Convention advice for readers and authors alike: take it or leave it
I’ve got four major conventions on my schedule this year, plus an appearance at our local pride event, to talk about gay fiction. I’ve “only” been doing conventions for three years, this being my third, and there are more conventions that I could ever hope to attend. Just last week, I saw the invite to a convention on a cruise ship. Boy, I’d kill to get there, but I just can’t afford it, and since it’s organized by a publisher, I presume they focus on their own writers. But the idea is cool.
So, as I begin to prepare for my first “con” this year, taking place in New York in less than a month, and having just secured my spot on the last one for this year, in Kansas City, I have a few interesting things I have noted, things you might want to keep in mind when you attend (or if you organize an event):
Okay, so I am a communication expert by trade, but I’m amazed (not in a good way) how some of these cons are simply failing at communicating. Or keeping their websites up to date etc. Now mind you, I am fully aware that they ALL work more or less for free and in their spare time, yet, some of them have their shit together and communicate regularly, and sometimes even repeatedly (you can never communicate enough.) Some use e-mail, some use Facebook, some use Goodreads (oh blimey!) and most rely on a combination of all of the above, which I personally think is good.
Never shy away from asking questions! And if you’re an organizer, make sure you reply! Nothing is more annoying for a convention attendee to not receive a response, having to double down. It’s not like we don’t have other things to do…
Communication, timely communication, is critical. Why? We have things to prepare. As an author, just to order swag takes time (picture a ship sailing from a production facility in China…) and needs ample preparation. To be asked to hand in an ad with a week’s notice? I’m sweating over someone else’s blunder. Now, this goes both ways. If you’re asked for input, feedback or answers from the organizers, it’s only fair that we respond in a timely fashion as well!
And while I agree that much of the information can be retrieved from websites (and you should go there first), it’s not always that works, and even e-mail does get lost. So ask away. Don’t be shy. You probably won’t be the first one to ask.
Yeah, that’s a biggie. I often book my trips very early, simply because I mostly travel long distance, and you can get flights using frequent flyer miles or get a better rate if you book early. The “powers who know” will have different advice on when to book, be it domestic or international, months or weeks ahead, certain days. Google it if you’re on a budget.
Most convention hotels will allow you to share rooms. That is a bit of a personal preference. I couldn’t share a room with a stranger, and I’ve yet to become “so” close that I’d want to share a room with someone else. Besides, it is my experience that I am so tired at the end of the day that I’ll literally fall over and crash. Plus I simply don’t wish to compromise with certain personal habits that I’d need an audience. But again, if you’re on a tight budget, go for it, make new friends! 🙂
These things attract people from all walks of life. Now, readers and authors alike tend to be introverts (don’t look at me!) and already, six months prior to my last convention, some of the attendees are freaking out over public speaking, meeting strangers and what not. Now, with all due respect: we’re all pretty much the same here. So chill, relax, pop a Xanax and enjoy yourself a bit. I have yet to have a negative experience at any of these things.
Sure, you may not click with everybody, not every author you meet will be “wow”, not every reader you come across will buy your books, and sometimes our personalities just don’t match. But bitching? People lining the walls afraid to move? Nah! Don’t worry. It’s going to be great. Just imagine everyone being just like you, and I sure as hell don’t hope you’re afraid of your mirror image…
I know that some attendees will go to great lengths and recommend flu shots, alcohol sanitizers and what not to make sure you don’t share germs and don’t catch any… Personally, I think a good dose of common sense will get you far. You may shake hands (mostly you’ll hug), but you’re not going to be close enough, for long enough to catch a bug, and if you do, it might as well have been on the plane or the train getting you to where the convention takes place. So chill!
Do a little research about the city and the place you’re going to. No need to bring sunscreen to Chicago in October, but you might if you go to Florida. On the other hand, you may not bring that extra sweater… And since you’re mostly indoors, well… Again, common sense applies here and there. If in doubt, ask someone for help.
Be friendly, smile when you meet people, say hello. With these three things in mind, you’ll have the best convention experience ever! Trust me. I come home energized, despite being exhausted, every single time.
There are two aspects to this, and I’ve recently blogged about what to keep in mind in terms of creating swag. But, it’s not just the creation that is expensive and time consuming. As an author you also need to consider transporting it to the convention, along with your books (if you get to sell any) Paper is heavier than you can imagine! And unless you fly first class, your luggage allowance will be limited! Then there’s the age old question of “how much?” Some conventions will communicate that, others… not so much. See my first point (and contact me offline to find out who sucks and who does a good job.)
Then there’s the split side of it: what do you take home as a reader? Well, thing is, you won’t be able to use most of what is distributed, and if you know yourself not to be a big user of swag, and you e.g. hate paper, don’t take it. Give the author a chance to give it to someone else. But don’t grab it and toss it in the next garbage bin. I’ve seen that, and it’s a sign of ‘no respect’ to do so. Just take what you actually need, be it a pen, or a post card or lip balm. Keep in mind, on average, for almost any piece of swag, an author will have to sell one e-book to just get the money back…
Now why would I mention triggers… Here’s the deal: given that many readers are introverts and shy, reading is very attractive to people who suffer from various mental conditions and psychological issues, and who may not feel comfortable out in the “open”, people who feel stigmatized and hurt by comments they hear. In the comfort of their own homes they can be alone, they can read and enjoy a story, and not unlike the rest of us, flee a grim reality for a bit. Thing is, if your brain chemistry isn’t wired like that of the rest of us, you are prone to reacting differently then what society expects.
