On Surviving and Planning for Conventions

Kitten and Fish Avatar

It’s taken me many years to finalize a plan for approaching conventions, and I wanted to put my thoughts into writing today because I feel this (e.g. me getting a touch personal here) might help some of you who are struggling with this as I once have. I’ve opened comments up on this post if you have additional tips to share; hopefully some good discussions can be had. Who knows? Maybe I’ll learn a thing or two from you as well.

Size, People, and Purpose

First and foremost, I want to stress that convention experiences are often shaped by three things: size, the people involved, and its purpose. The smaller the show, the more visible the culture of that convention and its internal politics are. Thus, when something goes wrong all guests and attendees deal with the fallout in some fashion or, alternatively, benefit from all the wheels turning at the right time. The size of a convention ultimately leads to issues when there is a personality conflict or people who act in a manner that is accepted by one group, but condemned by total strangers(2). Now, we all have our personality quirks–myself included–and those tend to stick out in smaller groups. For example, one of my quirks is that I tend to laugh when I’m nervous and, if I’m REALLY uncomfortable, I’ll default to my total smartass state of being either on the inside (brain) or on the outside (foot-in-mouth disease). The more comfortable I am, the quieter I get or, alternatively, the more of my natural weirdness I can unleash upon the unsuspecting masses. Yeah, I know… Eyebrow-raising, eh?(3)

Okay, phew! I’m sure you have your own quirks as well. My point to sharing that bit, is that we all have them. Occasionally, I’ve found this translates into social anxiety with respect to meeting new people and this compounds the more people who have social anxiety at the same damn time. At a smaller show, it might seem like it’s easy to meet people–and it is–but often smaller shows will draw local folks who already know one another. This means that a smaller show can be filled with cliques that either get along great and welcome new people, or don’t get along and form silos. At a larger convention(4), on the other hand, while the general culture might be apparent, the specific personality issues aren’t as visible because you simply have more people.

Before I get to specific tips navigating shows, I want to talk about how important the purpose of a convention is and the demographic. For literary-based conventions, the purpose is generally to discuss books and interact with authors. Sounds simple enough, right? For me, I don’t feel this is specific enough to draw me to a show unless I am going there to build relationships. Make no mistake: small cons, or even con offshoots(5), are fantastic to get to know people provided there’s enough folks there who have the same goal. Not everyone does–especially with respect to writers. Maybe a fan on the concom petitioned to get [Insert Very Famous Author Here] at the show, because a book she wrote changed his life. Maybe a parent has a child who wants to write like said author, or a struggling writer wants to get to know that person for up close and personal advice. I’m oversimplifying here, but my point is that there are many reasons to get to know somebody, and that is as true at conventions as it is in Real LifeTM.

In many cases, my experience has been that the concom is comprised of volunteers who have invited an individual in order to honor their work and spend time with them. This person’s needs tend to eclipse all other guests, in part because there might be money involved or a legal agreement, such as a contract, to ensure they’re well taken care of. After all, someone like GRRM doesn’t need to go to cons, but does as a way of giving back to the community. Now, it can feel as if the A-list guests get a certain treatment and all other guests get the B or C, because that is exactly what’s happening behind-the-scenes. Every convention guest, however, knows that GRRM is a Very Famous AuthorTM and deserves to be a GOH. There is no need for any host to rub that in their guest’s faces by treating them poorly, or by reminding them just how much they don’t matter(6).

Personally, I often have better luck at larger shows for the simple fact there is more to do. I can watch or play a demo, visit Artist’s Alley, explore the dealer hall, listen to a reading, go to a panel or signing, etc. and not be, as my British friends like to say, spoilt for choice. Being on the professional side of the equation, larger shows are also harder to conduct business meetings, because fans have to come first due to the way the schedule is set up. Saturday morning, for example, at any convention is a logistical nightmare for portfolio reviews or business discussions. Sunday afternoon, on the other hand, can be a lot better provided most folks have cleared out by then. Here, too, there might be the sense of A-list, etc. but it’s not as omnipresent in a larger crowd. Still, you can glean a lot of insight from watching creators with large fanbases interact with their fans and other professionals. It greatly helps to be a fly on the wall, if you can, because you can learn a lot about conducting yourself at a convention when you’ve got a public profile. Always, always, always think about what might happen if you were in their shoes, because one day? You just might be.

