So you followed my previous advice on getting ready for a con, knowing your audience and attending a con. Now that you’re going, it’s time to prepare you for something that I always found difficult: Networking.
Networking is leveraging your public appearance at a comic con to advance your professional goals. Some of you, being creatives like me, find even the idea of introducing yourself terrifying. I feel you. I really do. For me, I could never remember names. Half way through an introduction I would be struggling— Internally asking myself, “What was this dude’s name again? Dammit! I didn’t hear him! Oh, no! I forgot what he said! I look like an idiot!”
How to Get Over the Fear
For those of you already gregarious enough to do this, you might be okay to skip this part. As for the rest of you who like to pour over your computer while creating rather than interact with strangers— Let me try to guide you through the basics.
The good news is, you’re at a comic con and while you may not know it, most people want to talk to you. Now that’s not everyone, certainly, but most people do.
1: Fans certainly want to talk to you and many of them are wannabe creators themselves. If you’re behind the table doing a con, you’re several steps ahead of them.
2: Fellow creators are in the same boat as you. Some are struggling with the same fears you’re grappling while trying to spread the word of their work. Others will sit at their table, buried in their sketch book too afraid to talk while others, like myself now, are there to hustle, baby!
3: Con staff are often busy at the show, but believe me, they love to talk to creators. They may not have time and have to wait until the show is mostly over, but there’s a reason they organize cons. Volunteers love comics and the con and half the reason they volunteered was to meet people like you.
4: Store owners and comic book dealers are always looking for comics. Now some may be clearly niche operators, dealing in mostly Golden Age books or whatever. But make no mistake, these guys love the medium. Trust me, they wouldn’t be in the room and in this business if they didn’t.
See that? That’s like 90% of the people! They all want to talk to you, so don’t get all wrapped up in psyching yourself out. Yes, there are disinterested parties in the room. That’s fine, that’s to be expected, but don’t let their disinterest lead you to abandon a room full of people who are excited to see you.
Preparing for Networking
The prep is everything. Spending some time gathering the appropriate materials and practicing your pitch will cause any residual fear to dissipate. I often warm up in the car during the drive to the con in the morning. But the main thing you need to do— And I cannot stress this enough is decide what you are promoting.
Who are you and what do you do? My current introduction is: “I’m Tony and I write The Pineys.” You may want to modify this for fans. I have so much other material on my table currently, I actually usually say, “Hi, I’m Tony and these are the books I wrote.” It sounds simplistic, but I cannot tell you how many fans shoot back with, “Oh! You wrote all these?!” Whatever you do it, say it, sell it and be proud.
For fellow creators, I might modify my introduction. “Hi, I’m Tony. I’m a comic writer and author.” For the fans, I need to mention my current project, but for a fellow creator I’m looking for something different: work. Fellow creators might turn you on to other publishers or you may decide upon a collaboration of some kind. You’re leading with what you want from them. Your prompt might also get them to volunteer the information you need, so they might say back, “I’m Chad, I’m a penciller.” or “I’m Patricia, I’m the publisher for Never-Go-Broke Comics.”
For Con Staff, you probably want to lead with your biggest credit. “Hi, I’m Tony, I was a writer for The Simpsons comics.” From them, I want a free table— possibly a hotel room and some perks. Volunteers are basically fans, so you can treat them as such.
With the store owners and comic book dealers, you want to lead with what you’re potentially selling to them. Dropping a credit might help your sale, so that doesn’t hurt either. “Hi, I’m Tony. I’m the creator of Super Frat and I used to write for The Simpsons comics. Would you be interested in some signed copies for your store?”
Do Your Research
Cons put out material about who will be there and what they do. If you expect to be successful at networking, you should take a long hard look at this material before you attend. At big cons, you may have to prioritize who you’re going to target based on what you want to achieve.
For instance, if your goal is to get freelance work at a publisher, you want to target the publisher booths first. Artist Alley will be full of other freelancers like yourself, so they would drop in priority. Cross off the booths you’re not going to visit so you can streamline the process and network in the most efficient manner possible.