I was at a convention a year ago where triggers were discussed at length, and someone even proposed to put trigger warnings at the beginning of every single book (which is mission impossible, given that literally anything could be a trigger for someone), but most authors/publishers will warn you if there is child abuse, rape or other forms of physical abuse. Now, if you read romance novels and you require a sex warning, I can’t help you… But yeah, at least in the LGBT world, sex warnings are in there, too, not so much as a trigger warning, but to warn those idiots who see two men kiss on the cover and still don’t understand that it is a gay book they’re about to read. Face palm much?
If you suffer from a mental disorder (OCD, PTSD etc.) and you’re afraid of what might happen at a convention, rest assured, you can go there and feel safe. You won’t be alone, and I’ve yet to see anyone scream and run from a room, or to stop breathing because of a seizure. Let me say this again: you won’t be alone. Some conventions even have a buddy system for newbies. There are literally dozens and dozens of others just like you, and they/we all know what it feels like, and these places are about as safe as you can ever feel in a public setting. People even bring their support animals along, I’ve seen both cats and dogs at conventions, not to mention support people, and no one bats an eye lash. I know one author who’s always surrounded (literally!) by five or six people to keep him away from nosy fans (or to keep him to themselves, not sure which is the case.)
Now, will all triggers be “safe”? I won’t promise you that. If you’re afraid of people, or if the mere thought of sex or – god forbid – an open relationship (you can’t make this shit up!) – scares you, all bets are off! But what is the likelihood of seeing sex (in public) at a convention? Far too slim if you ask me…
Oh boy! I’ve seen people haul off entire boxes of books, in extra suitcases. I’d hate to have been at the airport when they check that stuff in.
Some people bring books to the convention to have them signed by their favorite author(s). Others buy them on site, the latest one maybe, to take home. Some conventions will be better at book sales than others, always depending on what the purpose of the convention is.
Many authors will organize pre-orders for their readers, usually with discounted prices, so you get a bargain, and not Amazon. Even on site, you can assume to buy books inexpensively, as there is no middle man (again, Amazon) to take a sizable chunk out of the author’s/publisher’s pocket. A little tip: buy new releases on the first day. They usually sell out quickly, and go back on the final day for back list items. As an author, I don’t want to haul all those books back home, and we’re usually amenable to bargaining and making deals… Just saying. Last year, I had someone come to my hotel room at one a.m on Sunday, after a party, to pick up my very last book.
Now, these days, more and more people buy e-books, easier to carry around, less cumbersome at home. But they are difficult to sign. Some conventions put great emphasis on a beautiful program (others sadly not so much), with a few empty pages for authors to sign. GRL even puts out an entire book with excerpts from all the attending authors, every year. Great memento. Or, the author has a post card to sign for you. I do, and I’m always happy to sign one for you or a loved one (hint: books are great gifts!)
So yes, there are different ways to do things even for e-book readers. I’ve even been asked to sign a Kindle once.
The convention experience
Once you have your lanyard and your swag bag (or not), you head into a whole different world, and boy let me tell you, if the real world was anything like convention land, it would be a better and safer place! Smiles, happy people, friendly people all around, and we all talk about books, stories, feelings, we cry, we laugh, we hug (a lot, but only if you like that!), we share memories, we make new friends, revisit with old ones, and for a day, or two, or three, the world spins just a little bit slower, life is a little bit more gentle, and you go to bed tired, maybe even a little tipsy (or drunk), but with a smile on your face. And you wake up with that same smile.
One last tip, maybe the most important one: you get out of any convention what you put into it!
So go ahead, get’em Tiger!
My conventions in 2016
I’m sponsoring four of the conventions below, the fifth one being paid through government funds. Why? I think it is important to help. These events mean a lot to us readers and authors, and the organizers spend hundreds of hours of their free time to prepare. They deserve our help, any way we can. But, more importantly, will I see you there?
I really look forward to this year’s first convention. My publisher has scheduled Jonathan’s Promise to be ready in time for New York, and I can’t wait to present it to you. This is one of the most important books of my penmanship, simply because the first book in the trilogy (no, not a series, I don’t do series. LOL) was so important for me and my career. Jonathan’s Hope is the book that’s been selling best, and while I’ve never really understood why, it is a book that people just seem to love (or hate, at least the epilogue.) So I can’t wait to present the sequel, and – come GRL – the final book in the trilogy, Jonathan’s Legacy. All good things must come to an end. That is true for conventions as well…
Now, whether you go to these things or not, whether I’ll see you there, or not (I always end up missing someone), feel free to contact me if you have questions about attending a convention in general, or one of the above specifically. I’d be happy to answer any question you might have, based on my personal experiences. I may not be objective, but always honest.
Have a wonderful week!