Dilettante 045: Your Convention Checklist

Toucan reading a comic
Steve Lieber

Comics convention season is almost upon us, and my friends and I are doing what we always do, panicking. There’s so much to do! (If you have a comic you need to finish in time for the con, this column isn’t going to help you.)

But you’re going to be multitasking in the weeks before the con and at the con itself, so the more you have things organized, the better the con is going to go. Here are some steps to set yourself up for success in the weeks and days before the con.

First, make a folder in the cloud called “Conventions.” Make it in Dropbox, Google drive, wherever. The point is to have all your info in one place online.

  • Make a new document that’s a list of the names and dates of all the cons you plan to attend this year. List them in order.
  • Now make a folder for each convention. Here’s what’s going to go in those folders:
  • PDFs of your travel info for that convention: Your flight or train ticket, hotel or other lodging details
  • Sales tax documents and permits
  • A document with contact info for:
  • The person meeting you if you’re getting picked up
  • The convention guest liaison, if any
  • Any local contacts you might need.
  • Tracking info for packages you shipped
  • A list of what you need to do to attend that con, what you need to ship, and what you need to bring with you

Make another folder with your headshot, bio, and the cover of your latest book. Have the images in both web and print resolution.

Make another folder with any files you might need to print at a convention:

  • PDFs of your art prints
  • PDFs of your price lists and other table signs
  • PDF of your business card
  • PDFs of promotional items like postcards or bookmarks
  • A sale-sheet: this is a checklist of everything you’re selling, with space for hashmarks to track sales

And here are your to-do lists for the months, weeks and days ahead of a con.

Months Ahead:
  • Apply to convention.
  • Arrange for booth or table space.
  • Send the con a link to the folder with headshot, bio, and the cover of your latest book.
  • Arrange travel. If the con is making the arrangements, have a document ready with all the travel info they’ll need: frequent flier numbers, TSA Pre code (if you’re a frequent traveler, the time and expense required to enroll in the program is absolutely worth it), passport number for non-US conventions, etc. Assemble this document once and you’ll never have to hunt down all that info again.
  • Arrange housing. Book a hotel, line up any roomies, find out if a local friend has a couch?
  • Sign up for whatever permits are needed to exhibit at the show.
  • Make arrangements for any panels or talks.
  • Find out who the retailers are near the con. If timing works, maybe arrange a signing?
  • Check inventory. Do you have enough copies of the books, prints, etc. you plan to sell?
  • Re-order or reprint anything you’re short of.
  • If you have to reorder, first check with the publisher.
  • If the publisher doesn’t have enough copies left, see if you can get copies (at a price that’s near-wholesale) from any local or internet-based retailers.
  • Announce your appearance at the con on social media. Make sure to tag the con so they can share the announcement.
  • If you’ll be taking pre-con commissions, let people know the terms.

A Few Weeks Ahead:
  • Decide what to ship to the con.
  • Find out if the hotel accepts shipments. Most do, though some charge storage fees, and one or two charge by the day, which can cost a fortune. If so, look for other options. Maybe a pack and ship near the convention, or a friend who lives near the con? Maybe a local retailer who’ll be exhibiting at the show?
  • Make a note in your document for that convention exactly what you’ve shipped, and in what quantities, and the tracking number of the shipment.
  • Reach out to anyone you want to meet with. Don’t put this off! Schedules fill up quickly.
  • Decide what original art to bring, and make sure it’s priced in pencil on the back.
  • Announce appearance at the con on social media, again. Make sure to tag the con so they can share the announcement.

A Week Before:

Notify collaborators and clients that you’ll be away, and that you might not be reachable or free to do any last minute fixes.

Announce your appearance at the con on social media, again. Make sure to tag the con so they can share the announcement.

Gather all the stuff you’re going to bring:

  • Whatever books you didn’t ship.
  • Art prints. (If you have a lot of different prints, organize them, and have a way to find the one you’re looking for quickly at the con.)
  • Any other merchandise.
  • Business cards.
  • Promotional items like bookmarks, postcards, or preview booklets.
  • Sale-sheet listing of everything you’ll have for sale.
  • A sign-up sheet for convention sketches.
  • Ones and fives so you don’t run out of change.
  • Foreign currency, if the con is outside of the US.
  • Convention Kit

What Should You Keep in Your Convention Kit?
  • Your booth or table display equipment. If it’s elaborate, you’ll probably ship it ahead, but for many exhibitors, it’s just a tablecloth and a few bookstands or wire-mesh cubes.
  • Your table signs and price lists.
  • A portable travel scale. Most airlines charge a huge fee if your bag is even one pound over their limit.
  • Anything you might need to repair your display. Packing tape and a spring-clamp or two can come in very handy.
  • A flash drive with a bunch of images of your work. If you get called onto a panel, the AV tech can quickly add your images to a slideshow
  • The art supplies you might need: pens, pencils, brushes, markers and marker refills, good quality paper, scrap paper. Don’t raid your daily supplies. Have a separate set.
  • Post-it notes.
  • Phone charging cables
  • A spare battery for your phone
  • A Square reader (now called Point of Sale) or PayPal Here reader, so you can take credit cards. (If you haven’t signed up for Square or PayPal Here, do that right now. Taking credit cards at conventions used to be a novelty. Now it’s expected.)
  • A few extra business cards, because everyone runs out.

The Day Before Departure:
  • Print out a document with complete convention schedule: meetings, panels, signings, dinners.
  • Print out all your travel info.
  • Print out proof of the permits or sales tax registrations you signed up for.
  • Print out any notes or visual aids for panels or presentations.
  • Charge all your devices.
  • Google to see if there’s a grocery store anywhere near the con. Some cons feed their guests, some don’t. If they don’t, and you don’t want to wait in a 20-minute line for a $9.00 convention center hotdog, you’ll either need to pick up lunches and snacks somewhere before the con, or bring them from home.
  • Gather clothes and personal items.
  • Get everything into one or two suitcases, and weigh it all to make sure each bag is under the airline’s limit.

Does this sound like a lot of work? It is! But exhibiting at conventions is an increasingly important part of every comic creator’s schedule, and the better organized you are, the more you’ll be able to enjoy them.

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