I happen to have the luxury of living in Baltimore, and close enough to the Inner Harbor I can hear the New Years Fireworks from my house. My sister and a large chunk of my friends have been to otakon multiple times but I never had any interest in attending. That is... until we started this Etsy thing and honestly, Otakon goers are our primary target customers. I don't draw, i dont sell prints which gave us an edge against other sellers in artist alley but I was nervous. It's a big convention and i had NEVER done any type of show anywhere. So, i did ALOT of research, for over a year (looking back i'm grateful we didn't get picked from the lottery the first year, I never would have survived)
in that research i learned a few things. one being theres not a lot of blogs or info about how the convention, or any convention is run that is completely helpful for someone who 1: has never been to the convention 2: has never sold in artist alley
SURE they have their frequently asked question section, but theres fine details i wanted to know. i actually started looking on google for pictures and videos of artist alley just to see what it looked like. I thought i would put together a guide for others considering selling at an artist alley.
First: i live close enough i slept in my own bed. I didn't have to travel, didn't have to book a hotel, and didn't have to really worry about if i forgot something because if absolutely necessary i could run home or have someone bring it to me. I also didn't have to worry about being alone because my friends are here and no one had to travel to get there, and were going anyway.
If you search for tips on artist alley i'm sure you will come across the horrible story about someone who had a bad experience with rude staff members. I was fully aware of her story and decided to jump in anyway. All the staff i met were pleasant (except for one frazzled lady who repeatedly had to tell the same booth the same thing for 3 days, multiple times.
1st: to get a table at otakon you must basically put your name in a hat and cross your fingers. If you get picked you will be assigned a table
*when you get picked you have to pay for your table. it's $150 at this time. AND entrance into the convention is NOT, i repeat IS NOT included. That ran me $70 (per person) for some reason even though this is listed EVERYWHERE its still the number one asked question. I had my sister and friend be my assistants. That means $150 per table, plus $70 for me, $70 for val and $70 for Addy. I'm glad i live here because i never could have afforded all that PLUS travel money and expected to turn a profit. Addy did pay her own entrance fees, i happened to owe my sister the $$$ so i just paid her ticket. Pre-register to make your life easier.
*when you return your contract you will get paperwork from the Maryland comtroller with temporary tax id and everything. This is a major convention, you do have to report this as income for your taxes. so if you aren't sure if you have to do it on your own, or will get away with not doing it, Otakon files the paperwork for you before the convention to get your temporary license.
*You should get there thursday and pick up your badge then. If not you must stand in a crazy long line friday and it's not worth is, and you will likely be really late setting up your booth. Poor Addy didn't go pick up her badge thursday with us. By the time she checked in, then got her artist alley ribbon, then found us in the alley, she was mentally exhausted.
*When choosing your display, know that the tables are skirted with black cloth. This will hide the complete mess you will end up with under your table. The table top however is not covered and you will need some sort of table cloth, whether plastic and disposable or a few yards of cloth from the fabric store.
*almost everyone builds up, and sometimes the booths run together because everyone has those wire cubed bookshelfs and they arrange them how they want and cover them with so much stuff you can't get a good look! I chose not to build up, which worked really well with my location. I wasn't burried behind 5 feet of merchandise. I was not only approachable to my customers, i could see them clearly and help them faster. This worked well with having an assistant as well, sometimes we were both waiting on customers and still had a line. I cant imagine being buried behind shelves and poles and everything hanging. I DO wish i could come up with a better way to display my scarves though. But i think it worked well enough.
* You can take your things in through the loading dock, but you have to tell the security where you are going and everyone is very friendly. They open the gate, you drive in, someone is there directing you where to go. When you get inside though, know where you are going. I was able to take my stuff in friday at 10 and be completely set up quickly. my mom dropped me off so i didn't have to worry about dumping my stuff and then finding parking. But even if i had that wouldn't have been too bad.
*organization is your friend, know what you have, where it is, and how to get easy access, you will need odd things at odd moments, and to restock quickly. I got two small boxes with drawers that are hidden behind my button board with all the essentials. Hand sanitizer, extra cards, pens, scissors, yarn needles...
