So you’re a struggling artist that can’t seem to make any money at a comic-con. Well, if you’ve been reading my columns, hopefully, we’ve turned that boat around. But just like you, I wanted to make a little cash at these things at least so they would pay for themselves. I found that it requires a lot of self-discipline and dedication to make intelligent decisions to have that happen. So get ready, cheapies! Here are the Top 20 Ways To Save Money At A Con!
20: Pack a Lunch: I’ve said it before, convention food is outrageously priced, and we all know it. If you’re buying lunch at a comic-con, you’re just wasting money. And, if you eat like a garbage can like yours truly, it will cost you close to twenty bucks. Not only that, the time you waste standing in line or leaving the convention to go get it will disrupt things right in the middle of the day.
By packing food, you can have plenty of food and beverages on hand, so you don’t have to leave the table and get precisely what you want to eat for the lowest price. You may have to sneak it in (some convention centers are strict about this). Just make space in a comic book box, and no one will be the wiser.
19: Couch Surf: Got a friend in a city where you’re doing a show? Call ’em up and see if you can crash on their couch for the weekend. I did this for years, and it’s not only cost-effective, but you get to visit with your friend simultaneously. Buying my friend dinner at the end of the weekend as a thank you is a helluva lot cheaper than a hotel room for two or three days.
Depending on your friend, they may be happy to let you pack your lunch from their house. Or, at the very least, if you bring a bunch of stuff to pack your lunch, you’ll have access to a fridge to store it all. Additionally, driving to your friend’s house the night before puts you near the comic-con, so your drive on the day is short. And, depending on the location of the con and your friend, you might have a free place to park.
18: Share a Hotel Room: It’s a bit tricky. Unless the offer to share one comes from Donna D’Errico, I’m too old for this. But for you young ‘uns that don’t mind sharing a bed or crashing on the floor— Go for it. Half price or a third or a quarter of the rate— That saves you bigly. Convention attendees do this all the time. Two couples, two beds, one room— That’s a good time for all, hopefully.
However, make sure you know who you’re crashing with, especially if you’re the one using the credit card to rent the damned thing. If you bunk with some dummy that opens up a $20 bottle of water and Toblerone, make sure he pays up at the end of the weekend, or you’ll be on the hook. Likewise, if you sense your temporary roommates are new to hotels, ensure they understand that the room service and the phone calls are not complimentary.
17: Stay Out of Town: If you’re attending a big comic-con like San Diego, Dragon Con, or NYCC, staying in a hotel outside the city can save you money. Hotels typically jack up their prices during a holiday or big event. Atlanta does this during Dragon Con, so I stay in Marietta nearby and drive in daily. Instead of $300 a night, I pay less than a hundred, but I have to pay for parking. Still, I save a bundle. The only thing cheaper is getting a publisher to pay your way.
Scope the hotels and find the best price ahead of time. You don’t need all the frills. A clean, cheap motel won’t have a complimentary breakfast, but so what? You need a place to sleep and shower— What are you? The Pharoah of Egypt?
16: Carpool: Ideally, if you can find another creator going to the same show and ride with him, all it will cost you is gas money. You might be at the mercy of his schedule or if he decides to leave early after having a lousy weekend— Again, vet your comrades. You don’t want to be stuck on a four-hour ride home with a crazy artist ranting about how no one understood his “vision.”
15: Target Local Cons: For my projects, The Pineys and Jersey Devil, South Jersey is where a roam. I do better at local events because my product is known, so it saves me a bundle on driving, and there’s no hotel involved. If you broadened your search outside the comic-con scene, you’d be surprised at some events you could sell comics. To name a few:
Arts and Craft Shows: There are tons of these, especially when the weather gets nice. Like a comic-con, they sometimes charge for a spot, but the smaller ones generally do not. Never hurts to call. Most of these are outside.
Food Truck Events: Same deal, only there will be lots of food.
Comic Book Store Events: Some of the better and bigger comic book stores will have sale events. Stay in the loop with local stores that do this because they usually love having a few creators on hand during the sale.
Event Tie-ins: Because I do projects based on local folklore, I can breeze into events that tie into that. However, you may have to research and call to learn about them. My projects also work great for Halloween, so at any event connected to spooky stuff, I will go to sell my books. Your mileage may vary, depending on the subject matter of your comics but do some research. Worst case scenario— Even if your comic doesn’t tie into anything, you can play up the “local comic creator” angle. People like to support local artists.
14: Ask the Con for Things: It never hurts to ask. Comic conventions are often hectic, crazy things. Organizers are worried about dozens of different variables that could make the entire event come crashing down. As a result, they sometimes forget to tell you that they bought pizza for the guests or that they have parking validation that gives you a significant discount.
When you sign up and are assured a spot, ask: Where do I park? What does it cost? Can you provide me with a hotel room? Do I get extra passes for inside the comic-con? Will there be any food? Is there dinner? Do you provide a per diem?