You need a business card or postcard with your contact info. Your professional name, phone number, website, email and possibly your Facebook and Twitter handles. These last two are optional. If you spend your spare time goofing around on a personal Facebook and/or Twitter account, you may not want to give your professional contacts easy access to these platforms. Additionally, only give out contact info you check on a regular basis and understand that your card may end up in the hands of a fanboy that might end up contacting you.
Ladies, the latter can become an issue for you. If you want to create a buffer and you’re worried the fanboys might start sending you dating invites, funnel your messages to email and don’t give out other details. Assuming that whatever you put on a card will go public. My trick is, I don’t put my phone number on anything. If a contact at the show seems legit, I will write it down for them and hand it to them personally on a note. If you have a business line, that’s a different story. (Although you may not want fellow creators bugging you for work so directly.)
Notepad and Pen
Always bring this. It’s just handy to have at the show.
When networking, it’s usually good to have a sample of your work in hand when you’re talking with someone. As a publisher, you might hand out samples. As an artist, you might have copies of your most recent samples. As a writer, you might have a copy of your most recent published work or script. If you’re going to carry a decent amount of material while you network on the con floor, it’s a good idea to carry some kind of professional-looking case. Also, throw a signing pen in the case for when you sell to the comic book store owners so you can sign things on the fly.
Brining An Associate
If you can get a friend to be your assistant for the day (and the con will usually give you two badges for a table) bring them. You should train them to run your table when you’re not there. Make sure they know the prices and that they are competent enough not to do something crazy at the table.
Your significant other is often a good choice, but only if they’re willing to be as professional as you. I’ve seen creators bring their S.O.’s to shows and, for the most part, they’re great. Sometimes, however, it’s a disaster. Being professional at a table is work and bringing work into your relationship can put a strain on it. If you think this is going to be a problem in any way, my advice is not to involve your S.O.
If your S.O. or friend is going to flake out, leave the table and not come back or leave the money unguarded to snap cosplay pics— Don’t bring them. A better choice might be a younger adult relative that’s interested in comics, but old enough to bear responsibility.
You can hire someone, but that’s another whole can of worms I don’t advise. Vetting an employee and paying them for the day is a lot of work and probably too much expense for a lone creator.
Ideally, if you have a creative team, one of the team can watch the table while you network. Back in the day, I was the writer/publisher while the artists were the artists/celebrity guests. When I was at the table, I would do the selling and the talking, but sometimes I would leave the artists in charge to go network.
Whoever you leave back at the table, make sure they text you if you’re needed back at the table for some reason. Communication is key. I went to the bathroom at Pittsburgh Comic Con and when I came back, I missed the editor at DC Comics who hired my artist friend to draw Batman on the spot. (Totally true story. The artist was Tommy Castillo.)
When to Network
Networking can happen at any time. You may have just arrived in the parking lot and strike up a conversation with vendors waiting to go inside. You might bump into a publisher in the snack bar line at the convention center. You might talk to fellow creators at your table. (Once, I got cornered in the bathroom!)
The larger cons have more events: parties, panels, special events, etc. Be prepared to network from the moment you arrive until you’re in the car on the way home. Arguably, networking might be the most important thing you do at a con. It can get you more freelance work and sell more copies than you sold all day at the con.
These are one-day events usually held in VFW halls, fire halls, high schools, hotels or wherever. Don’t expect much, but be prepared. At these sorts of shows you’ll be unlikely to run into big publishers (or any) but you’ll probably run into a few local comic book store owners and probably at least one or two fellow creators.
Either they are multi-day events in small venues or large one-day shows or possibly really well attended one-day shows. If they have a few panels, then yeah, I’d consider them at least a medium sized show.
Major cities and big name shows like NYCC, San Diego and Dragon Con. There are usually a dizzying array of ways to network and these shows are so large, networking probably is more important than sales and promotion. Gear up for this and be prepared.
It’s going to be different for each category of target depending on what you’re hoping to get. Just remember, always be groomed, relaxed and have zero expectations. Remember, people attend cons to do business and they don’t know you yet. You will get nothing from popping off and being insulted just because someone is too busy at the moment to talk to you. At worst, you might have to say, “Sorry. I’ll come back when you’re less busy.”