*someone does some around at the opening of the convention to talk to you, and check to make sure that 1: you comply with the 50/50 rule of fan art to original art and 2: that you are in fact selling fan art. I sell crochet but had pokemon and mario arm warmers, cell phone pockets, clay earrings and my buttons had anime and cosplay references. Make sure you do have fan art, thats what people are looking for, but also we sell quirky items so it was great.
*buttons sell more than you think. I want to say we sold about 3-400 buttons that weekend. And at this point in time i have no buttons that are graphic based, so they were very different from the buttons everyone else sold. I will have graphic based buttons, but everyone there had their verson of kirby, or my little ponies.
*figure out what your niche is and how to represent it best. know that what you want to sell may not be what you will actually sell. do your homework. Dont just go on a whim. this is a business venture, don't go in blind. And remember, fan art, doesn't necessarily mean anime. Many people were cosplaying as almost anything.
(see addy's blog with cosplay pics here, here and here)
*take plenty of business cards. So many people ran out of them. I gave out about 300 of them. many artists only had about 100.
* pack plenty to drink and some snacks. in the alley there is a small cafe that sold very few things and was over priced. my sister has an obsession with food trucks so she scored us some food but many people were there alone. OR their buddy was off at the convention and left them stranded. I did alot of talking so i had several bottles of drinks for each day since i get dehydrated easy. you can't sell food, but you can bring some in with you.
*You can have one artist with two assistants. Now me and Jessie own the studio together but only one of us could register the table in our names. once you get there that doesn't matter. you can add assistants the day of the event. supposedly you can let the alley know who you want to be your assistants beforehand. I just did it there. I picked up my membership badge then went over to the artist alley registration. I told them then that my sister and Addy would be my assistants. Addy wasn't there that day but she would then be able to get her ribbon on friday without me being there. Every member of your table must sign the artist alley contract. basically you agree to behave yourself and have good conduct. You can have up to three artist ribbons per table, and only two people behind the table at a time. I highly recomend if possible that whether you have 1 or 2 people assisting you, that either someone stay with you at all times or someone check in regularly so you dont have to guard your stuff if you have to go to the bathroom (which for the most part didn't have a line) but this also allows for you to rotate and everyone can participate fully in the convention. I would have liked to have visited the dealers room but it was so crowded. I didn't want to see anything else.
*almost everyone is cosplaying. Even if it's just a pink wig. And you will see some things that can't be unseen, but it's all in good fun. (see above for Addy's three day reviews with pics)
*theres really bad reception so do NOT rely on being able to use a credit card reader. Everyone had problems with it. There is wifi in the building, but you must pay extra for internet usage, so it's passworded.
*i got this bin from walmart, it's sterilite, has wheels on each end. It is practically weightless when empty, and it held almost everything i needed in it. I only had my button board and a box with my yarn items in it that didn't fit. plus my bag with odds and ends. it was very handy in being able to pack up and set up easy, and not have to keep going back for boxes.
* get good rest. It's a long day with alot of people.
*make sure you walk around and see what others are doing. I like to find new ideas, but i also like so see what my competition is so that i can stand out for the next time.
*keep in mind you are sharing a small space with several artists, you may think that it doesn't matter if it's behind the table, but parts of our little alcove were blocked because someone had all of their stock spread out all over the floor frantically putting things together while a friend monitored their table.
*artist alley is locked down at night. I did take everything off of my table but i have easy set up, and i'm used to girl scout booths at an outdoor fair. Some people just covered their table with cloth so they didn't have to pack up. But don't just leave everything out. Theres always someone who will ruin something.
*BE PREPARED, ok so i stole that since i'm a girl scout, and we stole that from the boy scouts. but it's just good advice. do your homework, have good, well made stock. don't half ass this. Make sure what you sell is something you would be willing to buy. make sure you know where you are going, what you are eating, where the closes water fountain is. Make sure you know what entrances you can use and how to get back to your car at night.
All in all i think we did very well, we exceeded our goals, and we could have done more if we had had more yarn stock. I own my button maker and remake buttons as needed so that wasn't a problem, and as you see from the above picture, i have more than enough earrings. Yarn was my priciest item and we just didn't have time to make everything we wanted with Jessie moving to medical school. We made some nice friends. I couldn't have done it without Val and Addy. They were amazing. I will definately work towards doing this again next year.
don't be afraid to comment or message me. I am sure i forgot alot of things. I'm happy to answer anyone's questions about this experience.