Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Pros and Cons of Cons for Writers

Today is the first day of ComicCon in San Diego, and many of my writing and illustrating, online friends will be there, including Lisa Yee, Heather Brewer and Dan Santat. If you're there, and you love books for kids and teens, make sure you attend the "What's Hot in Young Adult Fiction" panel on Sunday, July 15 at noon and the "Heroes for the Middle-Grade Reader (And You, Too!): Middle Grade Books That Will Rock Your Socks Off" panel on the same day at 2:45PM. You will not regret it.

ComicCon is the big one: the biggest of of the various conventions for fans of much more than comic books. You'll find everything to make the geek inside of you happy--from blockbuster movies and awesome video games to, yes, awesome books for kids and teens.

It's been a dream of mine for quite some time to attend ComicCon in San Diego, and I've always been interested in what goes on behind the scenes. How are the panelists chosen? What goes into setting up a stall to sell your books at one? How much does it cost, and is it worth it?

Recently, I got to know Robert Collins, who has attended many smaller cons in various capacities as a science-fiction writer and indie publisher, and he agreed to answer my questions. Here is his guest post.



If you write science fiction, fantasy, or horror, you probably know about “Science Fiction Conventions,” or “Cons.”

Throughout the 1980s I went to cons, as a fan. I met people, I bought stuff, and occasionally I got things signed by famous actors. I aspired to be a writer, and dreamed about the day I’d be a con guest.

About five years ago I went to my first con as a guest. I was a published author, looking to promote my shiny new SF novel. For my first con as a guest, I ended up on several panels, and was designated the moderator of all of them. Somehow I survived.

I’ve been to several more since then. Cons offer opportunities for authors to promote their books, and they're a great way to meet fellow fans and authors. What I’ve learned is that, when it comes to plugging your books, you have two choices. You can be a program participant or a vendor. For the first, you’d be one of the guests and attend panels. For the other, you’d buy a table and sell your books.

Being a program participant means you’ll ask to take part in panels and readings. Start by going to the con website and contact the programming person. Contact them well in advance of the con, and include a link to a website where they can see what you write. Mention topics that might interest you, like the sub-genres you write in, related genre interests (gaming, TV shows, etc.), and aspects of publishing that you know fairly well.

Taking part in panels is fun. But you might not sell very many books that way. Panels don’t always attract the most con-goers. I’ve done at least one panel where the only ones in the room were me and the other panelist. Sometimes attendees are going from panel to panel, and don’t have time to buy your book, much less hear your sales pitch.

On the other hand, you’ll get opportunities to meet other authors, as well as editors and publishers. Being on a panel allows you to share information and experience. If you do enough panels at enough cons you stand a chance of making friends with your fellows.

If you want to sell books, you need to be a vendor. Every con has a “dealers’ room” where con-goers can buy everything from books to collectables. Being a vendor requires you to buy at least one dealer room table. A few cons have tables for as low as $50; $75-$100 is more common; but at some cons prices will be higher.

You can take part in programming and be a vendor. You need to let the programming person know that you’ve bought a table. If you feel that you can’t take part in everything you’re asked, just say so; they’ll understand.

There are two significant downsides to choosing to be a vendor: time and money. As a vendor you’re expected to set up before the con officially starts. Most cons open to the public sometime on a Friday afternoon, with any opening ceremony set for Friday night. You’re also expected to remain until the dealer’s room closes, usually Sunday afternoon.

You will also have to spend the money. That doesn’t just mean money for your table. Cons are in hotels, so unless you’re a local you’ll have to get a room for Friday and Saturday. Travel considerations may force you to get a room for Sunday, too. Your table commitment means you can’t leave the con to get lunch; hotel restaurants can be pricey. (That said, most cons will have a “con suite” with snacks; some will have more substantial food, too.)

Not every con will be right for you. There are many media cons, which are devoted to movies and TV shows in general, to specific shows, or to anime. Not all media fans are book readers. If the con is local, though, contact them and ask about taking part.

There are cons devoted to specifically to either science fiction, fantasy, or horror. They’re more likely to occur in the largest cities. If you don’t live within driving distance of one, you’ll have to consider if what you’ll spend on travel will be a wise investment.

Most cons are more general in nature. There might be media guests, author guests, and artist guests. Programming will cover all sub-genres and a variety of media. Aside from literary cons, these are the best for an author.

Is going to any cons worth the effort and expense? Yes! You go not to make money, but to make connections with readers. You go to network with other authors. You go to have a good time with people who share your interests. It’s those things that make going to cons worth your time and money.

~Robert Collins

Bio: I've had three SF novels published: Monitor, Lisa's Way, and Expert Assistance. I've also had a coming of age novel published called True Friends. I've had stories and articles appear in periodicals such as Marion Zimmer Bradley's Fantasy Magazine; Tales of the Talisman; Space Westerns; Sorcerous Signals; Wild West; and Model Railroader. I've had two biographies published, one of "Bleeding Kansas" leader Jim Lane, and the other of a Kansas Civil War general, and I've had six Kansas railroad books published by South Platte Press.


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Life Defined said...

I have also had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Collins - at a fantasy/sci-fi convention, no less. He speaks true regarding the pros and cons of attending such an event: not only does one make great connections and garner wonderful literary advice, but it should also be made known that time and money are crucial factors to be played in the mix. Overall, I find that the pros outweigh the cons, but it is always wise to plan ahead of time.

Thank you for sharing this post, Robert and Shevi~

All the best,

Shevi Arnold said...

Thanks, Rachel!