I tabled at the DC Zinefest this past Saturday, and it was a positive experience.
I sold out of almost all of the zines, bookmarks, and stickers I brought, and I was able to use that money to buy zines from the other people tabling at the event. I love zines, and I love the subculture surrounding zines. It’s good to support other writers and artists, and it’s always nice to smile at someone and look them in the eye and tell them how much you value and appreciate their work.
The Zinefest staff were wonderful. I tend to get overwhelmed by the crowd at events like this, so it’s important for me to be able to step back and spend a few minutes in a relatively calm space. I think the people who organize DC Zinefest understand that everyone needs a quiet place, so they set aside a small, screened-off area at the back of the room where people could chill out for a bit without bothering anyone.
My experience with anime conventions has been that the staff are primarily focused on crowd control and therefore operate under the assumption that aggressive confrontation is the best way to minimize trouble. This has led to some awkward situations when I’ve given panels at anime cons, so I appreciate that the DC Zinefest staff took it for granted that everyone who participated was a responsible adult, and I’m grateful that the organizers were willing to provide simple accommodations in good faith.
This was the first time I’ve tabled at an event like this, and here are some things I learned:
– It’s good to have some sort of vertical display for your zines. I’m not a huge fan of the elaborate fortresses constructed by some of the professionals who table at anime and comic conventions, but a low-key vertical display uses space efficiently and helps catch the eyes of people casually walking through the room. I’ve seen a lot of variations of these displays, and I get the feeling that a lot of structures are made by the artists themselves. I only trust myself enough to put together Ikea furniture, so it might be worth looking into where to buy a premade display if I table at an event like this again in the future.
– It’s good to incorporate short written descriptions of each zine into your vertical display. Some people used sticky notes, some people used index cards, and some people crafted display notes by hand. They were all cute and creatively presented, and they were useful to me when I only had a limited amount of time (and money) to look at other people’s tables.
– Along with written descriptions, it’s good to rehearse at least two different elevator pitches for each zine. It’s important to design zine covers that are able to speak for themselves, of course, but it’s also important to engage the people who stop by your table. A few people asked me questions that I didn’t know how to answer, and it would have been helpful if I could have said a sentence or two about the zine as a response, even if my description didn’t directly address what they were asking.
– A lot of people who stopped by my table were a bit awkward. That’s totally understandable, since going up to an artist’s or writer’s table is an awkward situation that takes some experience to get used to. Since I can sometimes be a bit awkward myself, I think it might be good to practice a few simple conversation starters, such as “I like your shirt” or “Do you like video games?” as preparation. It sounds silly to have to practice small talk, but I found that I got better at it with each passing hour. I was downright friendly by the end of the event, which makes me think that practice and experience probably help smooth over some of the awkwardness of this particular social interaction.
– It’s good to table with a friend, or at least to have someone who can drop by for an hour or two and give you a chance to walk around and stretch your legs. The floor layout of DC Zinefest is well organized and has enough room for people of all sizes, but I still think it’s a good idea to apply for a half table (instead of a quarter table) if you have more than one or two zines. If nothing else, a half table comes an extra chair, which means that anyone who comes with you will have a place to sit if they (or you) need it.
The only slightly critical thing I have to say about this experience is that I had a bit of trouble with some attendees – all adult men – who wanted to buy something for $1.00 and insisted on paying with Venmo. If you’ve never used Venmo, it’s a money transfer service that allows smartphones to communicate via QR codes and thereby complete transactions quickly, usually within five to ten seconds. What a few people (about one per hour) did was to make a big deal about having trouble with Venmo. They would make a scene and refuse to let me direct the transaction from my end, and I got the impression that they might have been trying to pressure me into giving them what they wanted for free. I understand that sometimes money transfers can be tricky, and I understand that sometimes QR codes don’t scan, but this happened so many times that I started to suspect something bigger was going on, especially since all of these Venmo “problems” were solved immediately as soon as my male tablemate stood up, spoke to these men at eye level, and told them that they could try transferring the payment to his account instead. The idea that grown-ass men would try to use some sort of stupid “my Venmo doesn’t work” scam to get a $1.00 sticker or bookmark for free at a local zine fest makes no sense to me, but something weird was going on.
Anyway, that’s another reason why it’s good to table with a friend – so that someone can play “bad cop” if an interaction seems as if it’s heading in a difficult direction.
Those minor instances of strangeness aside, I had a fantastic time. The organizers knew what they were doing, the staff was great, my fellow tablers were lovely, and the event was a huge success. I’m truly grateful that I was able to table at the DC Zinefest this year. I met some cool people, I made some good trades, and I came home with a bag full of interesting zines. I’m looking forward to next year!