Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Can Authors Advance Their Careers By Going to Conventions?

Yes. Wow, that was easy. See you all next week!

You really gonna stick your patrons with that?
All right, all right.

So, conventions! Explaining a convention to someone who's never been is a lot like explaining your trip to a foreign country to your friends who stayed home. The language, the culture, the way people dress; you can read about that on the news, or in an encyclopedia. What you won't get from those sources is the sense of togetherness that happens when fans congregate. The way you can walk down a hallway, and make new friends with a single movie reference, or how you can turn a corner and find yourself face-to-face with someone you've only ever seen on TV, or read about in interviews.

If you're an author, this is where you want to be, because conventions are probably the best place to go to meet people, and add them to your network.

Shaking Hands, And Dropping Cards

There are all kinds of cons out there. There are cons for comic books and roleplaying games, for sci-fi, fantasy, horror, and everything in between. There are even conventions specifically for authors and publishers. Some are big, and some are small, but there is a nearly-infinite variety of them out there.

So, how do you walk in the front door of a convention, and immediately start making connections?

This is what you want your social media to look like, when you're done.
Preparation is key. If you're going to (or just considering going to) a convention, do some research on it beforehand. Find out what that year's theme is, what the average attendance is, and get a list of the events going on. See what hotel costs are, and figure out a budget to see if you can even make the scene, financially speaking. Check out that year's list of special guests, too. Then, once you've taken a look at the field, decide where you're going to go, and who you're going to try and meet. Make sure you have a pocket full of business cards, and know what you're going to say in case people start asking you what you're there for. If you've got a book and need a publisher, if you're looking for clients, or if you are looking for publicity help, decide that before you get there.

In short, have a plan before you walk in the doors. Wandering around is for the rubes; you're here to work.

Whenever Possible, Get Involved in Programming

The best way to get around behind the table, and to meet people as equals, is to work a convention. For example, if you go to a convention's homepage, there will be a section titled Programming. All you have to do is contact them, tell them you're an author who will be attending, and volunteer to help. You'll want to do this a half-dozen months before the con gets going, because that's when programming hasn't been nailed down yet. If you get into programming, then you might wind up on a panel, holding down a signing table, or doing a reading.

Readings are rarely attended if you're not famous. Don't take it personally.
Being part of programming is kind of like getting let into the VIP lounge. You have access to the green room, you get to meet fellow programmers (many of whom will be the folks you came there to talk to), and if you complete a certain number of programs then you may even get the cost of your badge reimbursed.

Even better, though, is that when you're involved in programming, the other attendees take you seriously. If you meet someone in the hall, or in the dealer's room, you're going to have a hard time getting them to take you seriously as an author. If you are sitting behind a signing table, or you were speaking on a panel about your genre, people will elevate your status in their minds. You're more likely to have people come up to you after your program, and when you hand them a business card, they're more likely to keep it.

There's no guarantee they'll look you up, but you've got a much better chance if they see you as a professional, instead of just another attendee.

Relationships Take Time To Grow

Unless you're already a famous author, it's unlikely that anyone you meet at a con will know who you are the first time you show up. It's possible, but don't stand around waiting to be recognized. With that said, the more cons you go to, and the more years you go, the more likely you are to build an audience. As you become part of the scene, and people start to recognize you, you're more likely to form friendships. Even if you only see the readers, attendees, and fellow programmers a few times a year, sometimes that's all it takes. Connect online, keep the connections strong, and that will lead to benefits for you, and them.

In the meantime, while you're sowing your author garden, just enjoy the con. The expenses can be written off on your taxes, and there is nowhere else in the world you can talk to someone dressed as a Klingon about the their feelings on Martin Vs. Tolkien when it comes to the classic hero's journey, and variations thereof.

As always, thanks for stopping by this week's Business of Writing post. If you'd like to help support me, stop on by The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page. As long as you pledge at least $1 a month, there's some sweet swag in it for you! Lastly, if you haven't followed me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter, then why not start now?

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