How to Sell Visual Novels at Conventions

Or, “how do you table at an anime convention and actually get people to stop by your booth and actually get interested in visual novels????”

Picture this – me, someone who’s never been to California nor flown alone arrived to the Hyatt at the San Francisco Bay, being greeted by several online friends I’d known for years but never met in person. After a great time walking around the surrounding Burlingame area and meeting back up with the rest of our group, we had to actually put in some work for the day.

That is, setting up our booth for the convention starting the next day.

We unpacked box after box, taking turns standing around with our hands on our hips and heads tilted wondering “how the hell are we going to set all of this up?”. I decided to make it my job to set up our keychain display. All I had to do was get a copy of each keychain we had and pin them up – we even had a box from prior conventions that had a single copy of (most) of our keychains, for displaying. But as I opened more boxes, I found more and more keychains…

After threatening to change the password on their Vograce account, I found we had 10+ boxes of merchandise for niche visual novels that we were trying to sell at a vtuber convention. Not an anime convention, not a gaming convention, a vtuber convention! Going to bed that night, already tired, I was sure there was no way we would make a profit…..

…And yet, we made more on Friday than they had for the entire convention in 2023. By Sunday, we had made more than double that, having sold items to over 100 customers with most purchases around $40 each. We weren’t selling fanart, we were selling a majority completely original art.

We lived the dream of a lot of indie developers – we sold physicals of our indie games and people bought them. But how did we do it??

a little context

Some background – OffKai Expo is an annual vtuber-oriented convention in Burlingame, California, a suburb of San Francisco and just 15 minutes away from their airport. If you don’t know what a vtuber is, just go watch my oshi Gavis Bettel. In 2023, Studio Élan had a booth at the convention as it’s somewhat local to some of our members. We decided to have another booth at the convention for 2024 and I offered to work at it (what’s a booth without a marketer?).

The only anime convention I’ve ever been to was the local one in Memphis, namely Anime Blues Con, but those are….lacking, to say the least. Not much to do, very limited artist alley, waning attendance (which was already small to begin with), barely any new artists nor sights year after year… I’ve always wanted to go to a convention outside my area, to say the least.

But how did we manage to make the weekend successful?


What we did won’t be entirely replicable for most devs reading this, but there will be some insights and takeaways that I’ll highlight that are applicable to anyone wanting to table at conventions and sell their games.

Our table was for Studio Élan x VirPro – it was a joint table between our yuri visual novel studio and our indie vtuber friend streaming group, Virtuality Project. We sold some merch for VirPro, but I’d estimate that was no more than 20% of our sales – we still would have made a profit even if we weren’t selling that merch.

this table held our limited VirPro merch. we were able to hang our Élan prints on the wall behind it thanks to our friends at Studio Nekomata allowing us to tape our prints to the backside of their display. we also had a Miho cutout, but she didn’t want to stand up this weekend…

However, it is important to note that Studio Élan is not a new studio. We’ve been around for years, have 15k followers on Twitter, and have several visual novels released. We’re not extremely well known, as we are within a niche within a niche, but we aren’t unknown either. Some people actually cosplayed our characters at the convention! It’s definitely possible some locals came to OffKai Expo just to see our booth & panel (we also held a panel on Saturday where we announced 2 new games).

Another thing to note is that we have a stock of merch from running an online store and having held Kickstarters before. Specifically, we have physical copies of almost all of our games as well as artbooks, soundtracks, clothing, and more. We had tons of keychains and 11×17 prints, sure, but we also sold a lot of merch that is much harder and more expensive to produce.

