Okay so who am I to write any of this?
I'll tell you. I'm an IPPY Award winning writer/creator and publisher. I've been a regular civilian, a member of the press and a pro at cons. I've done big cons and small cons, I've had great shows and bad shows. I've also had good and bad placement at cons, I've been in small press booths and artist's alleys and I've sat arms length from legends like Joe Rubenstein and Phil Jimenez.
I have an imprint, TJ Comics (www.tjcomics.com) and I've written an handful of creator owned books including Patriot-1, ExtraOrdinary and Steel Creek, with more on the way. I ran a successful Kickstarter for Patriot-1 and I love comics.
Sure, I haven't written for Marvel or DC yet (seriously, call me guys), but I've been making comics for the better part of a decade.
I LOVED Derpygurlnyc’s list of dos and don’ts at cons and it really applies to all artists and writers. You should read her post. It's pretty on point. I don't really want to totally reiterate a lot of what she said, but I do want to add to it. As a writer, this is going to be a bit more geared towards writers and publishers, but it applies across the board.
Have a banner. Writer, artist, publisher, letterer, no matter how you identify yourself you have to have a banner of some kind that identifies what your table is. It doesn’t have to be you per se, but it should be what you are selling, be it a book, imprint... or you. Not having a trade show banner at a trade show defeats the purpose. They are ridiculously important.
Get a stand to prop your book(s) up. It seems like a no brainer, but it isn't always. The wise sage Greg Pak once blogged about this and what a difference it makes, and he’s absolutely right. I didn't start doing it until last year myself and I immediately noticed a difference. If you have a table at a con, you have a 6 foot bookstore, treat it as such.
Be respectful to your neighbors, hell, even partner with them. The first thing I do when I arrive at my table for the first time is introduce myself to the people on my left and right. They are in the same boat as you (unless they are a big time creator with a line already wrapping around the aisle - but they were once where you are). See what they are selling, what they have to offer and partner with them if you are so inclined to attract attention to your general vicinity. Onrie Kompan touched on this is his follow-up to derpygurlny's article.
Be positive. Another big item that Onrie touched on. Maintain a positive attitude, it can be difficult sometimes - I'm guilty of it - but it's important to stay upbeat. It's also important to keep the creators around you in the same frame of mind. Look, sometimes cons can be disheartening and discouraging, but you have to stay above it all. Adapt, join forces with your neighbors to do something to make your aisle more active and the place to be. You don't want to lose the sale because of a shitty attitude. And hey, you never know when the next person you're talking to is a talent scout from a major publisher or a legit Hollywood producer... just putting that out there.
Encourage people to flip through your book. 9 times out of 10, when someone literally stops or slows down to look at your booth/table, they are interested in whatever they see. It’s usually obvious to tell what they are looking at, so always make eye contact and encourage them to flip through the book. You'll be able to make your pitch, the potential customer will actually see the book and you might even get a sale. At the very least, give them a card or some kind of gimmick with your book's info on it.
Have some variety. Currently, I have a military/spy graphic novel (which is my flagship title), a superhero book and an Eastwood-esque Western. The superhero book and the western I do low, on-demand print runs to have them at cons. My next graphic novel is zombie/horror satire. Yes, it's an expensive endeavor, but you also don't want to be a one-trick pony. You can also have multiple price points on your books. I have two editions of Patriot-1, one is a limited edition so it's a bit more expensive. But Patriot-1 at a minimum is $20. The western is 2 issues for $6 or $4 each. The superhero book is $5. Prints are $10. I have multiple price points and they remain flexible, but there is variety. If you only have one book, that's fine, see the next point.
Have a business plan and a plan for the future. I'm moving away from single issues as my primary line of products for my overall business plan. Graphic novels are more feasible and cost effective. However, I do like to have single issues I print specifically for cons. But I also make sure I have the next issues in production before I sell the one I have for cons. The first issue of my superhero book is in production (the one I have now is a "zero" issue). The next two issues of my western are done, they just need to be lettered. A book not by me but published under my imprint is coming as a graphic novel.
