Over the years, I have heard tales of the mystical gatherings many in the Science Fiction, Horror, and Gaming communities refer to as Cons, although I had not yet experienced one for myself. Though these events are basically conventions, the abbreviation “Con” holds none of the stuffy connotation associated with their brethren-the yearly home improvement and boat shows. A Con is like entering another world, one that bends the norm and offers up the excitement many have not felt since they were children. Cons are places to embrace your own identity, explore your inner fan-boy fantasies, and even be outside yourself if you choose. In other words, it is an awesome experience.
My first visit to this world of Sci-fi/Horror Cons happened in Memphis, Tennessee for the MidSouthCon 32. As an author, the fans, the vendors, and the guest panels intrigued me. Here was an opportunity to meet with my peers face-to-face and explore different perspectives of my craft- an opportunity I needed to delve into.
“Conventions offer a number of benefits, from networking, to promotion/marketing, to education. Most often it is a combination of all three, no matter what level a person is at in their professional career. You will often find writing opportunities as well, whether it comes in the form of sending a story to a new anthology in the works or meeting a publisher”
“In addition to potential sales, a good con also helps one to get one’s name out there to an audience that may have never heard of the author.”
“The biggest benefit to me personally was in Victoria in 2010. I did a reading from my work that was really well received. That boosted my confidence. I started meeting more and more participants. Then I met the first person I’d ever met who read exclusively on an e-reader. That sealed the future for me. I saw where the puck was going and it changed my life. I wasn’t putting off the future anymore. I had to start publishing all the books I’d been writing aimlessly, and just for myself, for so long”
As I walked through the event, I saw many authors introducing their stories to new and old fans alike. Author signings, vendor booths, and participation in writer’s panels, all allow for authors and fans to become engaged in discussions with each other. During my visit, I became aware of authors who I might not have discovered had I not attended. The Con gives attendees the unique opportunity to not only browse collections of books, but also discuss the stories with the author creating that all-important personal connection we all crave.
“I got information I needed about blogging and the WordPress platform, I remember. For a neophyte, you learn a lot. For someone more seasoned, you can still find out a lot. It’s of great benefit to go in ears open, mouth shut but smiling.”
“Conventions are where some of the best networking possible takes place, as there is nothing that matches face to face interaction. A convention environment is very good for meeting others in your field of expertise and industry.”
“I have made some very good contacts in both the publishing industry as well as the film industry at cons, not to mention a few new artists.”
Time to Network
To many, writing is a solitary endeavor. Hours are spent sitting in front of the computer pecking out their next story. The ability to socialize with others in your field is a rare opportunity. A Con can create a sense of community. If an author makes the effort to engage in conversation, and is genuine in their intent, then the Con allows for the networking and sharing of ideas. You may discover a more efficient method of formatting your work for publishing, make a connection to a new publisher, ascertain the potential answers to an issue that has been plaguing you, or you might just find someone who shares your struggles. The opportunities are available if you come into the event with a sincere desire to communicate and connect with others. Building relationships with others who share similar experiences helps to expand your network. The relationships forged at the Cons could lead to new avenues for sharing your writing, and marvelous opportunities for collaboration in all aspects of writing, be that the writing process all the way to marketing strategies.
Like all situations, Cons are what you make of them. If you go into the events seeking to expand your understanding and are open to new ideas, you will leave with more insight of the industry we traverse. Remember that events such as Cons are a good way to build your network, your knowledge, and the writing community overall. Each new connection and shared idea can bring about greater strength in collaboration. The writing community becomes stronger with the every participant who engages and commits to working together. Many new friendships and business opportunities have started with a simple handshake and smile. A well placed question at a Con can open whole new pathways which would never have been discovered had the opportunity been squandered by not reaching out. If each of us checks our egos at the door, leave the competitive urges at home, and becomes open to communication, as well as each other, we will look back on our Con interactions as the first moments of building foundations of great things to come. Individually, we do not hold the answers. Collectively we are the future of the literary community. Our goals should be the same, to get our stories into the hands of the readers.
Though I have my own opinions, I would like to leave you with some final words from other authors who helped to contribute to this article today. I would like to extend a special thank you to Stephen Zimmer, Robert Chazz Chute, and Ethan Nahté for taking the time to share their views.
Until next time…
How would you explain your experience in con participation?
Author Stephen Zimmer: “I would say that it is a necessity, especially in an age where raising awareness is paramount in an environment with literally millions of titles coming out each year. You can build your platform, find opportunities from meeting publishers to editors, and you can grow your network. Conventions really help facilitate all of it, and getting to know people in person will always be a stronger way to build a relationship with them. My experiences at a great many conventions have shown this time and time again.”
Author Robert Chazz Chute: “Be friendly and connect with people honestly. Panel members often talk about successes that were either luck or moneyed people are doing things we can’t replicate or they don’t really know why something caught fire. The keynote speaker who flew in first class probably won’t tell you anything you don’t know for free from a publishing blog or podcast. They might inspire, but you don’t need inspiration. You’re a working writer. Inspiration oozes out of the space between your brain and the keyboard for free. Concentrate on the schmoe and regular joe sitting in the uncomfortable chair beside you, who is just like you and me. (And if you’re desperate for inspiration, take a few minutes to watch Neil Gaiman on YouTube, then get back to work!)
Spend more time at lunch. Mingle. Your fellow participants won’t talk about industry trends and speak of grand visions/bullshit and where we’ll be in five or ten years. The other attendees are potential allies who have connections. A fellow self-publisher can tell you the trick to get rid of manual tabs in your manuscript or hook you up with the graphic designer you need. I’m less interested in hearing from the industry professionals and leaders. They don’t know my struggle. I love several pioneers in the field, but the pioneers often had different problems and solutions we can’t copy. If you want to know how the battle is going, don’t talk to the general back at headquarters. Talk to the grunt in the infantry who has to take the next hill. Make friends and help each other so one day soon, we’ll be the entitled, nigh-irrelevant dudes and dudettes blue skying on the panel drinking peach schnapps.”
Author Ethan Nahté: “This following isn’t necessarily a benefit, but a suggestion on what to look for in a good con to possibly save yourself some time and money. Even a bad con can be fun, but this is also a business and the goal is to also break even or make a profit. Occasionally you may come up short, but as long as you make it back in the next show then all is good. Regardless, if you do several shows that make no profit it takes a toll on both your bank account and your morale.
Ask other authors their experience over a period of time, not just a single year, with a particular con (i.e. working with the event programmers, size of audience, is the con more literary or media, etc.); especially how that con has fared over the past couple of years. Certain cons I once enjoyed, and still do to a degree, have seemingly died or are dying. Maybe due to the economy, or the state of eBooks vs. physical books, competition with other cons the same weekend or stacked closely together, or lack of advertising. Make certain you have your name and contact information available, even if someone isn’t purchasing your merchandise (i.e. business cards, promo cards, fliers, etc.). Try to find something unique to stand out amongst the others on the “freebie” table or you will be lost in a forest of a hundred other fliers.”