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!