted into a $500 small press booth. Other booths at the convention can range from $900 (exhibitor booth) to almost $3000 and beyond. I have friends that pay over $5000 for a booth at San Diego. That is my entire convention budget for the year. I try to keep it as lean as possible at conventions, so if there is a cheaper booth option I qualify for, then I will take it. I also brought down one of my authors who sat at my table all weekend and split the cost of gas, booth, and parking.

Who this convention would be good for: Anybody who can be aggressive with their sales and get people to their table. San Diego is a volume game. You have to talk to a lot of people to make sales.

  1. Stan Lee’s Los Angeles Comic Con— Halloween Weekend (October)

Los Angeles Comic Con isn’t a perfect convention, but it does something I’ve never seen at any other big convention. It listens to its exhibitors. They used to arrange their table in pods of four instead of in rows, keep the main stage right behind artists so they couldn’t talk to customers, and separate their main stage and side stages which split the audience. Artists complained about all of that, and LACC actually listened. While it’s still not a flawless experience, man I loved this convention. There’s a vibe and an energy that you don’t get at many big convention s, and it felt like a unique experience from most other conventions I attend. They’ve worked hard to cultivate their special flavor and make it distinct. It took several years, but I think they are closer than ever. While this convention doesn’t sell out that quickly, I recommend booking an artist table or small press table early so you can get the spot you want.

What I did to make this convention successful: I booked a small press booth for $250, and then split the booth with another creator to lower the cost of the table. Then, I asked them specifically to be on an aisle as close to the main walkway as possible. Finally, I booked two panels which drove in over $100 in additional sales for the convention immediately, and another $100 over the rest of the convention.

Who this convention would be good for: Almost anybody should be able to make money at this convention, but like SDCC it’s a numbers game. You have to be aggressive at bringing customers to your table because people have a lot to see and do.

As you can see, the most common thing I do to make convention s more successful is split booths, share driving time, and split a room with people when I travel. My goal is to make costs as low as possible when I walk in the door so that I can have the greatest chance of success in the long run.

Because of that strategy, the total costs for these booths, parking, and gas wound up being about $1300 while total revenue was $10225. That’s almost a 10x return on my investment. Based on what we talked about earlier, I would buy a lifetime pass to all these cons today.

Now let’s talk about the flip side. These are the five worst cons I did this year. Again, these are subjective. I saw other people kill at some of these conventions, but they didn’t work for me. Sometimes you have to try a new convention, or a new type of convention, in order to see if it works for you. I did rather well at both horror conventions and anime conventions, both of which I tried for the first time this year. So you never know. That’s why I will do almost any convention once. However, when you have that attitude it often blows up in your face. You just hope that when it does you are can minimize the damage.

WORST CONVENTIONS OF 2016

  1. Art walks of Any Kind — Throughout the Year

I tried a few art walks this year and didn’t do well at any of them. These art walks shouldn’t be confused with gallery conventions, which I love. I’m specifically talking about things like Downtown LA Art Walk, First Fridays, or Glendale Art Walk. There are places people go to have a good time and look at stuff, and not buy. My books are especially dark and depressing, and that’s not what somebody wants to buy on their fun night out with the family. My books are also high-end experiences costing mostly $30+, and that didn’t work for this crowd who wanted to buy cheap things if they were willing to buy at all.

How bad was it? I spent a total of $75 on tables at art walks this year and only made $100, but more importantly everybody looked at me like I was crazy for being there. I don’t like going where I’m not appreciated. Again, this isn’t about the organizers. It’s about the attendees. I did meet some really cool people at these conventions, but it wasn’t the norm.

Who this might work for: Artists selling cheap prints and people trying to build a mailing list.

  1. Robo Toy Fest— Throughout the year

This is one of Scott Zillner’s conventions, and it was a bit of a disaster for me. Now, this specific bad experience I don’t blame on Scott. It was actually a well-run convention with good attendance. Honestly, my books have no robots in them, and I do not sell toys, so I assumed I would do badly. I didn’t think I would do quite as badly as I did though. Throughout the day I got tons of sideways looks as people wondered what a guy who sells monster things was doing at a convention for robots and toys. It was just a bad fit, but it wasn’t because of the con. If you are the right fit, then you could kill at this convention.

How bad was it? I paid $80 for a table and made $140 back, but most of that was in one sale from a guy that bought almost my entire table at once. I think I made a total of 5 sales all day, and worse I didn’t talk to many people, which is how I judge success.

Who this might work for: People that sell robots, toys, or both. That’s it.

