So you want to get into a craft show…

This post originally appeared on the EcoEtsy Team blog, with some minor modifications:

A funny thing happened after I complained about how difficult it was to decipher the application rules of a festival I wanted to vend at last year: This year I wound up running it.
I never intended for that to happen, but it was actually a great experience, if a little overwhelming. It made me see applying for and doing festivals in a whole new light, so I thought I’d write about a few things I learned being on the other side of that jury box.

First of all, do your research ahead of time and find out when the due dates are for applications. Get yours in on time, and make sure it’s complete. If you find out about a great festival after their deadline, fill out an application anyway, and then ask to be considered for their waitlist (and to be added to their mailing list for next year). This may or may not help you this year, but being polite and sending in a good application absolutely cannot hurt. Spaces do open up as someone always drops out, and while many people email after the due date to inquire about space, few take the time to fill out the application. When we had a few extra spots open up, I went straight for those people who had the initiative to do so, even if it meant taking people out of order.

This is going to sound like a no-brainer, but follow the application’s instructions. It’s ok if you don’t understand what some of the terms mean or how something is worded, and it’s perfectly legitimate to email and ask for clarification. There are no stupid questions, especially if you are polite. Trust me – asking for clarification so you know what is needed is far better than sending in an incomplete application and making the jury contact you with questions (hint: they probably won’t and it will go in the circular file).

Here’s another hard truth: If you make jewelry, you need to really be on top of your game. Go above and beyond the application’s requirements, send in extra photos, press releases, blog links, whatever you’ve got. Jewelry is such a competitive category, anything you can do to make yourself stand out is a plus. This is where it is also helpful to know whether applications are accepted on a rolling basis, or if everyone is judged at once, after a cut-off date. If it’s rolling, get yours in early! Almost 1/3 of our applications this year were for jewelry vendors, and obviously we couldn’t take them all.

Speaking of standing out – I cannot stress this enough: Send really GOOD photos. Don’t take pictures on your messy craft table in lamplight. Natural light and open shade is best (got a south facing window or covered porch?) and if you can take a photo that shows how your product is used, even better. If you don’t have a good indoor space, you can build a light box for small-ish items for under 10$. (that tutorial is pretty awesome for anyone, even if you aren’t applying for a show.)

This photo by EcoEtsian 4Pippi is perfect. Natural light, a neutral background, a clear photo of the product.

If your items are large and need to be photographed outside, pay attention to your background. No one wants to see your junked car or underwear hanging on a clothesline. (yes, this happened)

Obviously, make sure your Etsy shop is current, and that it represents your products well. A shop link is an important plus and gives you legitimacy.

If you’ve never done a show before and the application asks for a photo of your display, don’t fret. It’s perfectly ok to create a mock-up in your carport, on your porch, or even in a room that gets a lot of natural light. Tape out the dimensions of the booth on the floor and try to create “walls” out of fabric or some other backdrop. Better yet, go ahead and buy or borrow a 10×10 white tent and practice your setup in your backyard. Take closeup shots of displays as well as an overall view. These photos are great tools, even beyond getting accepted into a show. Really look at them and try to see your wares from the eyes of a new person who might be walking by. A straight line of table with a bunch of small objects laying atop it is boring. Think displays of varying heights, and pay attention to your textures and colors. Choose interesting containers to hold your items and pay attention to the back of your booth with a sign, pretty backdrop or even a simple pair of curtains. For inspiration, there’s a great Flickr Group called Show Me Your Booths.

If you have a blog, talk about past shows you’ve done. If it comes down to two similar people and only one slot, the person who promotes festivals they attend on their blog or website is probably going to have an advantage.

So those are a few things I learned to see differently while putting this show together. I’m sure there are a lot more tips out there, and I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

The downside of all this is I totally didn’t follow my own advice here and missed quite a few show deadlines because I was so distracted. Next year, I’ll be sure to plan ahead for the added workload, and I will pay a lot more attention to the details of applications. I really learned a TON during this process and I’m thankful I got the opportunity to do it.

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