I don't know how to describe my experience at the Richmond ZineFest. I walked in feeling like I was just happy to be nominated and I left feeling like I had won the Super Bowl.
The event was on two floors and had 100 tables. I was on the first floor, but in a room that was two lefts and one right away from the entrance. Once I found my table my first thought was, well I am screwed. I am not making my sells goal today. I brought 30 copies with me, with a sells goal of ten and trade five. I was the only person in the room for awhile. I wanted to leave, is it too late to leave.
As I sat there listening to Gucci Man rap about how much money he has, more people started to showed up and they brought supplies. Table cloths, magazine racks and displays stands. Me I just had copies of my zine and a jack-o'-lantern half full of candy. I sat there dumbfounded like I didn't know we could have displays, magazine racks and more importantly why didn't anyone tell me about table cloth. If I was trying to fake it until I make it about my confidence, this killed it.
The more people who came in seem to know all each other. I met a few people the day before at the two panels I attended but they were all downstairs. I signed up to share a table with another zine, I figured it would be a great way to network or at least I would have someone who could watch my stuff while I went to the bathroom. I even brought an extra bottle of water for them and they never showed.
The table to my left, was a student group from William and Mary, I didn't get a full count by there was at least seven of them. All but one* had on matching t-shirts with their group's logo on it, I just shook my head and said, "you got to be kidding me."
Some time goes by and I make eye contact with the woman who has the table across from me. She's a punk rock art school type. She comes over to my table and checks out my zine. First thing she mentions is the glossy paper and how she likes it. Glossy costs a bit more, but it looks legit and it grabs people's attention. She reads my zine and laughs a few times. I can tell she she wants a copy so I offer a trade. We trade zines and she tells me that her name is Zoe. She wishes me good luck in selling my zine.
Some time goes by and I say screw it. I'm making contact with the table to the left of me. I tell them that their shirts make them seem like the real deal, I am a little nervous to sit next to you guys. They respond back to me with "your glossy paper is the real deal, we barely made our zine two weeks ago on regular paper. How did you do that?" After hearing that I didn't feel so bad for not having table cloth or matching t-shirts.
I don't think I made a sell the first hour, if I did it was near the end of the first hour. I had a lot of people tell me that they liked the glossy paper, most that looked through the zine laughed. People talked about "Hobo Cop", "Morning Announcements" and my Clint Eastwood joke "Dirty Harry Vaginas". I did sell a copy just on the strength of my Shakespeare joke "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are baking bread". One copy I sold to a lady at a very low price because she looked like a woman I had a crush on in college**. I traded with a guy a half a table down me from me, who read it between customers and would notify me through the hour on which jokes he liked.
Mostly it was a lot of people who looked, laughed and didn't buy. All my years in retail were preparing me to deal with this kind of rejection. I lost a couple of sells because I forgot my damn Venmo name. I did direct a few people to this websitewho wanted to do digital payment. Nothing so far, next time I will be ready.
Sells started to pick up closer it got to 2 pm. It would come in waves, I get a bunch of lookers then a sell or two. I think around 2 pm I hit my sells goal, it felt good but since I sold a couple of copies at a discount I knew I had to keep selling. Some point I changed my pitch up, not because it wasn't working I just got tired of hearing me saying it . I borrowed a line from my friend Cassy B description of my zine, "absurd humor". I started describing it as "absurd comedy meets a more adult Mad Magazine". I know I made at least one sell off of that pitch.
Somewhere during this time, I start talking with one of members of the student group from William and Mary, named David. David like myself grew up overseas, we talk about how weird it is to explain where we are from. I asked David if he can watch my table while I go to the bathroom. The only working men bathroom is downstairs. I go downstairs for the first time and get a real sense of how big this event is. I get a little disappointed that I won't get to experience the fest as a customer if I stay at my table all day. I get back to table, David tells me he had a few lookers but no buyers.
Around 3 pm, some random lady, takes a look at my zine, doesn't buy but says that they need more humor zines at the fest and that she really liked the glossy paper. After that I decided that I am done for the day, I want to hit the sells floor. I say goodbye to David and try to give him a copy, he offers to buy a copy instead. Sure why not, less stuff for me to carry. I try to sell a copy to a married copy and the husband doesn't bite, but the wife does. She stops her husband and tells him to come back to the table and asks me a bunch of questions like if I did the illustrations and the layout. I got that question a lot, I wanted to tell people it's on the first page, I did the writing and Jessica did the rest. My buddy Jake Blas did the cover.
After all her questions the wife buys a copy. I start packing up my stuff when two women from student group on my left show up, they told me that they had read "Knife Fight" and they want to read more. I quickly sold them copies, packed up my stuff and went home. I didn't realize how I had sold until I started packing up to leave.
I sold 19 copies, traded 7 copies, and donated two copies. I can't wait for next year, where I will bring a friend and table cloth.
*She had her own personal poetry zine that she was selling about sunflowers and what I believe she said was sexuality or gender. She was also selling mystery poems for 50 cents. Which I now that I think about it, I really wish she was selling a set of poems about rapper 50 Cents solving mysteries.
**From the look on her face, I could my zine was her jam and the low price made her day, don't judge me.