So y’all might have heard that I was in St. Louis last weekend, hitting up both Penned Con 2017 and Archon 41. My conversations with several people at both cons raised the question – Is it worth it?
It’s a valid question, and one I ask myself often when I go to conventions. Last week I drove over 1500 miles round trip. I was away from home for six days. I spent five nights in a hotel, and ate out every meal for six days. That’s not an insignificant investment in time, effort, and money, and that’s before we go into the inventory involved with me taking over 120 paperbacks and hardbacks across five states!
So when I evaluate a convention’s worth, I look first at what kind of convention it is. There are several major types of convention that I attend, some more frequently than others, and I expect different things from all of them. Today, we’ll take a look at what cons fit into what type, and what I’m looking for at each one.
Let’s start with the ones that are frequently the most expensive, and have the lowest opportunity for immediate return on investment, but may have the greatest long term ROI – industry cons. In the writing business there are several different types of industry con, and they are usually the ones that have the highest cost to attend. When I talk about industry cons, I mean World Fantasy Con, World Horror Con, RWA Nationals, ThrillerFest, and to a lesser extent Dragon Con (although Dragon straddles a lot of types because of its sheer size and will get mentioned in almost every category). Regional writer festivals like the NC Writers’ Network Fall Gathering also fall into this category.
Industry cons often cost everyone but the volunteers and Guests of Honor to attend. Unlike comic cons or fandom cons, even the vendors at some professional cons still have to buy their badge on top of their table fee. And if you don’t have a table, even if you’ve been a pro in the field for decades, you may still have to spring for a badge. That’s not a knock on the convention, it’s just the way they are structured. The target audience of the con is the pros, so they aren’t using your work on panels to draw in the Muggles, they are putting you on maybe one or two panels to speak to your peers.So at these cons you pay for your badge. And they ain’t cheap. Some of these cons will cost several hundred dollars to attend, and it’s less likely that you’ll have an opportunity to make that cost back by selling books, as the number of fans in attendance is far lower than the number of pros. You may find yourself laying out $300 for a badge, then $150-250 per night for a hotel, plus travel. These cons can easily set you back a grand or more, with little to no opportunity to recoup that money quickly.
So why go? Because it’s a long game, remember? I had a great meeting at Dragon Con with an editor that I’m working on a proposal for. If it goes through, it’ll take most of 2018 before I see a dime off that meeting, and I’ve been building a relationship with that editor since 2014 at Dragon. It’s the long game. He’s not going to leave the business. I’m not going to leave the business. If it takes us four to six years to make any money off being friends, so be it. If we never make any money off being friends, so be it. But the connections you make at industry cons have so many more ancillary benefits over dollars and cents and immediate sales. Maybe a drink in the Westin bar turns into a cover blurb given or received. Maybe a panel on the Urban Fantasy track results in contracts for eight novellas (See: Mason Dixon, Monster Hunter). Maybe you meet somebody that you can give advice to, or somebody that you can learn from. Industry cons are great for that kind of networking, that kind of relationship building. I didn’t sell a single book at World Horror Con, but spending the weekend hanging out with Alethea Kontis, Jake Bible, Chris Golden, Charles Rutledge, James Tuck, and other friends was well worth the expense of the con.
That’s not to say that you should jump in on every industry con that’s within driving distance. I’ve never done the RWA national conference. I write very little romance, and most of what I publish can only be called romance in the very loosest of terms. So I don’t go to those cons. I don’t go to the NC Writers’ Network Gathering except when it’s in Charlotte. It’s mainly a literary fiction, historical fiction, and poetry conference, without a ton of genre fiction writers or readers. So while I really like the organization and support their programming, I can’t justify it as an every-year con. I’ll be there in 2018 when they’re in Charlotte, though. That’s for damn sure. So you do have to balance potential return on investment with your attendance, but you don’t have to look at it as a black and white set of numbers on a balance sheet. I plan to attend World Fantasy Con next year in Baltimore because it’s drivable, and I can sell some books, raise the overall profile of Falstaff Books, and maybe sign up some more writers to our stable. It’ll take years to see if that investment will pay off.
Next week we’ll talk about fandom cons, and maybe move into pop culture cons or comic cons/vendor hall cons. Later on we’ll look at what I call Starfucker cons, then we’ll talk about what you’re trying to get out of a con, how many you should do in a year, and when is it too much of a good thing?
Until then, I had a new book come out yesterday, so I’d love it if you’d go buy Amazing Grace. If you scroll back through the archives, you can hear me read the prologue. If you’ve already bought it, and enjoyed it, leave a review! They really matter.