Artist Alley 101: A Practical and Fun Guide to Selling Your Art at Conventions
Hello everyone! After being a member of several artist alleys for many years, I thought I should share my knowledge with you in a practical and (hopefully) fun guide!
This is meant to be a good start for those who have never been a part of an artist alley before, as well as a nice refresher to those of you who are veterans of alleys everywhere! I will try to be as detailed as possible while making the information easy to reference and read through!
I will be submitting this in parts with links to the previous and next parts. I also am working on getting more pictures up so you can have visual references as well!
Hope you enjoy, and feedback is definitely appreciated! Let me know your thoughts, reactions, some of your own alley stories, as well as suggestions I can add! I definitely haven't thought of everything, so if you have new ideas to share, I'd love to hear them!
Let's get started!
ARTIST ALLEY 101
The Basics/Applying for a Table
Here are things you should consider well before applying for a table, both as a novice and as an experienced seller.
What am I expecting to get out of the artist alley? What are my goals?
You may want to have a table for many different reasons. Do you want to polish your business skills and sell your loot for as much profit as you can handle? Do you want to promote your original work or your next-big-hit web comic and generate a devout following? Do you just want to have a good time sharing table space with your friends, no matter if your stuff sells or not? Reflect on what you want to get out of your artist alley experience.
Is my art "sellable"? Will it do well? Is that important for me?
I put quotations under the word sellable because I know some of you out there are thinking to yourselves, "Is my art good enough to sell?" Instead of phrasing it like that, think of it more as "Do I want to give my work a try in the artist alley market and see what happens?" Just because your work isn't perfect and amazing like some folks doesn't mean there isn't an audience out there that won't absolutely love the work you do! Sometimes it's not the product itself, but the idea behind it that gets people to hop on the bandwagon and buy it!
And hey, it may be that you aren't the least bit concerned about how well your work sells. Your goal could be to simply promote, promote, promote! And that's a great place to be too.
Just make sure that whatever you want to sell, you have at least a few concrete visual examples to show for when you actually apply for a table. More on the specifics later!
What have I noticed about how artists sell their work from looking at artist alley tables in the past? What sort of strategies should I consider for selling my own work?
Before you try to figure out what to sell and how, do your research! Take some time at the convention you're at and look at their artist alley. See what artists are selling at their table, and how they're displaying their work. Does it catch your eye as you walk by? (Chances are, their display is set up that way for a reason! I'll get more into this later, too). You can even ask the artist how they're doing with sales, to gage whether their business strategies are working for them. Pick up their business card if they have one so you don't forget the name of the artist, and check out how they're keeping in touch with their audience. If their booth stood out prominently in your mind well after the convention is over, their example may be one to strive for and emulate when thinking about how to sell your work.
If you haven't been to a convention in a while or forgot to look at the artist alley when you were at one, don't worry! You can simply look up artist alley tables on the web and find many great examples. People that you already follow or watch may also be selling work at conventions and have photos or art examples that you can check out.
Do the costs of a table plus other fees (badge/food/hotel) outweigh my expected profits for the day/weekend?
This one is the be-all, end-all for me. I may have what it takes to stock up for the event at the last minute if I have to, but the cost of me getting there (gas/parking), having access to the convention (badge/table) and planning to stay there (spending money/food/hotel) needs to add up. If putting all of that together still makes the convention an affordable option to attend and make a good profit, then I decide to apply there. If after I do the math it turns out that my expected profit may simply end up paying for the costs and fees of the convention, then it's somewhere I can't apply for yet. You want to make sure you're not just paying your way for the next convention, but that you're still making a profit!
Here's what I just said in a formula for you visual folk:
Net profit = Your gross profit — fees to get to the convention + fees to attend the convention + cost of materials to make your work
I have found this formula to be very helpful for me when deciding to apply somewhere new.
If you are new to all of this and are not sure you want to commit a great deal of money toward an epic two or three-day convention, try finding some one-day conventions or anime festivals in your area as a less expensive first try! There are even some that are free to attend and come with free artist alley tables! All you would have to do is take care to sign up for one on time!