So, tl;dr, things we had going for us:

  • We are established developers with a following & released games
  • We have a sizeable amount of merch already made for our online store, including physical games & artbooks
  • We were boothing with our indie vtuber friend group and selling their merch on the side

But our main problem:

  • We were boothing at a vtuber convention, not an anime or gaming convention

Now, with all of that out of the way….

convention standards

First off, let’s look at some basic things you can expect while tabling at a convention. (for the purposes of being specific to visual novels, when I say “convention” I’m only referring to anime & gaming-adjacent conventions—OffKai falls under this as vtubers are both anime & gaming-adjacent)

At a convention, you will typically be selling in either the artist alley or the dealer’s room, which are both referred to as the vendor’s hall. For small conventions, these two may be the same area. The artist alley is typically for artists selling keychains, prints, and more. The dealers room is for vendors that sell larger merch or have more items to sell – this can include artists but also includes people selling imported items (such as anime figures) and companies.

Conventions have a set amount of hours that the events go on and the vendor’s hall is usually not open the entire time. These rooms will usually open in the morning, around 10AM or so, and allow vendors an extra hour for fixing things before opening every day. For OffKai, we had to stay at our booth for about 8~ hours every day, except for Sunday. Sundays are always the shortest days for 3-day conventions, as the convention will usually wrap up around dinner time (if not earlier).

Vendors get time the night before the convention starts (usually Thursday night, with most conventions I’m referencing being Friday-Sunday events) to set up their booths. It took us around 3 hours to fully set up our booth, with 4 of us working on it. Setting up your booth will go a lot smoother if you do a trial run before the convention.

Every convention I’ve tabled at or known a vendor at provides vendors with at least 1 table and a chair. More chairs are usually easy to get, you just need to ask staff before the vendors hall opens up.

tip 1 – bring a friend

Conventions provide tables and chairs, but they don’t provide helping hands! You’re probably going to need help unpacking and setting up the table, but you’ll definitely need to take breaks during the convention for the bathroom, food, and more. You can’t just ask staff to sit at your table and you can’t just hide everything while you’re gone. Bring a friend to help out!

If you have to go alone, make friends with the people boothing next to you and ask them to watch over your table if need be. Be sure to keep your money and payment processors with you if you ever have to step away. And bring snacks & water!

our merch

Like I said, at Élan we have typical merchandise for our visual novels like keychains and acrylic standees, but we also have physical copies of our games for PC & consoles, artbooks, soundtracks, and more.

We had these types of merch:

  • Acrylic & wooden items
    • Keychains
    • Standees
    • Pins
  • Print media
    • PC discs
    • Console discs & cartridges (Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 & 5)
    • Artbooks (game artbooks, limited edition anniversary artbooks)
    • Soundtrack discs
    • 4×6 prints (CGs, key artworks)
    • 11×17 prints (key artworks, exclusive convention artworks)
  • Clothing & fabric
    • T-shirts (4 designs, 1 color each)
    • Hoodie (new collaboration design, for all of our games)
    • Scarf (new collaboration design, for 1 of our games)
    • Fabric flags (key visuals)
  • Misc.
    • Grab bag (misc small items)
    • $5 bin (misc small items)
    • Pencil bag
    • Mousepad
    • Enamel pin
    • Plushie (limited Makeship leftovers)

Some of these were items we’d never sold before such as the hoodie, scarf, and 11×17 prints. Some of them were also much more of a hassle than others.

In terms of storage and cheapness to make, prints and stickers are by far the winners (we didn’t sell stickers at OffKai but plan to in the future). Prints are basically the best thing you can sell for production cost:profit, as a 4×6 print can cost you $0.20 but sell for $5+ and an 11×17 print can cost $0.60 and sell for $15-20.

On the other hand, t-shirts can be some of the most difficult merch to work with. They take up a lot of room (we had at least 2 boxes of just shirts/hoodies) and require you to have multiple different sizes. The plushies were great & easy to sell, but at the same time they cost a lot per unit and take up even more space than shirts.

The physical copies sold great, but the cost to produce & room to store them makes them unwieldy for most developers. I would recommend them over more bespoke merch like clothing, though—several people came to our booth, having never heard of our games, and left with a physical game. CD discs rather than DVD cases are much easier to store and can be handmade, although ours are manufactured.

tip 2 – be selective with what merch you make & bring

Unless you’re lucky enough to have a convention down the street from you, chances are you’re going to have to travel to the convention. That means packing everything up, possibly shipping it, etc…. You need to be picky with what you bring if you don’t have multiple cars to throw it all in.