  1. Los Angeles Festival of Books— April

This convention was miserable because of cost, placement, and weather. It’s the trifecta of awful. First, they placed me on a grassy knoll facing in from the walkway. There was almost zero foot traffic. Then, it rained for the first time in the history of the event. Finally, it cost $1100 for a booth, and then I had to buy insurance on top of that. Luckily, I split the table with another person so my outlay of cost was only $550, but with only $900 in revenue that is not nearly enough to justify revisiting this con.

How bad was it? Well, it rained for the first time in the history of the event, and it’s an outdoor event. So almost nobody showed up during the rainstorm. Plus, I sell books which don’t react very well to rain. Then, it cost a ton of money to get into this convention and I barely broke even, and then there was no foot traffic because of bad placement and rain. It was all bad.

Who this might work for: Publishers not looking for a ton of sales, but just want to meet and interact with a ton of people. If that’s the case, though, make sure to speak with the person making the placements and get something on a main walkway. Otherwise, all that money you spent will be in vain.

  1. Holiday Con— December

One thing I learned this year was never exhibit at a convention in December. They are always miserable for sales and the attendance is poor. Holiday con was the worst of these cons. Vendors were breaking down at 1 pm, and the floor was completely clear by 5 pm, even though the convention was supposed to go until 9 pm. This convention was so bad the organizer had to issue full refunds to all vendors. I actually like the organizer for this event too, because at least he acknowledged his shortcomings. He didn’t have to do that. Still, it was a complete waste of time. It didn’t help that they only had two months to promote the thing and the website wasn’t even up until October. Still, the experience was bad and that’s what I’m grading on.

How bad was it? Well, the vendor floor was completely empty at 5 pm, even though the convention went until 9 pm. There was literally nobody through the door, except for the Magic tournament in over 2 hours. At least my $250 table fee was refunded. Otherwise, I would have been massively in the hole on this one since I only made $120 all day.

Who this convention might work for: Nobody, without a lot more promotion.

  1. La Cosplay Con— June

I was torn about doing this con, because cosplayers very rarely buy books when they are in costume, but they are also such rabid fans they spend money making costumes. So….I really didn’t know what to think about this con. I was hoping there would be some cosplay fans who didn’t dress up and would be willing to buy books. This convention felt like an anime convention, which I love and do well at, and I didn’t do horribly at this convention. It was just very poorly attended. More importantly, it wasn’t that much fun and that was because there just weren’t enough people. Even if I’m not selling, if I can talk about geek stuff with people then I’m cool. But when the floor is dead, it’s tough to even have a good time doing that.

How bad was it? There were hours when nobody passed my booth. The people that passed by my booth were cool, but getting them to my booth was impossible. I am also a little bit pissed that their site said the convention closed at 11 pm, but they closed the vendor booths at 7 pm. It felt like a bit of a bait and switch. I paid $80 for this convention and made $200 all day.

Who this might work for: People that sell anime and cosplay accessories, if they can improve their traffic.

As you can see, the most common thing that makes a convention bad is attendance. If you don’t have attendance, you can’t make sales.

In total, I paid $785 to attend these five conventions that netted me $1460 in total revenue. That’s not even a 2x return for my money, which makes these five conventions a bad investment. More importantly, they weren’t very fun to attend. I wasn’t around a ton of people who did small press books and often I was the only person like me in the whole convention. On top of that, the people weren’t enthusiastic about me being there, which is devastating for somebody when they are paying to exhibit their wares.

I hope this helps you decide what cons to attend this year. I know these were very specific to southern California, but I think there are similarities with the good and bad conventions that can be used to decide about any convention anywhere in the country.

This the second to last convention before Christmas, and the second to last non-interview convention of 2016. With the new year upon us, I am considering changing the convention to a weekly convention instead of a twice-weekly convention, and focusing more on interviews which seems to be what you guys are most excited about and what gets the most downloads. However, I would love to hear what you think. Leave a comment below and let me know.

If you want to get me a gift for Christmas, you could also go to iTunes to rate, review, and subscribe to my show today. We’ve been stuck at 17 reviews for a while now and I would love to wake up on Christmas and see a dozen or so more.

And if you want to go nuts, go and get the commercial free version of the first 100 episodes of our show. That’s every hard lesson, ranterlude, and mini-season of the show, all for just $20 by clicking here.

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2 comments on “The 5 Best (and Worst) Conventions of 2016

  1. Just a heads up LA Cosplay Con announced a few months back that they were shutting the doors, and there would be no year 4.