- by Laura Resnick
Although some schools of thought argue that going to cons (conventions and conferences) is a must-do for a career novelist, my own opinion is that con-going is strictly optional for a writer, and whether it has any value depends on what you want to get out of it.
If a writer goes to cons to attract new readers, I think it’s misspent time, money, and energy.
Con attendees are mostly in-the-know readers in their chosen genre, and they all talk about books with each other; so they’re going to hear about your work even if you never show up at a con. Moreover, the percentage of con attendees in ratio to the overall book-buying population is too small to drive sales or float a career. For a book that needs to sell, say, 40,000 copies in mass market to earn out, courting new readers via con appearances like trying to make a pot of coffee by gathering dew drops.
So, if there’s not much point in attending cons to attract readers, then what is the point?
Well, for one thing, cons are where you can meet the community of writers, editors, publishers, agents, booksellers, cover artists, producers of publishing trade magazines, and fanatic readers.
I, for one, like meeting fanatic readers, and I think that participating in cons is one way that we, as writers, can show our appreciation for them.
I also find it professionally valuable to talk with other professional writers, to meet editors and agents and booksellers and trade journal publishers, etc.
So, for those reasons, I still attend one big national convention (Ninc, the World Science Fiction Convention, the World Fantasy Convention, RWA National, etc.) every year or two at my own expense. The national cons are where there’s the greatest number of industry people.
Apart from that, I only attend cons as an invited guest. Years ago, I used to attend several small, local, or regional conventions per year at my own expense, for the reasons mentioned above. But after about three years of that, I had learned so much and met so many people that I no longer got enough, as a paying attendee, out of anything but the national cons.
By then, I also had enough books published that I started getting asked to participate in programming. And if you acquit yourself well as a speaker, then you get asked to do more gigs. And at a certain point, con appearances (and public speaking, in general) take enough time out of your writing schedule and your personal life that you need to develop some guidelines that work for you.
For example, my guidelines are: At the very least, all my expenses must be covered as a convention guest. And if I’m expected to prepare and teach a workshop, then I also require an honorarium (payable when I arrive on site).
Doing panel discussions, public appearances, and making myself generally available to convention attendees at least part of the time (rather than spending all my time sight-seeing or hiding in my room) is what I do in exchange for the expenses the con incurs to have me there.
And preparing and teaching workshops is what I do in exchange for payment in addition to my expenses.
Con appearances take time out of my writing schedule and out of my personal life. If I’m at a con, then I’m not in my office writing the next chapter of a book, and I’m not engaging in my own hobbies or spending time with the people in my private life.
As it happens, I mostly enjoy con appearances. I’m gregarious and I have some background in acting, so I like meeting people and I like working in front of an audience. I also like to travel. For anyone who doesn’t enjoy all these things, though, I think attending cons is pointless and they should not take time out of their writing schedules and their private lives to do it. They probably won’t get enough out of it to make it worth their while.
This spring, I’ll be a keynote speaker at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference and will present workshops at the Vancouver RWA conference. If you’re interested in attending either of these events, go to my website at www.LauraResnick.com and click on the “Going Public” link to see the dates and find links to the conference venues.