Becoming a Cosplay Guest is a big step for anyone looking to make a career out of cosplay. It can have an immediate and lasting impact on your reputation as a cosplayer, dramatically boosting your brand and giving you incredible opportunities as you grow your cosplay business.
But how do you do it? How do you get a convention to notice you?
Well after doing this for a few years now, I have a list of ideas to help you out. Some of these are steps you can take to get a convention’s attention… others are things you need to keep in mind about guesting in general. So here we go!
DON'T get into guesting for the wrong reasons
Before we even begin, let’s take a step back and ask ourselves… why do you want to be a cosplay guest? While I don’t want to discourage anyone from trying, I want to make sure you’re coming from the right mindset before we even begin.
- If you’re doing this because you think it’s an easy way to become “cosfamous,” think again. This is one of the hardest paths to fame, I do not recommend it.
- If you’re doing it to get free badges, stop. A cosplay guest has to work the entire convention from dawn until dusk, all weekend long. There are easier ways to get a free badge. Try being a panelist instead.
- If you’re doing it to impress your friends, you will probably be disappointed. It can be hard to spend time with friends when you’re so busy entertaining fans.
DO think about what makes you special
At any convention, there are dozens of cosplayers who paid for a normal ticket so they could attend. In order to start becoming a guest, you need to understand what makes you different. Take some time to think about what your talents are. What sort of things can you do that other people would consider entertaining, informative, or inspiring? Some examples:
- Is it your exceptional sewing skills?
- Are you particularly funny on stage?
- Do you have a lot of experience with costume contests?
- Can you do a killer voice impression of the character you cosplay?
- Do you know how to make a wig from scratch?
The talents you bring to the table don’t have to be a big follower count, a pretty face, or amazing craftsmanship. Any talent of yours could potentially be the thing that sets you apart from the crowd.
DON'T let your follower count define you
Follower counts are an important metric, it’s true. It’s a good gauge for how recognizable your brand is, and there’s never really a time where you want to be LESS recognizable.
But, you don’t need a huge follower count to get started as a guest. I started at 1,400 followers on Facebook, myself. A friend of mine started at 700. You may have to aim for smaller shows in the beginning, but that’s actually a good thing. Small shows let you get your feet wet without being overwhelming.
DO build a cosplay resume
Applying to be a cosplay guest is like applying for a job at the convention. And one of the biggest ways you can stand out from the other applicants is with a Cosplay Resume. Just like a real resume, you want to include any & all experience that might help set you apart from other applicants. This includes:
- Costume Contests you have won (or been a judge for)
- Panels you have available to submit
- Photos of your best cosplays
- Other guest appearances you’ve made
- Links to your website, social media, etc
DON'T host a "Cosplay 101" Panel
One of the most common mistakes I see from cosplayers hosting panels is they always default to a “Cosplay 101: How to Cosplay” panel. There was one year where I had 6 different friends all invite me to different “Cosplay 101” panels. For the same convention.
These panels never get many listeners, either. Very few people are looking for generic “how to cosplay” advice. So let’s avoid this and look to fill something a little more niche.
DO fill an interesting niche with your panels
Remember that list we made in step 1? Of your unique talents & skills? Here is where that list comes in handy.
- If your skill is sewing, why not run a panel on how to sew something that’s both popular & a bit intimidating, like a Disney Princess dress? Or a superhero bodysuit?
- If you do voice impressions, maybe an in character panel? If the character is particularly sarcastic, do something silly like “Come get roasted by (character) from (anime)!”
There are tons of options here. All you need to do is narrow down to something that more specific, but also still popular & applies to a wide variety of people.
DO make your panel title interesting
The number one way to make sure people attend your panel is to make sure your panel title is interesting & fun. This is hard to give advice on, because there’s no real formula for it… but here’s some ideas:
- Keep it short
- Make it obvious what the panel is about
- Be specific in your topic (again, no Cosplay 101)
- Save the funny puns & clever phrasing for the description, not the title
The title & description alone are what fill a panel room. Not how good you are as a panelist (that determines how long people stay & listen). If your room isn’t full at the beginning, make note of that and try to think of ways to change your title for next time to attract more people. Always be looking for those ways to improve.
DO decide what you want to display / sell
You should probably have some prints of your various cosplays, to show off your work. But do you also want to sell your props, or your costumes? You may want to think about how to display them.
For prints, what sizes should you sell? This is the hardest question to answer. Here are the most common sizes, I recommend choosing only 1 or 2 of these:
- 4×6 (postcard size)
- 8×10 (standard cropped picture frame)
- 8×12 (standard uncropped picture frame)
- 11×17 (semi-poster size)
- 24×36 (poster size)
DO get a banner made
There are multiple ways to do a banner. My personal favorite are the retractable vertical banners. They are very easy to set up, they can fit into your luggage if you ever have to fly somewhere with it, and don’t require any fancy tools or hangers or anything.
DO get a long tablecloth
Many conventions provide table coverings for you already, but not all of them, and it doesn’t hurt to be prepared. You want a table cloth that can cover at least an 8 foot by 2 foot table, preferably touching the floor on at least the front side so no one can see your feet. This lets you hide things under the table (like print boxes, money, etc)
DO get a card reader & keep spare cash handy
Card readers are very easy to get your hands on. Square will provide one for free when you sign up for an account. They’re compatible with almost any smartphone.
You should also have cash on hand. I recommend about $100 worth of $5s & $1s, in case someone needs to make change. (Usually $80 in 5s and $20 in 1s)
DO look up who to send an email to
The first step to getting accepted is to email the right person. This really depends on the size of the convention. If it’s a smaller show, there’s probably only one email address, and it leads straight to the owner. Always a good place to start!
