April 20, 2012

How to Artist Alley: How to Get that Coveted Spot

Here's a topic I don't see covered very often. How to actually GET a spot in an alley. It requires patience, tenacity, preparation, and reading. But it's not THAT scary or difficult - so long as you know some of the basics of how this stuff works.

I am only speaking in regards to ANIME CONVENTION artist alleys,
not huge comic book, or gaming conventions
they most likely have other rules and such.
I would assume they are similar, but I don't want to guarantee anything.

How to Artist Alley:
Getting Your Table

a.k.a. learning to lurk in forums and have fast fingers

Step 1: Find a convention. STALK IT.

Here is a sample Anime Convention Website (not all will look this lovely or functional, but I wanted to show you guys a really nice one)

Sometimes a forum link is buried. Often it's under "Community" links, if not labeled "forums"

I don't mean follow them into a dark alley and mug them for loose change. If you're interested in doing an Artist's Alley (even if you've never been to that particular show), there's one thing I can assure you: many conventions do NOT update their website in a timely manner, if at all*. 

*Big Show Exception: If it's a huge show, then it'll probably update. Probably. They tend to have a lot of staff. And possibly big corporation pressure.

So what is a fledgling Alley Dweller to do? You STALK THE CRAP out of that convention. If it's a convention worth it's salt, there WILL be a forum. Sign up for that thing ASAP.

I live on here from around December - May each year.

Take some time. Peruse through the boards. Check out things like feedback boards from previous shows (if there are any), visit some picture galleries, get a bit of a feel for how the forum works. Then set up your profile with a user avatar (have a picture of your art? Here's a good place to start using it), some brief information, so you'll at least look like you fit in (instead of random newbie with no posts).

Step 2: Find the Artist's Alley Thread/Board

Most conventions will have a specific area programmed into the forums strictly for Artist's Alley. GO HERE. Start reading through things. A lot of times you might find the current rules/regulations/schedules for how the alley works. If you don't  see one, then start a thread posting "When will information be available?" Mark the thread so it'll send you updates on it via email.

This can be more difficult to find. I've seen it under Operations, Panels, Events, and sometimes
their own sections! Take time to find it. You'll thank yourself later.

Remember: be patient and polite! These coordinators usually have their own "In Real Life" jobs, and can't hang out on the forums all the time. 

Find out there's a mailing list? JOIN THAT SUCKER.

Once you've decided you're relatively interested, SAVE the address of this forum, and put it in your "favorites" list in your browser of choice. Nothing's worse than going "Um... what was that website again?" when you're searching quickly for info. (I have a folder just for "convention forums" in my favorites)

Step 3: Check this board as often as you like

This could be "check every day" as the date of sign up approaches (or you get anxious), or maybe every couple of days if it's still a ways away. I usually check it at least once a day - it takes me like 30 seconds to give it a glance through to see if anything's been added.

Meanwhile.... Start Building a "Portfolio"

While you're waiting for all that precious information to come out, start building some products. Take pictures or scan them in. This will save you time in the long run.

If you have your own website, start posting/saving your images to that site! Make your own little "gallery" if you'd want. OR if you don't have your own site, you can always go to places like DeviantArt and set up an account. Add some pictures.

Even the free version isn't that bad. It's a nice way to organize/store your art.
And get feedback on pics and products!

Why is this important, you ask? Well, now that competition is getting fierce, you need a good place to store pictures of what you make for your booth because conventions are starting to ask more and more for actual examples rather than going off of just your proclamation of "I'm a good artist, really!"

Keep this page updated too. If you're lucky, you'll start building an audience/fanbase who will WANT to find you at conventions! You'll also get some good feedback on what people like and don't like. 

If it wasn't for Deviant Art, I might have never gotten into making Pokemon Badge Sets. TRUTH.

Step 4: Read the Rules. Prepare your Paperwork.

By this point, they've probably posted to their forums (if you're lucky the main website was updated too!). The most important posts you'll find are:

ACEN's even nice enough to provide a FAQ for artist's too.
They've been excessively well-prepared this year.

1.) Artist's Alley RulesSomewhere there should be rules and regulations posted regarding the conventions Artist's Alley. Conventions will vary in their rules - some say no fanart, some say 50%, others say NO ELECTRICTY, and some are "juried" some are "first come first serve", some are a combo of both. Read through these rules. Become familiar with them. Have questions and need clarficiation - here's a great place to do it. Either reply to the post or PM the coordinator. They'd much rather work with you, than boot you out (well, most of them).


