The Convention Bag Detailed
I’ve been doing conventions for a while now, selling books. Running a con table takes a lot of stuff and a bunch of thought and so I found myself needing to prepare more and more every show. Eventually I decided on gathering up a con bag. One bag that I could put everything, except stock (and now except one other thing I’ll get to), into and just grab and go.
I used to use a giant diaper bag from Target for it, as it was big enough, and sturdy enough for the job but over the time the fact that it didn’t have a rigid shape started to cause problems. It was hard to load onto the hand truck, it was a pain to carry, and it sort of flopped enough to take up too much extra room under tables. Also, it wasn’t organized enough. I put stuff into various ziploc bags where I could but even so a bunch of items just floated, and that made the bag harder to use than it should have been.
Recently I decided to rethink the bag from the ground up, and because it might help other people who need this sort of thing, I also decided to document the entire bag, and everything in it. So there are a bunch of pictures coming, and a bunch of explanations.
If this is the sort of thing you dig – enjoy! If not I suggest you run far and fast, starting….
(Please excuse random bits of cat, they were wandering as they do. Also excuse the bits of cardboard on the rug, the cat’s cardboard scratching thing is near where pictures were being taken and, really, doesn’t matter how often you vacuum, bits of cardboard at all times, I swear, argh)
Above is the bag itself. It’s just a normal, low-end (because I don’t want to spend a TON on a con bag, that cost has to be earned out) suitcase. 20 inches, carry-on sized. It cost maybe 30 bucks. It has an extendable handles, four wheels…it’s a normal carry-on suitcase.
Here’s the bag opened. Everything is nice and secured. Let’s deal with the left side first!
This is my letter board. Depending on table space, I use it to list items for sale and prices. It’s a nice, pretty, way to let people know what you have for sale. Some shows I can’t use it though because of the book cases. Now, the book cases are the things that do not fit in the con bag. I use two collapsible book cases from Clear Solutions, but they are too big to fit in the bag, they have their own box. The size of the bag needed to add those would make the overall bag a problem.
However! Thanks to the book stands in the bag (we’ll get there) I can also do a full table without the book cases. Anyway, let’s move on.
Under the letter board is the biggest packing cube (packing cubes are easy to find, and I suggest a good variety of sizes) and it holds two queen sized sheets. One works as a table cloth, the other is for covering the table at night. I find it better than flipping the front of the table cloth over, and also flipping means you expose everything under your table (you want that table cloth to drape down to the floor in front) and that’s not great.
Under the table cloth cube there are some paper bags, grocery sized. They are, literally, grocery bags I saved. Look when yer running a table you hope the con provides you with a trash can that they empty every night. Some shows do, some don’t. If they don’t you’ll want to have a place to toss empty coffee cups, scrap paper, really whatever garbage you end up with during the show. So I make sure to bring a few just in case.
Thus we come to the end of the stuff secured on the left side of the bag. Now onto the right!
You may have noticed the bag here is not a normal packing cube. I wanted it different and easiest to spot, because it had mid-show emergency stuff of a particular type. Inside the bag are, currently: a backup battery for recharging phones, a lightning cable, a usb-C cable, and a usb-Mini cable (which should allow anyone with almost any phone the ability to use the battery). The bag also contains two stain remover pens, a small bottle of Advil, a small bottle of Tums, and a small bottle of Zyrtec. It’s your general use allergy, indigestion, and general pain relief center. It comes in handy, trust me. The stain removers are just because you’re selling your stuff – you want to look your best but, hey, accidents happen.
The cube right above the orange grab bag starts to really get into things you will need to set-up and work a table. It has (and sorry some of this is hard to see) a small bag zipper bag full of sharpies and ball point pens, which you’ll want to sign stuff, and keep sales records (the sales book, along with the con bank cash are not kept in the con bag itself because that all travels with me in a shoulder bag so it can’t get misplaced). It also has spare badge lanyards (just grab an extra at every show and soon you’ll have a hefty stock of them), the letters for the lettering board (important tip – the letters used for the sign are in one bag, then spare letters of both pink and white are in their own bags if needed), a bottle of purell for the table (fuck you, germs) and a silver zip bag that holds index cards and price tab stickers.
