Saturday, November 20, 2010

How to Be the Flash and Get Tables

It's a Race! It's a Race!
So, honestly, I've never really had the full Artist's Alley experience before this week.  I've been going to AAs for years and all that, but all of those were small, local cons where the demand for tables was relatively mild. They always sell out, but if you can wheedle people enough, you can usually get yourself a spot. In the case of Fanime, which is the only relatively large con I've been to, I've always been fortunate enough to get complimentary tables from the Artist's Pool because I'm on staff.  Getting tables have never been a huge worry for me.

This week, however, I applied to two Artist Alleys that have a history of selling out in minutes. The first was Anime Los Angeles.  It's a small con, but its location is convenient to a shitload of artists and cosplayers in the area, hence why demand for tables is so high. The second was SakuraCon, which is a pretty massive con to begin with, so it's unsurprising that it sold out so quickly.

Wait, I mentioned minutes earlier, didn't I? ALA sold out in minutes. SakuraCon sold out in seconds. I shit you not.

There was once a halcyon era where you could apply to Artist's Alleys at your leisure, whenever the thought occurred to you, and still be able to snag a spot with relative ease.  That time is, unfortunately, no longer.  If you want a fighting chance at getting a table, hell even if you've entertained the idea of getting a table, you have to participate in the frantic little rat race that hundreds of other people participate in just to hopefully maybe possibly get a table. It kind of sucks.

Ok that is fine but how do I win the race and by that I mean score a table

Preparation is always the key. Different conventions have different ways of running their AA's. Some of them accept applications through snailmail, others have online applications.  Regardless of how the AA is run and how you apply, do your research ahead of time. A lot of AA's will have mailing lists. Sign up for them, as they will keep you updated on when registration goes up, what sort of information you'll need to get a table, and a lot of other important information you'll need to get going. Like I mentioned in my long-winded and obnoxious intro, you really can't wander over to a convention's website and sign up for a table at your leisure anymore.  Additionally, make sure you're familiar you're with the rules/contract of the AA. Go through their rules a couple of times and make sure you won't accidentally do something they don't want you to do. If you're not sure of something, send them an email and ask.  Basically, you want to be prepared enough to sit down and sell your super cool things right then and there (you know, with the exception of actually applying and having stuff to sell) .

Mailing lists, the forums, and emailing the AA coordinator will be your three keys to victory. 

Have your information ready.  For the most part, AA applications will ask you the same general information: Personal info/identity and what you're going to sell.  Some applications will require a seller's permit/vending license number ahead of time while others will ask for it at the con. Know exactly what you need to know so you don't waste your time dawdling about this shit while someone goes ahead and snaps up your spot.  Some people get hung up on how to describe what they're selling, but really, general terms are fine. AA coordinators know what artists sell, and something like "fanzine" or "comics" is better than "self-published anthology" or "independent small-press media." If you accidentally leave out a couple of items, that's usually okay too, because it's not like they have time to go around and hand-check what every single artist is selling and what they wrote on their application. They're too busy dealing with the pissed artists that weren't able to get a spot (which could be you!) and the sob-story artist begging for a spot-or-their-mom-will-die-and-they-won't-be-able-to-afford-burando (I hope to god this is not you) or whatever.

Be prompt.  This adheres more to mail-in applications, but it applies in theory to online applications as well. Most cons function on a first come, first serve basis, which means you have to be fast.  As soon as the application is available, fill it out and send it in. Don't procrastinate. Do not procrastinate.

Online applications are a whole 'nother crazy story. For larger cons, you want to be there as soon as the application goes live and be prepared to type like crazy man to fill out your app as quickly as possible.  For the most part, do NOT freak out and refresh the page for whatever reason, either before OR after you fill out the app. Just fill it out and send.  To avoid the need to refresh things, try to find a place with a good, fast, stable internet connection, if you have to, so you can send it in faster.  You don't want your app to get fucked up because your ISP decided to take a hike in the middle of sending your information to the convention website. Faster connections send in information faster, which means you get your app in before others. Sucks to be slow.

Follow up.  Okay, so now you can take a breather because holy shit that was probably the most intense 0.32 nanoseconds of your life. After you've downed your energy drink to replenish all of the resources your body has undoubtedly expended for this strenuous ordeal, be prepared for some follow-up procedures to finalize your table reservation.  Some cons will send you a confirmation email. Others will have a secondary process where you pay for your table or confirm any information (in case you messed up somewhere, which happens and that is okay).  Don't procrastinate on this part either because it's also a way AA's cull their massively long lists. If you don't confirm your information on time, they can boot you, which means all your finger exercises in order to optimize your typing speed will have been for absolutely nothing!  Just get it all out of the way and finish it up as soon as you're asked to. And then, valiant bearer of victory, you will be done. Triumphant. Ready to sell as many keychains and prints as your heart very well desires. Good job.

The only thing lamer than this comic is the fact that I don't know why the Flash and Batman are in an Artist's Alley.
Shit, Let's Be Batman

Okay, so say things do not go as planned. It turns out, you aren't actually the Flash and your connection wasn't actually as fast as you thought and whatever happened, all that matters is that you weren't able to snag a spot on the list and now you're feeling like shit because how else are you going to pay the rent?  This is when you put your your fucking awesome cowl and your best scary gravelly voice and go for the contingency plan. You are Batman, so you will have a contingency plan for everything.

