It’s officially con season, time to get out your Geek-Gear!
With Convention Season almost upon us, I felt it was high time I wrote something useful for new authors and creators looking to increase their sales and grow their platform.
Ontario boasts a large number (and growing) of fan-run and commercially-run fantasy and science fiction conventions. As my home base, this article will focus primarily on cons in Ontario, but this information is applicable to any writer or artist looking for insight on attending a convention professionally.
There are two broad types of categories for science fiction and fantasy conventions:
Commercially-run conventions are typically much larger than fan-run cons and boast big name celebrities and large vendors (e.g. large chain stores, local geek and game shops, and gaming companies). They often focus on popular sci-fi and fantasy T.V. series, movies, games, books, comic artists, and companies. As they are commercially driven they are splashed with advertisements ranging from pizza and Coke products to upcoming games and shows.
Fan-Run conventions are less red carpet and big screen, but much more personable. They have smaller panels, some big names, blasts from the pasts, and a strong local focus. At a fan-run convention people can enjoy nice personable panels and workshops with friends, people they’ve met at cons, and their favorite local authors, artists, and musicians. Not only do prices tend to be more reasonable, but the convention becomes a weekend-long party for vendors and panelists who’ve become acquaintances and friends.
What’s in it for The Author?
For the professional trying to break into a larger following and wishing to increase their network and platform, I feel conventions are a must, but there are advantages and disadvantages to both types of conventions.
- Thousands of people through the door to purchase your products
- A much larger collection of different consumers that may otherwise never have known about you or come across your work
- Having a table at a large con gives the appearance of success. The more products you have and the more people that see you at cons, the more likely they will believe your products are quality and worth investing in
- Smaller, more intimate panels and programs that allow for networking, building clientele, and creating friendships
- Better chances of being involved in programming and panels, allowing you to reach out to more potential readers
- Generally more affordable
- Generally more accommodating
- Commercially-run conventions can run petty high, anywhere from $300 to over a thousand in cost for a weekend for the table alone
- Hotel and food costs tend to be higher
- Some conventions are not as accommodating, due to the large volume of vendors
- These conventions may or may not cater to indie authors. Those that do will have a Special Guest Area or authors will need to purchase tables in the vendors room
- Smaller venue, smaller crowd. Depending on what you are selling, you may not cover the cost of your table
- With the smaller venue in mind, factor in hotels costs, travel, sitters/kennels, and meals as your overall cost of being there
Cutting Back on Con Costs
Both types of conventions provide their own unique experience and allow for exposure, sales, and networking, however, things add up and can become pretty pricey. Here are some tips on cutting down on con costs:
- Book early. Some conventions offer early-bird discounts on tables and so do hotels
- If the convention is local, drive instead of staying at the hotel. It can be a tight squeeze and add travel time to the weekend stress, but it will save you a lot of money, not only in hotel costs, but in food costs as well
- Carpool with other authors or vendors
- If the con is not local (or you are taking public transit), price out surrounding hotels and motels to find a lower price
- Participating hotels and motels offer discounts for CAA members. Check out any other memberships you have and reward programs for credit cards to see if they offer something similar
- Most conventions offer a con price for staying at the hotel, compare their price with any discounts from memberships like CAA
- Share a room with friends! This is a great way to socialize and save money. However, if your days are packed with panels and manning a table like mine are, parties and staying up late with friends may not be the best idea
- If you’re driving to and from home, eat at home and make a lunch and snacks to take with you. Food adds up. Even if you cover the cost of your table, remember you’re trying to cover the cost of materials and your time. Eating out all weekend can seriously hinder your earnings. You will be less likely to eat at the hotel restaurant and surrounding fast food places if you’ve had breakfast at home, prepped a lunch, and wait to eat dinner at home, especially if you’ve had snacks through out the day. The drive home at night can be pretty long and hungry without something to nibble on
- Budget yourself. We all know there are lots and lots of goodies at the convention and Goddess knows I want all the things, but setting a budget really helps you weed out the things you REALLY want and those things that are just novel in the moment
- Bring water. Having several refillable containers of water will save you from having to buy bottled water (which is bad for the environment and costs money). If you run out? Fill up again. If you’re paranoid about tap water, use re-usable bottles with carbon filters 🙂
Tips on Tables and Panels
- If you’re a one book author, having a table at a convention may not be worth it. From my experience, being on panels will be your key to obtaining more readers and promoting interest without cost (with the exception of some cons. Some require a membership fee). Make sure to have books and change on hand for when people inquire and wish to buy a book. My first two years of conventions I promoted solely through programming and sold books after panels
- If you are going to have a table, share with another author or vendor to cut costs and to make your table look fuller. A fuller table increases interest
- Table displays are WORTH IT. If you have your own table, buy a table banner or a pop-up banner at least– also make sure to have a table cloth. Some conventions do not provide cloths and you’ll end up with a poor, naked table in need of some clothes 😦 . The more professional the display looks, the more inviting your product looks. Why? Because if you can afford to look this good, your product must be that good 😉
- Have a schedule printed for your table. People who are interested in your books or artwork will want to know where you’ll be or when you’ll be back so they can purchase a signed copy.
I sincerely hope this information helps you as it as helped me throughout the years, but above all else, have fun. The reason I promote through conventions, have tables, and participate on programming, is because I love it. As Buddha said:
“Success is not the key to happiness, happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.”Buddha
Wishing you much success and happiness,