Lean, Mean, Touring Machine
Authors aren’t rock stars touching down in cities across the globe to teaming masses of frenzied fans. Comic book artists aren’t going to be rolling across the highways in decked out tour buses with champagne-filled hot tubs. We are all poor, so when we travel, we must travel smart. The Literati Press war chest is far from impressive, but it still gets us down the road pretty far, stretching from coast to coast as we try to dig our claws into new markets. Here are a few tips on how to live the touring life on the cheap:
1. CARPOOL: This is the single most effective way to travel. Split gas, hotel, and food costs with fellow creatives in order to get more mileage out of your promotion budget. Don’t just travel with anyone, though. Travel with people you like and trust. You can also split booth costs this way, but compared to hotel stays and skyrocketing gas costs, opting for a second $100 table isn’t that big a deal.
2. MAKE FRIENDS IN EVERY TOWN: Talk to your fellow vendors and make nice. They can give you inside scoops on hotel deals or, if you’re really lucky, offer up a couch next time you’re in town. Again, only do this with people you trust and be the perfect house guest wherever you crash. Clean up after yourself, offer to cook for the host and don’t be a dick.
3. DON’T EAT OUT: We might get one meal at a hip, local restaurant on each trip, but that’s it. We have a rolling cooler that we take into the conventions which is packed with fruits and vegetables, sandwiches, granola bars, B vitamin supplements for energy, water, and flavor packets we can mix into the water bottles. When we run out of food, we find the nearest grocery store and restock. What excess money we do have, we try to use at the convention to buy stuff from other vendors. This supports your fellow creatives, exposes you to some cool new titles, but it also aids in making nice with the locals which could save you money in the long run.
4. MAKE SURE YOU HAVE SOMEWHERE TO SLEEP EVERY NIGHT: Traveling on the cheap takes dedication, but it can be taken too far. Unless you have a Winnebago, don’t sleep in your car. Also don’t sleep on the convention floor. Always have a bed or comfortable couch to sleep on because, in the end, living like a homeless person will just lead to burnout. Rooms can be found in most cities for $50 or less and it is worthwhile investment. I’ve done the sleeping in airports thing and its not worth it. If you sleep at all, you wake up miserable, smell awful, feel awful and have limited your ability to charm potential fans.
5. NETWORK: This is actually still a weak spot for me, but I’ve seen it done successfully. Rather than hitting the town after the day’s over, stay in the hotel and attend room parties. Talk to convention volunteers, talk to fellow vendors and talk to attendees. Tons of valuable info can be mined from these conversations that will lead you to make better decisions on which conventions to attend in the future.
6. BE SELECTIVE: Research your conventions on the internet and fellow vendors. If it is a new event, be cautious. Don’t avoid new cons entirely, though. If you were throwing a convention $100 for a booth when it started, then when it blows up four years later and booth costs have tripled, they will sometimes cut you a break for your loyalty.
7. VOLUNTEER: You want a free table and to get onto panels. This is how. Nothing’s free in this world. This is also good for the soul.
8. DISTILL: Don’t take everything in your garage to every convention. You want your booth to look nice, but you need to be able to transport your entire load in one trip. If you are carpooling, you won’t have tons of room, so take only what you absolutely need. Literati Press packs two large plastic tubs, fry baskets, a small wooden sign and its holder. All this fits onto one dolly, so, if I’m on my own, I can pull that and my cooler back and forth to the convention with minimal effort. I’ll have just enough clothes to get me through the weekend and toiletries to keep me so fresh and so clean.
9. CONSIDER GPS: Either through your phone or a separate device, GPS tracking can save you gas and mountains of frustration. I toured without it before, and never want to go back to that miserable existence.
10. AVOID ISOLATION: Nothing sucks more than sitting out a ten hour shift for three straight days at a convention all on your own. Take a friend, split a booth, whatever you can to get help. Getting up and stretching your legs from time to time is super helpful and keeps your mind crisp when dealing with attendees.
11. TOUR ON DISPOSABLE INCOME: Don’t go into debt to travel and don’t dip into your grocery funds. The money you are spending on travel should be money that you don’t really need. I carry an extra job whose primary purpose is to fund our touring expenses. Book and art sales sometimes recover all expenses, but that’s not something you can count on and its much better to direct that money toward printing more or paying your talent. This also helps alleviate desperation when you attend a convention where no one is buying. If you don’t need the money to get the gas to get home, then you can just enjoy the convention as it is, a chance to make initial contact with future buyers.
12. DON’T BE THAT GUY: You know the one, your book got a good review from your buddy’s blog, so now you think you can demand the attention of an A-list celebrity. These vendors are at every convention, small fry authors and artists that bitch about every little shortcoming of a convention because they’ve got 2,000 friends on Facebook, which means they are important. Conventions are hard to run, mistakes will be made, just be nice about it and don’t bitch to (or about) the volunteers. If they ask for your input, be constructive and DO NOT BE A DICK. Convention organizers talk to one another, so if you gain a reputation as a problem vendor, then you’ll never be asked to be a guest.
Touring is a hard, expensive endeavor, but if you are smart, it can be fun and rewarding. Just keep hope and remember that the vast majority of successful writers and artists started out just like you, a trunk packed with product and a head stuffed with ideas.