If I’m using the letter board, I don’t need the price tabs. But if I can’t use the letter board I still want people to know how much things cost without having to ask. Some people come to your table and want to chat, or hear a pitch. But many people want to silently browse and so removing their need to ask you even for a price can help their day go smoother.
It also helps to have prices on things if you need a friend to watch your table for you. They may not instantly memorize your prices, and this way they never have to.
At the end of the first layer of packing cubes on the right we have the tool bag. It contains a sewing kit (that has a ton of threads of different colors, needles and so on). That’s the black rectangle. Sometimes you lose a button. Sometimes a friend has a cosplay emergency. Come prepared! A decent travel sewing kit is not expensive. This cube also contains a screwdriver with swappable bits, a leatherman tool, a pair of scissors, a small vise grip, needle nose pliers, and a flashlight. Oh it also has a wrist brace, because I have a bad wrist, but it only acts up on occasion and my spare ended up in the bag one year and stayed there. Also, in the plastic bag leaning against the cube, in the right pic, is a selection of velcro ties. I’m not sure why, and will possibly remove them from the bag soon.
Most of these tools are not used every show. Thankfully. But if your banner breaks, or…come on a million other things, you will need to have some basic tools. These are the ones I’ve found useful over the years. If nothing else, you brought stock, which is often taped up in boxes. Scissors will open them, hooray!
So here is the final layer of things, on the right. The red box is a first aid kit. Always have one handy. Band-aids, gauze, disinfectant, etc, etc. This is a twenty dollar kit by LifeLine, easy to find. The other, pink thing, that you can see in the left photo is a pen holder.
I like the table to look fairly uncluttered. So keeping sharpies and pens in the pen holder is a nice touch, for me. Also it is pretty. Shoved inside the pen holder is a ziploc with a bunch of clear plastic table clips. I use these to fold the table cloth up and secure it, on my side of the table.
Some people just fold the table cloth under itself, so it drapes in the front but not the back but I find that almost always leaves a bit of an uneven surface on the table. Some people let it drape front and back, but you need to get stuff under your table (more book stock! Snacks! Water!) enough that I found it easier to just get these clips. You can, worst case, find them on Amazon, in a pack of about 100 for maybe ten bucks. I need three, maybe four, for most con tables. I bring around ten to a show in case of breakage, and also to lend to the person sitting next to me, because once they see them in action they tend to want them as well, and sharing and being a good neighbor is always nice.
The next cube is the fastener cube. It contains three types of tape (normal scotch tape because you often need it, packing tape for resealing boxes before you load out, and electrical tape because the universe is strange and it has come in handy to have). It also has a few D-Rings, a bunch of paper clips, and saftey pins (in their own ziploc because ugh the mess otherwise) a few short bungie cords just in case, a stack of spare ziploc bags because they also come in handy more often than I thought they would, and a small stack of banner ends.
Ok, so banner ends. Most banners pull up from a bottom display. The top bar has these two plastic caps, one on each end. Small problem though: the end caps fall off easily, and without them the top bar retracts too far into the base when the banner is stored, making it a true pain in the ass (and risk – it has sharp stupid edges and you don’t want to bleed on your banner) to get out. Most times you can find the little caps when they come loose. Sometimes you can not. For those times – I have spares. I’ll tell you, I have less than I used to, ok? They get used.
The final cube just has foldable book stands in it. They’re stands. For stuff. That fold. Without book cases I can still display books, and signs, as needed, and even with book cases I like to have a center display of the book I’m trying to sell the most of, or am releasing at the show.
…and that’s it. That’s the con bag. I’ve refined it, and will continue to refine it (the pain med/allergy/digestion stuff and stain pens are new for this bag) as long as I do conventions. I remove stuff when it isn’t needed for years, and introduce new stuff as I find uses for it.
I hope this is some sort of help. And if it isn’t, I dunno, lie to me and tell me it is.