These questions would be mainly for more significant cons where you have a status as a guest, but you never know. For example, I went to a first-time con in Houston thrown by a fanboy who became a millionaire. He paid for everything, it was great!
13: Move Your Own Merchandise: Larger cons in big cities are held in convention centers. These are almost always union-run shops, meaning you must use union workers to load and unload your merchandise. Creators are often immune to this because they don’t have all that much inventory but check with the comic-con.
At San Diego Comic-Con, I helped run one of the Kenzerco tables. The previous year, they had brought the entire setup and went through the loading dock, and it cost a fortune. The following year, we shipped boxes via UPS to one of the Kenzerco associates that lived near San Diego. We then used a hand truck from the parking lot to get the comics on the floor. It was more work and hassle, but a helluva lot cheaper.
You can also UPS stuff to the hotel ahead of you. Hotels are usually great about receiving packages and holding them for guests. Unless you can jam your hand truck into your carry-on, ship it with the comics, and it’ll be there waiting for you. Or you can do like most creators and use your suitcase.
12: Scope Out Amenities: Hotels offer a variety of extras because they are used to corporate executives holding meetings where you’re staying. These extras are sometimes provided to all the guests, but only if you ask. On the top of that list: complimentary breakfast!
Now, if you stay in the cheapest motel in the area, you aren’t going to get a complimentary breakfast. However, one year my friends stayed at a hotel (I think La Quinta) with complimentary breakfast. So I walked over to meet them and accidentally ate breakfast with them. (Oops! Waffles!)
Another time, we crammed six people in a high-end hotel room with a breakfast buffet. I assure you, the hotel did not make money on breakfast that buffet weekend. We descended like a plague of locusts, but so what. Breakfast is a cheap meal anyway. Feel free to take cream cheese and a bagel for the road. You can save it for your lunch.
Hampton Inn has a whole breakfast room open 24/7 for guests. And while you can’t get the full breakfast all day, it usually has a bowl of fruit and a bunch of other snacks just sitting there unguarded. Just sayin’.
The front desk will also know where all the local spots are to eat if you have to pay for a few meals. They also know where everything is near the hotel, so if you need to hit an office or art supply place, they’ll be able to tell you even if your smartphone lets you down.
You never know what a hotel is going to offer. I stayed in a place in San Francisco that had umbrellas for the guests. That could be useful if you’re hand-trucking your comics to the con and a storm comes up.
11: Share a Table: Tables are not always free to creators, so splitting the costs helps your bottom line. Again, make sure you vet your table partner and know how much stuff you’re both going to bring. Often, people bail on coming to the comic-con, so you can sometimes turn a half-space into a whole one.
It’s also nice to have a fellow creator around that knows the lay of the land so you can run to the bathroom while he keeps the sales going. So make sure you team up with someone that’s read my columns and isn’t going to sit like a lump the whole time.
10: Guest Status > Vendor Status: Guest status is almost always better than vendor status. Vendors must pay for tables, although they tend to get better and bigger spaces. Guest status guarantees you will be mentioned in the promotional material because that’s the whole damned point of having you there. While fans shop at vendors, they look for guests they like. Additionally, more often than not, the amenities I’ve mentioned, courtesy of the comic-con, will be extended fully to guests and only partially to the vendors. Lesson: Be a guest whenever possible.
9: Attend Con Parties: Free food, free booze, and networking. Did you have someplace better to be? Again, the bigger the comic-con, the more likely the party will be bigger. If you’re super frugal, you’ve scored a complimentary breakfast, taken your bagel for lunch, and then eaten dinner at one of these parties. Dragon Con puts out a really decent spread for the guests. Dex Con and Philly Sci-Fi Con also fed me well in the past.
Sometimes the guests are invited to a special dinner for guests, depending on the show. You may have to hobnob with the VIP pass holders, but they’re fans, so it’s another opportunity to sell your project (not literally, but verbally) and get them excited about stopping by your table the next day.
I’m talking a lot about food, but at a three-day comic-con, it really adds up. If you purchased the nine meals, that’s roughly $150 for the weekend. It might be tasty, but it’s also bye-bye profits.
8: Be Prepared to Sell: Recently, I attended Geek Fest in Woodbury Heights, NJ. It was a great show, but I learned about it late. I couldn’t get a table, but they let me do my panel about the Jersey Devil. I brought my books anyway.
On the way in, I noticed I parked in space 50. Then I went inside and did my talk to a very receptive crowd. In the end, I announced, “I don’t have a table today, but I parked in space 50 if anyone wants to buy a book.” At first, one of the fans said they were interested, and she followed me to my car. When I turned around, I realized I had been leading six or seven people to the parking lot, and I ended up selling a bunch of books. As one of the characters in The Pineys always says, “Prepare for any eventuality!”
