What does it mean to be a Con Guest?


This came up last weekend when I was teaching my self-publishing workshop at Carolina Learning Connection (don’t worry, there will be more classes, I promise. You can catch the next one!). A lot of the folks in the class were mildly familiar with conventions and wondered how cons got people to attend. What follows is MY experience as a convention guest at a couple dozen cons in the past three years, everyone’s mileage will vary. But I thought with Dragon Con looming on the horizon, another little peek behind the curtain might be in order. 

And there really is no longer a * in Dragon Con. The asterisk went away when the new company was formed earlier this year. I thought that was interesting. Oh well, never mind. 

Some people are very surprised that author guests at conventions pay their own way. But we do. Typically unless you are a Guest of Honor or a Special Guest (and sometimes even if you are the GoH, but that’s pretty rare), you’re paying your own way. That means travel is on you, hotel is on you, food is on you, drinks are on you, the whole nine yards. That’s why poor James Tuck learned the hard way that I snore – we roomed together at MidSouthCon this spring. And it’s why you’ll often see a bunch of us piling out of one vehicle, clown-car style, like Misty and Gail Martin and I did at MystiCon this year. And if we’re feeling particularly prepared, why we’ll bring a bunch of snacks with us and either eat breakfast in the room or have a few bags of munchies with us throughout the day. Remind me to tell you my Mercedes Lackey Lunchables story if you haven’t heard it already. 

Okay, so what about those tables you sit at, those are free, right? I mean, you have to pay your own way, but all your book sales money is profit!

Well, it depends. And that’s really a con-to-con thing. Some cons are more big exhibit halls than fan conventions, like NY Comic Con. The 10′ booth I shared with two other writers cost us almost a grand. But there were over 100,000 people there, and the Javitz Center is expensive. The table at ConCarolinas is half a table for $15, so it’s almost free, and it’s really just a case of the con covering the cost of renting the table from the hotel for the weekend. In general, if the authors are in the room with the dealers, they’re paying for the table. 

Then there’s sales tax. Yep, we also have to pay sales tax on everything we sell at a con. We’re just like any other small business, with the same tax reporting responsibilities as any other small business. 

And panels? You get to pick the panels you’re on, right? Well, I do, because I’m bigger than most moderators and almost charming enough to crash panels without making people angry :). But we’re assigned panels, and sometimes we have no say in what they are. A lot of times we get a list of panels and are asked which ones we’d like to be on, but there’s usually a “Why am I on that panel?” moment at some point on the schedule. This is because con staffs are almost all volunteers and they have limited time and resources, but they have a lot of spots on panels to fill. And not all panels get the same number of volunteers, so sometimes we’ll be on a panel that we’re not experts in, and that’s when hilarity can often ensue. Since I don’t ever feel the need to be an expert, but I often feel the need to be a smartass, I have a lot of fun with those panels. 

Case in point – the “Are you Prepared?” panel Tuck and I were on this year where there was a guy in the panel who was a vampire hunter. 

A real one. 

And there was a guy on the panel who told us his totem animal was a banana slug.


This stuff really happens. And Tuck and I were there, on a Sunday at a con, with a six-hour drive staring us in the face, with Buffy-Boy and Banana Slug-Man. To say it was awesome would be a serious understatement. 

So if it costs you money and you don’t always get to pick your panels, why do you do so many cons? Because they’re amazing! Conventions are where you meet fans face to face, they’re where you meet other writers and mentors, they’re where you learn from professionals in your field, recharge your batteries and get to drink with amazing people! 

I love conventions. They’re a ton of work, and they cost a ton of money over the course of a year, and lugging books around in my truck does get a little old, but there’s nothing more amazing than having somebody walk up with your book and say they like your work. That moment makes it all worthwhile. All the sweating, all the driving, all the toiling alone at our keyboards are forgotten the second somebody says “Could you sign this for me?” 

See you at a con near you. I’ll be the one in the bar!


13 comments to What does it mean to be a Con Guest?

  • I had juuuuust put my hot tea down when I read >>Buffy-Boy and Banana Slug-Man<<.
    Thank god, no hot tea through nose and onto keyboard.
    And yes, the panels we are on are often too funny to be believed. I have spent entire panels not knowing why I was there and laughing so hard tears run down my face. Good times.

  • A couple of years back, at Stellarcon, Tera Fulbright and I traded panels. I was on The Works of Richard Dean Anderson, and while I liked him in Stargate, I knew nothing else about his career. She was scheduled for the Authors Vs Artists Pictionary, and she hated the idea of competitive drawing. So we traded. *mischievous grin* I wouldn’t recommend doing this often, but if you’re careful and make sure to be completely adorable when you explain to the con committee why you did it in the first place, you can get away with it. You end up with a panel that makes you happy, and a story to share when your friend talks about con panels on Magical Words. 😉

  • Wayne McCalla

    I know at DragoCon they have a list of guests and attending professionals…

    Is there really a difference?

    I hope to see everyone at DragonCon but will be helping/working at Don Maitz and Janny Wurts’ table in the artshow. So if in the Hyatt swing on by the artshow and say hello

  • The big difference between “Guests” and “Attending Professionals” is that guests get two badges and access to the Green Room, and Attending Professionals get one badge and no Green Room access. There are also certain requirements as to how many panels you’re on, but I don’t know the details for all that.

  • John, unless they’ve changed since last year, there’s no panel requirement at Dragoncon. I was unscheduled both years I was an AP, and had to crash panels.

  • This “crashing panels” thing sounds like there could be some interesting stories behind it?

  • I think I can relate to the banana slug guy – my totem animal may well be a snail. (Actually my totem animal is Hilary Clinton, but you’d have to ask Emily to explain.)

    And Cons are great, especially when they’re a chance to see friends you wouldn’t otherwise get a chance to see.

  • I would so like to meet a vampire hunter and a slug-man. That is such an instagram moment. DragonCon is the biggest I’ve been too and I think I spent more time in lines than panels. Going to my first reader/author con next weekend. Authors After Dark! I think Tuck is suppose to be there…

  • Vyton

    From the outside, it looks like a lot of long, hard work, and to be cheerful with it. That inside look makes panels potentially a lot more interesting. Thanks for the peek.

  • Heh heh, there might have once been a panel on humor in fantasy/SF that might have included Laura Resnick, Jim Hines, Ernest Cline and John Scalzi. There might have been a large man in a blue luchador mask mysteriously appear at one end of the table without a nameplate. And I might have crashed about half the panels I was on at JordanCon this year.

    The caveat to that being ALWAYS ask the moderator if it’s cool before you crash. And that’s why you’ll find me at a couple of the Pulp Fiction panels, because moderators have invited me to crash.

  • Nathan Elberg

    I would love to attend a con. But being Sabbath-observant (Friday night and Saturday till sundown) makes it difficult. Can’t go through a door with an auto-opening sensor, can’t carry anything, write or record anything, can’t use anything electric or motorized (like a bus or car). And that’s before the problems of kosher food.
    I made my choices, and I’m happy with them. Just a little wistful.

  • This is useful stuff, John. Yeah, I’d heard that authors pretty much pay their own way. But the exposure (and the anecdotes) sound like they’re definitely worth it!

    Nathan, have you considered attending cons that are local, so you could go on the Friday during the day, and/or the Sunday? And if you wanted to go farther afield, maybe find a friend or family member to stay with so you could still be observant during the times you wish? (I hear you on the food issues. Gluten and I do not get along but restaurants can be a major challenge. I bring some of my own stuff to get by.)

  • What I want to know is if that real vampire hunter has caught any real vampires, and if so, what he did with ’em!