(Jan 2011 edit: I edited this to remove names of a company and people I don't work with anymore, so as not to create confusion when people read this article in the future. with jetpacks.)
Jess Hartley wrote a great series of four blog posts talking about how to prepare and approach game companies at conventions if you are looking for work: Part 1: The Basics, Part 2: Preparation, Part 3: At the Con, and Part 4: Follow Ups and Follow Through.
If you're looking for work at the show [especially if it's one of your first times], go read those ... and then come back and read the few additional tips I've included below.
Looking for Work
- If you have any material that you are leaving with people you talk to -- business card, a tearsheet of art, a writing sample, etc. -- be sure that your name and address is on every single piece of it, on every page. Be vain: put your photograph on your card, resume, etc. Anything to help people remember you when they finally dig through those cards weeks later.
- When you give someone your card or other collateral, take the time to write on the back of it exactly who you intend it for. If you've been talking to someone at the Posthuman Studios booth and you're interested in doing Eclipse Phase artwork, you'll get pointed to our art director, Rob Boyle. If Rob isn't around, someone else will likely take your card and give you a time when he will be back -- but write on the back of it: "For Rob Boyle. Interested in doing Eclipse Phase art." Why? Because it's unlikely that your business card is going to be "properly filed" at the booth. It's going to get tossed into a pile, into someone's pocket, and it probably won't make it to the proper person until the last day of the show, or afterwards. And in the case when you're leaving a card behind and not giving it to the exact target ... it probably doesn't hurt to leave 2 or 3 of them.
- When you are walking the convention and introducing yourself to prospective clients, don't bring along anyone else that isn't prepared to be as professional as you are. It's not the time to be hanging out with your friends or gaming group.
- However, if you know someone who works in the industry and is willing to walk the floor with you and introduce you to people -- take them up on this offer. Assuming they have a good reputation. But you don't hang out with people with bad reputations, do you?
- If you are an artist, it's likely that someone can take a peek at your portfolio and give you a quick "Yeah, you look like you can work on some of our projects" or "Hey, you kinda only do horror art, and we only do games about happy ponies, but we'll keep your card in case we ever decide to hurt the horses." If you're a writer or editor, though, it's much harder to evaluate your work quickly -- so you'll need to have samples that you can leave behind.
- If you do have relevant experience on your resume, be sure that you list relevant references on it.
- Don't disclaim yourself. What do I mean by this? Accentuate the positive, downplay the negative. Here's an example of something that happened to me at Gen Con 2003, when I was with Guardians of Order: A woman came up with a resume and a writing/art sample to leave behind. Her and her partner had worked on it together, producing a short d20 adventure to show that they can produce art, writing, and game design stuff all in one. This was a good idea. I flipped through it quickly, took a copy, said that we would read it after the convention, and all was good. The next day, her partner came by. I guess they didn't properly coordinate who had been to what booth ... because he gave us another copy. That's not the problem. The problem was, he said something like "Oh, by the way, about the map in there... $HerName thought that we should have a map in it, but I'm not a great cartographer, so it kinda sucks."
To this day, that map is the only part of that submission that I can still picture in my head. And for someone who wasn't a cartographer, it wasn't that bad.
- Bring all the digital files that you used to create any collateral with you. If you run out, there is a Kinkos only a few blocks from the convention center: Suite 107, 120 Monument Cir. Map from Convention Center to Kinkos.