To Go Or Not To Go

Now that you’ve (hopefully) gotten a sense of how I feel about cons in general, I’m going to talk about some of the questions I ask myself outside of the basics. Some of these questions use the word “research”; sometimes, I will attend a show to check it out before I participate in programming, especially if I’ve heard a lot of things about it.

  • Why am I going to this show? Is it to build relationships, see folks I haven’t visited with in a while, maintain business dealings, or use it for research?(7)
  • How much will it set me back? If the cost is too high, is there a similar con I can go to for the same reason?
  • What does the show’s website look like? Do they have programming listed from last year?
  • What are the convention’s policies toward harassment? Disability/access issues? Cosplayers?
  • Do I know the guests? Anybody who’s going?

Though this is a fairly short list, my criteria tends to be impacted heavily by the people involved. If I am expected to show up by myself, not knowing a single person, then I typically don’t bother unless I have to go (e.g. major award, publisher’s/agent’s recommendation, etc.). Or, alternatively, if I’m invited to a show I’ve been to and the same people, year after year, are invited with few changes? Then, I might withdraw and/or recommend other guests.

Con Prep

I’m channeling a little bit of my neuroses here, because the last time I told someone all the things I do for con rep, I got the incredulous look. Thankfully, I’m sitting here behind a computer screen ergo… Hrmm… I kind of dig the lists I’ve got started, so let’s go with that! Please note: I’m assuming that if you are a Mature Responsible AdultTM you don’t need things like budgeting/financial advice, so I’m going to skip talking about the monies.

Checklist

These are the things I usually bring with me to a convention.

    1. Silver Sharpie–great for signings!
    2. Portable USB rechargeable battery
    3. Bookplates
    4. Business cards: one with personal info for business associates, one generic for fans
    5. Small dice games (I dig Rory’s Cubes for storytelling-on-the-fly and Zombie Dice)
    6. Extra notebook for note-taking and pens, pens, pens
    7. Mini-Larabars for emergency purposes.

Scheduling

    1. Programming: In addition to signing up, I also watch the schedule when it goes live for panels I might be interested in.
    2. Dealer Hall: I find out what the hours are, and if any publishers/authors have a booth.
    3. Meetings: I set up business or personal meetings in advance with a half-hour buffer on either side in case of delays. Mileage varies on when meetings can be scheduled. This greatly depends upon the show, but in general? Don’t wait until the last, possible minute and, for the love of the gods, don’t set up a meeting with someone if you just want to shoot the shit. Every writer, myself included, needs to act out of self-interest at these shows in order to sell books, ink deals, continue getting work. Scheduling a meeting without actually needing to is bad form.
    4. Digi-Cal: I then plug programming into my phone, and I do this with impunity planning for: down/travel/sleep/flex/fitness time, meals, everything. Well, maybe not everything…but you get the idea. I strongly recommend planning downtime if you are overwhelmed by The People! to save your sanity.

Though my schedule might not be final at that pre-planning stage, what I have is a working template I can massage as needed. Having a visible schedule also helps me avoid accidentally leaning on a friend or acquaintance too much, which can happen if I’m having a crappy time.

As the convention approaches, I’ll also start outlining what I’m going to say on the panel as I have the tendency to drop F-bombs and get ranty(8) on certain topics which is not fair to my fellow panelists. So, I’ll use an outline technique to frame the points I want to make and, additionally, the questions that I might ask of my fellow panelists should the opportunity arise. If I get the panel list back and I can’t speak on a topic effortlessly, then I will also back out and ask to switch or recommend someone else whom I’ve touched base with ahead of time.

