Jan242011

Gail Carriger on the Pros & Cons of Cons: Why Attend Conventions?

Dear Gentle Reader, this is my personal take on conventions from a wise old “two years in and several hundred thousand in print.” Here I address specifically conventions (as opposed to professional conferences or book fairs).

Con Pros

1) Networking
Yes, even established authors with contracts in place and projects for the next 6 years need to network. A fellow author once explained it to me thusly: “I’d been trying to get a collection of my old shorts off the ground for months. I visited a convention where the small press publisher I’d been talking with and my agent were both on hand. Over the course of one lunch we had everything settled. It could have taken another six months without that lunch.” Also it’s good a place to meet podcasters and fellow authors for sharing blog tours and interviews.

2) Fun
I rarely find conventions entirely fun anymore. Don’t get me wrong, there are moments of great conversation in the hallways and interesting questions on panels. But cons are now mostly work. I like to work, so that isn’t a huge drawback. They can be as exhausting as they are rewarding.

3) Vacation
It is nice to get away from home. But again, this has its drawbacks. I find it impossible to write on the road. I do enjoy traveling when I can get out into the city that I am visiting, which is rare. However, most conventions all you get to see is the inside of the hotel, with very little time to explore foreign lands unless you can arrange an extension and see to the expense yourself. However, it is an excellent opportunity to have dinner with old friends, if you are like me and seem to have inexplicably scattered them all over the world.

4) Education
I don’t benefit from this as much as I used to. Sometimes I sneak out to a hard science panel, but most schedule me pretty full so I can’t really make it to other panels. However there is a lot of conversation education between authors, see point 6 below.

5) Business
At the larger, more important conventions, it’s not just making new sales, it’s also ensuring that your relationships with your existing editors, agents, publishers, and publicists are working smoothly. Nothing beats a face-to-face meeting to allay fears on everyone’s part.

6) Counseling
Absolutely no one else understands what a professional author’s life is like except a fellow author. These days most of my time at conventions is spent kvetching in the greenroom or the bar with other authors. You can ask the old warriors for advice, discuss contract points, and so forth. Publishers and agents aren’t always so thrilled about this side of convention life, but for us authors it’s a way of protecting ourselves. We learn what questions we really need to ask our agents. Advantages in taking different contract points and hits from different houses. Compare war stories over cover art or copy editors. And we also gain emotional counseling: how to make it through the day and hit a word count, how to deal with the psycho fan, and how to cope with a bad review. Some of my most lasting friends are now fellow authors, and when I decide to go to a convention knowing one of them will be there weighs VERY heavily in the decision making process.

Con Cons

1) Expensive
A convention can, indeed, cost anywhere from $400 to $3000, depending on location, hotel, and food. Most of that is tax deductible when you are a full time writer, but it is still a large chunk of change, and tax deductions don’t work out that much in your favor if you run a close look at the numbers.

Hotel Living At Its Finest

2) Culture shock
I don’t get this one much anymore. But for me there was a two stage transition of shock: from fan to debut author and from debut to pro. The adjustment was pretty steep. And there always can be fans or convention staff who get a little too familiar. There is a reason most of us authors end up holed up in the greenroom – self preservation.

3) Con crud
I work hard to prevent this one by wearing gloves, eating properly, and getting enough sleep, but I still managed to catch a whopper of a cold from WorldCon 2010 which made a pathetic little croaking frog on my book tour directly after. The lesson I learned was never to plan anything back-to-back if at all possible.

4) Bad cons
Sometimes they just aren’t any good. Unfortunately, from an author perspective, these get blacklisted pretty fast. I tend to file these cons away as, either 1. Really I just am not going to bother ever again, or 2. I’ll check back in two or three years, see if they have things sorted out. It’s hard for a convention to rise above that kind of reputation, because, see point 6 above, authors talk. Learning how to predict this ahead of time, now that is a skill I wish I had.

5) Burn out
This one happened to me at the end of 2010. I just did too many events. By the end, even another BaltiCon would only have drained me to a bitter shell of nothingness. So learning how to balance the number and type of conventions, versus the amount of travel, versus book tours, and other appearances is also vital.

Dan also has an excellent post on this subject which sparked mine.
Chuck has a more recent post from 2016 on this subject directed specifically at writers.

Quote of the Day:
“Of all precious stones, the opal is one of the most lovely and the least common-place. No vulgar man purchases an opal.”
~ Routledge’s Etiquette for Gentlemen (c. 1850)

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Posted by Gail Carriger

 

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