The Comic Book Dealers
Look at their product as you approach. What are they selling? If you see racks of Silver Age books, you’re probably wasting your time. You’re looking for people who buy new books since I assume you didn’t co-create something with Jack Kirby in the 60s.
In my experience, very few comic book dealers will buy new books because they don’t have a store. They buy collections online and/or buy new hot books to turnover for a profit. Most of them aren’t going to be interested in indie comics at all.
Maybe you have a nice chat and get a business card or a flyer, but it’s unlikely you’ll make any sales here unless they happen to specialize in a niche market that you’re also trying to capture. (Like strictly fantasy stuff or sci-fi.)
Comic Book Store Owners
Again, note the product. Some stores do specialize in vintage comics. These days, most store owners have very shallow order numbers for the rack. It’s hot books and the stuff they’ve skimmed from collections. The only difference is, they have an actual storefront. For sales, these guys are a top priority.
As I said in a previous column, the ideal time to hit them up is at the end of the show when they’re flush with cash. At a big show, this may not be possible with so many store owners, but do you best. Your pitch goes something like this:
“Hi, I’m Tony and I do a comic book called Jersey Devil, based on the local legend (or if I’m out of state “based on the famous folktale”). I have twelve issues and I can sell them to you at a 50% discount. I’m happy to sign them and I’d be interested in doing an event at your store.”
Now, hopefully, one of two things happens. Ideally he’s either interested and continues to the conversation or he’s not. If someone’s not interested, even if they’re rude, thank them for their time and move on. Don’t think about it, don’t beat yourself up over it, just move on. There are plenty of other fish in the sea.
Interested store owners will ask questions and will probably glance at your sample. If they offer to buy, make the sale immediately! Whatever they agree to, shake hands and say, “Okay, I’ll go back to my table right now and get your books.” Then, actually do it. Do not get distracted. Don’t run like a crazy person, but go back, sign the best looking books you have and go get your money. If they buy a lot, maybe you give them some premium item if you have one handy. If you have extra postcards, give him a small stack for the store.
Then return, collect your money and thank him. Thank him genuinely and appreciatively. Make sure you get a business card and if it doesn’t have his name, write his name on the back along with the amount of comics he just bought. Nice job! You made a sale!
Unfortunately, the reality is, it’s not always that easy. Many times, they’ll just put you off. “Come back later.” “Not now.” “Call me in two weeks.” Some people actually mean “no”, but they think they’re sparing your feelings by giving you hope. They’re worse than people that just say, “No thanks.”
Often you’ll get an employee who isn’t authorized to buy anything. That’s fine. Get the contact info and the name of the person to contact. Usually, that’s the owner, but in a bigger store they sometimes have a buyer or someone in charge of indie comics. You can also test the waters by asking, “Does your boss buy comics like this? Does he do signings?” If the guy is local to you, you definitely want to ask that question.
Worst case scenario, you get a new card that you can add to the contact list. If you get any info from the employee, write it on the back of the card immediately after thanking him and walking away from the booth. Trust me, unless you have some kind of steel trap mind, you won’t remember later.
Whatever happens, be nice, polite, friendly, cordial— You may not make a sale today, but hopefully you’re teeing up a sale for a later time or a signing or both. These guys are crucial, they order the books. Treat them like kings. You should also leave a postcard or whatever handout you’re giving away at the con. For the Webcomic Factory, sometimes I’d pass out a rate sheet for my add rates on the site to perspective store owners who might advertise. You might print out a similar handout with your discounts and minimum orders if you end up mailing the comics later. Bonus points if you also add the exact location of your table on the same information sheet.
To sum up, try to make a sale and exchange contact info.
These guys are other versions of you, so like you, they don’t have any money. It’s good to get to know your competition, especially if you’re open to collaborations. Sometimes freelancers are lucky enough to be asked, “Do you know any other guys we can hire?” If you’ve been a sweetheart, they might mention your name.
