Why I Write Convention Reviews

I wanted to take a time to write a blog post about why I write convention reviews.

Mainly, I write these so other artists will know what to expect. When I first started it was very difficult to find reviews about conventions before I attended. As a “planner” I like to know what to expect and it added a great deal of stress to not know.

As an artist, attending a convention is a huge financial investment. We have to pay for the table itself, badges if they are not included, travel, food, parking, and hotel costs. Often we will also need to pay these not only for ourselves, but for a second person as well so we can have a helper to allow for food and bathroom breaks. On top of that we have to put time and money into creating the items for sale. Then there’s the display items like tablecloths and banners. Even business cards can add up, I tend to give away anywhere form 500-2000 per weekend and those aren’t free.

There’s always a risk when an artist attends a convention that they will end up losing money. Not everyone in the artist alley makes their living selling at conventions. There are other reasons to attend including networking, meeting customers in person, and just because it’s fun. Most of us started out as huge fans before we started selling so just being at the convention is enjoyable. At the end of the day, though, we can’t keep attending if we lose money every time. Even hobbyists need to make enough to support their hobby. 


Part of the risk is random chance. You can’t control the economy, the weather, or the location. A snowstorm, flood, or wildfire can ruin a weekend. Sometimes customers just aren’t buying. Usually artists don’t even get to choose where in the hall we will be placed and position in the hall does make a difference in sales. Being behind a large column or facing a corner away from the doors can hurt. These situations are the sorts artists have very little control over. We develop plans on how to handle issues that arise and do our best with what we have to work with. 


Some factors, however, can be controlled. If I know an area of the convention center is dark, I can bring lights. If I know there is poor traffic flow, I can work to build up a taller or more eye catching display. However, if the artist alley is placed in a building with a leaking roof, the convention regularly violates their contracts with the artists, or if the attendance was far too low to support the number of artists, these are deal breakers to me. The potential to have a poor weekend is too high and I would not choose to attend.

This is different for each person, as well. What I may find completely unacceptable others may not consider an issue. 

I also think there is a serious problem with conventions because of how few artists, vendors, staff members, etc, are willing to write reviews. Unlike a regular attendee, these people often rely on conventions to make some, if not all, of their income. They’re also more likely to have direct communication with the show runners and more likely to see behind the scenes issues that attendees may not experience. Yet if they speak up, they risk losing access to this resource that they need in order to do business. It leaves those in charge with very little accountability for the way they treat those working under them since they have control over this resource that everyone else needs. They have all the bargaining power. I’m not saying all conventions are run by awful people, quite the opposite. I think most are generally decent, if not amazing, events. But there is corruption and there is a lot of drama and I think it’s important to be aware of that. 


I feel fortunate in that I don’t need conventions to make a living. I enjoy them and I do profit from them, but I also have a reasonably successful online store (which is why I often need to shut down or limit stock to prepare for a convention, I cannot manage both myself). Not every artist is as fortunate as I am and they don’t necessarily have the luxury of writing a review if it means being blacklisted from other events run by the same person or company. Because I feel like I do have more freedom potentially than others to express my opinions, I feel it's important to do so when I can. 


I do try to make sure my reviews are as fair as possible. I write both the positive and negative experiences and when my experiences are negative, I try to give advice on how I might like to see those problems solved. Yet I still think it’s important to take my reviews with a grain of salt. I am only one experience and one perspective out of, potentially, hundreds of others selling at the same event. The issues I have may also be just bad luck as well, like a PA system not working. And, as I said before, the things I consider to be a deal breaker might be fine for others. Grand Rapids Comic Con comes to mind as probably my most critical review and I haven’t been back since. Yet I know at least one other artists who always considers it to be their best show. And it's possible that I just plain have a bad show sometimes. I might have had a bad attitude that weekend, or my item selection wasn't as good, or I didn't set up my display well. There are always things I could do to improve my own experiences at a con and it's difficult to see those since I don't have the right perspective for it. 

It’s not all bad, either! This write up may make it sound all doom and gloom, but I try to choose the conventions I attend carefully to start with so my experiences are often largely positive and I’m just nitpicking small points. There’s been quite a few artists I have met at conventions who have said my reviews have helped them and I’m always glad to hear it. I’m also happy to answer any questions or speak to convention heads who may have points of clarification or explanations that I didn’t have so I can add those to my reviews.
 


If anyone has any other questions, please let me know! Thanks for reading :)

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