Arrive as early as possible on the first day of the con. Some artist alleys assign tables on a first-come, first-serve basis and you’ll benefit from being able to grab the best spot. Even if an alley assigns tables ahead of time, if you get there early and find your assigned table is in a bad spot you’ll be in a better position to be able to talk the artist alley staff into switching you with a better table, or to get on a waiting list for tables whose artists cancel at the last minute if you’re there early. Running an extension cord from an outlet and need to tape it down? It’ll be much simpler to tape it down before most of the other artists get there and start moving around. If there’s something wrong with your paperwork, or the table or chairs are missing or broken, this is a better time to handle the problem than later when everyone’s getting tired, artists are yelling at the director, and the hotel’s run out of extra tables and chairs.
Each con’s procedures for checking in are different. You might be be asked to sign in and show identification and get walked to your table, or they might accept that you’re who you say you are and wave a hand in the general direction of the alley and say “Pick a table.” I’ve had both extremes and everything in between.
You’ll usually get a table, and one or two chairs that go with it to sit or pile stuff on. If you have two chairs and there’s only one of you, pile stuff on the other chair immediately to prevent it from being poached. If you only have one chair and need two, hopefully you got there early and can poach a chair from a table that doesn’t have anyone at it yet, or can ask the alley director for another one.
Tables set up in the middle of a space are usually arranged into squares or rectangles of several tables each, called “islands.” If you’re in the position of having to pick your own location, you want a place that has heavy traffic. If you can snag a table directly across from the door to the Dealers’ Room or the main door into the facility, you’re golden. If not, find a decently-trafficked spot to set up. If you’re stuck out of the main traffic area, see if you can get a table where lines for the cosplay or guest autographs will be, or near where panels let out.
A corner table can be good, because you can get people coming from two directions, but there is much less space behind the table for you, your stuff, your minions, and the other table’s artist, stuff, and minions. It’s also harder to control the merchandise on the end of the table at the corner, since you can’t reach it very well.
If you’ve got a lot of junk to store behind the table or more than one person helping you and needing to sit behind the table, try to snag a table on the side of an island, not the corner. If you’re going to be getting up and walking around a lot, a table next to the entrance of the island is good, but you’ll have a lot of traffic as the other artists come in and out of the island, increasing the chances of bumping into you or your table, and blocking the people trying to look at your stuff. If you need electricity, try to snag a table near an outlet.
A table next to a popular table–for example, a well-known webcomic or a comp table given to a guest–is a mixed blessing. You will get a lot of traffic coming by, which is nice if you’re in a bad spot. But if the line at the other table is long, that traffic will swing wide, away from your table, to go around the line. And as people stack up at the other table, they will stand in front of your table and block it from traffic.
I’ve spent a lot of time at cons saying, “If you’re just watching [X] draw, would you mind watching from the other side? Thank you!” Also, if the table that’s drawing the traffic has an audience vastly different from yours–say, it’s a webcomic devoted to video games and you’re trying to sell costumes for ball-jointed dolls or yaoi artwork–it won’t matter how good the traffic is because they won’t want to look at your stuff.
Try to get a table near other artists who sell the same sort of thing you do. That way you’ll get more of the traffic that’s interested in the stuff you sell. It’s no fun being the only yaoi artist stuck in the middle of the webcomics.
Make friends with the artists near you. You can trade off watching each others’ table when you go to the restroom, entertain each other during the slow times, trade tips, trade off running to grab food, buy dollar bills from each other when you run out of ones, and warn each other when That Creepy Guy is heading your way (about whom, more later). If someone’s at your table looking for a picture of a character you don’t have and you tell them that your neighbor has one and give them that sale, then your neighbor will do the same for you. And, oh yeah, maybe you’ll make a new friend.
I’ve heard stories of competitive artists who are rude or try to sabotage their neighbors, but I’ve had the good fortune not to have run into any of them in the five years I’ve been selling at cons. The vast majority of artists are perfectly nice people. If you have a problem with your neighbor, don’t start or let yourself get dragged into drama. Artists talk to each other and you don’t want a bad reputation spreading around the con circuit. Remain calm, and ask the artist alley staff to deal with it.
If you’re selling sexually explicit material, for heaven’s sakes check ID for everyone. You can get the entire convention into very bad trouble if a hyper-litigious parent brings criminal charges against the convention for selling pornography to a minor because 16-year-old Susie looks 20 and bought an X-rated doujinshi in the artist alley. You don’t want to be the reason that there is no more convention. Any buyer who complains about showing ID is a buyer you don’t want.