My merch recommendations:

  • 4×6 prints
    • Ours were $4-5
    • Dirt cheap to print, easy to store
    • Easy for people to buy because of the low price point and ease of carrying
    • Idea – these are so cheap to print, at the very least print some of your key visual & logo to hand out to people for free
  • Stickers (die-cut or sticker sheets)
    • Dirt cheap to print, easy to store
    • Easy for people to buy because of the low price point and ease of carrying
    • Idea – some conventions won’t allow you to hand out free stickers. For conventions that don’t, I would sell either singular die-cut stickers or sell them in packs
  • Keychains
    • Ours were $12-15
    • Cheap to print, not very hard to store
    • At this price point people want to have an attachment to the characters before buying
    • Idea – if your game is relatively unknown but you still want to print keychains, consider packaging them with something else like the game or a sampler CD of the demo / soundtrack
  • Physical CD disc games
    • Ours were $30
    • Not cheap to print, not very hard to store
    • People will buy copies of games they’ve never heard of because it’s an interesting item to own and seen as more value than a digital copy (even if physical is more expensive)
    • Idea – it doesn’t cost much to get a 50 pack of CDs, the cost comes from the packaging and time to make the entire thing. If you don’t have a finished game yet, consider printing your demo out on CDs in paper slips to hand out for free

our booth

Now that I’ve talked about basics for conventions and what merch we sold, what did our booth actually look like?

We didn’t have a pre-convention trial run, so we were essentially winging it. With all of the merch I outlined, could you believe we crammed all of the display copies on 1 table, 2 shelves, and 1 clothing rack?!

Our main focus was making sure each of our physical games were visible. After all, we were at a vtuber convention where most attendees didn’t know us, so we wanted to have a way to show off our games. We spent a lot of real estate on showing individual game copies and having brochures spread out.

tip 3 – have an idea of how you’re going to display things before the convention

We also brought several items to display merch. For keychains & pins, we had a simple corkboard leaning on a photo stand / easel. For acrylic standees, we had a clear nail polish stand. For physical copies, we had photo stands and bookends. For clothes, we had a small clothing rack. For physicals, we had 3 small bookcases. These were all extremely helpful, but they are added costs and more things to carry to the convention.

here’s a better look at our 2 bookshelves. the purple ladder one was at the back of the booth highlighting some items and storing various artbooks & bundles and the smaller one was at the front left of the booth by the VirPro merch, basically in the walking aisle

The corkboard and various photo stands were must-haves, regardless of what you’re selling. A corkboard makes it easy to display anything on it, whether it’s keychains, stickers, mini-prints, announcements, posters, and more. Photo stands were also super helpful for propping our corkboard on but also showing off individual physical copies.

this was me trying to arrange the corkboard and acrylic stands. photo stands and art easels can in handy!

Along with the display stands, we also brought some decorative items like pink table clothes and flowers. These aren’t required, but help make your booth more noticeable.

A few miscellaneous items I plan on bringing to our next convention are a hand sanitizer dispenser, a small air purifier, and fliers. I always keep hand sanitizer on me, but it’s easier to use it when it’s in a convenient bottle and place. Several of us got sick after the convention (despite me wearing a mask), so I’m also bringing a small air purifier to keep some germs away from the table. I also want to bring small fliers for our upcoming games—while brochures are wonderful, I want something that’s easy (and cheap) to hand out to anyone who looks at our booth, not just the people we talk to.

tip 4 – be aware of merch thieves

We arranged our table in a way that we didn’t have to worry much about people stealing merch, though that is a problem at some conventions. As you might’ve noticed from the pictures, our smaller items like the keychains are at the far back of the booth, right beside where we sit. That allowed us to keep a better eye on it.