My first comic was that aforementioned zombie/horror satire, it stalled after three issues because the artist started working at Marvel. After a couple years and a couple artists that didn't work out, I decided to stop selling the three issues and rewrite the book as a graphic novel with one brand new artist.
Whether you have an imprint like I do or not, you're running a small business and you need to have a plan. You need to offer something new every year you do a particular show.
Sell prints, support your artists. If you aren't an artist and just a writer like me, consider making and selling prints of covers or commissioned artwork from your book's artist (so long as they are cool with it, of course). A lot of con-goers collect artwork, especially this day and age and it's important to have something to offer. Also, see the "Have Deals Ready" point below. Also sell prints to support your artist if you feel so inclined. I employ a lot of international artists that can't make it to cons in the states, so I try to work out agreements where I kick back a portion of the sales on prints, because they are all part of my team.
Cosplayers are not the enemy. I've heard it for years now. "Cosplayers are taking away from the comics" or "they only care about pictures with cosplayers." I love cosplayers, honestly. The only time I'm really bothered by them is when they are clogging up the flow to my table by taking multiple pictures. In my experience, I've always been able to just politely ask them to move to the side and they obliged. Also, do you have an original character? You realize a cosplayer could be a strong marketing tool for the future, right? Give them a promo image or something of that nature, encourage them to cosplay as your character - you never know.
Take some time to explore. This may sound counter-productive, but it's very important to take 10-20 minutes and walk the floor, particularly in artist's alley. Get out there and meet people. I've made some great friends doing that and we often compare notes and sales and trade advice. Go meet fellow creators, ask them how their con is going, check out their work, you might even find something that inspires you. We are a community and we are strongest when we band together. Sure, we're essentially competing with each other, but we've also got to support one another.
Try something different. I can't draw, but I love to. So I started doing "sketches by a writer" this year for fun. I got the idea from Vito Delsante and its honestly kind of fun. That, and I plan to donate a majority of the sale to the Hero Initiative. It's different, but I'm not afraid of trying new things and putting myself out there. I have a snarky sign explaining the thing, it draws some attention.
Give stuff away. Have something a person can take with them, even if they don't buy your main product(s). For example, I do bookmarks - they are cheap and easy and you can literally use them like a business card. You can also find a range of options for magnets, shot glasses and other promotional items that are relatively cheap and not only promote yourself, but your work as well.
Have deals ready. Buy the book, get a print for 50% off. Buy the book get a free extra. Buy this book get that book for less. $4 per issue, or 10 for all 3... etc. Be ready to wheel and deal, don't live and die by the cover price. You want to maximize your effort, time and sales, but you also want a repeat customer. Another thing I do, particularly because I wrote a military-centric book, is give veterans and active duty a discount on it. It's a small thing that I ultimately feel good about at the end of the day, and sometimes that's what counts.
Social media is your friend. To reiterate derpygurlny's point about social media, use Twitter, use Facebook, use Instagram. It's free marketing and it's an easy way to let people know where you are via the almighty hashtag.
Believe in your project. Look, I might offend some people out there with this statement (of course I will, it's the Internet), but quality varies a great deal in indie comics. You can have high-quality, top shelf, major publisher quality work in both writing and art, or you can have something that is not quite ready for prime time. I'm not trying to discourage anyone from making comics and art and living your passion, actually quite the opposite. YOU are selling your book. Not Diamond, not a retailer, not comiXology... YOU. You must sell it with the same passion and drive that led you to create it. We aren't in it for the money, we're in it for the love of story and art and if that comes across to a potential customer, they are more likely to give your book a chance. YOU have to be the book's biggest fan, and you have to sell yourself and your idea and sometimes that outweighs everything else.
Have fun. Seriously. Fucking have fun. You're making comics so you're already awesome.