Live Episode: How to Stand Out At Big Shows with Mary Bellamy, Ted Washington, Doug Dlin, Thom Zahler, Val Hochberg, Nick Doan, Jim Hillin, Josh Howard, and Mike Purcell

July 26, 2016

Being accepted into San Diego Comic-Con as an exhibitor is a huge thrill. Especially in the curated area of small press, acceptance is truly a form of validation. It means that you are worthy of representing Comic-Con and that your work was one of the best from a worldwide pool of applicants.

It’s a real thrill that lasts about ten seconds.

That thrill is immediately replaced by one horrible thought: “Oh my god that’s a lot of money!” Between buying enough merchandise, getting your banners ready, booking flights, shipping, reserving a hotel room, and spending money on food at the show you are looking at thousands of dollars in spending just to get through the show!

The average attendee spends $2000+ just to get to the convention. You can imagine that exhibitors pay way more.

It’s a daunting amount of money and nobody wants to piss it away. But how do you ensure you can make back your costs at a show with thousands of other booths, most of which have way more money than you, and a constant stream of distractions to prevent people from ever finding you?

I interviewed nine indie creators to find out how they stand out at a show as big as San Diego, and how you can too. All of their advice is pure gold. Here are their answers, edited for clarity.

“At San Diego you really gotta have a unique flare to your work. Since I don’t do princess stuff the first thing I blurt out is ‘hey, do you like books for girls that aren’t about princesses?’ That makes everyone stop. When you’ve got a funny tagline about your books it stops people and gets them to laugh, then they come over and look at your table.”

It also helps to have a giant display of what you are doing. If you have plush dolls you have to get them out there so everyone can see them. The more you interact with people the more likely they will buy your stuff.”

Mary Bellamy from, @zorilita on Twitter

“I stand out about being simplistic. My work looks very simple. It’s mostly black and white. When you go a large shows it’s all color, color, color everywhere. When you get to my stuff it’s like whoa, no color. It’s amazing how that pops.”

Ted Washington from Puna Press, @tedwa on Twitter

“The best you can do sometimes is to communicate directly with people as they pass by in ways that they don’t expect, preferably nonoffensive ways, but that get them laughing and interested. If they are hit by the unexpected that gets their attention.”

Doug Dlin from Antarctic Press, @antarcticpress on Twitter

“I’m very tall so that helps. Really I just try to compete. I try to look as professional as I can with as cheap a setup as I can because my margins are so tight. But a lot of it is kind of like dating. You just make eye contact and smile. You don’t creep on people. That goes a long way. Have your pitch ready. Be professional. The setup is not as important as presenting yourself professionally. Don’t be reading your phone all the time. Engage with your audience while they are around because that’s why you are here.”

Thom Zahler from, @thomzahler on Twitter

“I try to display as much cuteness as possible so you can see all of it. I try to have a lot of price points for whatever people can afford.”

Val Hochberg from, @kickgirl on Twitter

“Don’t sit down. Be active. Engage the people. You’ll do better just by looking somebody in the eye and saying hello than sitting back and doodling.

Nick Doan from Monster Elementary, @monsterelem on Twitter

“We have these great big white fluffy bunnies at the booth. People stop and look at that and say what the hell? Stuff like that.”

Jim Hillin from Wireheads, @wireheads on Twitter

“I make sure I have a strong booth presence, something eye-catching like a banner and a good table display. At bigger cons, I have a bigger table so that helps, but I mostly rely on my fans and my table to catch people’s eye.”

Josh Howard from Dead @ 17, @joshuahoward on Twitter

“Make yourself stand out. Interact with the fans. You see a lot of people sitting back behind the table not interacting. They will just sit there and let people go by. You have to get their attention.”

Mike Purcell from Bare Bones Studios, Bare Bones Studios on Facebook

As a person who cons all the time, this advice is gold. Each of these interviewees had a unique booth presence that caught my eye. They also interacted with fans. The simple act of engaging with fans will set you apart from the pack.

That’s so important for indies. We have to be out engaging with people. When nobody knows who you are it’s critical to press the flesh with as many people as possible.

People at cons are looking for cool stuff, but more importantly they are looking for cool people. If you can stand out from the crowd with a good booth presence, an engaging personality, and a cool book, you will go far to building your fan base.

Let me end with my piece of advice to stand out at big cons: Sign people up for your mailing list.

This may not help you at the con you are currently at, but it will help you at every con you attend in the future.

If you don’t have a mailing list, you can’t reach out the next time you are in town. When you have a mailing list, you will be able to tell people about your booth every year, and every year your traffic will grow.

You will stand out because you will be in the hearts and minds of your ideal fan. Every con-goer has their list of must-buys for a con, and if you haven’t made it onto that list the first year, you might by year three…but only if you keep in contact with the people that dig your work.

Russell Nohelty is a publisher, writer, and consultant. He runs the publishing company Wannabe Press ( and hosts the twice-weekly podcast The Business of Art ( If you are ready to take your career to the next level, book a free 30-minute strategy call today!

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3 comments on “Live Episode: How to Stand Out At Big Shows with Mary Bellamy, Ted Washington, Doug Dlin, Thom Zahler, Val Hochberg, Nick Doan, Jim Hillin, Josh Howard, and Mike Purcell

  1. Ah…. I misspelled my own name XD Zorilita is the correct spelling.

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