Why Conventions?


Tomorrow I drive to Virginia — Charlottesville to be exact — where, on Friday, I’ll be a presenter at the Virginia Festival of the Book.  It couldn’t come at a worse time, really.  I’m revising one book and itching to start writing another.  But this begins a stretch of festivals and conventions that will take me through the summer and into the fall, so I suppose I have no choice but to deal with it.

I don’t do a tremendous number of conventions each year (from here on out, “conventions” will include not only conventions, but also book festivals and any other events that allow me to interact with fans and other writers); maybe I do eight total.  It’s enough to make me feel at the end of each year that I never want to do so many again.  But it’s few enough that I wind up scheduling the same number again come January, so I guess that’s a balance of a sort.

Lots of people ask me if I enjoy conventions.  The short answer is a qualified yes.  I enjoy some conventions very much.  World Fantasy Convention is always a highlight of my year.  No matter where WFC is held, I get to see writer friends who I never see anywhere else.  My editor and agent, both of whom I like very much, are usually there, so I also get to touch base with them.

Other conventions demand more work on my part, which is not to say that I don’t enjoy them, but this does make for a different kind of experience.  I usually attend conventions to promote my books.  It’s part of my job — self-promotion.  I try to get onto as many discussion panels as I can, I try to do readings and autographings, and I spend a good deal of time in the dealers’ room shmoozing with booksellers and readers.   All of these activities have their ups and downs.  Panels can be fun, particularly if you get a lively group of panelists and an audience that asks good questions.  True, one can only speak intelligently about “Creating Religions for Your World” or “What’s Your Favorite Fantasy Novel and Why?” (Mine, because I get money when you buy it…..) so many times before one’s brain begins to gel.  But I’ve been on some great panels over the years.  I’ve also been on some total dogs, but let’s not go there.

Readings can also be terrific or disastrous.  It doesn’t take a big audience to make a reading great.  I’ve done readings for six people that left me completely energized about my books and eager to get back to work.  I’ve also done readings for two people and had one of them fall asleep.  That kind of sucked.  And once I got to the reading venue just as the con guest of honor was finishing a reading.  She left and took every person with her.  I sat alone in the room for fifteen minutes.  Then I went to the bar.

Autographings are similar to readings in a way.  Hit or miss.  If people show up, they’re great.  If you’re sitting there for an hour staring at a wall while people walk by trying not to make eye contact. . . .well, that’s pretty much the pits.

People who know me will probably be surprised to hear me say this, but the shmoozing is the part of a con that I dislike most.  I’m not a natural shmoozer.  I love talking to friends, but I find it very difficult to make conversation.  I’ll warm up to it after a while, but it’s . . . well . . . work

Which brings us back to the central point.  Conventions are fun.  I look forward to every one that’s on my schedule.  I enjoy seeing old friends and making new ones, both among my fellow writers and among the many readers who attend these events because they’re passionate about the genre.  But conventions aren’t really a time for me to kick back and relax.  I have to be on pretty much the entire time.  I try to be friendly.  When I talk about writing or my books or whatever topics might come up in panel discussions, I want to be informative and concise.  I also want to be funny.  I want to interest people in my work.  But perhaps more to the point, people pay to attend these conventions, and while I’d never be so egotistical as to think that they’re paying to see me, I am conscious of the fact that I am, in essence, part of the entertainment.  My panels, my readings — they’re part of what the attendees have paid to experience.  If I go at it half-assed, it reflects poorly on me, and it cheats good people out of their money.

So if you see me at a con, please come up and say hello.  Help me get through the shmoozing part.  Come to my panels and ask good questions.  Come hear me read.  Come by the autographing table, even if it’s just to say hello or have me sign the con program.  Yeah, I’ll be working.  But as it happens, I have pretty fun job, and I like to talk about it.

Today’s music:  Larry Carlton (Sapphire Blue)


4 comments to Why Conventions?

  • David said: “But conventions aren’t really a time for me to kick back and relax. I have to be on pretty much the entire time.”

    I’ve discovered that “on” state is a lot more exhausting than I expected it to be. It’s not like being at a party or something – it’s more like being onstage. I never go out after a day of dancing at faire, or after an evening’s show, because the minute I’m offstage, I’m useless. I’ve had to go home and have a nap after every book signing so far, because I’ve been completely drained.

    I’ve been to cons and conferences, but never as one of the guests, so this year will be new and interesting. I’m lucky to have friends and/or family at each one, who’ll make sure I’m drinking water and not running myself into the ground. I’m looking forward to learning these new ropes.

    David also said: “Help me get through the shmoozing part.”

    You got it!

  • I positively stink at the schmoozing.
    I quake at the knees. My voice sounds like someone else talking. I totally *totally* forget names. Once even my own. Don’t laugh. I misspelled my own name signing a book. Really. Yet, I think I’m pretty good at the conference stuff. Not great, mind you. But pretty good.

    And then, I crawl in bed and whimper after it’s all over. And yet, I love the conferences for the same reasons you stated, David. Writers are nuts. Go figure.

  • Mark Wise

    When I go to a convention or booksigning as a reader, I try to be as respectful as I can towards the writers who are there. After all, they are people too. If I see a table where no one is visting, I will make a point to go over to the person and ask them about their book, even if I am not the least bit interested at the time.

    Shoot, that is how I chose the college I ended up attending. I went to college fair and my future college table was not being frequented. So I went over to ask them about their college just to give them some business. It goes to show that you never know what you may find by straying off the beaten path.

    Just because a table is not being frequented much, doesn’t mean what they have to offer is bad. They probably just haven’t been discovered by the public yet.

  • Thanks for the comment all. And sorry for the delay in responding. Crazy day. Mark, you’d be amazed by the number of people who aren’t so considerate of those of us working a con. Don’t ge tme wrong: most people are polite, courteous, etc. But a not-insignificant-minority don’t seem to get it, if you know what I mean.

    Faith and Misty — looking forward to doing the con thing together. Mutual support. Should be fun.