The Alternative Press Expo gave me a strong reminder about the usefulness and uselessness of the free table. It's a great resource, found at almost all conventions, a place to put old giveaway issues, business cards, flyers and such. This is a lot easier for a print comic than a webcomic, where all the old issues are virtual. Looking at what worked and didn't work this year, we made up a list of guidelines for our table and our presence on the free table for next time.
- Business cards are great, but business cards for specific comics are better. People are more likely to hold onto a card for a comic than for a person unless they are in the industry.
- Even if your comic is completely easy to understand, a flyer with a comic and synopsis is incredibly useful.
- If you make someone smile or engage their curiosity before you've even met them, that's half the battle.
- People are often nervous about getting a hard sell when they walk around the actual exhibit tables. Getting them to the point where they are curious about your comic is an uphill battle, especially if your story is more involved than the gag-a-strip variety. Giving them a synopsis they can carry away makes that battle a lot easier.
- People are more likely to look a second time at something their brain tells them they've heard of before, even if only vaguely.
- Whatever is given away should be tied directly to the comic. Putting several comics under a blanket header gives a lot less memorable name recognition; it's useful if you are trying to get jobs as an illustrator, but nowhere as much if you're trying to promote your comic. Postcards with related works or unrelated works by the same artist don't make that connection for the viewer, nor does artistname.com when compared to yourcomichere.com.
- Plaster the URL everywhere. Remember the point isn't to sell product but to get people to visit the comic online. This sounds like an obvious point, but in the middle of a convention full of print comics, it's easier than you'd think to forget.
- If you are going to give it away for free, make it a postcard. If you are going to sell it, you're better off upping the quality of the card by one level and selling it as a mini-print.
- People love free stuff, but not all free stuff is equally effective.
- Free candy gets you nowhere. Free candy gives guilty looks as someone browses close enough to grab a piece, then guiltily sneaks away without making eye contact. And it's hard to write your URL on it, anyway.
- Free pins are not cheap, but very popular.
- Stickers are cheaper than pins, but less popular unless they are very witty or very eye-catching.
- Custom matchboxes aren't that costly if made at home, and are very popular, but are absolutely not for the free table, because little kids come to these conventions. (No, we didn't make that mistake, but we almost did until we thought about it.)
- One piece of paper folded in half makes a great four-page mini-comic, and it's not very expensive at all.
- Judging by the non-scientifically sampled man-on-the-street questioning we conducted, there's an amazing number of people out there not reading webcomics. They're the ones the banner ads, Project Wonderful spots and cross-networking comic plugs aren't going to reach, and they're the ones all this is really for.
And now I'm curious — what's worked for you?