I've been casually frequenting cons for a while, but I have only begun selling for I am overly cautious when it comes to investing money and putting myself out there.
I tabled at Unplugged Expo in Toronto, Canada. Please note, this is based on a SMALL convention, so advice may differ slightly from a big convention. Still here are the Lessons!
Overall, I was lucky to make a profit for a first timer [all costs not just table], it was still a small con in it's second year with organization problems, and people generally wanted cheap deals with a few happy exceptions. What small cons are good for is getting your feet wet, but in the future if I wanted big profits, I'm going to the big cons!
-Print or produce anything last minute: Costly mistake.
To be fair, I was on the waiting list, and was informed of this last minute and it was during a school month. Nonetheless, I could have cut my costs a lot if I prepared files in advance and printed at a cheaper shop that closed early. Unfortunately I didn't, so I rushed to Kinkos because their 24h service. They have an overpriced time fee on top of print prices giving me an expensive tab! Quality was so-so.
Don't assume: Let the market tell you
Can't stress this enough, I was able to cover my costs because of my variety of products that cater to different people. I had fan art and original art. They both sold, but for me fan art sold better on buttons.
I made keychains thinking they were low investment easy sellers, they didn't sell. I made cell phone charms as pretty "filler" items thinking they wouldn't sell much since new phones sometimes don't have a place for charms, I was wrong. They sold better than I thought, to all ages, probably since they looked pretty.
Another thing that helped me was original art. I work traditionally and digitally, mostly digital since it's industry standard for my line of work. However, for the sake of your personal art, I suggest doing some originals since they bring money! They may not sell frequently, but they do offer a talking point and a show piece. I sold one original over two days and I should have asked for a higher price. Still because I sold it on the first day, that painting helped to cover my table cost. It was a huge burden off my back, so sunday I was able to relax more and have fun.
Aside from the items mentioned above, I sold other things. Jewellery did okay, but it has a limited appeal, but sells higher than your average button or charm. It's a unique way for people to show they love your art, they might buy it just because they like the item.
Prints/posters: Not so well at this con, thanks to unprofessional display Get vertical displays people.
Bookmarks did better than I thought, but not the best sellers. There are people who like to buy them though, I'm one since I use multiple bookmarks in one book to mark the pages i like.
BUTTONS! Love em. Cute/funny/chibi fan art sells better on them than my other art though. I sold them at 1", if you want to sell buttons with detailed graphics, get the bigger sizes. I think at least.
Commissions: Surpisingly no one commissioned me at this con, maybe I was too expensive. Still I recommend you bring your commission stuff anyway.
Talk to other artists
What's not to love about this? You get business advice, interesting life stories, feedback and art trades! And also friends you can keep contact with, and become mutual fans of each other's work. Sometimes I think the only people that truly understand an artist is another artist, so we need to look out for each other.
I wrote a list of every item I sold, plus the price and another column on the page to tick off when I sold it. It worked well as I was able to keep track of sales fast and easy. You don't need a fancy app, just pre-planning. If I didn't do everything so last minute, I would have made the list more detailed and typed it instead. For example instead of just "keychain" I would write "keychain-x design" to remember which ones sold better.
Also count your float. And organize your cash, keep the big bills from the small ones, and the change separate. I could have done this better.
Also I wish I purchased some wire cubes! I had a bunch of my posters, different designs just sit on the table for people to flip which wasn't very professional. Also at smaller conventions, I find people don't go for higher priced prints, they want bargins. Also keep in mind, I do mainly original art, so I probably had a harder time selling out than a fan artist.
Share a table if your not super popular and have a fan base the size of texas! In small cons, it's all about slashing costs, people at small cons tend to be bargin hunters.
If your doing water-colour commissions, I suggest buying compact water-colour sets with brush and palette built in like a transformer. You'll save space and time by not fiddling with tubes and multiple brushes and whatnot.
Don't expect too much on your first time, be realistic with what you can do. The first time is to test and promote, of course you should try to cover at least the table cost. No one should go into business to lose money.
Bring in business cards and flyers! People love free stuff. Make sure you don't have spelling errors, it's embarrassing.
-Getting autographs from the voice actors of sailor moon, and selling a bookmark to the voice actress of Sailor Moon herself!
-One of my customers also went to my school, and we're friends now. Also met the creator of Okamirai from Inkblazers (Formerly MangaMagazine) who I still talk to.
-A Tobi cosplayer bought two of my Naruto buttons and placed them on his cloaks that looked like nipples LOLZ.
So that's it, I'm glad my first con had some sort of success, as to not traumatize me from trying out different cons later. Keep in mind, there is a thing as starting too early, prepare well so you at least make back your table, I personally think getting your first con right is great for your morale. It is the foundation of your convention career. I'm definitely excited to do this again which is why I'LL ALSO BE TABLING AT FANEXPO 2014, COME SWING BY!
If anyone has any more advice, be sure to comment.
I'm the creator of a fantasy/action/drama series PSEUDO-. I also make my living on game/film Illustration and Concept Art, but hope to make a living doing my own thing one day. Please follow my on Facebook at: facebook.com/peiweiliarts or on here.