Help Selling More Books – To Con or Not to Con? Conclusion (get it? CON-clusion…never mind)

So I’ve now written something like 6,000 words on the different types of conventions, which ones I find to be the most profitable, and how to pick the conventions to attend. There’s one con that I haven’t really addressed, and it’s the biggest one that I do every year, and it deserves its own post.

Yup, Dragon Con.

Dragon Con is the largest convention in the Southeast every year, and one of the largest in the country. With over 75,000 attendees spread out among five host hotels plus the Americas Mart in downtown Atlanta over Labor Day weekend, it boasts a lot of the fun of almost every kind of convention, all rolled up into one.

I treat it like an industry con, because I go there to network with other writers, editors, and publishers.

It is at its heart a fandom con, because almost everyone who works tirelessly year round to make it happen is a volunteer who came from fandom.

You can treat it like an autograph con and drop hundreds of dollars on meeting your favorite celebrity and getting photo ops with them (although you’ll pay less for the privilege at Dragon than at many cons I’ve seen).

If all you want is for it to be an exhibit hall con, then you can spend literally days just shopping the multiple floors of the dealers room.

Or you can treat it like a buffet, and take a little piece of panels, a minute or two of autograph hunting, a slice of networking, and a dollop of vendor room. I would tell people if they could only do one con in a year, do Dragon. It has the mist varied experiences, and the most awesome people-watching of any con I’ve ever been to.

I treat Dragon as two of the major types of con – industry con and fandom con. I have multiple purposes for going to the convention, but I’m not there to sell print books, and I’m not there to get autographs. To be fair, I’m not anywhere to get autographs. Other than signed books and Magic cards, autographs aren’t my thing, so even when I do pop culture or autograph cons, I don’t plop down a pile of money to get my picture taken with someone famous. If that’s your thing awesome, have a ball and I hope that the experience is everything you want it to be. It just ain’t my thing.

I go to Dragon to be on panels, which gets me in front of potentially new fans, and to work the Writers’ Bar. A bunch of us took over the Westin lobby bar a few years ago and staked a claim to it as the Writers’ Bar, and it’s worked out very well. Since it’s a little further away from the madness that is the three “main” hotels (the Marriott, Hyatt, and Hilton are all in a straight line from each other and connected via walkways affectionately referred to as the Habitrails, so those are the most crowded hotels), the Westin bar tends to be a little quieter, and you can usually find a chair. The Westin also houses the Urban Fantasy programming and the Horror programming, which is predominantly where I’m programmed, so it’s really convenient for me, too. I often stay there, as well, although I’ve stayed in three of the five main hotels and they’re all very nice.

I love doing panels at Dragon, because you’re playing with pros, and to a good crowd. The panels are usually stacked with people that are more famous than me (especially since I’m not famous at all), and are experienced panelists. The moderators are almost always excellent, and at their worst, they’re still pretty good. That makes for a good panel. And getting to sit beside some of my writing heroes has made for some incredible experiences for me as a writer. I’ve been on panels with Kim Harrison, Jim Butcher, Laurell K. Hamilton, Mercedes Lackey, and Jonathan Maberry, some of my favorite writers. It doesn’t get much better than that for me. And when I’m on a panel with people that everyone knows, it gives me an opportunity to convert some of their fans into my fans.

I make sure to bring postcards and bookmarks to panels, so that people can have something to remember me by when they get home. I often run out with one or two panels left in the weekend, and that’s the mark of a good Dragon Con for me. I’ve also made some great friends who first met me and read my books because they saw me on panels. And brought me booze. To the panel. Yes, that is a good way to endear yourself to this writer. Bribe me with alcohol. 🙂

But I’m also there working. This past year at Dragon I got career advice on TV adaptations, had a meeting with  major NY editor, talked about a couple of joint projects with several authors, and recruited several people to write novella series for me at Falstaff. The Mason Dixon Monster Hunter series grew out of a conversation that Eric Asher and I had after a panel, and it’s been a good project for both of us. So I spend a lot of time in the bar, not just because I like to drink (which I do), but because that’s where work gets done. I’ll nurse a beer for hours while I talk to new writers about what’s going on in their lives, reconnect with old friends that I only get to see once or twice a year, and chat with folks about the general state of the industry. In that sense, I treat Dragon like as much of an industry con as any other, even though it’s not designed that way. But when you get that many writers, publishers, and editors in one place, deals are gonna go down.

So if you can handle 75,000+ people in one downtown area over four days, you owe it to yourself to try Dragon at least once. If crowds give you trouble, you should probably stay home. There’s no harm in that, either. Taking care of yourself is one of the most important things to learn about the convention life.

So I hope this little series has been useful, and that some of these tips on picking a convention will help you decide on where your budget needs to go. I generally advise a good mix of the trade show/comic cons with the fandom cons, with maybe one industry con and Dragon Con thrown in there. If you want to do the pop culture cons and autograph cons, go for it, but understand that those are not the place to develop your true fans, no matter how many paperbacks you sling in a weekend.

And that’s what it’s all about – developing your True Fans.

I’ll be back next week to talk about something other than cons for a while, despite the fact that I’ll be at Atomacon this weekend. So if you’re in Charleston, come see me!

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