Surviving the Artist Alley
By Rio

Ever heard or been to an Artist Alley in anime conventions? The area full of enterprising people who sell and promote their items? You can join them too! The single most greatest thing about Artist Alley's is that anyone can set up a table. Even minors can set up a table as long as they get their parents permission! In this article, I'll be walking through what to expect and what you should consider doing if you ever want to become one of the Artist Alley attendees. Let's get started!

1. Am I Ready for the Artist Alley?
If you're proud of your artwork, you've got folks who love it, and you believe it can sell, then by George, you're ready for the Artist Alley! Of course, I suggest you make sure you're:

a) not drunk or high on any substances,
b) are getting honest feedback about your artwork from others, and
c) you are being honest with your abilities and whether folks will actually spend hard-earned cash on your stuff.

If you pass these, read on! If not, consider doing other things aside from selling artwork like making stationary, buttons, costume-making, and other arts-and-crafts items. Just make sure you don't violate the Artist Alley rules about these home-made items. Some cons have a policy against items that may compete with the Dealer's - and they may require you to sign up for a Dealer table instead! (Can you say "Ka-ching"?!)

Aside from selling artwork, you can use this opportunity to promote yourself! This is a wonderful time if you have a website you want to push such as a deviantART account where you sell prints or like myself, where I just wanted to create exposure for this website, All in all, you have to consider your goal for setting up at the Artist Alley. Once you have that established, everything else is easy.

2. Deciding Where to Go
There are two types of cons you can go to: a big convention like Otakon or a smaller con such as Llamacon, a one-day event. Each has their advantages and disadvantages which is listed below. Review and decide for yourself which one fits you!

Pro's of Attending...
Big Conventions
-A lot of foot traffic = More chance of selling many pieces
-Likelier chance to meet tons of people at one go
-You can be as loud as you want to bring attention to your table
-Get more feedback from a variety of folks
Small Conventions
-Quieter setting
-More intimate and clear conversations instead of trying talk above the noise at larger cons
-Good way to get your feet wet if you're nervous about being new at the Artist Alley
-Less competition
-Price for a table is affordable (read: cheap)
Con's of Attending...
Big Conventions
-A LOT of competition
-Not for the faint-hearted or insecure artist
-Pay big money for a table (for example: AnimeNEXT 2006 tables = $50, not including admission price)
-Higher expectation to sell your stuff (you need to cover at least part of your expenses after all...)
Small Conventions
-Not as many people will drop by your table compared to bigger cons = not as much sales, feedback, or promotion for you
-You must keep the chatter down due to quieter environment
-May not be able to accomodate you if you need something like being near an outlet
-Artist Alley area most likely will be small and tight

As you may already know, Artist Alley tables always goes out fast. If you've decided on which type of convention to attend, reserve your table ASAP! There is a chance some folks will not show up and you can snag a table then and there but why risk it? Gaurantee yourself a spot and register early. Don't forget: you also have to pay for admission fees along with table fees. If you're tight on cash, I suggest you share your table with another person particularly if you're going to a bigger convention. Costs adds up. Read on to find out where:

3. Getting Ready - Essentials
What I have listed below are things that you need to bring with you and why. If you don't agree with me, it's your choice but consider it thoroughly before you decide not to bring it along.

a. Drawing Materials - this includes pencil, inking pens, eraser, and paper (perferably thick or quality paper like cardstock). You can use these items to make more artwork to sell, to pass the time, or if you want to and you get offers - make commissioned artwork. It's best to bring a clicky pencil along with you but if you really prefer the regular No.2 pencil, don't forget to bring a pencil sharpener. And yes, Drawing Materials also includes markers, colored pencils, and other materials.

b. Water Bottle - sitting at a table for long periods of time tends to leave you feeling dry at the mouth. Also likely to happen if you've been talking for long periods of time. Not to mention water is a sure-fire way to quench that hunger, at least temporarily...

