Artist Alley ! First of all, artist alley depends on what kind of convention you attend. Artist alley in an anime convention in someways are different from a comic convention artist alley – though there are crossovers.
Comic book artist alley by nature relate heavily toward comic books so the work tends to be more geared towards that. Unlike anime artist alley, you probably won’t see too many PVC frames with prints of Dr. Who or FF hanging up. In general, they have large portfolios of work you can flip through and often they might be working on a commission (more on that later. Not saying ALL comic book artist alley is like that but in general yes. Many will be independent artists with their own book they are promoting but you’ll see well-known comic book artists there as well available for commission. There’s usually not as much .. what I call 3D art… plushies, 8-bit characters, bookmarks, jewelry, hats with ears, keychains, scarves, stickers, etc. These can be found more readily at anime artist alley.
Also in Artist Alley, there’ll be self-published doujinshi, comics and manga but not as much as you’ll see at an anime con. When I think of anime artist alley, I think of fan art. I think of rows of PVC-piped tables filled with prints of MLP, Back Butler, Hetalia, Dr. Who, whatever is popular at that time.
The artist alley we’ll be talking about today relates more to anime cons than comic book cons but the advice can apply to both. Also note I am kinda of a special case. My experience is from just selling one item – my book in Artist Alley but over the years I had a chance to hang out with a lot of artists and heard a lot of stories. If this topic sounds familiar, that is because I wrote about it back in 2010 and strangely enough, I posted it Nov. 24, 2010 …. almost exactly two years ago !
(More after the jump)
First of all, jinyjinjin made two helpful videos about anime artist alley.
Here’s a video from Malfoy129 talking about her experience + advice for AA (Artist Alley). I do have to note although she talks about having free food at your table, a lot of cons may not allow this so double check with the con.
When I started out doing Artist Alley, I found this guide *extremely helpful*. For me, Fanime 2010 was the first artist alley I ever done. I had a great time hanging out, talking to people and it definitely grew on me as one of my favorite places to go to at a con. For the next two years I travel all over the United States – mostly anime conventions, and thus I spend the most time in artist alley there. Technically, I’ve only done artist alley at two comic book convention. Alternative Press Expo and Long Beach Comic Con. Though I visited other comic cons – mostly San Diego Comic Con, New York Comic Con and WonderCon. I also visited DragonCon artist alley but that is different from an anime and a comic book artist alley.
My suggestion is to start off at a smaller con to test out what you have. What you sell really depends on you and your ability. If you’re great with doing fan art – do that ! If you are better at making charms – do that ! Just make sure you have a wide range of price points – i.e items that are less expensive to more expensive. I didn’t follow that rule. I just had one price and one item – a book. lol !
Starting off at a smaller con is helpful as it gets you into the alley without as much stress as the bigger cons plus the cost will be much lower and if the con is in your backyard, your cost is pretty much artist alley costs. This way you can get a taste of it and figure out if you want to keep doing it.
A good idea is to scout an artist alley at a con before doing artist alley. Look at what people have for sale, look at their prices. Figure out how yours would fit in. I would advise doing something that others aren’t doing. I got an artist alley friend who does fan art badges. I know few folks who do that. Check out how others are displaying their wares and plan accordingly.
I would also suggest splitting a table your first time. It helps break down the cost of doing the alley. When I started, I used to draw a decent size crowd so having a full table helped me out. Full tables are usually between 6 ft. to 10 ft. long – depending on the con. Now that I’ve done it for a few years, and people have seen me enough times, I’ve moved to splitting tables – having a half space is enough for me now. I’ve seen people even do artist alley in a 2 ft space. My across-the-aisle neighbor at Anime Boston had the tiniest space I’ve seen but she used it to her max with PVC pipes and all.
First of all, make sure you read all the directions listed for Artist Alley. Some cons may have different rules for fan art so make sure you read up on that. Some limit contest or giveaways so make sure you read everything.
At some point the convention will release artist alley tables. In most cases, it is first come, first serve so once you find out the info (usually posted in the forum of the con), mark it on your calendar and get ready to be by the computer when the time arrives.
Some cons do a lottery system where they open artist alley registration for a certain period of time and your chances of getting in depends on luck.
Find out what kind of artist alley it is – meaning is the AA in a room where doors can be locked at the end of the night or is it in an open area like a hallway and you have to take your merchandise home. Keeping the PVC pipes and stands will probably be alright.
The good thing about rooms means you don’t have to drag your stuff back to your hotel and there’s decent hours. On the other side, the good thing about open areas is you can pretty much pick your own hours and hey, you might get some sales from the rave crowds. I think for me, Anime Boston artist alley and MetroCon artist alley are the longest I’ve ever done at a convention.
You will have to get a temporary business license if you are going to sell so make sure you have enough time to research how to get one. Checking on forums are a great way to see how other people are doing it. You do have to pay taxes on what you sell. You can either choose to include tax into the price or put tax on top of the price. I usually include it to make it easier to deal with. At the end of the con, I calculate the total sold, report it to the correct government agency and write them a check for the tax.
I can’t tell you how many prints or bookmarks or merchandise to bring – it all depends. I’ve talked to a lot of artist alley people and there’s no way you can always predict what will happen. Just bring enough just in case.
Bring a lockbox with you to keep your cash and make sure you have enough for change. I prefer pricing your work in easy to break numbers like $5, $10, $15, $20. Doing $7 means you’ll have to make more change. I personally dislike carrying amount large amounts of change so I like to keep it within the $5 breakdown. Always carry the lockbox with you unless you have someone watching your table. Be aware of your money at all times. I know one artist alley person who put the lockbox in her packpack – went to the bathroom and forgot the backpack. It was gone by the time she got back
(My Artist Alley table at Anime Expo 2010)
Bring a receipt book in case they ask for receipt. Bring food and water because you may not be able to leave your table. Many of y’all know I bring tons of Cliff Bars with me. I have a hotel breakfast – i.e whatever free hotel breakfast it is – eat Clif bars during the day and have a decent dinner. I usually bring a large bottle of water which in most cons there are water stations so you can always refill. If you make friends with your neighbors, they can watch your table briefly while you hit the bathroom.
Make eye contact with everyone. Just give them a nod and go back to what you’re doing. I usually give people some time to look through my book before I start telling them what the book is all about. I usually stand in most cases because I want to seem approachable. Not sure why I do it – maybe because every job I’ve done pretty much stand – I worked at a movie theater, worked at a video store, worked at a grocery store, I guess I’m used to standing all the time for the most part.
A help thing to help is Square. Square attaches to your phone through the audio plug part and allows you to swipe credit cards. Believe me, my first year I used Paypal (you can pay extra $30 a month to accept credit cards) and I had to punch in every single number. The next year, I used Square and fell in love. I know Paypal now has their own credit card reader too. For Square, they take 2.75% off every swipe for their fees. Not sure what Paypal is so check their site ! Be aware that you may have trouble running credit cards depending on location of artist alley in the convention center/hotel. New York Comic Con is notorious terrible for cell phone usage. I’ve thought about buying a portable wifi hotspot but not willing to spend the extra money to get one yet.
Have business cards to give out. They may not buy anything the first time but perhaps they’ll go to your etsy page or website and buy something there. Make sure to list which con you’ll be in the future on your site so people can find out and check you out at the next con. Sometimes I have a mailing list for people to write their email on.
Finally, have fun ! Talk to your neighbors, talk to people walking by. Enjoy yourself
I think I covered everything though I’m sure I probably forgot something. Any questions, post it in the comments below. I’ll see everyone at the cons next year !