Great Idea For Artists: Convention Spending Tracker

Missy Peña is a really good artist, who’s done some fantastic covers for BOOM!’s Steven Universe series. Back in March, she shared a great idea on her Tumblr page, a convention spending tracker.

Whenever I go to conventions, especially smaller ones. I see artists who essentially have no day job. They are artists for a living, and as such usually are forking out cash for their own expenses. The original spreadsheet was improved upon by librarian Lena Marvin, who describes herself on her Twitter bio as “a geek with a thing for metadata and accessible information.” The tracker plugs in various expenses, including incidentals that many artists don’t think about, like the printing costs for new books or prints, miscellaneous costs, such as plastic bags for prints, baggage fees, and the like. As someone who used to go to several conventions, I can already attest that many artists, and I speculate most, wind up attending conventions that are actually costing them money.

I know, I know, some of you will defend those choices as “building connections within the industry.” Some artists would respond to that defense by saying that the most important relationships an artist has is with their fans. Frankly, going to a convention where you actually sell your work to a handful of fans, all the while paying for gas or airfare, possibly a hotel room, and the requisite costs of preparing for a convention by replenishing stock. If you wanted to, you could amend this spreadsheet by using one of the misc. columns for food costs, since eating during a weekend at home is much cheaper than eating at a convention, especially out of town.

Perhaps if I had done something like this I wouldn’t have wasted so much time at conventions where I was practically ignored. I had a couple of good cons but didn’t return because table costs were so high, or it was a long trip requiring a hotel room. As an exercise, I took one of my most successful shows I did, and factored in all costs and what I made, and found that I actually lost about $1000 after it was all said and done. A local convention that I made very little at was actually a good day, considering my costs were practically nothing.

So if you’re an artist going to a convention that you enjoy, but are consistently losing money at, you might want to take a hard look at the cold fact of math. My advice is if you’re losing money consistently at a show, but enjoy going to it, then save a few dollars and just go as a fan. You won’t be rooted to a table, and will be able to do things like actually take in some panel discussions and have time to shop without the worry of leaving your table and losing possible sales. Of course, you won’t recoup any of what you spend, but looking at the math, you aren’t doing that, anyway. You’ll actually reduce your costs by paying for a $45 badge instead of a $450 table fee. You might also consider before which conventions debuting a new book or prints makes more sense at.

Artists need to start doing conventions wisely, because bad conventions hurt the industry as a whole by draining the limited finances of great artists before they ever get discovered by a larger fan base. Fans can venture past the few hot artists and start looking at new artists, discovering one and possibly making their city one that artists love coming to, because they make money, and they have the math to prove it, thanks to Missy Peña and Lena Marvin.