Sometimes other creators will lead to publishing deals. I met an artist named Manny Vega at a show and he eventually helped pave the way to get my fantasy comic book, The Travelers, published by Kenzer and Company. If I hadn’t been nice to Manny, it never would’ve happened.
Exchange contact info. The overall goal is to be known as “one of the nicest guys in comics”. I can tell you right now who has that rep: Rob Liefeld. The guy was one of the nicest people I’ve ever met at a con and I’m not even a fan of his art. You can absolutely see why Marvel would give him a gig.
If your goal is to get other freelance work, then publishers will be your priority at a con. Do your research ahead of time. Some publishers will have specific times for auditions or specific needs at the show. At the very least, you can introduce yourself and get contact info. It may also be possible to leave samples, but don’t be surprised if these get left behind in a box and then thrown into the trash.
It’s likely the editor you need to speak with either won’t be there or will be too busy with panels and other activities to speak with you. Your goal is to get that all important contact info. If you get their email, you can always follow up with your samples after the con (or later in your hotel room. What?! You didn’t bring your laptop or your files?! What were you thinking?!)
Getting the contact info on the floor of the con is probably the best you can hope for unless you can run into the publisher at a party or event later. Be nice, polite and professional. Act like a person other people would love to have as a coworker.
Most of these will not have anyone to network with because they are meant for fans. The only people in this room might be fellow freelancers. If you’re looking to network stay away. Stay far away. You have bigger fish to fry.
Large comic book conventions, like Dragon Con, San Diego and NYCC will have parties. Just like Hollywood, getting invited to the right ones could open the door to more work or a publishing deal. Sometimes you need the right credit or to know the right person. Tommy Castillo helped me get into a DC Comics party once or twice and my Simpsons credit opened many doors. When Tommy got his Batman gig, the doors opened wide for him. He went to some of the big parties and dinners with big comic book names.
Whatever the party, big or small, maintain your professionalism. You’re still at work. Don’t get drunk and don’t act like an a-hole. The quickest way to get yourself blacklisted is to commit some horrible faux pas at a party and have everyone talking about you the next day. I watched a writer openly cheat on his wife at a dinner— The same dinner he had brought his wife to the year before.
A party is going to be more laid back, so don’t go in aggressively with your samples. You can bring business cards or postcards, but don’t start handing them out. Here you’re going to have to be more nuanced. It’s going to be about having a talk and then at some point going, “Oh, hey, let me get your contact info. Here’s mine.”
If you’re bad at socializing, just try. I’m still pretty bad at it, but I’m much better at faking it. Unless you got an issue with drinking, get a beer and nurse it the rest of the party. People don’t like to drink alone. Personally, I like to set up shop on a couch and say something like, “Hey, I’m Tony. I do a book called the Pineys. What do you do?” You usually don’t have to ask too many questions to get people to launch into a long story about what they do. Then just wing it. Chances are, they like making comics as much as you do.
At Dragon Con, they have room parties at the massive host hotels. You can usually just drift in and out of them all night. At NYCC, you have to know about a party because it will usually be in a bar or restaurant several blocks away. In San Diego, it was a combination, but all of the parties were in walking distance. If you made friends with some of the veteran freelancers, hopefully they’ll mention one of the parties and where it will be.
Parties can be a noisy, chaotic mess. Keep your expectations low. You might not get any contact info. Remember, you’re just there to be nice to people so if they see you again at the con or at another party, they have a pleasant memory of the encounter. If you’re lucky, you’ll make friends with someone who can get you work or ask you to send in some samples in the near future.
For multi-day cons, going to dinner is an event in and of itself. At the end of the show, all the vendors and guests will be starving. Most of them haven’t eaten all day or just grabbed a quick bite to get through the day. For me, this was a time to go out to eat to reward myself for working the con all day. It can be pricey since you’ll probably be in a big city, so beware.
If you’re lucky, you’ll get invited by a group that’s going to dinner. Even if you’re trying to save money, go. You’re under no obligation to order half the menu. Order the cheapest thing and consider it an investment. Networking requires human interaction and you’ll get some at dinner.
