Last time I talked about Industry Cons, like World Fantasy Con, World Horror Con, RWA Nationals, and other pro-centric cons. The greatest benefit of these cons is often the networking, as they are light on fan attendees and heavy on pros. They can be a great place to make or renew relationships, to meet people who can have a real impact on your career long-term, but you should never go into a conversation with someone just thinking about what they can do for you. That’s not networking, that’s being an asshole. Real networking, the kind that will actually do something for you, is relationship-building, making friends, being genuinely interested in what people are saying and doing, because people are generally pretty interesting. You will get more out of the favor you do for someone else than you ever will from asking for a favor. So just go hang out with people, meet them, and be nice. That will come back to you in spades over the long haul.
But this isn’t a blog post about networking, it’s a blog post about fandom cons. What I refer to as fandom cons are the heart and soul of science fiction and fantasy cons all over the US and the world. These are the small to mid=size cons that aren’t run by some giant media or entertainment company. They are cons with anywhere from 200 to 5,000 people in attendance, and they are generally non-profit organizations run by volunteers, or sometimes a very tiny paid staff. Usually people are paid in badges, hugs, and pizza.
These are honestly my favorite type of convention to attend, because they press a lot of buttons for me as far as things I enjoy doing. Fandom cons usually have a fair amount of programming, from panels and games to discussions and workshops. Being a pompous ass that I am, I love being on panels. When I’m feeling gracious about myself, which is most of the time, I tell myself and the world that I enjoy panels because it gives me the opportunity to pontificate and scratches the itch that I had when I used to want to be a teacher.
Don’t worry, I got over that one when I realized that my reflexive response to stupid statements by people in authority is to say “Go Fuck Yourself” loudly and often. I decided that reflex wasn’t conducive to a long teaching career, so I should either learn to shut my cake hole or look for a new career path. I chose to not shut my cake hole. Pretty much ever.
But anyway, fandom cons. They have a bunch of panels, and usually a dealer room or author’s alley, or some other opportunity for me to set up a table and sell books. So I get to sit on panels with people who are much smarter than me, make a few dick jokes, and then sell books after. Or maybe I get on a panel with people where I make valid points about the at hand and participate in a lively discussion. Or dick jokes. Either way.
Why do you want to be on panels? Shouldn’t you just rent a table in the dealer hall and sell books all day, every day? Well…remember Uncle John’s First Rule of Sales? Of course you don’t, because I almost never refer to myself as Uncle John (although I am an uncle, have been for 40 years at this point, and I have a lot of grey in my beard, so I may just begin referring to myself as such) and I’ve never codified this idea into a “rule,” at least not in writing.
Uncle John’s First Rule of Sales – People buy shit from people they like.
I know. Rocket science, right? Well, that’s why this is all free, and real sales courses cost a fuckton of money. I just realized that I swear more in blogs that I write while listening to Jason Isbell. He’s a goddamn genius, and frequently Wendig-level profane.
But the point of this is – if you’re on panels, you get to show off your sparkling personality o everyone in the room, and you get to show off what a smart writerly motherfucker you are. Don’t spend too much time talking about your book, though. That looks dickish, and like you’re just there to sell shit. You kinda are, but you are also there to answer the questions the moderator and audience bring to you. So unless your book really relates to the question, don’t mention it.
So yes, you want to get on panels. You want to get on panels, and be witty, or funny, or brilliant, or charming, or dazzling, or professional, or whatever pieces of all of those that make up your shtick. Then at the end of the panel, remind the audience that you have a table in the dealer room, or you have books in your briefcase, or you’re doing the Broad Universe reading at 7PM, or whatever. Give them a reminder to come see you, and to bring money when they do.
Fandom cons are also great places to make solid connections with people way up the food chain from you. Typically a small (500-3,000 attendees) will have 1-2 “name” guests, who get their hotel and travel paid for. These folks are usually award winners, best sellers, legends in the field, or all of the above. I’ve done very small conventions with Guests of Honor such as Rachel Caine, Joe Haldeman, Timothy Zahn, Ben Bova, Patrick Rothfuss, and many more. The size of the event and the fact that you’re there as a guest as well gives you a level of access that may be greater than most folk. And some folks just like hanging out. I sat in the bar listening to Joe Haldeman tell stories for several hours one night. I’d never met him before, and I was just an attendee at the con. I bought my badge just like every one else. George R.R. Martin is well-known as a lover of room parties, and a few years ago at ConCarolinas GRRM was in one room talking to fans at a room party, and in the room next door David Weber was chatting with fans at a different room party!
This does not happen as often at huge cons. It’s just harder to find folks. But that, as well as the ability to hang out with people in the bar or restaurant and get to know them, can create long-lasting friendships. There’s a group of 40 or so writers that endured what we often refer to as SweatFest, the year the FandomFest AC broke in Louisville, Kentucky in July. It was godawful. It was the hottest thing I think I’ve ever put up with. But I met some people that I have done business with ever since, and some of them are my dearest friends. Those kind of stories are why we do the fandom cons. They become a badge of honor, and a shorthand that people use to refer to events, and the relationships forged while sitting at a table next to someone in a deserted dealer room may not pay your hotel bill for the weekend, but you can certainly make some lifelong friends.
Just a few people that I met for the first time at Fandom cons –
Faith Hunter, Misty Massey, Emily Lavin Leverett, Sarah Joy Adams, Gail Z. Martin, David B. Coe, A.G. Carpenter, Nicole Givens Kurtz, Allan Gilbreath, Andrea Judy, Bobby Nash, Edmund Schubert, Natania Barron, Michael G. Williams, Tally Johnson, S.H. Roddey, Alexandra Christian, Kalayna Price, Rachel Caine, Laura Anne Gilman, Seanan McGuire, Brandon Sanderson, Patrick Rothfuss, Mike Stackpole, Eric Flint, Dr. Jerry Pournelle, Larry Niven, Timothy Zahn, Barbara Hambly, john Scalzi, Robin Hobb, Ernie Cline, Jim C. Hines, Cat Rambo, Kimberly Richardson, and the list goes on for hours. Some of these people I’ve hung out with, some I’ve published, some have edited with me, some have edited me, some have bought my books, some have sold me books, but every one of them I first met at a little fandom con.
That’s why I go to fandom cons. Because I meet amazing people.