I already have quite a few thoughts about how things went and how they could have gone better for me, and my thoughts about my future as a potential convention vendor. Which is to say, I probably won’t be doing this again – but not because of anything wrong with GeekGirlCon. (Just to get that out of the way.)
Note that this isn’t my first time tabling at GGC, as I had previously done so with the Seattle Indies in 2017. But that was a completely different setup for a completely different intention – promoting games and the Indies organization.
What went right
So, first I want to say that above all else, GeekGirlCon did an amazing job of running an amazing show, as always. They were great at communicating with vendors, as well as answering all of the questions I had. I do wish that they’d used a venue other than Facebook for this, but I also understand why that was the preferred option (since it’s easy for them to provide privacy to a large, controlled audience, and it also provides great tools for them to mass-notify people of urgent changes and so on – some of which did happen). All of the truly important updates got sent via email as well.
Load-in and load-out also went incredibly smoothly; huge admiration to the WSCC and GeekGirlCon for making those parts of the convention run so well, from the access to the loading docks (even with a last-minute issue due to their intended freight elevator breaking the day before!) to the smoothness of vendor checkin and, well, just everything.
I also had some help on Saturday from Jamie who helped run my table (and even made some sales while I was away for various reasons), and on Sunday the GGC Agents were incredibly helpful at watching my table for me when needed as well.
This show was also really good for my self-esteem! Almost everyone who came by and saw my work had nice things to say about it; plenty of people said how much they loved my art and some of my pieces brought a huge smile to a lot of peoples' faces. In particular, people liked the sloths, the Portal turret, and both Napstablooks. And of course my enamel pins were a huge hit too.
The top-selling items were the ace and trans heart pins, the Portal turret, and Unity book 1. I also had a smattering of other sales across my other products; my biggest surprise was someone eagerly buying the Moldbedd print, which is about as niche Undertale fan as it gets1.
And of course, getting all of the wonderful positive feedback from people was incredibly satisfying. A couple of people even asked if I could do sketches for them at the con; I turned them down because I didn’t think I could juggle that along with dealing with everything else (and I didn’t have any drawing supplies with me anyway), and I also didn’t want to disappoint anyone since comic jams aside I don’t really do the whole “drawing on demand” thing.
I also planned really well to make my time at the convention comfortable; I packed some lunches in advance, I brought a large bottle of homemade lemonade and a thermos2 full of tea, and I brought plenty of snacks and fidget toys which helped me to keep my anxiety at bay and I was able to focus way better than I otherwise would have been able to.
What went wrong
Unfortunately, I didn’t sell all that much overall – I didn’t even make enough to pay for my table, much less manufacturing my goods – and several factors played into this.
First of all, my location wasn’t particularly great. I was on the frontmost row, which has the problem of being either the first thing people see, or the last one; either way, people are either going to be coming back later to buy the items they wanted (and have run out of steam or money by the time they do), or are going to have already run out of steam or money after having spent it all elsewhere on the show floor.
Making things worse, I was also on the corner, which tends to be overlooked since people are already turning their head to navigate to the next row; if I’d been on the inner table instead of the outer I’d have gotten a lot more visibility, but even the artist who was sitting there didn’t get a lot; for every person I missed out on because they were turning right, she missed out on someone who was turning left. But I also missed those people too, because they were already looking towards the table next to me. It didn’t help that my table setup was fairly minimal, since this was, well, my first table; I haven’t invested a lot in displays and I had no backdrop and so on.
Unfortunately, there’s not a lot that can be done about this; it’s unavoidable psychologically and economically, especially for an expo floor that is so large. And someone’s going to end up in the weakest spot in the vendor area. Everyone I was sitting near said that they were doing much worse than they have when they were in other rows, while folks in other rows generally were getting more or less the same amount of business as previous years. I just happened to have some of the worse luck.3 There’s probably some things that could be done for the traffic flow to help out, but really, the fact the expo floor has gotten so big is just going to make this happen to more and more people. So, the apparent solution would be to make the expo floor smaller, but that just means it gets even more selective than it already is.