Be on your best behavior! Pretend your at a formal dinner at a wedding or something, even if your cohorts are not. A group of me and some freelancers ended up in an extended group at a restaurant. One of our group of 16 suddenly announced he was massively allergic to shrimp after almost everyone at the table ordered a shrimp appetizer. He made a huge deal out of it and no, I have no idea why he came along. He waited until after we ordered to tell us too. After making a scene, he ended up spending the entire dinner sitting in the car.
Another time a famous artist friend led a group of people to a restaurant. He enjoyed having a massive entourage. Unfortunately, the group was so big (over 25) a few slipped out on the bill leaving the rest of us to pony up the dough.
Personally, I led a 35 person entourage into Philadelphia’s Chinatown where we took over the second floor of a restaurant. It went great because then the owners gave our table a free fish entrée for bringing him so much business! I looked like a high rollin’ comic king that day!
Whether or not you get any actual contact info depends on where you sit. Hopefully, you’ll be at a table near the person you want to have a talk. Publishers sometimes take talent out to dinner, so it’s not out of the question to get a free meal and a gig. Again, just be prepared. If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t— Well, better luck next time. At least you got in practice and at least people at the dinner thought you were a nice, polite person. You may be laying the ground work the next time you’re seen by the same publisher and/or freelancer.
The Host Hotel Bar
The big secret, in case you haven’t heard, is that the usual place to network at a multi-day con is at the host hotel’s bar. The bigger publishers and freelancers will usually stay in the host hotel since the company is paying for it and they don’t want to carry their stuff to and from the convention center very far. After you go get dinner, freshen up in your hotel room and then hit the bar.
The bar’s a bit fast and loose. Unlike a party, it’s going to be open to the general public so hopefully you know enough about the people you want to talk to so that you can find them in a crowd. When you’re on the con floor that day, if you run into a publisher or contact that is busy in that moment— You might be slick and say, “Well, maybe I’ll see you later. Will you be in the hotel bar tonight?”
Those of you who are good at talking about sports and drinking in a bar— Well, you’ll be in your element. If you’re not, this might be where your friend can shine. If you’re absolutely paralyzed at the thought of socializing, you might bring your sidekick that’s good at it. I worked with an artist who wasn’t a very good artist, but he was great at talking sports and drinking. I’d set him loose and follow him around in the bar while he got us in conversations with whatever bigwig comic guys happened to be there.
Again, don’t get drunk. Even if everyone else is getting hammered, do not follow them down that dark road. If someone presses you, just say, “I have to run the table tomorrow.” For some, it’s a challenge and maybe if you’re young you can get ripped and bounce back. I don’t recommend it.
Your goal here is the same as a party— Be nice and likable. That’s akin to, just don’t do anything horrible and you should be fine. The only time I was tempted was when my fiancé at the time got hit on by an actor who used to play a large, green hulking character in comics. Fortunately, it didn’t go past a few tense words.
Contact info is the goal, but don’t press for it. Everyone’s trying to relax in the hotel bar. You just want to make a good impression. Lots of times, no one wants to talk about comics. In fact, you may hear many conversations complaining about the comic industry, fans or the current gossip.
Obviously, the current state of major comic book companies continues to be very woke. I would expect the political side of the conversation to be extremely one-sided. Stay away from politics even if that’s not the case. If you wade into it, well, it’s your funeral.
I was at a party talking about comics with a group of guys that did a podcast and somehow we ended up talking about 9/11. The whole room turned on me as I am antiwar and the New Yorkers at this shindig were ready to burn down half the Middle East. The height of this disaster was when a Korean War vet interrupted us all to tell a tearful story of how he shot a North Korean trapped in barbed wire at the DMZ to put him out of his misery. I told my friends I was ready to go home after that and we got the Hell out of there. No contact info for me!
When networking, the rule is simple: Act like a person you would want to hire, work with or buy their comics. Do your research and come prepared to give out and collect contact info. Bring a pen, take notes and pay attention. With any luck, you’ll network your way to a big sale, a freelance gig or a publishing deal. Who knows? If you really work it, maybe all three!
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