A First-timer’s Thoughts On the Licensing Expo

Last month I went to Las Vegas to take in the 2022 Licensing Expo. It was definitely a good learning experience, and (while burying the lede I suppose) since I’ll likely be living there next year, I certainly plan to attend again. I went with no real expectations other than it was going to be big and somewhat confusing for a simple midwestern guy like me—meaning a little ol’ writer with IP that consists of twenty some novels, and a couple hundred short stories. I was not disappointed. It was big and somewhat confusing.

I’ve heard others say you should go to this over a couple years, with the first year being just to walk around and see the art of the possible. This is true.

Even though word on the street was that this season’s Expo was small relative to others—most certainly due to pandemic impacts—it was still a tad on the overwhelming side of things. Still, after blinking a few times, I waded in and started looking around. I was curious about a lot of things, but I also did some pretty harsh mental surgery each time I stopped to take in a booth or a display. How can I use this? What part of this speaks to me? Which of my IP can I see fitting into this company’s products? What would I need to do to make myself and my IP attractive to them?

I also did the Licensing University thing and was disappointed. Other than the opening presentation—which was basically Licensing 101—there was little there to inspire. At first I thought maybe it was just me, and that I needed some remedial learning to be able to get into the game, but talking to others afterward leads me to say it was just a dud.

When it was finished I spent an hour breaking my IP into a few categories, then asked myself what I needed to do now to be prepared to come back next year. Here are a few general overviews of my thoughts:

  1. I need to think visually. Specifically, I need to think about artwork—and even more specifically, character artwork—that I can own IP over.
  2. For new stories, I need to really think through characters as I create them. What makes them likable. What makes them stand on their own in ways people can relate to. This should go without saying, I suppose, but it’s not something I think about during the writing stage with the express idea of licensing. I think a lot of writers—me included—give short shift to secondary characters simply because they aren’t always germane the primary story we’re telling. But an array of characters can be attractive.
  3. Here’s a bit of a shocking thought: The idea of writing with intent to license is a good way to think about distilling your characters down to their elemental purpose. I admit this idea felt ugly in the moment I thought it, but its true. Writing characters (or creatures, or whatever) that people identify with so hard they fall in love with them is essentially the gateway into attracting someone to spend their own money to put them onto other products or into games or whatever. Licensing or not, I want my characters to pop. If thinking about them that way (who is going to love this character) makes them better, so be it.
  4. Over the next couple months, I need to go back over my catalog and find pieces that would be attractive. Then I need to decide how to focus my time. I am a true independent writer/publisher today. I have only me, and I need to write and publish before all else. Until that changes, succeeding in this world of licensing most likely means maintaining a focus on one thing at a time.

Anyway, these are things I was thinking about as I left. If you’re as new to the idea of licensing your stuff as I am, maybe this will help you think about your own work.

If you go next year, I expect I’ll see you there!

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