APPLYING FOR A TABLE
When actually writing out the application, make sure you do the following:
Read the rules!
It is very important that you familiarize yourself with the rules and policies of a convention, as well as their policies for the artist alley. Is their application based on a first-come, first-serve system or is it juried, where they pick and choose their applicants? Is the alley in an open area or in a lockable room? Do they take a cut of your total profit? Do they provide discount or free badges with the purchase of a table? Do they provide electricity/wifi or will you have to pay to have access to it? Do they allow fan art or do they encourage mostly original work? Do they have a strict policy on adult art or pedophilia art? These questions and many more will likely be answered when you read their rules.
And don't forget to check back on their website for when their application goes live, what their alley hours are, how much the cost for a table is, when you can check in to your table and, if you are unsure if you can make it, when is the last time you can get a refund for your table! You want to make sure you know exactly what you're getting into before applying!
Be highly descriptive of the work you are going to sell!
The application is now live and you're sitting there, nervously trying to find the best way to answer all these strange questions about your art. The best way to approach the actual application process is very much like a cover letter for a job application. Be as descriptive as you can about what kind of work you are selling, what your preferences are for your table (a full table vs. half a table), and the qualities of your work that best represent you as a potential seller! For this last one, this usually comes in answer to questions such as "Why should we pick you?" or "How is your work relevant to Japanese culture/anime?" Don't be alarmed by the choice of words, but rather think of it as an opportunity to really defend your work and show them how much you want to be a part of their alley!
Getting more nervous upon reading that last bullet? Don't worry, as this applies mostly to jury-based applications. These questions may not even be on your application, so don't worry about it if they don't ask them. What you'll have to worry about instead is describing the work you want to sell in the best way! So instead of just listing it in a generic way like "I sell magnets and keychains," be more descriptive! You may end up saying something like, "I sell magnets and keychains drawn in the chibi style, featuring a variety of characters from popular and classic anime and video games." Use visual language so you give a more well-rounded vision of what you're selling before they even see your visual examples. Speaking of which...
Have good quality photos and examples of your work.
This is pretty crucial in determining who gets accepted and who doesn't. Provide working links to your portfolio or personal gallery on sites like Deviantart (I always triple check my links to make sure they actually lead to my gallery), and make sure your gallery is full of good quality photographs of any 3-dimensional work you might do. This goes for accessories, jewelry, large prop work, etc. If your work is 2-dimensional or print-based, then have good quality scans or just good pictures of it in general. Nobody wants to look through a gallery full of blurry photos and teeny tiny thumbnails!
Pay on time!
If you get accepted, you want to make sure you keep that email they send you. Read through it carefully, making sure to check for information on when you are expected to pay for your table and any other outstanding policies you should be familiar with. There is nothing worse than getting an acceptance email and then deleting it or forgetting to pay for the table, which after the payment period is over will no longer be yours! So be attentive!
And a lot of folks run into this dilemma: If you are applying for a table, add the artist alley email address to your contacts list to avoid those emails going to your Spam/Junk Mail folder. This will ensure that you receive the email and are not tempted to delete it without realizing what it is until it's too late. But if you do end up doing that by mistake, you can contact the artist alley coordinator and ask them to resend it. But to avoid all of the hassle, just mark their address as not-spam! Artist alley emails are our friend!
So you sent off your application, and you hear back from the convention. Here's what to do if…
You got rejected! T.T (nuuu…)
It's okay! There are many reasons you may not have been accepted. Sometimes the demand for tables exceeded the number of tables made available. If the process was first-come, first-serve, you may have waited too long to start your application and they may have run out of tables before even seeing your application! If the process of elimination was based on a juried choice, sometimes applicants will list work that is too similar to someone else's. What that then boils down to is seeing how well the applicant sells themselves, or how confident they seem to be in their work. You may have to practice voicing your confidence better if that's the case, or using more visual language to describe your work so that it sounds more professional.
