Saturday, September 11, 2010

convention withdrawal

I'm going through SPX withdrawal symptoms today. The anxious feeling that I'm missing out on something important,  the feeling that "something's happening and I don't know what it is", missing out on an important fall ritual, the annual gathering of the east-coast alt-comics family that SPX is.  I didn't have the $300-$400 table fee when it was due this year, so I'm sitting this one out. It's driving me crazy.
But the skies are blue and it's a beautiful country day in upstate New York and when I really begin to think it over, I'm probably better off where I am rather than at the Bethesda Marriot at $150. a night.

The truth of it is--SPX--and every con I've ever done(solo) for that matter, has never made any economic sense. At the best of times, I've (just) covered my (1/2) table fee--but I've never made enough to cover hotel expenses, plus meals, plus display costs, plus, etc. Never even come close. Never. 
and I've been doing it on and off since 1997.  I've had 1/2 tables, full tables, no displays, big displays, sold $3.00 books for $1.00, $10.00 books for $5.00, buy one get one free, buy one get two free, given books away, stood in the aisles and flagged people down, stood behind my table and said nothing, engaged customers in happy patter, sat quietly and drawn; you name it, in the name of salesmanship I've done it.  None of my strategical variations seem to impact the economic bottom line.  Every year I tell myself it'll be different....
"This year I'd better bring a full box--100 books."
I've never sold more than 20 of a single title over two or three days. Never. Usually it's much less. But I still bring the full boxes. Just in case. You never know.

So I don't make money. So what? There's always the possibility of exposure, right? We all want to sell some books, get noticed, have the opportunity to create a career(of a kind) in this medium we love so much.
Certainly one of the reasons we all cite for exhibiting at SPX or one of the other alt-cons is the opportunity for exposure-to fans, to pros, to other creators. But the reality of it is, very few of the more than several hundred exhibitors will be noticed, whether by press or publishers.  The same few creators make the post con reports-- every now and again there's a new face, but for the most part the hierarchy is an established one. (compare one and two)
And the big gun publishers are way too busy trying to sell their own books to notice the hapless masses surrounding them.  I'll admit it, I've gone to cons over and over again hoping to "be noticed".  Never happened. Again --no matter how much noise I make behind my table--or how good I think my new book is--never happened. Once in awhile maybe you connect with someone "important" in the industry, (by connect I mean have a conversation)but over the course of my experiences I can't really claim that I was ever noticed by industry professionals to any significant degree.

Disappointed on those two fronts, finally, SPX and other similar cons do offer  the sense of community. The sense that you belong to this great big family we call independent or alternative comics--and the idea that we've come together to celebrate our medium and our collective endeavors. And that, ultimately, is the real benefit from shows like SPX.  The sense that you, the creator, working isolated and alone throughout the year and bereft of human connection  (except for The Comics Reporter or Journalista or Robot6)--can feel part of something larger than yourself.  I have certainly made some nice acquaintances over the years and had some very nice conversations. At the same time, (and I know I'm not the only one who experiences this), I always have the feeling that I'm crashing the cool kids' party.*   And  many of the other creators I've spoken with over the years have expressed the same observation--cliques aren't just a high school thing. On Sunday when it's all over,  as I'm wheeling my suitcase and a stack of unsold books back to the car, I invariably feel more distant from the community I love so much than I do when I'm at the computer screen reading the blogs days later.
Ok. OK. But what about the medium? What about finding new books at the shows? New stuff that knocks your socks off?  Yes--that has happened to me a couple of times over the years. I have stumbled across a book or two that I would never have heard of and I fell in love with.(look out J.T. Dockery!)
But truthfully, most of the time I come home with a bag of books that I flip through once and then put in the closet to look over "...some time in the future, when I have more time".
Hey, my stuff has ended up in someone else's bag in the closet too.
Because I'm trying to sell stuff, I rarely have time to go shopping or really pay attention to shopping. I might make my way over to the Fanta table, or D&Q--like everyone else at these shows--they have the new stuff I really want to see( or rather-- I've already heard of and am prepped to go seek out)--and on my limited budget I might be able to buy one book, "so what will it be"?
In the end, while Fanta & D&Q, are really big draws at these shows and must be responsible for at least half(maybe more) of the attendance, they are also "really big draws" at these shows and whatever expendable cash the attendees might have goes to those tables first. For those of us trying to sell our own stuff, their presence is a double-edged sword. And as a customer, I'm just as guilty as everyone else.
There's a lot of work that goes into preparing for a con. A lot of excitement, hope and expectation. But after reviewing the facts, I really know I'm better off looking out at this clear blue sky today.
But still---part of me(a big part) really wants to be in Bethesda.  Perverse, isn't it?