c. Table Banner - there's nothing that tells folks what you are all about when you have a table banner, particularly if they recognise you! It could even pique their interest and make them drop by out of curiosity or be a quick way to get them to remember your website address. Case in point: was my table banner. Include some artwork on it if you can. Several folks stopped by just to take a closer look at the banner because of them! ^_^

d. Business Cards or Flyers - these are must have's! It's a good way for people just stopping by or buyers to remember who you are, and how they can reach you again at a later time. If you have a flyer, try to make it colorful or at least interesting so when people pass by, they'll stop if your flyer catches their attention.

e. Table Signs - nothing stops people more than a sign that says "Free Stuff!". Make some signs so people don't have to guess or ask if something is free to take, how much something costs, if you take commissions, or if you have a special buy-something-get-a-free-sketch deal. Of course, too many signs and people won't know where to look so make signs that count!

f. Freebies - we all love freebies and con-goer's are no exception. Aside from your free flyer or business cards, make something else free whether it's a buy-something, get something else for free deal or print-outs of your drawings. If you're going to do something like print-outs, though, make sure you put your name or website on it and don't make them the same as what you are selling. Also, you can make it a smaller, lesser-quality print than the original drawing if you want. Just make sure that if you have freebies that you have enough! For example, I had over 80 printouts each day and they all were taken before the end of the day except for Sunday which left me with about several printouts left.

g. Pain Reliever - Comes in handy should you happen to get a migraine. Take no chances and bring some along. Sitting at your table will become a chore rather than a pleasure if you've got a headache! Plus folks won't be as receptive to you if you're cross like a bear.

h. Tape, Safety Pins, or Paperclips - You'll need to bring one of these along to put up your table banner. Make sure you ask if the table will come skirted (cloth that covers legs) or not. If the table is skirted, you can use safety pins or paperclips to hold it up. You can also bring along tape but make sure you get good tape or else your banner may come down after X amount of people stands in front of your table.

i. Change - You MUST bring change! Not lose-change as in dimes and nickles but dollar change! Most people will have only $20 bills so make sure you can give them proper change by bringing lots of $10's, $5's, and singles. If you're going to a big convention, bring at least $100 dollars worth of change which I almost used all of when I attended AnimeNEXT. If you're going to a smaller con, it's safer to say you won't need as much at hand. Worse comes to worse, ask the other tables or any friends to break your $20's to the smaller denominations.

4. Getting Ready - Extra Stuff
These are not necessary but they are there as an option for you to take with you....

a. Envelopes - some people like to protect their newly bought artwork and requests envelopes or something similar to protect it with. Bring some along and you're bound to get bonus points for it. I personally brought some along, thankfully, and I gave them for free along with their purchase. Don't go crazy and buy a box full of envelopes. Only a handful of people actually asked for them. The rest put their purchases in their bookbag or convention bag.

b. Sales Receipts - keep track of what you're selling and how much you made by using this and should your customer request it, you have something legit-looking to give them rather than a slip of paper. If you're going to get this, buy only one booklet, or if you feel like you'll sell out, two, but no more.

c. Vinyl Table Banner - instead of a plain paper table banner, you can go all out and get a vinyl table banner. Beware though, these babies cost a pretty penny! Shop around and you may find someone who'll do it for less than $100.

d. Acrylic or Metal Displays - use these to save space or make your table look much better than your neighbors with these acrylic (clear plastic) or metal displays. If you're going to get one or more of these hot little things, make sure it or all of them fit the table, don't crowd out the rest of your things, and they display things in upward-layers, like stadium seating. The point of these is to show-off as much artwork as possible. If you get something that holds items like a box - then getting one is moot.

e. Decorations - anything from stand-ups, posters, japanese-like banners on bamboo-poles, lights, and even poles enclosing your table so you can clip your artwork on them. If you know where to get them, how to make them, and/or have the money to buy them... then go for it if you want.

f. Art Binder - if you're doing commissions, this is a good way to let people see your body of work. Make sure you offer a multitude of styles, techniques, mediums, of course - your best works. To put your artwork into the binder, you can get sheet protectors at your local office store. I recommend you get the crystal clear version which truly shows off your work instead of clouding it with an opaque sheet protector.