And lastly, though no one would want to admit this, the artwork itself may have been the problem. The link to your site may not have worked, there may not have been enough examples, the quality of the images may be poor, or perhaps you may not have put forth your best work. In this case I am not saying that your work is bad or it sucks. Quite the contrary! Pay attention to things like craftsmanship, how colorful your work is, variety of fandoms/originals represented, and think about its overall audience appeal. These are the type of things that jurors think about when selecting their applicants. Think like they think! Be one with them!
Whatever the reason may be, the bottom line is this: Don't give up! Keep applying to artist alleys of other conventions to see if your luck is better elsewhere. Evaluate what might have gone wrong with your first try and make your next one better!
You got put on a wait list! @.@ (bwuh?)
Don't panic! You've not been fully rejected yet! This happened to me a few times recently, and it's definitely an awkward spot to be in, but fret not! In this case chances are extremely high that the reason you did not get in was because of the unbalanced artist-to-table ratio I mentioned earlier. Sometimes it could also be a case of having work that was too similar to someone else's, but usually it is because they just can't accept everybody that's good and marketable! They might want to, but that may not be possible yet. Depending on the size of the convention or the fees of the venue itself, this could definitely be the case.
What usually happens to people on the waitlist is that they might be contacted should someone decide they couldn't pay for a table after the payment wave is over. If enough of these tables become available, you may get an email saying you should claim your table during a certain time. If this happens to you, rejoice! But rejoice quickly, for you should jump at the chance before it goes away!
If you don't get contacted, then there may not have been any tables made available. But you could also be contacted way late in the game. Who knows! I got an email at the very last minute once about a table opening, and the coordinator was willing to give me a very good price cut for it! You can also contact the artist alley coordinator and ask about the waitlist policy if you have other questions on how they handle it. So as they say, it ain't over till it's over. Just hang in there!
You have been accepted! ^.^ (yaay!)
Hooray! And many congratulations! You may now proceed to the next big step: Preparing your work (and you!) for sale!
Let me know if this has been helpful, hope you enjoy!
CLICK HERE FOR PART 2 theartslave.deviantart.com/jou…
- Listening to: Tohuvabohu—KMFDM
So im someone who makes plushies and jewlery, ((loluta accesseories)) would an artist alley be a good place to sell my stuff? Im a bit nervous
Hi justanotherday8! I think plushies/jewelry/accessories are great items to sell at an artist alley! Just out of curiosity, do you have a particular event in mind you are thinking of applying for? Like either a large convention or a one-day event, or something like that?
It is large convention in my area, anime weekend atlanta,a 4 day event. It just recently ended this last weekend. Sadly i was too caught up in it all to do my research on what sells its my second year going. Im really intrested in gaining experince through adtist alley, but i at least want to pay off the table
No worries, it's hard to focus on looking at what sells when there's so much going on at the con. If you've picked up business cards from fellow artists this year that stood out to you, I would recommend going on their websites to see if they have any pictures/posts showcasing what they've sold at the con or even what they might have been planning on selling. On that note, if you didn't pick up any cards or not as many as you'd have liked, you can always Google "AWA artist alley" or "AWA artists" to see if a list comes up of those artists that got in this year, and go from there. This is also a good way to do some research without having to wait to do it again next year. Hope that helps!
ill be attending the AA at Otakon Vegas in january, is it all right if i contact you for help with stuff?
Hello there! I've been pretty busy with grad school but you can send me messages here on DA before the con and I'll do my best to help out!
how long does it take them to review your registration request? i sent mine in and got the autobot reply but nothing for about 2 weeks since that...
Hi there ralkon! It depends on the policies listed for the convention. Sometimes they will detail how long it may take before you hear back from them, but if not, keep checking their social media feeds! They'll probably update their Facebook/Twitter/etc with more up to date information regarding when you should hear back than on their official website. When all else fails, you can always email the head of Artist Alley and ask them when you should be hearing back. Hope that helps!
it helps immensely, thanks for answering so quickly
You have to get accepted for American conventions?
Yes, at least for artist alleys that are on a jury-based system. If it's on a first-come, first-serve basis however, then as long as you apply early you should be able to get a table. The coordinator will still contact you to confirm your status