I just attended my second festival this year as a vendor! My first one was the Rockwall Comic Fest, which was an awesome entry into the world of selling artwork in person. It was free, the crowd was exactly my demographic (book nerds), and, as a school fair, it was low pressure.
The North Texas Wine and Brew Music Festival was the next step up. I had to rent a space, I had no clue about the crowd other than that they loved drinking and music, and it was expected to have thousands of attendants. It was also their first year to hold the event, so there was the added risk that something would fall through. But, man. It worked out. And I’m so glad I did it. Here’s how it all went down.
I am so glad I worked for four years at a project-based learning school. Who knew I had absorbed so many good project management skills?! Both with this festival and the Rockwall Comic Fest, I set weekly creating tasks for myself about 6 weeks out from the event. I started with digital pieces that I could put on Society6 and Redbubble, as well as send off to create posters and stickers that I could sell at my booth.
Then, I moved on to physical pieces. I had stockpiled a bunch of chalkboards during clearance events and end-of-season sales, so I finally had an excuse to draw on them.
And just ten days before the event, I found a few materials that had been tucked away in my closet for years! I found globes and paper mache skulls that were just dying to be drawn on.
This time, I was prepared to have to take many of my creations back home with me–the ones that just didn’t find their forever nerdy homes yet. With that in mind, I wanted to create pieces that I could love and cherish as they came back with me. I am genuinely proud of each and every one of these pieces, and I love that I don’t feel like I just made them for the sake of selling.
So this is where I wasn’t great at planning. But I think it worked out for the best.
I knew I had a 10×10 space, and I paid a little extra to have an indoor space with a table and a chair. But that was it. They kept saying that we wouldn’t get our booth location until the week of the event, and even that was subject to change until the morning of the event. I did my research and found good layouts for booths, and I was ready to have a walk-in space with a back wall.
And then I got landed with a middle-of-the-aisle space.
Y’all. I panicked. I had not imagined that I wouldn’t have a back wall. And I had too much stuff to only display toward one side.
So I brainstormed while I unpacked my car, and did a quick Google search before I started setting up. Rather than a U-shape like I planned, I went with a space that was open for walking through.
I wasn’t sure if it would work. I was panicking while I unpacked. The room was starting to get hot; I hadn’t eaten very much that day; I thought I would pass out from it all. But as soon as I asked my husband to take away the empty boxes, it all came together. I ate half of a Lunchable, then he got me a Fletcher’s corny dog, and the show got started.
The Actual Event
It was slow going at first. I got a big sale from a fellow vendor before the event started… and then nothing. For a long time. About an hour and a half in, I saw a lot of people just passing through my space. Not even curious. A few paused at my stickers, but that was it. They were all there to try out the wine. I crossed my fingers that my nerds would come out after they had a few drinks.
And they did. Finally, about two hours into the event, once it got so hot outside that everyone was dying to come inside, I finally started seeing genuine interest and nerding out. And really, that’s the biggest thing I need at these events, I think: seeing that other people get it, that they enjoy the magic in words and books.
One person said my phrases were so unique (and yeah, of course Dylan Thomas and Jane Austen quotes stand out in the field of “Adventure Awaits” signs), and quite a few of them shared how much they love reading with me. A contract attorney bought my Dinosaurs Didn’t Read poster so he could put it up in his office and remind people to READ THEIR CONTRACTS! And a friend’s son bought the “I Read and I Know Things” sticker so he could show all his friends why he knows so much shit. I was beaming!
Toward the end of the event, I got to meet some really fun people. One woman told me about Rebecca Solnit and gave me a new quote to letter: “Books are solitudes in which we meet.” One couple asked me to autograph my “Dinosaurs” print when they found out I’m the one who designed it. And then I closed the night with an absolutely bewitching group of women who wanted to talk about who they loved and hated out of the Brontes, Austen, Woolf, and Chopin. One of them was a professor who gave a couple of talks at Leaky Con here in Dallas! AMAZING.
I may be an introvert who feels awkward around humans most of the time, but man, I get a high from talking to strangers about books. There were a few critics who came by: a mother and a daughter made a face when they saw I was charging $50 for a handlettered chalkboard sign; a couple mocked a sticker design I made. But I’m a high school teacher. I’m used to sarcastic critics every day, so it rolled off my back. What’s sticking is the nerdy love I got all day long.
When she was visiting me and my booth, one of my friends said, “You make a very specific group of people very happy” and went on to talk about how excited my nerds get when they see my stuff. That was the best thing anyone said to me that day. It validated my branding and recognized my people. I’m so so happy to have my nerds out there!
The Inner Voice
And then, about thirty seconds after I drove out of the parking lot with my inventory much lighter and just $12 short of the ambitious goal I had set for myself, my inner voice kicked in. They’re all going to go home and look at your stuff and realize they made a big mistake. The quality of your work is awful. Your style is ugly. They’re going to regret it. Fortunately, I was on enough of a high to be aware of it and try to keep it quiet. But it never quite went away. Remembering all the awesome people I met and the kind words they had helped me ignore that voice enough to still be proud of myself for the day.
Overall: Totally Worth It!
I’m writing this mostly for my friends who are curious about how the whole experience was, as well as for newbie vendors who are wondering about how it will go. I have no regrets. I’m glad that I made a plan for creating new pieces, that I researched booth styles and floorplans, that I did the floorplan that I did because of how crowded the event was, that I priced my pieces appropriately, and more than anything, that I made pieces I genuinely loved and got to talk to people who loved them, too.