Ah yes, the age old question of "how much should I charge?"
It is probably the most difficult to answer question when it comes to any job: "what am I worth?" And the frustrating part is... nobody can answer that for you, the answer lies solely with you. But that doesn't make things any easier, especially when people often suffer from rampant imposter syndrome (feeling like you don't deserve your blessings), or being afraid to lose out on opportunities so they low ball themselves. Oh and can't forget the unfair act of comparing themselves to others. But no matter what anyone tells you: YOU. HAVE. VALUE.
You should never feel pressured to guest at a con if it's going to cost you. Flights, hotel, travel, food- it all adds up quickly! Not to mention, all that time creating content for the event, advertising it, making panels for it, and actually working it. Oh, don't forget other costs like lost wages from missed work, or having to hire a pet sitter for your furbabies, or YEARS of building your brand and skill set! Your time gave you knowledge, your knowledge taught you skills, your skills gained you presence, and your presence has value.
That value fluctuates highly from person to person, though, so don't expect to be earning three figures a day for an appearance fee if you're just starting out as a cosplayer. Still, there's plenty of basic ways that you can boast your assets, and get some compensation for your hard work! At the very least, it's always okay to just ask what you believe your time and skill to be worth. The worst they can say is "no" or "let's negotiate this some more", and the best is "yes!"
Below are some basic considerations to account for when assessing your assets and bargaining with an event. Remember: only YOU can truly decide what is in YOUR budget, so there's no magical rate or formula used to calculate your guesting requirements. Individual situations are simply too different to account for all possibilities. But this is at least a starting point to help set you in the right direction!
1 - Assessing Your Value
How do you value yourself? This will vary from person to person, and it goes back to the “what is it costing YOU to be there?” Although many famous cosplayers do cosplay full time and can make bank off of sales at their convention tables, a lot of smaller name cosplay guests still have regular jobs outside of the hobby, and don’t sell even $300 worth of merchandise all weekend.
Asking for an appearance fee will help cover time off from work and be a guaranteed "safeguard" in case your table sales aren't strong, because bills still need to get paid! You can ask for one flat fee for the whole weekend/event or an appearance fee for each day you are there. Again, realize that if you are new to the cosplay scene, and have a humbler social media following, you may have to start small, so don't compare your rates to folks who have been at this for a while!
2 - Mileage Will Vary - Literally!
Your value will vary not only from person to person, but also from con to con. It will differ based on the size of the event, the distance you’re traveling, the length of the event, the amount of work they require of you, etc. This relates back to the above, because more days off means more lost hours at work/vacation days, further distances means higher travel costs, and so on and so forth. A local hometown con of 3000 people will be more affordable for you to guest at than a massive 30,000+ one that is a 6 hour flight away! So obviously you would need different accommodation requests for either event.
3 - Don't Undercut Yourself or the Market
Making the mistake of undervaluing your worth hurts not only you, but cosplay guests all across the board. Some cons even charge cosplayers to have a table at their event (similar to artist alley vendors) under the guise of "exposure" or a "chance to meet with your fans". So not only will cosplayers “work for free”, but they’ll spend easily $500+ just to appear on the floor with a booth.
I personally do not like this set up. It’s one thing if the cosplayer is using it in a similar way to artist alley to sell their goods or market an event/group, but if you’re not making at least $1000 a weekend at your booth or representing a larger cosplay organization, the investment is not worth it, and the practice is predatory to grassroot cosplayers who are starstruck at the opportunity to just have their name on a table. Of course, no one can stop cosplayers from buying those spots, but ask yourself if that’s really a good investment. Spoiler- it usually isn’t.
4 - Know When to Walk
If you are finding that you simply cannot find agreeable terms with an event, it is okay to walk away from an opportunity. There is ALWAYS someone willing to do more work for less returns, but it doesn’t have to be you. Value yourself, your time, and your skills. It is okay to let a con know "sorry, guesting at your event would be out of my budget at present, but I hope one day I'll be in your budget!" because it's a two way street. Both parties would have to spend some money on each other in order to collaborate, and sometimes, it's just not in the cards.
