If you’ve been following my ramblings here long enough, you might dimly recall a couple of rants I did back in the day on the subject of using “hard sell” tactics at comic conventions. There was my tamer version here, and my not so tame version over here. If you don’t have the time or inclination to read those, basically I just hate hard sells. They make me very uncomfortable as a buyer and so I’m always really, really hoping I never give off that vibe even accidentally as an exhibitor. Your visitation to an exhibitor’s table should never, ever feel like your only importance to them is spending your money on their stuff.

I bring this up because Dawn and I were scoping out a couple of local conventions this past weekend and I had an experience where a guy offered us some free stuff to get us to his booth, then pointed out the graphic novel he had for sale, and before I’d barely started leafing through the copy he handed me to check out was telling me the price, and that he’d “take care of the tax for me, no problem”, etc. etc.

Now not all of you may make it out to conventions often (or at all), but it is almost unheard of for an independent creator to charge sales tax. We still turn it over to the state and city when we file our returns, but on site we already have it factored into the price of what we’re offering so we can more easily take your cash money in nice round numbers, which is why I just had to nod and smile once at some well-meaning visitors who advised me I should change all my prices to “$x.99″ because that’s how retail stores do it. I know the trick, I know people are more inclined instinctually to view “$4.99″ as four dollars instead of five. I just don’t happen to like pennies that much.

Now this isn’t true of the bigger outfits with their hourly employees and non-Square merchant accounts, but in an artist’s alley or small press situation, telling me you’ll take care of the tax is sort of like telling me what a great deal I’m getting on a pen because it contains ink. Meanwhile I’m having trouble actually evaluating what I’m being asked to buy because you won’t stop talking for a moment. I begin to suspect that the talking is supposed to cover for the content, like you’re uncertain it can speak for itself. I begin now to feel uncertain if my decision to purchase will be my own, or if I’ll find myself with a heavier bag and a lighter wallet later on and wonder in disgruntlement, “Why did I do that?”

Have I been guilty of this? Quite possibly. In fact I look over my earlier rant and see me quoting myself telling people the print comics are five dollars apiece, though I do hope that was the response to someone actually asking. In my experience this weekend, I didn’t ask, and that just stuck in my craw that it was brought up so quickly. Unless someone’s starting to walk off with it under a mistaken impression it’s free (and if you don’t have pricing signs up, understand that may be partially your fault), don’t bring up how much it is, or start wheeling and dealing over something they haven’t even indicated they might want to buy. It just makes things awkward for everyone.

Which, you know… I think that’s what I’ve been trying to figure these past four years of exhibiting. Beyond hard or soft sell, beyond everything, just… don’t make it weird. This is perhaps a nigh impossible goal for me, socially awkward freakshow that I am. It’s also pretty nebulous as any sort of maxim, so let me give a more concrete example. A rather successful webcomic artist by name of Erika Moen made a training video that’s been being passed around by my peers, where amongst other things she talks about how to properly promote yourself at a comic convention. You can find it at this link if you’re interested, although be warned it is quite long: http://vimeo.com/68958287

I’ll just cut to the important part of it for my purposes. She basically tells her proteges that they need to always be on their feet, always looking, always greeting passerby. This is the path to success.

More specifically though, I feel this her path. Erika Moen is a petite young lady who runs the risk of completely disappearing behind her display should she sit. Despite her penchant for colorful hair, if she’s not constantly putting herself out there to passerby, they might very well pass her by.

I am a hairy man who is over six feet tall, and though I don’t know exactly what her weight is, I wouldn’t be surprised if I doubled it. I have a default expression that more than one person has told me makes me look like I’m annoyed with life. Now I also admit that I have problems with my feet where I physically just can’t stand in one place very long, but beyond that, when I stand up at our table, I *loom*. I can’t help it. Erika Moen probably couldn’t loom unless she stood on a chair and got a big dracula cape, and even then it would probably come off more adorable than threatening.

Me on my feet, greeting passerby, has a high potential to make things weird. That’s not just theory, there’s at least one convention where I did try to do the “outgoing” thing and Dawn made me sit down after a couple of hours of attendees scurrying by like field mice seeing the shadow of a hawk. Lo and behold, once I was back on (or below) their level, they started coming over to browse and buy again. So it works. I keep my ass planted in the seat, and the young ladies don’t feel the need to keep their mace keychains close to hand.

Even then, our table is well-laid out and stocked with price notifications so that I don’t usually have to say anything more than “Welcome, feel free to look. If you have any questions, let us know.” My voice is a loud and potentially looming thing as well. I try to find some other activity to work on instead of watching people browse, because I’ve yet to figure out any way to do so which doesn’t feel like I’m being creepy. If they start talking to me and asking me things, I’m more than happy to chat, but otherwise I’ve learned the hard way that a guy of my stature and bearing is better off being more passive than aggressive (and definitely not passive-aggressive).

So yes, if you’re small, it probably behooves you to try to seem large. But if you’re large, you might try to seem small. When near, appear far, when far, near, and all that other stuff Sun Tzu kept advising. If you recognize a cosplay you might compliment them, though it’s best to be sure… getting it wrong is a near surefire way to make things weird. Also it might be best to let the guy in the Doctor Doom get-up find your Doctor Doom print for sale naturally after that point, rather than shoving it at him and shouting “10 bucks and it’s yours!”.

There are really no right or wrong answers here, just instincts and circumstances. But more than anything it’s important to find a technique that works for you, and makes you comfortable. I know some might argue that you never want to feel comfortable in a sales environment, but think about it… when you do that you’re making things awkward right from the start, before a single visitor has crossed your path. Isn’t that half the battle lost, right there? Relax, and they’ll relax along with you.

That’s my opinion, anyhow. Don’t make this weird.