DragonCon, Panels, Booths and Meetings, Oh My!

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I’ve almost recovered from DragonCon. I seem to have avoided the dreaded con crud by a mixture of fist bumps (not handshakes), alcohol (taken internally) and sleep (I got at least six hours every night of the con). Life is almost back to normal, and most of the glow of the con has faded, but the cool stuff continues to fall out from it. But more on that as things develop. 

This was by far the best DragonCon I’ve been to as a writer. I was an “attending professional,” which meant my badge was comped (and Suzy’s). I had a room at the Westin, which was not only convenient as that’s where most of my panels were and connected to the exhibit area, but it was also less crowded and quieter than some of the “main” hotels. We also were able to catch a table at the lobby bar every night for a little quiet-ish decompression time before bed. I got to be on panels with Jim Butcher, Jonathan Maberry, Kevin J. Anderson, Laura Anne Gilman and some awesome other big-name authors. I also got to share panel time with James Tuck, David and Faith, which is always a great time. And I think I did fairly well on my panels. I don’t believe I embarrassed myself too much, and I took a moment before the big Men of Urban Fantasy panel to let Jim Butcher know what an influence he’s been on my writing and to thank him for my career, so that was nice. 

And I have my rooms booked for next year, which is a load off my mind. This thing keeps growing, and hotel space becomes more and more scarce each year, so I always feel lucky when I get a good place to sleep. And for me, being in one of the con hotels is pretty key. The ability to relax for a few minutes before bed, or between panels, is a huge help in getting through the marathon that is a major con. I didn’t have that last year at Dragon or New York ComiCon, and that was certainly a contributing factor to my not enjoying those cons as much. 

The booth was great this year. I sold almost double what I sold last year, and STILL couldn’t catch David Coe. That man was slinging books like a Waffle House cook thirty minutes after last call. I really enjoyed meeting some new folks like R.S. Belcher and Travis Heermann andMari Mancusi. And I always love spending time with Lucienne, Faith and the rest of the gang. 

Carrie asked in comments on Faith’s post yesterday how we judge whether or not we did well on a panel. For me it’s all about making people laugh. I’m almost always the newest writer on the panel, and frequently consider some of the other panelists to be smarter and better writers than me. So I go for the laughs. I mean seriously, I’m gonna try to be the smart one on a panel with Faith, AJ and David? I know my limits. And I’m not going to try to be the expert on urban fantasy with Jonathan Maberry and Jim Butcher flanking me. I’m gonna play to my strengths, get a few laughs, and try to build a few new fans.

I don’t have to win folks over in huge chunks, I just want to win super-loyal fans one or two at a time. So I’m the goofy guy hanging out in the line before the panel having a beer with the fans. It’s not just part of my shtick, it’s part of who I am. I am just like the fans, because I AM a fan. I sat on the Men of UF panel the entire time with my internal fanboy doing cartwheels down the hall because I was sitting next to Jim F’n Butcher! 

There’s a concept in marketing that talks about only needing 1,000 “true fans” to be wildly successful, and I totally buy into it. Kevin Kelly explains the whole thing here if you’re really interested. It’s what Faith is doing with her Beast Claws street team. It’s what we all do when we do signings all over the place. We’re trying to build those true fans, the evangelical fans, the ones who buy a copy of your new book for themselves and a copy to loan out. It’s what I’m trying to accomplish by being on panels. So for me, if one person comes up to me afterwards and says “That was fun,” then I’ve won the panel. And if I can close the room with a laugh, that always helps. 

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