5. Getting Ready - What You're Selling or Promoting
Whatever you do, do NOT do things last minute. If you do things last minute, make sure you have at least a reasonable time to do it like several weeks rather than a week in advance. It takes time to get things, to print them out, to make them, and so forth. Business cards take about one month or more from initial order to fulfillment when you get them. Flyers, double-sided, took me four hours to print - and that's only for 50 copies! If you're coloring anything by hand or on the computer, those take time too. Add all the time spent on drawing, or CGing X amount of artwork and it all adds up to a heck of a lot of time! So prepare in advance and if you could, you can even promote what you'll have at the table.

When you're selling something, you want to present the best of your work. Folks will scrutinize your work and nothing is stopping them to go to another table or make them lay down money to buy your things. Take the time to do things right the first time around or at least the second time you do it. For example, if you're making printed copies of your CGed works, make sure you do a test print first! Each failed print-out is a waste of ink and at about $35 a pop for color-ink and around $25 for a black&white cartridge - getting it right sooner is better. Speaking of ink cartridges, you may have to buy multiple amounts of those if you're doing massive amounts of printing.

Whether you're making artwork or craft items, provide people with choices! Not everyone will want artwork of the latest anime series. Your best bet is to offer a variety from classic popular works, current popular series, game art, chibi's, group pics, solitary pics, both chibi and "normal mode" drawings, your own art style, original art style, CG, pencils, watercolors, markers, and anything else you can think of. For some of your things, you may consider matting them. This offers a cleaner look to the item plus it's ready to frame.

Last but not least, let's talk prices. Prices are very tricky to set. Some people will put more value onto something than others. But once you set a price, that doesn't mean you can't change it though don't undervalue yourself either! Here's some prices you can start with:

B&W = $2-3 on cardstock or 4x6 gloss or matte photo paper
Color = $3-8 or more depending on quality and how long you spent on making it. For example: simple one character portrait = $3-5, full background + character = $8 or more.

Commissions, you can ask for more, such as $6-10 for pencils, $11-17 for inked work, and $18 and up for marker, color pencils, and watercolor mediums, in that order. If you want, you can charge extra for extra characters and backgrounds. If you're doing commissions, though, make sure you have the time to actually do them before you accept. Make sure to ask your customer if you can mail the artwork to them, if they can pick it up the next day or later the same day. It also helps if you decide beforehand if you'll accept commissions or not so you can save yoruself from bringing unnecessary drawing materials.

6. At the Artist Alley
Hopefully, you've got a plan on how to set up your table. I divided my table into two sections. One section had the free items; MangaTutorials flyer and print-outs; then a binder full of this site's tutorials and on the other end, my artwork that was for sale.

Behind the binder and freebie stacks, I had some room to set up my drawing materials so I could keep myself busy and/or get more artwork done to replace sold artwork. Make sure you get everything you need ready and at hand in case you need them. For example, have your extra freebie's at easy-reach to replenish your supply or have your change ready and available so your customer doesn't become impatient.

Don't forget to socialize and say "hello" to passerby's and your neighbors. You never know who you're going to meet at conventions and keeping a happy demeanor is one way to make a good impression. It doesn't hurt to make contacts and form new friendships so as much as you can, give your flyer or business card after you've talked to someone. But if they're not interested, don't push it or take it personally.

All in all, when you're actually at your table - have fun, take pictures of cosplayers if you're allowed to in the Artist Alley, hob-nob with people, and remember to keep your energy up! As interesting a sight and commotion you'll garner if you pass out on the Artist Alley floor, drink plenty of fluids and eat some snacks to keep yourself going.

7. In the End
At the end of the day, go out and celebrate somewhere or somehow! You deserve a treat for all the hard work you put into this one or three-day weekend. After this though, you need to finish some other minor details such as:

a. Take a tally of all your sales. This will tell you what sold the most and what did not. From this data, you can adjust for future conventions more accurately. Not to mention, it's good to know who much you raked in! ;D

b. Tell the world what happened! Say something about it in your website, blog, deviantArt account, myspace, or your favorite forum(s). You can even go to the conventions forum and talk about it. This allows folks who visited you to say "hello", keep in touch with you and vice versa.

c. Take inventory. As you put everything away, take inventory of all the things you have left. You may have missed jotting something down during the rush of a busy convention. Make sure you put them away in a safe place...

After all, you may just be bit by the Artist Alley bug and become a yearly attendee! ^_^