Another issue with my particular position was being next to the bathrooms, and there was a large empty space by my table – necessary due to the layout of the convention center (since it’s where the loading dock entry is) – and because this spot had the best cellphone reception, it’s where a lot of people would camp out to check their email and the like. I feel like this also caused a bit of a visual sinkhole effect, since people would either want to avoid the large crowd of people sitting down, or want to join in. This area was also used for a lot of impromptu cosplay photography, which was also a distraction from the nearby vending.
And again, I don’t think there’s an easy solution to this, at least not one which wouldn’t end up upsetting even more people or causing more logistical or safety problems. If I had a backdrop with my stuff on it, maybe I’d have stood out better from the background. I don’t have enough experience to know this for sure; I can only speculate.
There was also a timing issue for the con itself. Usually GeekGirlCon happens at the end of September or the beginning of October, and people are mostly shopping for themselves and their own fandom cravings. But this time it was mid-November, which brings it firmly into holiday buying season; any of the people who stopped by and didn’t buy anything said that they’d buy my stuff for themselves, but they were shopping for gifts for others and they didn’t see anything I was selling that they thought would resonate with anyone else. And that’s totally, perfectly fair! I sell things that tickle my own niche interests, and a lot of people happen to share those interests, but their family members don’t.
Many people did want to buy stuff from me later, though! Unfortunately, this means buying online from me, at some later time – and I don’t currently have a usable web store for most things. I do have a store page,
but it’s outdated and a mess that just links to other clearinghouse sites, (UPDATE: I now have a proper store page!) and because so many of my popular designs are fanart I can’t even sell them on places like Threadless due to copyright concerns. Not that Threadless sales would help me clear out my stock of already-manufactured stuff anyway, though.
My pride pin selection was also probably a bit too limited; I had people specifically request bisexual and genderqueer hearts. For now I was only testing the waters, though, and limited myself to four- and five-stripe designs which I figured covered both my needs and a large segment of the GGC-going population. (I was actually a bit surprised I didn’t sell many nonbinary pins! The vast majority that I sold were trans and ace, and I think I only sold a single nonbinary pin as part of a three-pack.) Unfortunately, the bisexual and genderqueer flags are both three-stripe designs, so they would have required separate molds to be made. My plan was to do a three-stripe mold next, though, so based on this experience I will definitely be setting that up and getting those two designs made as well (they were absolutely next on my list).
Why I (probably) won’t be applying again
Anyway, all that said, I’m not out all that much money; my shortfall on table fees was only around $504, and while it’s annoying to have spent a few hundred dollars getting merch manufactured, it’s not like it’ll go bad or anything.5 This con experience is absolutely not why I have decided not to vend at GeekGirlCon again – and if it wasn’t clear already, I want to reiterate that I absolutely do not hold anyone (especially not GeekGirlCon!) responsible for this bad experience. I still love everything about GeekGirlCon and will absolutely continue to sponsor and attend it for as long as I am able. Everything that went wrong was just random luck. If these had been the only issues, absolutely yes I’d apply again and give it another shot.
But there’s one issue I didn’t mention, and you might have guessed what it is if you noticed the tags on this blog entry: This weekend I was having a pretty bad fibromyalgia flareup that coincided with the show. Particularly during the days leading up to it, and it peaked on Friday, at setup time.
The thing is: it pretty much subsided on Saturday, and it was all but gone on Sunday. It was absolutely not the stress of not making any sales that was a factor at all. If anything, those helped – because I wasn’t constantly dealing with customers or going through the stress of making sales and handling money and making correct change and juggling things, and so I was able to relax and take stretch breaks a lot.
From the beginning, this con was a test to see if I could handle vending with my health issues, and the conclusion I’ve come to is that I was only able to handle it as well as I did because I had so little to handle. If I’d been busy the whole time, I’d be a complete mess. I was feeling totally fine wihen it was time to pack all my stuff up; if I’d managed to sell half of it, I’d have had less to pack up but I wouldn’t have been able to handle the logistics of the packing and dealing with the load-out and fetching my car and so on.
Paradoxically, I only did so well because I failed so badly! If I’d done better, I’d have done way worse, or something like that.
