The Pros and Cons of Being a Guest at Conventions

I spent the weekend as a media guest at SoonerCon 27.  SoonerCon is a small local convention that focuses on science fiction and fantasy, but is also a place where many local and regional writers get together to share ideas.

I've been a guest at SoonerCon for a few years now and the experience is always something that helps me tremendously.  I get to be a speaker on panels where we talk about all kinds of writing and genre topics, hand out my simple little business cards that drive people to my site, and also give away some copies of my books to people whom I think might write reviews.

The Pros:

  • I get to meet other creatives.  I use the word "creatives" because there are usually also artists at these conventions.  I met Jack Johnson (my cover designer) at SoonerCon one year.  I met Jeff Provine at one of these conventions as well and he is now publishing one of my short stories as a comic short in his upcoming Okie Comics.
  • I get to meet potential fans.  I always hand out either copies of my books and always hand out business cards to unsuspecting people.  I strike up conversations with some of these fans of science fiction and usually they are readers and looking for another book to read.  I offer to shoot them a free digital copy of one of my books by taking down their name and e-mail address.  Usually they will go for it.  All I ask is that they write a review once they read it.
  • I get to meet potential publishers.  This year I met a small press who said they'd be willing to look at my next novel for publication.  They are a small press, but they have distribution that I do not and only ask for 30% of royalties.  That's not bad considering what a traditional contract will require.  Not only that, they publish the kind of stuff I write and so we are a natural fit.
  • I get to have good conversation.  I was asked to be on a few panels this year and those panels were on subjects that I loved to talk about.  Not only that, I had some great conversations with other writers just about writing.  I met with Tommy Smith who is a horror writer with several books and short stories to his credit.  I loved chatting about writing with him.  He's always great to discuss projects with because he and I seem to be on the same wavelength even though we don't share the same genre.  
  • You get in for free.  I don't really need to say anything else about that.

The Cons:

  • I didn't get a table, but I should have.  I didn't spring the $70 for a table to sell my books this year, but I'm considering doing that at next year's SoonerCon.  Tommy said he had some pretty good sales at the convention, and encouraged me to do it next year.  I probably missed out on selling books because I wasn't represented in the artists alley.  Tommy said that most people will sell books at the convention.  I plan on getting a table at some upcoming conventions for sure.
  • Sometimes panels are not that interesting.  I had a pretty good time on the panels where I was a guest, but sometimes I found the conversation being overtaken by people who just liked to hear the sound of their own voice.  Many times moderators don't do their jobs or keep things rolling.  Sometimes you get stuck on a panel that doesn't really suit your interest even though you filled out a survey earlier in the year regarding those interests.  The best thing to do is to remember that you are there to promote yourself.  Just do that professionally and if you have people on your panel who are not professional (i.e. want to hog the discussion or are not moderated to stay on task) just roll with it and be very polite.  Nobody likes an unpleasant know-it-all.

So as you can see the pros far outweigh the cons regarding being a guest at a convention.  If you can get on the guest list of a local convention I would highly recommend doing it.  Even if you aren't really into all the fandom aspects of a science fiction/fantasy convention you should go anyway.  

How to become a guest?

  • You have to have written some stuff or done a podcast or something.  However, there were guests at the convention whose only claim to fame is that they make pretty nifty costumes.  It depends on the convention.  I have published five novels, several short stories, host three podcasts and teach writing in my wheelhouse.  That makes me (apparently) a good guest to book.
  • E-mail the convention organizers and offer to help out on panels or just help out as a volunteer. They always need help setting things up or filling panels.  People like to go to those open forum meet-ups especially when you will be discussing their favorite fandom hot-button.  
  • Be flexible.  They love people (and ask people back) who go to the convention as a guest and don't complain.  If you just go to the panels with an open mind, you will have a blast talking about all sorts of fun things.  
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