7: Hardcore Tip: Crash Out Wherever: Okay, this is the ultimate hardcore cheapskate tip, and it is not for everyone. In fact, I’ve never done it myself, but I’ve seen others do it. Sorta came close one year, but the tip is this: Don’t get a hotel room, and crash wherever.
I’ve met people who slept in their cars, inside empty comic-con event rooms, and nearby parks. It can be dangerous, if not illegal depending on the city or event. Additionally, you may need to borrow a shower and a bathroom, but if you’re friends with creators, they may just let you in their hotel room to get cleaned up. Or you can bring enough deodorant and cologne to keep your stink at bay.
One year, in San Diego, I only had a hotel room for one night, and my publisher and I were set to crash in the back of his pickup. At the last minute, we talked our way into a room full of Australian comic book creators, so we got to sleep inside. It was a bit rough because we were on the floor. Never again for me, but we did save money.
6: Drive Each Day: Depending on the condition of your car, driving may be your best bet. I just did the Ocean City Comic-Con and drove home 40 minutes on both days. It cost me gas and tolls, but I saved on a hotel, and I was able to pack my lunch on both days. You also may have other reasons, like you have kids or pets or you don’t like sleeping in hotel rooms. Ideally, if you can carpool as well, this is ideal.
5: Hardcore Tip: Cook in the Hotel Room: I’ve only seen fellow creators do this a couple of times. They bring a hot plate and a whole cooler of raw ingredients and/or stuff to heat up. It works. It’s cheaper, and it’s just a bigger hassle. If you decide to go this route, be extremely careful where you put the hot plate. Scalding something in the hotel room will definitely negate any savings, so make sure it’s on a surface that won’t be damaged by heat. Better yet, bring a heat-resistant tarp to set the hot plate on when you use it. Additionally, don’t go crazy. Make something simple, and then unplug the plate to cool down when finished.
4: Take the Back Roads/Public Transport: I know the back roads of South Jersey pretty well by this point, so sometimes I avoid the Atlantic City Expressway and take the back way. It adds twenty minutes to my travel time, but I save seven bucks in tolls. This might not be possible for some cons, but it depends upon your area.
If you have a limited amount of merchandise or an elaborate setup to bring, consider taking public transport. The bus takes forever, but it’s not so bad if you have a good train system. Depends upon the city. Additionally, it will save you on parking, but beware of the spiking crime these days.
3: Live Within Your Means: Back in the day, I did cons, but I also acted like I was on vacation. I went out to eat and party, then wondered where all the profits had gone. These days, I try to come home with profit from every event. I’ve told comic creators they have to publish within their means, but they also have to live within it too. Blowing your money on sushi and beer at every show is a smart business move if you’re making thousands of dollars. Feel free to reward yourself after a particularly good event, but don’t do it at every show. More often than not, you’re just blowing your profit margin.
2: Go on Money Day: Saturday is usually money day. Friday tends to be a setup day and a day where only the hardcore fans show up. Sunday has a similar vibe, and Saturday tends to be the primary day at any show. If you’re on a budget, some creators do Saturday. Treat it like a one-day show, tell your fans you’re only there for the day, and work the show as hard as you can.
From a sales point of view, it can help you. You can impress upon fans that you’re only there for the day, and some will be more likely to buy because they’re unlikely to see you later on Saturday. Essentially, it depends upon the comic-con. I’ve done ones where Friday was killer, the rest of the weekend was dead, and the ones where Sunday saved the whole weekend. More often than not, Saturday will be money. If I was going to pick only one day, that would be the one.
1: Don’t Blow Your Profits at the Con: Remember when I said, “Live within your means?” Well, that also means not buying a bunch of comic books, t-shirts, and other stuff you don’t need. I know, it’s tempting. The first time I attended Jersey Devil Fest, I wanted to buy out every vendor there, but I resisted because, well— I’m poor. If you’re poor, like me, don’t buy frivolous con stuff you know you shouldn’t buy.
Some creators may press you to buy, and you feel bad for them. Resist the temptation to buy something to help someone. If you can’t afford it, it’s like saving a drowning man by letting him stand on your shoulders. Same thing for swapping with creators— If you have a limited inventory, don’t just make a trade to be nice. You do have the option to respectfully say, “No, thanks.”
I’ve watched creators over the years blow money that we both knew they should not have spent. You have to treat con stuff like any other purchase. If you can afford it, you can buy it, but if you’re struggling, be sensible and don’t purchase. You’re supposed to be running a small business. Please don’t fall into the vacation trap as I did.
Conclusion: You can make money at comic cons, but only if you don’t dig yourself a hole you can’t escape. By being frugal and applying self-discipline, you not only save money but also keeps yourself constantly on top of your costs. When running a small business, you must always control your costs.
That’s it for me, fanboys. See you at the con.
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