So, again, these issues have nothing to do with GGC, and everything to do with my meta. Either I do poorly in one way, or I do poorly in another. The only winning move is not to play. (CW: photosensitivity/flashing)
My next event would have been Chibi Chibi Con down in Olympia next January. I think that I could handle a show of that size, if I didn’t have to drive down to Olympia to do it – but I do. That just doesn’t seem feasible to me. I’m probably still going to apply and use it as an excuse to finally visit my adopted state’s capitol for a few days, but if I don’t get in, I won’t consider it a particularly bad thing, y'know?
That said, I am overall glad for this experience and I still see it as a net positive. I finally got around to making prints of a bunch of my work, and I made a bunch of merchandise that I normally wouldn’t have. I’ve learned a lot about making enamel pins6, and have concrete plans for what to do with my inventory. I’ve also grown my fanbase a little and learned that my work has value. And that means a lot to me.
My next steps
So, I do have a lot of things to sell. More than I did before. The obvious next thing to do is for me to finally set up a proper commerce site. My plan for that is to either switch my store subdomain over to Publ, or set up a commerce category on this website; either way, getting my store page on Publ makes things a lot easier for me, and lets me do a bunch of stuff like tagging items with categories (making browsing way easier), having easy item permalinks and rich description pages, way better SEO, and so many other things that I wish I had when I set up the current quick-and-dirty subsite. The biggest thing I need to figure out is how to actually, you know, sell the stuff, meaning all the fun with shopping carts and so on. I’ll probably be looking at Square and Stripe’s various APIs to see how hard it’d be to build something for use with Publ. (Square’s looks particularly useful and straightforward.)
Another thing to do is to look into more venues for selling my pins. There are several shops near me that sell this kind of stuff; I need to hit pavement and talk to a few of them about consignment or plain ol' wholesaling. (Those also have tax implications, of course; taxes on this one-time show were easy, while taxes on an ongoing retail partnership are an entirely different issue.) I should also set up an Etsy shop; there’s a lot of pin sales there, and while the market is kind of saturated, it’s also where people go to look for queer paraphernalia, and the reason I made my pin designs was because they were designs I wanted and nobody else had anything like them. (Which is surprising! But all of the pride flag hearts I could find were, like, literal hearts. So strange.)
I also absolutely need to expand my selection on my pride hearts! Fortunately that’s easy to do; it just takes a bit of cash. It won’t take much for me to get an additional mold made for 3-stripe designs, and each additional coloration costs… well, surprisingly little. Longer-term I also have some designs in mind for some nicer-looking pronoun pins, which I think would go over well, although those will require a bigger cash outlay so I’d rather wait until I have built up this business first.
Finally7, I’m going to put a bunch more of my print designs on Threadless! I can’t do that for any of my fanart (for the obvious legal reasons), but all of my original art absolutely can, and some people were interested in getting my prints in sizes other than what I actually had available. There’s also a bunch more leggings designs I’ve been wanting to make, and some of my drawings would probably make for good home accessories (notebooks, coffee cups, etc.) so going PoD for that absolutely makes sense.
So. Is this an example of failing upward? It’s failing forward, at least.
By the way, my thermos (affiliate link) was amazing and kept my tea too-hot-to-drink until the mid-afternoon, which made it drinkable right around the time I needed it! and on Sunday it stayed warm for a whole 12 hours! ↩
Admittedly I don't know how people on the far end of the expo hall did, either. There's a lot of nooks and crannies which tend to escape notice from people and when I did a quick tour of the show floor during a break, I felt like foot traffic was pretty dismal back there too. ↩
Only $30 if I can deduct the table rental from my sales tax; I'm waiting to hear back on that from the Washington State Department of Revenue. ↩
Heck, my books and CDs have been taking up pretty much all the shelf space in my recording studio for years. The new stuff is pretty tiny by comparison. ↩
holy heck there is so much to know and I could talk your ear off about it, seriously don't get me started unless you want to glaze over and nod numbly for like an hour ↩
Well, I'm also talking to a non-profit organization that wants to hire me as a full-time software engineer about an interesting-sounding position that seems like it'd perfectly serve my ADHD tendencies and will pay pretty well, so there's that. ↩
Seriously, that rabbit hole is deep. ↩