Alcohol and Parties

All right, I’m getting into “How many words did I write on this topic?”-land at this point, so I’d like to end this by talking about alcohol and socializing into the wee hours of the morning. Typically, I don’t drink more than a few cocktails unless I know the people I’m hanging out with well. If I do, I nurse those suckers for as long as possible. Some people go to conventions to party, sure, but that person is not me. I don’t mean that I’m against it, mind you, but I think about it like this: the folks I meet at a con are either people I’ll work with or plan on working with some day. Copious amounts of alcohol plus embarrassing moments tends to fare badly long-term, especially since I often communicate electronically with folks. If I don’t go to shows very often, then I have less chances to make a positive impression–quirks and all. I’d much rather karaoke or do something equally embarrassing all on my own, like play a game of pool, then get drunk in front of total strangers.

Of course, I’m talking about safety protocols. Your mileage will vary on this, but again… This goes back to the reason why you are going to a show. I often connect with my male friends and ask them to be my con husband; this is a person I know well (or trust) who will escort me back to my hotel, who I can signal if I’m feeling uncomfortable in a given situation, etc. My safety concerns might mean I cut my night short, or I stick to one or two parties instead of attending room parties on various floors. If a con husband (or trusted bestie, etc.) doesn’t make sense for you, then it doesn’t. But, at the very minimum, if you are going to any party that involves alcohol (or takes place outside of your hotel) I strongly recommend that you buddy up with a friend ahead of time. Apologies for launching into nagging mode, but I think this (partnering up) is hugely important, and I have many, many reasons/stories/etc. why I’m repeating myself on this.

Phew! I cannot believe how much I wrote on this subject. If you have advice I didn’t cover, or want to ask for clarification, please post. I want to hear your thoughts, and I’m sure my readers will as well.

Footnotes

So many this time they get their own header…

(1) This may or may not be a subtle hint that I’d actually like to write for the comic and/or Frog Thor!
(a) Yes, this is a footnote off of the original and I am shameless. Mea culpa.
(2) I am not referring to harassment here, as I feel that is a separate (but possibly related) issue. Rather, I’m painting the scenario broadly because harassment deserves its own blog post, and the topic has been covered extensively by People Smarter And More Experienced Than Me. Here, what I’m alluding to are the Five Geek Social Fallacies, or problems that might arise due to social awkwardness.
(3) No, no examples. Promised myself that I’d stop over-explaining. Really, the whole fun in getting to know someone is to pick up on this crap yourself.
(4) Say “small” is less than 5,000 people, and “large” tends to be 25K and up.
(5) By offshoots, I mean: programming tracks, workshops, etc. that are included under the primary show’s umbrella, but are run separately.
(6) Reasons why I don’t return to a con are actually very few, outside of the logistics for cost and time involved. Being treated poorly as a guest is a big ‘un, as well as not being able to provide constructive feedback.
(7) I don’t typically go to shows with the sole intent of having fun.
(8) Remember what I said about my quirks, earlier? Underneath this mild-mannered exterior, lies a fiery heart of deep, deep passion. This is one Italian stereotype I can pretty much guarantee, and my personality can sometimes eclipse others who are quieter and more introverted than I am. I try to be aware of the folks involved, because at a con? It’s their con, too. It’s not just about what I’m getting out of it.

    Mood: Eyebrow raise.
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: 5 minus 3
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: 60
    In My Ears: Some Final Fantasy heavy metal nonsense.
    Game Last Played: Pandemic (Lost again.)
    Book Last Read: Shooooooot… There’s a pile I’m working through…
    Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: House
    Latest Artistic Project: Pain-in-the-butt ombre earrings.
    Latest Fiction/Comic Release: Gods, Memes, and Monsters
    Latest Game Release: Dread Names, Red List for Vampire: the Masquerade and Ghosts in the Black for the Firefly RPG.
    Current State of Projects: Read my latest project update and My Departure from the Conan RPG.


Wax and Wane

Spike and Giles... Together at Last

I posted this to Facebook, but it made me laugh when I wrote it, so I’m resharing it (and expounding upon it) here.

