Thursday, June 3, 2010

FEATURE - Tips for Attending Smaller Cons

(posted by Jaleta Clegg, in case you're wondering)

I spent the weekend at ConDuit, a general SF/F con in Salt Lake City, Utah. Good friends, old and new; great networking opportunities; lots of good information in panels and less formal venues; local cons can be an invaluable resource to the aspiring or newly published author.

I admit, I've only attended two cons outside of my area. One was specific to Terry Pratchett and his Discworld, the other one was World Fantasy last year. Both seemed a bit overwhelming and large. Can you say, "Intimidation?"

ConDuit, on the other hand, usually has an attendance of maybe 500 - 600. We bring in one big name author, one big name artist, and occasionally another guest deserving of honor from the science fiction/fantasy community. This year, I got to meet Barbara Hambly, one of my favorite all-time authors. We also had Brandon Sanderson, but he's local and usually comes if he can. We had at least 20 established authors, numerous artists, many lesser known authors, costumers, gamers, and other specialists and professionals at the con.

So why attend your local con? Why not aspire to the big leagues? Local cons tend to be less formal, less expensive, more accessible than the big ones. And if you're like me, you'd prefer a little less social face-time with huge crowds. For an aspiring or newly published author, it's easier to be a medium or small fish in a small pond than a tiny fish in an enormous pond. You have a better chance of being noticed, of connecting with future and current readers.

Some mistakes I've made:
1. Don't be part of the committee once you are attending as an author. I spent most of my weekend stressing over the hospitality suite, my job on the ConDuit committee, not socializing and networking. Being part of the volunteer staff is a great way to get to know the organizers and open doors to participation, but be smart about it. As an author, you should be spending time getting to know the other authors and readers at the con.

2. Don't be pushy. People come to the con to have fun, not to be badgered with sales pitches for books they really aren't interested in. I bring bookmarks and leave them on the freebie table. I make sure to carry a handful with me, just in case. If someone asks, I'm more than happy to promote my book. It's a balancing act.

3. Don't hide in your room. Be in the public spaces. Be social. Reach outside your comfort zone, if necessary. And be open to other points of view. Cons are a great place to learn your craft. The insights and advice are well worth the price of admission.

4. Costumes are not necessarily the best first impression. Business casual is a good choice if you want to be taken as a professional. But feel free to dress up for the evening entertainment. Local cons usually save the silly stuff for evenings.

And some Do's:
1. Do have fun, but keep in mind that people will associate your behavior with your writing.

2. Do come prepared for interviews, blog exchanges, signings, people asking questions, etc. etc. Bring a stack of business cards with your contact info. Bring something to promote your book, like bookmarks or sample chapters. I used badge ribbons this year. Everyone wanted them. I forgot to print the title of the book on the ribbon, though. Something to change next time I order ribbons. Carry a pen with you. When someone hands you a business card, jot a note on the back - who they are, why you talked to them and got their card, and what you agreed to do as a followup, even if it's only a thank you email.

3. Do follow through. If possible, take time every night to send some emails to those people you contacted. At least make sure you have a list of who to send what email to. If you get a request for a manuscript or a query, DON'T LOSE IT IN YOUR LUGGAGE! Write a note, then put it in a pocket or bag set aside for important contacts.

Check into your local SF/F groups to see if your area is hosting a con. Ask other authors on this board or others if they know of a good local con that you can attend. Some websites attempt to gather information on local cons, but it's mostly hit and miss. Besides, it's nice to know you'll find at least one friendly face at the con when you arrive.

And if any of you are in Utah, please let me know. ConDuit (http://conduit.sfcon.org/) happens every Memorial Day weekend in downtown Salt Lake City. LTUE (http://ltue.org/LTUE_2011.html) happens every February near President's Day at BYU in Provo. Both are great opportunities to make some connections. And I'd love to meet you in person.

9 comments:

  1. Good ideas here, Jaletta. Thanks for the info.

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  2. Barbara Hambly! Squeeeeee!

    Oh, sorry. Ahem. Excellent advice. Yes.

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  3. Fantastic advice. Small cons are the best!
    And you're right about those badge ribbons. I went last year and saw everyone else with them and instantly had to know how to get some...excellent marketing.


    Frances

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  4. Great article, Jaleta. I am nixing a more traditional writing convention to go to my first con this November in Portland. I'm really excited. I have no book to sell yet, but am debating a give away anyway.

    As I told my local writing friends, it's time I go meet my local 'tribe'. Other sci-fi writers / readers in my state.

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  5. Great ideas!!!

    I'm heading for Origins in about two weeks to game like a mad fool, but I'll be dropping info about "Blaze of Glory" and "Wild Cards and Iron Horses" at the freebie table just in case!

    Faboo article!!!

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  6. I've never thought about going to a local con before but I'll have to look into it. I understand they have one right here in ABQ. Must go research.

    Great advice on do's, don'ts and tips! Thanks so much, Jaleta.

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  7. Great blog. I hope to get to a small con next year if one is happening in th Denver area. i really think I would feel overwhelmed at a large one and would want to hide in my hotel room with a book!

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  8. Soooo jealous about your meeting Barbara Hambly : )

    Great advice. Thanks.

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  9. Barbara Hambly was sweet, funny, likeable, but she also ducked the crowds when she could. At smaller cons, you can do that if you need to.

    Thanks for the comments. I hope to see you at a local con soon.

    If you want more info about cons or badge ribbons or other advice, feel free to email me at jaletac@earthlink.net

    Sorry about no personal replies. It's late and my "day off" turned into "too much to do" again.

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