If it’s a larger show, there may be multiple points of contact. Your best bet is to look for the person who handles the costume contest. If that information isn’t available, there are a couple possibilities. The vendor hall coordinator, or the panel coordinator are good places to start. They might direct you to someone else, but they usually at least know where you should go.
DON'T send a generic email to the convention owner
A convention owner that I’m friends with recently shared an email with me that they received from a cosplayer. I’m going to share that with you, now.
“Hi there I’m interested in being a guest at _________ con!
Sent from my iPhone”
That’s it! The cosplayer didn’t provide any other information. Not even a link to their facebook. Not even a name. Now if YOU were the convention owner, and you received this email… with 99 other emails to respond to today? You’d probably throw this one right in the trash. I know I would!
DO attach your resume
Remember that resume I told you to build back in Step 1? Here’s where you use it. Attach that PDF to the email before you send it. And use the email itself as a cover letter. Introduce yourself, tell them why you want to be a guest & why you think you’d be a great fit for their show. Mention what you’d like to do for them (promote them? Run a panel for them?)
Keep the email to one paragraph, maybe 1 and a half. You don’t want to bore them with a wall of text. They’re busy people and have a lot to do. But make the most of that paragraph. This is your chance to shine. You have to stand out from all the generic requests like above.
DO negotiate responsibly
Guesting at a con is a job. And like any job, you should be expected to be compensated for your time. But it’s important to bear in mind what sort of budget the convention is likely to have. If it’s a really small show, they likely have almost no budget at all, and the things you can ask for are really slim. Medium size shows tend to have more budget, and are willing to spend it to get quality talent at their show. But they can take some convincing (this is why it’s so important to sell your skills like we talked about above)
Some things you can potentially ask for:
- Travel (Airfare or Gas Money)
- A booth/table
- Stipend (Cash they give you to cover food & expenses)
Note that except for a booth, there are only a select few conventions that value a cosplayer guest’s contribution enough to provide these things. If you go in to every convention demanding all of them, you will probably be sorely disappointed a lot of the time. So it’s important to understand how big the convention is, how much budget they might have, & how much they value cosplay guests, before you start asking for things.
If you’re not sure about these things, you can always ask the convention staff you are in contact with for an idea of what they usually offer their guests.
DON'T Show up in normal clothes
This might seem like a silly one to some of you, but I honestly can’t count the number of times I’ve seen a guest show up in a hoodie and just rock that all day.
Bring a costume for every day. If you wear the same one more than one day, that’s totally fine, as long as you’re in costume. If your cosplay is difficult or challenging to wear for long periods of time, consider having a backup costume to change into afterwards. Something much more comfortable & easy to wear, but still a costume.
DO Be on time
When the convention doors open, you should already be at your booth and ready to greet people. Make sure you wake up early enough that morning to get into your costume on time so you’re not late. Sometimes things happen and your costume isn’t agreeing with you, and it takes longer than expected… that’s fine, you can’t help that. But don’t be the person who strolls in two hours late because they didn’t feel like waking up.
DO Be at your table as much as possible
Don’t schedule a bunch of photoshoots and spend 60% of the convention off somewhere else. Your fans are expecting to see you there, and they will remember if you are constantly absent. So will the convention staff.
DON'T Spent all day on your phone
When people are walking by a cosplay booth, and all they see is the top of the cosplayer’s head because they won’t get their nose out of their phone… it’s a bad look. Make sure you are engaging with your fans and with the people strolling by. Try to strike up conversations with people. Compliment the cool cosplayers you see. Try to avoid using your phone when in view of the public. If something urgent comes up, consider stepping away from your booth for a moment to take care of it.
Understand your role as a guest
Some final thoughts before I let you go. This is going to be somewhat controversial, I think… not every cosplay guest will agree with me here. But these are my experiences, and thinking about guesting in this way has really helped me develop my strategy. So take these thoughts for what you will, and don’t hesitate to ask questions! Asking questions means you’re thinking about how YOU want to adapt these ideas, and at the end of the day that’s the most important thing.
When it comes to being a Cosplay Guest at a big convention, it’s important to understand how you fit into the the convention’s marketing strategy. This might even be something you want to ask conventions about, so you can plan your approach according to their specific needs. But here are some general tips to remember.
First, your job is probably not to sell tickets. That seems kind of counterproductive at first – aren’t guests supposed to attract new attendees? Well sure… If you’re a TV or Movie celebrity with millions of people who know your name. But even the biggest, most famous international cosplayers like Jessica Nigri and Yaya Han likely only pull in a handful of ticket sales with their announcements. Why? Because 99% of a cosplayer’s fans are people who were probably already getting tickets anyway.
In my opinion, the more important thing for cosplay guests to do is make sure people at the convention have a great time, and want to come back next year. That’s why panels are so important. It’s why photos with fans, being at your booth, and engaging with people are so important. What you are doing is creating memorable experiences… memories people will cherish, that will get them to continue to be repeat customers.
It’s the most important thing a cosplayer can do for a convention, and even someone with 300 followers can do it just as effectively as someone with 100,000 followers. And that’s definitely something to keep in mind when you are talking to conventions about being a guest.
Being a cosplay guest is incredibly rewarding. It’s very challenging at times, too. I’ve been guesting at conventions for a few years now. I started with the smallest convention in my state (the convention fit into an elementary school gymnasium) and it didn’t take long before I was being paid to fly around the country. All because I focused on providing a unique, engaging, and memorable experience, even to people who had never heard of me before.
Give these tips a shot, and don’t hesitate to comment below if you’re running into any struggles or questions! I’d be more than happy to help with any further advice I can provide!