Waitlists. A lot of AA's anticipate shitloads of people to apply and shitloads of them not getting in. In that case, they usually open up a waitlist. If you didn't get onto the actual list, then you have a chance of getting on the waitlist. A lot of the time, this doesn't require further action on your part, but some conventions will open up a separate process for applying for the waitlist.  If they do, then go ahead and follow their instructions and put yourself on. Lots of people do end up dropping, which always leaves the chance for some lucky person such as yourself to take their spot. Nothing is really guaranteed, but you may as well, right? If you apply earlier, then you get on the waitlist earlier which means you get the first seat that's dropped from the list, so don't slack off on this either.

Table-sharing.  This is more of a Nightwing thing to do because it involves being social and talking to people and making friends (and sleeping around) and rubbing elbows in order to bum some space off of someone else. Table-sharing is a mutually beneficial practice because you get table space to sell stuff and your benefactor can usually save money by splitting costs and get somebody to watch their stuff while they leave to do other things.  It's also a lovely way to make friends.  If you don't feel internet-famous enough to have people throwing themselves at your feet in order to share tables with you (which, SHOCKINGLY is many of us), post an ad wherever you can- in the forums, on your DA/website, etc.  If you're lucky, or someone is magnanimous enough, you can at least score a half-table or partial table space this way, which, honestly, is still better than doing nothing at all, nothing at all, nothing at all!

Once in the AA, do your best to make some friends. Having a network of artist buddies in invaluable in getting tables and also just having fun, as you can swap tips, have someone to hang out with and talk to, and also have someone to share tables with in case things go wrong at the next convention. And of course, reciprocate the favor. Be a bro and share a table if someone you know or just someone in general is looking for space.

NEVER GIVE UP. Okay, so you're like, last on an extensively long waitlist and none of your friends/you have no friends to table-share with. What do? At this point, the only advice I can give is to stay strong and carry on.  Accept the fact that you might not get a table, but DO NOT GIVE UP. Keep emailing the coordinator about your status or advice on how to possibly get a table. If you're tenacious enough, they'll remember you and either they'll take pity on you and actually try to help you get a table, or get bothered enough that they'll try to pull some strings to get you a table so you can shut up and get off their back (not necessarily true... or... plausible, actually, although that again depends on the con/coordinator).  Hell, sometimes you can even show up on the day of the convention to see if more tables have opened up. Sometimes, demand is so high that the AA coordinators will try to get more tables in to get more waitlisted people in, and sometimes, people will drop hella last-minute leaving a gaping hole that will, hopefully, be filled by a certain special very lucky you!

Basically, things can happen and if you really want that table space, then keep wheedling away and doing whatever you can to get it. Batman doesn't give up and neither do you. 

What's that I cannot hear you over the sound of not going through any of that to get my table

I think a super awesome secret that people tend to be unaware of is staffing.  Staffing for cons usually comes with a lot of perks, some of which can be preferential or reserved AA tables!  Even if you're working in a a department completely separate from the AA department or drawing/designing stuff for the con, as staff, you can still gain access to staff information and also be in closer contact with the AA coordinator to give you tips and support in getting a table. It's usually a pretty sweet deal, but again, it varies from convention to convention, so make sure you check ahead of time to see if a complimentary table is possible for your position.  Oh, and of course, do your work, because no one likes a freeloader >:[

 Anyway, I hope you guys found some of this information useful. It seems obvious, most of the time, and it kind of is, but I still see lots of questions on forums and whatnot about getting a table. Also, it's nice to kind of know what goes on behind the scenes, as not everyone is completely familiar with the way AA's work. That automatically puts you at a slight disadvantage against people who have been doing this shit for years and have developed muscle memory to go through this process for every con that rolls around.  If you're new to the whole scene, then at least you should have an idea of what the playing field is like now. Best of luck!


  1. That's some great advice, but wow I never realized it'd be so complicated for some cons. Sold out in SECONDS?

  2. @Valerbees- haha, yeah! I thought I was fast enough because I was able to fill out/send in my app as soon as it went live, but then I saw people talking on the forums about how they maxed out in 40 seconds and started freaking out.

    It gets pretty crazy! But if you know what to do, the only thing you really have to worry about is hitting that "submit" button fast enough.

  3. Geez, I tell you what- that's some stressful stuff. :<

  4. I am possibly the only nerd that has never been to a convention of any kind; startling in that I am a comic nerd and a tabletop gamer. I may be visiting a couple this summer to help a friend out with her dealer's table though, thanks for the info!

  5. Oh god, this. Our Great Leader tried to book a table for our group, but nobody was told when it would go live and it did so when she was at work. Long story short, no table, so sad.

  6. Sold out in seconds, that's crazy! I never imagined it would be like that...

  7. I got a halftable for my friend for ALA lol XD Maybe next year I'll be skillful enough to get us both a table (since we're not allowed to purchase full tables anymore haha). Although I'm not really confident in my art or anything, working in the Artist Alley seems really fun! I can't wait ;)

    Thanks for the tips btw!

  8. @Butters-Dood! AWESOME! I'll totally see you there! :D

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