Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Convention Report

Here it is, April, the fresh new spring of the year. And I have already been to 3 conventions in 2008. I had a back-to-back double-header of Arisia in Cambridge, MA and Chattacon in Chattanooga, TN one weekend after the other in January. I had the month of Februrary off where I ended up beginning a novella project that came to life because of events that transpired at those two conventions. Never underestimate the power of networking, even at your friend's after-hours birthday party, I'm just sayin'. Opportunities don't always happen during the 10am-10pm convention "day" and they might take a couple of months and several appearances later to really come together.

And that is how I ended up working for Apex Books. Which will be expounded upon in greater detail in a later post, I promise.

In March, I attended MidSouthCon in Memphis, TN for the first time. It has been a while since I was a first-timer at a con. Luckily my first con ever was a small and wonderfully supportive one here in Nashville, TN called Hypericon which happens in June. After that first weekend of being shown the ropes, I felt like this convention thing was old hat.

But here are some quick dos and don'ts of being at a convention for the first time, whether is it your first con ever or your first appearance at a particular con.

First off, make sure you and the con staff are clear on your status. Some cons have a distinction between a "guest" and a "panelist." To clarify, all guests are (usually) panelists, but not all panelitsts are always considered guests. Every convention has various Guests of Honor (in different fields like writing, art, costuming, webcomics, etc.), these are usually very important or very famous professionals within their industry and serve as a draw to people to attend that particular convention. (Example: Pi-Con in W. Springfield, MA enticed me to come visit because Jacqueline Carey was their Guest of Honor)

The Guests of Honor (or GOH in the vernacular) have all their expenses paid by the con: travel, lodging, convention membership and/or any miscellaneous fees, and sometimes even food (even if not in an "official" capacity, most GOHs get treated to a meal or two or three by the con or the staff or the fans). A GOH gets a whole page in the con book with their picture, a long bio, and often reviews of their work or an interview with them.

A regular guest is an industry professional, often listed with others of their ilk in the "also appearing" or "other guests" category. Guests get just a short bio in the con book which will be organized alphabetically and not by industry. Guests write their own bios and so can include anything they want. I talk briefly about my current novel, any upcoming or current writing projects I might have, a sentance or two about my costuming background, followed by a single senatnce that sums up my other interests and where I am from and then I usually end up mentioning my fiance and my two dogs. People tend to relate to other people with pets and relationships, makes one seem like a real person, more approachable and likable, or so those marketing and promotion books tell me. I do get people asking me what kind of dogs I have and when my wedding is taking place, so I suppose it works.

This is an example of one of my bios, this one comes from my blog:

Born in the San Francisco Bay Area of California, Sara has traveled all over the country from her home state of California, all the way to New York City, and finally settling (for a little while anyway) in Nashville, Tennessee. She loves costuming and theatre as well as writing. She has a fantastic fiance, Matt, and a very dramatic dog, Guinevere.

It is brief, but with some fun style and panache to it. Hits the major bases and ends with a humorous and loving mention of family. My convention bio is similar but contains the titles, dates, and publishers of my books.

A panelist is someone who is knowledgable about a subject and not necessarily an industry professional. Many times a convention will have their GOHs and then everyone else is listed as a "panelist." Many conventions have their GOHS and everyone else is a "guest" (lower case). Some conventions have GOHS, guests, and panelists, the difference between "guest" and "panelist" being whether or not they are a professional in whatever field the panel is about.
One thing about being on a panel is finding the right balance between making yourself heard and hogging the time. Find that balance. Don't let the "big names" roll over you, you were asked to speak on that panel on that subject for a reason. If you never open your mouth, no one will know who you are! But always remember to let your fellow panelists speak...there are 3-6 people trying to express their opinions about a given topic and there is only ONE HOUR for everyone to get their points across. Be assertive, but considerate!

Another difference is that guests usually do not have to pay to attend the convention. They are a "guest of the convention." They still need to pay to travel to the con and for their own food and lodging. For the savvy con guest, this becomes a shiny tax deduction as it is a business expense.

Some cons, especially smaller ones, have rules about how many panels on which one must participate to earn a complimentary membership. Many cons allow guests to bring their own guest, usually a spouse, significant other, or other family member for free. Others allow a "guest of the guest" to attend for half-price, others require any additional people with the guest to pay the full convention membership price. Cons vary widely in this practice, so this is definitely a question to ask ahead of time.

But how does one go about getting involved in conventions?

I don't know how anyone else does it, but I just look them up and send them an introductory email and ask if I can come be a guest. I have some fiction published, plus I have a whopping load of costuming credentials including a mater's degree, a year of servitude in the Disney World costume shop, I teach fashion and costume at the college level and I have written several chapters on costume history. That is usually enough to get programming chairs drooling for my presence. After my first con, I had some experience so I could list at what other cons I had appeared and build myself a convention resume listing where I had appeared and what sort of topics I had spoken about. In other instances, I made friends who attended other cons and put in a good word for me. Elizabeth Donald is an ANGEL at this. And I have tried to turn around and show the love back to some good folks like Shane Moore and others. And on a couple of occasions, the programming folks or other staffers of other cons have seen me at one con and invited me to theirs.

In short (too late!), I have found that conventions have been my mainstay in terms of book sales and generating interest in me and my work and by that, new readers. My goal is to be able to make a career of writing, that is, to be able to generate enough income from selling books that I don't need to have an additional job unless I want one. I mean, fame and fortune are great, but more realistically, just being able to make a halfway-decent living with writing would be a dream come true.
So, if you are looking for a new angle or edge to further your budding career, try looking into some conventions. I'll see you there!