Rather than sitting behind our tables, we arranged our booth to be where people would walk inside it. This allowed us a way to talk to people easier. We also made sure to hide our card readers, phones, and more when any of us left the table, though this was easy because we almost always had 2-3 people at the booth at any time.

my advice

If I were an indie dev looking to booth at a convention and had the time and spare change, I would if it were close enough to drive to and the booth cost under $500. Unless you’re an established developer or have a popular artist working on your project, it’s hard to justify that cost.

tip 5 – don’t forget to budget for…

  • booth costs
  • extra badges (most booths come with 2 free badges)
  • hotel
  • travel
  • food
  • merchandise manufacturing
  • any shipping fees (your luggage, merch, etc.)
  • display items, extra things for your booth

While you may find a booth for $250, you also have to remember the travel fees, cost of food, all of the extra items you’ll need aside from merchandise, and more. A $250 booth for a 3-day convention could easily end up costing you $2,000+, and that’s if you don’t pay yourself or coworkers for their time at the booth!

If you’ve never been to a convention before then definitely go to one as an attendee before becoming a vendor. Get a feel for the place and have some fun, even if it means you won’t be able to booth there for months or a year.

tip 6 – be sure to bring…

  • Some kind of handout for people with your game & logo on it (fliers, business cards, brochures, etc.)
  • Small stationary merch for your game (4×6 prints, stickers, etc.)
  • Corkboard to display things on and something to prop it up
  • A way to take card payments and cash for change
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Pen/pencil and sticky notes
  • Clamps
  • Tape

this is the inside of our old brochure! it details our different games and highlights some upcoming titles

I’d also try putting your demo on CDs to hand out to people who seem really interested if you can. CDs are pretty cheap to get now, and even if you just get a 50 pack that can run you around $12, which ends up being $0.25/CD. Not a bad cost for getting a potential fan, if you hand them out only to people who are really interested or package them with other merch and sell them.

Your main effort if you’re not an established developer, however, will be awareness. Talk to the people who stop by your booth. Tell them hi and explain to them what you make. I had several people clearly not understand what visual novels were, but I had many more who became interested once I mentioned we made these games. “Wait, you actually made them?!”

tip 7 – talk to people!!!

People at conventions think art is cool. They think indie games are cool. Be honest with them and show them your hard work. Yeah, this means you have to put on your extrovert cap for the weekend. Just don’t treat it like you’re a car salesman—you’re a game dev first and foremost and enjoy this line of work so much you want to share it with strangers at conventions. Let that shine through in your words.

All in all, conventions are stressful, tiring, and a lot of fun when they’re run well. If any of this sounds interesting to you and you find a convention close enough to you or one that will be relatively cheap to attend, I recommend trying it out.

OffKai Expo was so, so much fun and I’m so happy I was able to attend. It was a well run convention, our booth did amazing, I got to meet actual fans IRL, and I was able to finally see a lot of my online friends in person. I was scared leading up to it but I’m so glad I pushed myself to go. Having an in-person panel there where the room was almost full absolutely blew me away—I kept asking “do they know what room they’re in? Did they get lost?” If you came to our panel or booth, thank you!!

Our next convention for Élan will be Otakon, an annual anime convention held in August in DC. We’re splitting a booth with our friends at Studio Nekomata, a vtuber-oriented merch group that make really nice apparel and other items. We’ve got several things we plan on doing differently, like having fliers we can hand out to anyone that are cheaper to hand out and selling stickers of our characters. I hope it’ll go well—if you’re going to be at Otakon, stop by our booth in the Dealers Room!

Now that June is almost over, Otome Jam 2024 is nearing its end. This has been a wildly explosive year for OtoJam, with almost 800 people having signed up for it as opposed to 312 sign ups in 2023. We were expecting it to be nearly double of last year, around 500 or so participants, but certainly not 800! This is also the second year for its sister jam Josei Jam, a game jam I founded for people who want to make otome-esque games that don’t fit into traditional otome definitions. It’s done very well this year and I’m glad people enjoy both formats. I might even have an entry of my own next week~

— Arimia

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