    Hammered my InBox down to 99 e-mails (not bottles of beer on the wall), have a clear perspective on current/future product load, am caught up on news from varying sources old and new, scheduled *gasp* social time, managed caffeine intake, made the freaking bed!, and am spending tonight playing Skyrim.

    *deadpan voice*

    What happened to you Monday? Did you decide to finally grow up and start acting more like Tuesday? Or am I in a different reality?

I owe you a progress report and…I’m sorry. I have news and, while it’s all still delayed at the moment, I’ll provide an update as soon as I can. The news I can immediately share, is that those updates will start to include my original work again as early as March.

I think I mentioned this before, but I spent the better part of last year working with a group of beta readers. I had some goals which were primarily related to figuring out how other readers view my work for planning and marketing purposes. Now that I have that clear in my mind, it’s a lot easier to move forward.

The importance of other people’s perspectives? It’s kind of like me telling you I’m hilarious and that when you meet me, you’ll be cracking up mid-sentence and wonder why I’m not on television. And then I crack a joke. It’s disastrous. Volcanoes erupt, my frog cries, angels don’t get their wings. But, if nine out of ten people laugh…

You get my point. In a weird, discombobulated way… Yeah, that.

    Mood: I am zen.
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Addiction managed.
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: 40 words a minute
    In My Ears: Wax
    Game Last Played: Battle Nations
    Book Last Read: The Lies of Lock Lamora by Scott Lynch
    Movie Last Viewed: THE AWAKENING
    Latest Artistic Project: *Still* *still* *still* need to take pictures… It’s on the list!
    Latest Fiction/Comic Release: Last Man Zombie Standing
    Latest Game Release: Freedom Flyer
    What I’m Working On: Primarily tie-in games work and novels.


Inspiration Through Self-Publishing?

Sephiroth Avatar

I felt this article was really interesting because it talks about how one writer gets through the plateaus.

“Salesmen chase five times the number of leads to bring in the one real sale so it’s all the same.

The difference is: writers are selling pieces of themselves. These are our ideas we’re pitching and we’re invested in these, excited by their possibilities, and would be thrilled to write any of all of them. This is why a rejection of any sort can bring your world crashing down. It can feel incredibly personal, even when it is not. An editor changes jobs, a licensing deal comes to an end, a tie-in program is canceled for low sales, the market conditions change, and so on.” — SOURCE: No Need For a Writer to be Discouraged by Bob Greenberger



His solution, to get through those slow times, is to fall back on self-publishing regardless of whether or not the work sells because you’re still productive. I think this is an interesting approach and while it’s not something I would default to, it certainly brings up the question about what writers should be doing when you hit a plateau. For that reason alone, the article is definitely worth a read.

    Mood: Tired
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Pacing myself
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Um…
    In My Ears: Matt Bellamy. Well, not literally
    Game Last Played: Dragon Age: Awakenings
    Movie Last Viewed: The Hobbit
    Latest Artistic Project: Holiday gifts
    Latest Release: “The Button” We Are Dust anthology

Progress! Reward. Dragon Age: Origins Replay

Re-aligning my schedule means that I’m also plotting out free time and marketing-related activities. With the weather getting colder, my work-outs remain inside the house rather than outside, and time spent with friends and family is typically holiday-or-hobby related. I had a little slip-up last week, where I delved into Whiny Mc Whine Whine Pants once again, which is why I need to acquire and cross-stitch this sign as soon as humanly possible.

However, there was progress made and a direction forward. This, my friends, is the beginning of the slow ride back up to the top of my winding rollercoaster. Though the motor be broken, the wheels rusted or bent, and the cart a little wobbly — the important thing is that it *is* moving again after a period of required maintenance. The creative life is full of ups, downs, and sideways turns; some things are in your control, some aren’t. Understand that? And you’ll weather any storm. Seriously.