5 - Never Burn Bridges
Take the upper road. If a con is undervaluing your worth, you can politely educate them on why you are asking for the things you are. But in the end, even with both people having the best intentions, you can still be out of a convention’s guesting budget. Thank them for their consideration, and wish them luck with the show! Leave the no-deal on a good note, and without bad blood. You never know when that little LocalTownCon that couldn't afford you right now will become the next SuperCityCon with a massive guest budget, so portray professionalism in all your interactions. Also, convention runners talk! Always try to leave good impressions.
6 - What Other Valuable Assets Do You Possess?
If you perform a special or unique service, you can add that into your value as well. Maybe you’re an entertainer, such as an esteemed singer, dancer, or actor. Or perhaps you’re a highly renown author or head of a subject of interest, like Japanese cultural history. Maybe you’re a popular gaming streamer or YouTube vlogger. These other aspects may not always be directly related to cosplay, but can still have transferable value to your cosplay guesting status. Consider these aspects when pitching yourself to events!
7 - Get a Contract
Get everything in writing, and get as much upfront as you can. I’ve heard some horror stories of people having to chase down and badger people at or after the con to get their promised wages or a reimbursement on flights/hotel. While it is understandable that some cons will wait until you’ve delivered your services before paying you (so you can’t just take the money and run), you absolutely *must* get that in writing and get the legal names of anyone you can speak with if they don’t deliver on their contracted promise. Also, if they pay you in checks, cash it as soon as possible! Should their bank account run dry for any reason, you don't want to get stiffed.
8 - Is It Ever Okay to Work for Free?
Even though you have value, it is absolutely okay to “volunteer” your time and services. Some cosplayers do this for small local conventions that they just want to see grow, or because they were going to be at the event, regardless. It's okay to not require an appearance fee because you simply want to help an event flourish or just really want some practice or entry experience with guesting. But if so, be clear about that your language and intent on "volunteering" your time and skills. Should an event you work for free at ever grow to be a big healthy con, you don’t want them expecting you to work for free or telling other cons that you don't ask for appearance fees, while paying other cosplay guests a fair wage.
9 - Level Up Your Bargaining Power
If you’re just starting out cosplay guesting, you may have less bargaining power. Although you work is STILL valuable, if you lack an impressive resume or guesting experience, you have less power to make demands than someone that guests 10 events a year or has a massive social media following. Unfortunately, you will have to work your way up, but I re-emphasize: have a minimum that you’re willing to accept, and don’t be afraid to walk from an opportunity. Don’t let people undervalue you- and most importantly, don't undervalue yourself.
Also be aware that when events come to you to ask for your services, you hold the upper hand in negotiations. But when you apply to events, you sought them out, so you are doing the asking here. That said, don't wait around for cons to notice you, get your name out there if you can! Just remember that you don't get to make as many demands when you are doing the asking.
10 - The Proof is In the Pudding
For cons to believe you (and all other cosplay guests, quite frankly) have value, you need to prove you can consistently deliver. Having a strong resume or showing your value through media kits is one way to exhibit proven examples of you bringing value to an event. So every time you guest at an event, give it your all!
You want to be constantly leaving good impressions, and being a pleasant professional to work with. If you underdeliver, or fall flat on promises at events, it'll severely impact people's opinion of you and cosplay guests as a whole. So make sure to take each any every opportunity seriously, and it'll show that you are a reliable person that people want to invest in!
Cosplay guesting is a relatively new territory in the history of conventions. While there's no set rate or formula on what to ask for as a cosplay guest, you DO have resources on how to price your time as a person and a professional in general. Your labor has value, flat out. No matter whether you're volunteering, staffing, or guesting the event. So never be afraid to try to earn that coin while doing something you love!
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