In the rules there should be a posting on how the alley tables will be priced and where you'll need to click to sign up. Due to abuses of Artist Alley tables, a lot of conventions have convoluted ways of having you pay. Here's the kinds I've seen:

  • Price for Table does not include full weekend badge or electrical hookup
    (but will provide contact info for electricity)

  • Price for table does not include full weekend badge, but has an option to purchase electrical

  • Price for table does not include full weekend badge, but may have electricity for free

  • Table + Weekend Badge Included in price
    (I love it when they do this)

  • Table + Weekend Badge for you AND helper
    (I really love it when they do this. I rarely leave the table, and my table mate even less)

Remember - the conventions aren't usually trying to steal all your money by making you buy a full badge (even if it feels money grubby). What's happened is people buy the cheaper alley badge, then don't show up at their table. Or buy cheap ones for all their friends, and none of them work the booth. It really comes down to "because people are mean, we can't have nice things".

This may be nested in the "rules" post. Find this date ASAP and mark it on your calendar. That will give you ample time to get your portfolio and money in order.

3.) FAQ 
Sometimes forums will have a "Frequently Asked Questions" area. It's a great place to look for clarification on rules. And prevents you from asking a question that's already been asked.

Step 5: Make a word document with needed information

Sounds simple, but people forget. Make yourself a word document with a list of "items your booth sells", link addresses to your portfolio, studio name(s), and possibly your billing address (leave your credit card number off - you might not even need it if they take something like paypal).

Why do you need this? Well, when you're in the throws of filling out whatever form they have online, copy-paste is your friend. The less you need to think about what you're putting in the fields, the faster you'll get through and signed up. Also, it gives you time to think about other stuff and read the form correctly.

Do they have a printable contract to scan and copy? PRINT IT OUT and fill it out now. Save it. That way you just have to "attach and submit" your contract.

There's really no excuse for random flailing when you sign up these days.

Step 6: Wait... then POUNCE!

Now it's the waiting game. You've got all your documentation ready, you just need to wait for the submission window to open. Write it down, send yourself reminders if you have to - a lot of the larger ones will give you a date and time the site will open for applications.

Sit down at your computer 30 minutes ahead of time, and organize/open the needed files (make sure to get out of work early that day if it opens midday - do NOT think there will be openings 3 hours later). Pull out your credit/debit card if you need to. Have everything within arms reach.

The minute that thing opens - GO FOR IT. Work fast, but accurate. You've prepared for this! Your clicking finger is READY.

Double check each field you fill out, then hit "submit" or whatever the final step they need you to do is.

Step 7: Breathe, then wait for the response

BREATHE. You're done! It's now in the hands of the convention. When you're done, you should receive some sort of "we received your application!" message (if it's via email this may be delayed a few days). It will be nervewracking, but keep checking your email for your official confirmation. They'll tell you if you're in, or on a waitlist.

In the case of an extreme wait, you can always PM the department head (DH), or send an email to general Artist Alley account (whatever that email may be). Sometimes alleys take a LONG TIME to get back to you - most are pretty timely and can get back to you within the week.

Are you in? AWESOME. Go start making things, or stalk your next alley.

Are you on a waitlist? DON'T FREAK OUT. Things happen and artists have to drop out. You may still be in the running - so start making products and looking for other alleys to be in. It's not the end of the world.


I know this list seems awful long, but every convention is different. The best thing you can do is BE INFORMED. Claiming ignorance is no longer an acceptable excuse as many conventions put this information out in the forums WAY before the time to sign up.

Signing up for an artist's alley spot is a lot more complicated and competitive than it used to be back in the day - so knowing how the general process works will keep you ahead of the game!


Anime Central's 2012 Artist's Alley filled up with applications in 12 minutes. 12. I was done 6 minutes in, only cause I forgot I had to log in first. I almost missed it due to my own negligence in reading the rules.

COMING UP NEXT: We're taking a short break while I freak out about my ACEN table. How to Artist Alley posts will probably resume (less frequently) after that, while I organize my thoughts. Not that I don't like talking about Alley Stuff, but Variety is the Spice of Life, as they say! :D

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