But life isn’t all about blue roses (that’s a blog post for another time, by the way), one also needs to balance out work with turning-off-brain-activities. So, I’m replaying Dragon Age: Origins as a male elf assassin named Thorsgaard. (And the Mabari hound is named Loki.) I like Dragon Age because there isn’t one path to interpersonal relationships with the other characters; some are extremely faceted and the female characters DO stand out in their own right. That’s important to me for a lot of reasons, because when you treat ANY gender/sex/etc. as its stereotype, whether that view originate from your own mind or not, it makes the game/story/whatever perpetuate older viewpoints that aren’t realistic anymore.

[Insert a lament of seriously missing Kurt Vonnegut.]

We’re experiencing, right now, a cultural evolution because we communicate faster together than ever before. This won’t last, sadly, if the economics of the internet outweigh the ability to express ourselves freely — something I do think will still happen down the road if technology and methods of delivering content don’t continue to evolve faster than businesses can keep up. Sooner or later, we’ll reach the point where the two converge. After all, we have seen this sort of thing before.

Anyway, apologies for the sidebar, but I feel contemporary game design plays into that concept. Dragon Age: Origins is a re-playable game for me because of its nuanced and complex storytelling approach. It’s not the linear story that draws me to the property; it’s the facets, split plot lines, multiple origins, and the way characters approach the different sexes/races. Even so, I have a lot of freedom to get out of the game what I’m comfortable with. I know some were appalled that a male character made some advances on another male (or vice versa) to which my response is: get over it. That’s realistic and could easily happen in real life. Have you ever been hit on by a member of the opposite sex you couldn’t stand? Yeah, that can happen, too. Why wouldn’t a storyteller provide that as an option in a game — especially one that’s meant for a large audience?

I should also point out, that the ability to save at any time during a game is a huge deal for me. After all, I can break out ye olde timer and gauge playtime accordingly. I foresee a lot of words in my future. Hee.

The only trouble is, playing Dragon Age: Origins has given me other ideas for dark fantasy stories of the original, sure, but also of the Dragon Age and Ravenloft varieties. What can I say? I like my fantasy to have a little necromancy. There are a lot of dead things in the world, not all of which are human.

    Mood: It’s the Eve of Halloween. What’s not to love?
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee.
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Must. Continue. Movement.
    In My Ears: The screams of darkspawn as I slay them mercilessly.
    Game Last Played: Dragon Age: Origins
    Movie Last Viewed: The Raven
    Latest Artistic Project: In progress!
    Latest Release: “Fangs and Formaldehyde” from the New Hero anthology through Stone Skin Press

The Idea of Limited Words

I have a few mentors that I touch base with from time to time. One of them recently said to me that I was smart to balance my workload based on free vs. paid and original vs. tie-in, because we only have so many words we will write.

The idea that a writer has a limited amount of words they’ll write in their lifetime is, quite frankly, horrifying to me. What happens on the days that I didn’t write? Should I feel guilty that I neglected to pour myself into a story?

Even though the idea of limited words has implications, I think those are worth exploring because writing on “borrowed time” raises several questions like:

  • Am I writing what I want to write? Or what others want me to write?
  • Have I gotten paid for what I’m worth?
  • Am I satisfied with the submission choices I’ve made?
  • Do I know what markets are a good fit for my work?
  • Am I stretching and experimenting with my limits?
  • How am I measuring progress? By my own publications or someone else’s?
  • Where do I want to be as a writer in five years? Ten?
  • What form of writing do I enjoy the most? Least?
  • If I died tomorrow, would I be satisfied with my work?

The other thing that I feel this concept does, is help you shape how you spend your time. While you’ll never know when you reach your limit of words, I suspect that the fear one day you’ll run out of them may help shape not only what you write, but where you submit and how much you get paid for it.

Next Posts




Looking for Monica’s books and games that are still in print? Visit Monica Valentinelli on Amazon’s Author Central or a bookstore and game store near you.

Subscribe to Monica’s Newsletter






Subscribe
* indicates required



Archives

Back to Top