pen show survival

Pen Show Tips

The 2019 Atlanta Pen Show is underway! We didn’t sign up for it this year, so here I sit in my quiet office on a rainy Friday, finding it hard to focus on my work because my mind keeps wandering as I imagine the bustle of the show. I’ve really come to treasure these shows over the years; once you’ve attended a few, they’re practically family reunions: you’re going to run into old friends, and make new ones every time! The great thing about a pen show is that it’s an event anyone who’s into writing can enjoy. The challenge of a show, especially as a newcomer, is that they can seem somewhat vast and endless. A customer recently confessed to me that he found his first pen show a bit overwhelming. I reassured him that it’s completely normal to feel that way, and then I thought this might be a great chance to share a few of my personal tips on getting the most out of your pen show experience. I hope you find this helpful!

Tip #1: pen shows are for ANYONE interested in writing! You might have seen an advertisement for a pen show and been intrigued, but wondered if it was for you. If you’re into writing, IT IS. It is! Pen show crowds are a wonderfully diverse group of folks who are simply brought together by a love of writing. You’ll see all ages, races, genders, abilities, and walks of life. It’s an inclusive and welcoming crowd!

Tip #2: “ANYONE” includes kids! Kids are enthusiastically welcomed at pen shows. In fact, one of my favorite sights at any show is a family. I love seeing parents who want to encourage their kids to write in our increasingly digital world! Pen shows typically have a scavenger hunt just for the kids, which is a great way to keep them engaged, sponsored by the Pen Collectors of America. The scavenger hunt will encourage your kids to be on the lookout for things like a bottle of ink, a mechanical pencil, and so on. They’ll learn and have fun as you browse the show!

Tip #3: be prepared to be in a crowd. Pen shows are not overly crowded, but you should be prepared to be around a lot of people. A lot of kind and well-mannered people, for sure, but if crowds are a challenge for you this is an important aspect to bear in mind. If you want to check out a pen show and specifically want or need to avoid being in crowds, I highly recommend going to the Sunday afternoon hours of the show you’re attending. Sunday afternoon is typically the lowest-traffic time at a pen show. Early afternoon (say, 1pm) is a good time to target: shows often run until 4 or 5 pm, but some vendors may need to pack up and scoot out earlier than that in order to catch their flights home.

Tip #4: think about your bag. You’ll want to have a great way to carry your personal belongings. I’d recommend a cross-body style bag. Since you’ll be in a busy venue, this will help you navigate the rooms with the most ease. If you wear a backpack, you’ll likely find it rather clumsy to get through the aisles. If you carry a traditional purse, you might need to set it down to look through it, and there aren’t always easy places your purse could perch.

Tip #3: take breaks. If I had to give anyone just ONE pen show tip, this would be it. Take breaks frequently! There are SO MANY wonderful products to feast your eyes on. If you don’t take breaks, you’ll glaze over. 5 or 10 minutes sitting in the hotel lobby or stepping outside will help you process what you’ve just seen, and give your brain a moment to “reset” before you look at more. You’ll absorb more information and will likely be happier with your purchases if you work in some good breaks. (And your feet will probably thank you, too!)

Tip #4: wear comfortable shoes. Speaking of feet: make sure to keep them comfortable. You’ll be standing a lot, and you’ll have more fun if your dogs aren’t barking!

Tip #5: bring your own paper. Do you have a favorite notebook, journal, or planner that you love to write in? Or even favorite loose leaf? Whatever it is, if a certain kind of paper is your go-to, you should bring it with you, and keep it handy in that cross-body bag I referenced earlier. Many vendors will have test pens you can write with. They’ll have testing paper out, and this will give you a good idea of how the pen performs, but the true test is writing on your own paper. Papers can be so different, so you want to know how that new fountain pen, ballpoint pen, or rollerball pen performs on the paper that you use every day. At this year’s Baltimore Pen Show, in fact, a customer asked me if I could get him some cheap copy paper to test a pen on, since that’s what he knows he’ll write on at his office. I was able to scavenge in my office supplies and find a piece, and then he was reassured that the pen he was considering would be a good fit.

Tip #6: ask questions. We want to talk to you! For me, the best part of a show is talking to the attendees. I’m willing to bet most vendors agree. My day is more fun and interesting when I get to chat with you! I love to learn what brought you out to the show, what you’re looking for, and just what kind of day you’re having. I’m happy when I have the opportunity to answer your questions and help you find what you’re looking for. As the saying goes, the only bad question is the one you don’t ask! So ask me anything!

Tip #7: take a class. Or take a LOT of classes! Most shows have a wonderful array of classes and workshops throughout the weekend. Some are free, and some have a modest fee. Be sure to look at the show website or talk to the organizers ahead of time so you can sign up! You’ll find classes on calligraphy, journaling, sketching, handwriting forensics, hand lettering, and more. Are you new to fountain pens? Check out a “Fountain Pens 101” class! Bringing your kids to the show? Make sure they try the “Pens for Kids” class! This year’s Baltimore Pen Show had a particularly impressive roster of classes; you can check it out here to see an example of the class variety you might find at your next pen show:

Tip #8: Give your purchases a test-drive before you leave the show. This is particularly easy if you’re staying overnight; you just have to make a point of doing it. I think it’s worthwhile because if there happens to be an issue with your purchase, it is so much easier to work it out with the vendor while you’re all still at the show. I’ve run into this a few times, and I’m so grateful when I can make an issue right for someone in person, in a timely manner.

Tip #9: Think about payment. Most vendors will take credit cards, but everyone definitely takes cash. Bringing cash will ensure that you can smoothly make any purchase, and will also help you set a budget and stick to it. Just be careful with it, as you would in any crowd. If you prefer credit cards, they will also be a great option with many vendors. It might be worth a quick call to your credit card company before the show to let them know they’ll see an unusual purchase pattern (since you’ll be making transactions with vendors from all around the country). Fun fact: I used to work in the fraud call center of a credit card company, and I have a lot of first-hand experience with how inconvenient it is for you as a customer when the card company flags your account for possible fraud and places a hold on your card until they can verify that it’s really you and everything is valid. The intent is good, but in addition to feeling inconvenient, it’s also been known to ruin many surprises… so give them a call beforehand, so your significant other doesn’t get wind of their special gift by way of a call from the fraud department ;-)

Tip #10: create a strategy before the show. You’re going to walk into a wonderful, bustling scene… it’s so fun, but without a good plan, you could get home and realize that you forgot to look for that pen that had been on your mind before the show. Think about the products you want to see in person. Make a note of them. Want to take classes? Pre-register for them. Do you have pen friends on social media? Message them and, if they’ll be at the show as well, arrange meet-ups ahead of time. Do you plan to enjoy the late-night #penshowsafterdark hangouts? I’m not a night owl, but I’ve heard they’re a blast. They can run pretty late into the night, so consider avoiding early morning plans the next day ;-)

These are the best tips I can think of for now. I hope you find them helpful! I hope I’ll see you at a show sometime. Until then, what are your best pen show tips? Do you have a favorite show to attend, or a favorite show activity? Feel free to share them in the comments!

Happy writing!