As I’m beginning my fifth year as an up-and-coming professional writer attending conventions, I’ve made a few observations. This post isn’t targeted at any one convention, but rather, it addresses something I’ve noticed about convention culture as a whole. Some cons are way, way better about this than others. So, without further ado, let’s jump right in.
Dear Convention Organizers,
Please treat non-celebrity guests, vendors, and panelists with professional respect, and stop behaving like you are doing them a favor by giving them the scraps of your programming. This may come as a dose of harsh reality, your event is not a special little snowflake existing in a vacuum. Though, after talking with some of my fellow writers, sometimes it seems like event organizers behave like they are the only show around. I’ve even seen a few events post about how up-and-comers should be happy to get one or two panels at this point in our careers, because events need to cater to those “big name” writers who you need to make your convention a success. More on this later.
Well, let’s talk about this “exposure.” We don’t like it when people feel we should write for free because of how much “exposure” we’re going to get, and we don’t like it when you toss the word around either. And, you don’t have to actually use the word, we’re smart people, we can tell when you’re dancing around it. Being on panels with a “big name” doesn’t help us as much as you think it does, because we’re an after thought by the people attending. Unless the “big name” author on the panel actually plugs our books or gives us a shout out, we get overshadowed really quickly, unless we are extremely charismatic and engaging, but not so much that we seem like we’re trying to hog the spotlight. And I can tell you, that’s a hard line to walk.
Ready for another dose of reality? (That’s what we call a rhetorical question.) While, yes, we writers are fans, and we like to hang with our fellow geeks and nerds, if we’re attending and event as a writer, we want to make it a successful venture. Going to an event costs us time and money, because hotel, travel, food, etc isn’t cheap. In the end, most events cost us far more than we are ever likely to make up for in exposure if we’re only getting scheduled for one or two panels. Because of this, we’re going to seek out events that will provide us with what we’re looking for. Yeah, we also have potential networking possibilities, but events that give us more face time are also the ones that are more likely going to give us networking opportunities.
Is our lack of presence going to hurt your convention? Probably not on an individual by individual basis. And not that you will notice from year to year. However, if a bunch of us stop going to a specific event out of frustration, suddenly, that convention is going to have a hard time filling in spots in it’s programming. The guests will start to notice, and over several years, attendance will start to decrease. Once that happens, the “big names” might also start rethinking being guests at your event. Because, they too are thinking about their careers over the long game. Case in point: more and more World Con is no longer happening on Labor Day weekend. Why? DragonCon. DragonCon draws easily the times the amount that WorldCon does. Also, you “big name” draws aren’t as big as you think they are. With events like DragonCon, San Diego Comic Con, Wizard World, and dozens on similar events popping up all over the country, people can most, if not all, of their celebrity wish list in one weekend.
Now, I’m not suggesting that events roll out the red-carpet treatment for every guest. That would be silly. Events have guests of honor and special guests for a reason. However, you’re going to get a lot more out of your up and comers if you treat them with a little more respect and as something more than “filler.” Also: here’s a tip from someone who has been in in theatrical production for nearly all his life. Your biggest names should be on the fewest programming items, not the most. They should also be scheduled against each other as much as possible. Do know why Hall H and Ballroom 20 are coveted at San Diego Comic Con? They have the biggest stars on the biggest panels, and it’s pretty much the ONLY time you’re going to see them the whole weekend. AND, people can only get into one or the other, so they have to choose, and choose wisely. Oh, yeah, and it’s a very limited number of people who get into these prime events. If an event has say, George RR Martin and Niel Gaiman at your convention, they should be on one or two panels a day at the very most, but not on the same panel (Except for perhaps on MEGA panel, and then the rest of the programming should be limited), AND lastly, this is of the utmost important, their panels should be at the same time. That makes each time they appear in the program special. It also allows the event to showcase more of the rest of their writers and guests in interesting programming choices rather than give them the leftover “filler” topics.
Whew. I went a little harsher than I expected. Going back over it, some people might even tell me to suck it up. Reminds me of a few events that have accused me of not being a “team player” because I set limits and have boundaries about what I am and am not willing to put up with, and when things aren’t to my liking, I take steps to find a solution. I think the problem is that for so long we had scattered events that were really the only thing people had access to, and so they could pretty much do what they wanted. Well, I’m putting my schedule together for 2016, and I already have between twenty and twenty-five appearances scheduled so far. For several dates, I have to choose between two, three, and in one case FOUR, different events. In almost every case, I’m going with the event that’s going to give me the best return on my time and expenses.
I’d like to give two shout outs to events that I’ll probably do forever, no matter what else is scheduled the same weekend.
The first is Con-Volution. From their very first year in 2012, they treated me with respect and like a professional. They asked me to be their Toastmaster in 2013, giving me the opportunity to interview Brian and Wendy Froud, which will likely forever remain one of the greatest moments of my career. Because they have from day one treated me with respect, I will always reserve their dates over pretty much any other event. In years past, I’ve declined other events for Con-Volution. This year I had the opportunity to got to an event that DWARFS Con-Volution, and I declined, because I’m going to Con-Volution.
The second is We Are All SF. This is the convention’s first year, and they’ve tapped me to be the “Convention Host,” which is a lot like a Toastmaster, but different. In talking with the organizer’s, I get the same level of respect I get from Con-Volution, and that’s saying something since the current honored guests lists is insane levels of awesome. In our conversations, I also get the feeling that they want to make sure everyone feels the same level of welcome and appreciation that they are giving to some super huge writer names. I’m sure the event is going to have some bumpy bits, but it looks like it’s really trying to do right by everyone involved.
You should all join me this year for both of these stellar events.
So, in a nutshell, event organizers, please don’t treat the up-and-comers and neo pros as an after thought. If they feel appreciated it will show both at your convention while they are on panels, wandering the halls, and chatting with people at the bar and at parties. It will also pay dividends throughout the year as they tell people what an awesome event you run. Con-Volution and We Are All SF are happening in Sept and Nov respectively. I’ll be talking them up everywhere I go all year long, and I’m going to be at twenty or so other events before that. Think of what it would be like to have dozens of people like me itching to tell people about your event. All it takes is a little courtesy and respect.