Conventions are fun. They’re filled with like-minded folks who love things that you love. You get to meet famous people, and as an author maybe you’re one of those famous folks to your readers. There are opportunities to sit on panels and dole out sage writing advice or to try your luck in the art gallery and maybe take home a ribbon for Best of Show.
Conventions should be fun, but they’re expensive. You have to buy a ticket or membership, drive or fly to get there, and stay at an expensive hotel. Speaking in front of people makes my head explode and causes all my sphincters to release, including my belly button. I have to save up to build a costume and learn how to sew or use a glue gun without losing more of my fingers. I don’t know nothing about anything.
Relax, my friends.
I’m going to present to you the pros and cons of cons. You may decide to use appearances as part of your branding and sales strategy by the time we’re done. This will be a multi-part series that focuses on small bites of information and methods that you can employ. I’ve appeared at many conventions over the years as an invited guest, panelist, and even as Guest of Honor. Some conventions I had a single panel, while on others I had solid programming over three days for a total of 21 panels, or almost 7 hours of work in front of the room either alone or sitting next to folks like Kevin J. Anderson, Larry Correia, CJ Henderson, Connie Willis, Jeanne Stein, Chaz Kemp, Jim Butcher, and Stephen Graham Jones. Over the length of this series, I’m going to give you tips, tricks, and suggestions to save some money and, perhaps, break even or make a small profit.
Part 1: In which the author pokes their head out of their shell and considers going to a convention.
Before we start, I will be making a few assumptions. First off, you are an author who has some published works in the marketplace. It could be more than one, only one, a co-written one…the point is you’ve published something and someone other than Mom and your significant other has purchased a copy. If this is not the case, then I assume you have some notoriety in other fields like appearing in media (voice-overs, acting, etc.), a portfolio of artwork, a recognized professional (i.e., you’re an actual rocket scientist or astronaut), a story that’s been told across the country in the media…something that gives you authority on a given subject. Finally, I will assume you can overcome your nervousness at being in front of a room. I’ll specifically discuss that at some point in this series.
Authority is a funny word. It means you have some form of experience that gives you more information than your audience. Did you write a book? You’re an authority on that book and the world you built, plus you’re the authority on your method of plotting, writing, and producing a manuscript. Paint a picture? You are the world’s authority on the artwork you designed, executed, and finished. Designed a game? You’re the OG (Original Gamemaster) of that game and the ultimate authority on the rules. Nobody else has the intimate detail and knowledge that you have. Think of JK Rowling. Every so often she illuminates some detail of the astonishing world she created and it’s automatically canon. Revealing that Dumbledore was gay is an example. You’re THE authority of your world, so own it.
My first suggestion is to start locally. Local conventions are wonderful for developing your in-person brand and to get more experience doing the con schtick. There are literally thousands of conventions, events, charity appearances, signings, et cetera, across the globe. I have a gigantic spreadsheet filled with almost 500 of them, although it’s a bit out of date. Old ones die off while two new ones pop up in its place. Odds are there is a convention relatively near to where you live. For example, I live in the middle of nowhere. I’m so remote in flyover country that horrible people dump their unwanted pets on the road in front of my writing cabin. Sad, but maybe it’s one of the reasons I ended up here — to help lost dogs and cats find a safe place. There are certainly no conventions right nearby…heck, there isn’t even a Walmart within a 40 minute drive on empty roads. But there are three cities within a four hour drive, including Kansas City, St. Louis, and Springfield. Expand the driving time to five and you can add in three more. In fact, there are enough conventions around me that I could just focus on them and remain quite busy with appearances. Now, look around your homestead and see which populated areas are nearby. Unless you live in Siberia, Moab, or the Gobi Desert, chances are there’s a place that holds a convention or three on a regular basis in range.
If you live in a populated area or less than a half-hour drive to the convention center, you just saved yourself a lot of money by not having to shell out $100-$200 for a hotel room at the convention. Per night.
Consider Your Housing
Don’t have a couple of hundred bucks, Pounds Sterling, or Euros lying around in thicc stacks? Can’t borrow some money from your uncle Scrooge McDuck? Don’t want to sell body parts to finance a world tour? Me neither. I have bills and I’m sure you do too. Look for ways to save some money. If you have a friend who doesn’t snore loud enough to attract romantic grizzly bears to your hotel room, split the cost. You, your friend, and maybe even the grizzly. You went from $218 to $109. Closer to doable, but not there yet?
Why not stay at a Motel 6 ten minutes away from where the convention is held? Hmmm, $38 now, and split between you and a friend, it’s $19. Now we’re talking, and you’ll even get some exercise every morning. Is there an Airbnb that can hold 11 people for $200 available? You can hang out with friends and save a buck, since your share is around $18. I know some folks who have already set up this example for the 2020 20BooksToVegas convention.
Still looking to save even more? See if you have a relative or friend nearby where you can couch surf. Here’s something that most folks don’t think of — if you’re relatively well-known in your genre or field and you’ll be willing to sit on three or more panels a day, see if the convention will comp your room. The answer is always no unless you try asking…and then it’s at least a maybe. Many larger cons have a small block of rooms, and they may give you one. Convention contracts sometimes require a certain number of rooms to be booked. If the room count is one or two short, it’s cheaper to cover your room than to pay a penalty.
There are several author friends who allow me to stay in their guest bedroom if I am attending a con they’re going to that weekend. A good example is fellow author David Boop in Denver, Colorado. He’s single-handedly saved me a grand at the very least, and I get to hang out on his comfy couch and drink coffee while chatting about life and writing. I hope the sheer volume of Hugo-winning authors who have stayed in that room will rub a little bit of talent onto my writing muse.
If you do stay offsite, a tip I would suggest would be to find a friend who is staying in the con hotel and see if you can store some stuff in their room. Beats lugging around a carton of books and a costume across the lobby of the convention center as you hobble from panel room to panel room.
We’ll stop here for now. I expect this will be at least six related articles in the series. Have any questions or suggestions? Please post them in the comments below or reach out to me in the Keystroke Medium Facebook page or group.