Science fiction and fantasy conventions ("cons") are a great place for authors of fantasy and science fiction to promote their work among genre readers. Most cons are "fan" conventions which attendees, including program participants, generally attend primarily to participate in the convention experience. This fan convention culture is unlike higher-profile for-profit media shows where nearly all program participants are there to sell or promote themselves or their work and where attendees are primarily audience members.
Your aim is to increase your visibility and to interest attendees in your work. This article addresses some ways in which you can best make a good impression at fan conventions.
As previously stated, fan conventions view all attendees as contributing to the convention whether as attendees, volunteers, or program participants. Although there are dealers selling books, jewelry, and other items, fan cons are not primarily aimed at conducting business.
Note – In keeping with this participatory model, attendees purchase memberships and not tickets, and the convention is not called a show.
Fan conventions are put on by a staff of dedicated volunteers. They are not run for profit. Committee members, staff, and volunteers are not paid.
Some fan conventions provide a free membership for program participants while other conventions do not. The majority of fan conventions require the purchase of memberships for staff, volunteers, and program participants.
You can find listings of conventions at:
Do not insist on a free membership because you're a published author.
Conventions get some benefit out of writers appearing on panels but many conventions, especially small ones, cannot afford to reimburse all program participants in advance. (The World Science Fiction Convention, for example, does not provide advance free memberships for anyone except their Guests of Honor, although they occasionally are able to send full or partial reimbursements to program participant memberships after the convention.) Writers who are not participating in the program provide no benefit to conventions and so their memberships are not reimbursed.
When you contact a convention to inquire about participating on program, consider tactfully asking about their membership policy in relation to program participants.
Do consider participating in the convention, both by volunteering to help with convention tasks and by volunteering to be on the program, especially at your local convention.
Do not just sit behind a dealer's table. The idea is to network and make a good impression on the attendees and the convention committee, not necessarily to sell. You will rarely make back your investment in a table unless you already have some name recognition.
Consider the following networking opportunities:
Look at the proposed convention program before the convention begins and read material by and attend program items of people whose interests or work attract you.
Strike up conversations in the Green Room or at parties without necessarily having business in mind. You never know when you might be talking to a potential reader, or might make a positive impression on someone who might mention your name to others in the community or industry professionals in the future.
Sponsor a launch party for your work as a scheduled program item if the convention is amenable.
Do write positive convention reports on your web site, blog, or whatever social network you use.
Do not behave in a way that is likely to give you a reputation for being demanding, self-centered, or uncooperative. The science fiction and fantasy convention circuit has many regular attendees, and evaluations of program participants tend to circulate among both attendees and convention organizers.
Do consider donating copies of your work to the convention. Conventions use donations in various ways: for charity auctions, as motivational giveaways for volunteers, distributed as freebies in convention packets, and others. This is both a good way to get your work out to your potential audience, and to enhance a positive image with the convention.
Do not demand payment for signatures or photos unless the con has indicated that it is their standard policy (rare for fan-run non-media conventions).
If you are participating in program items:
Do be prepared to discuss the topic of the panel, possibly making notes or doing research before the convention.
However, do not overprepare – remember that you are not going to be the only person speaking on the topic.
Do meet with fellow panelists in the Green Room before the panel to help rough out an approach to the subject matter.
Do not form a stack of your books in front of you.
Do mention your work briefly In your introduction, but mainly mention why you are interested in the panel topic.
Do not talk solely about your own work.
Do engage with the other panelists and talk about the subject of the panel. The more entertaining, informative, and engaged you are, the more likely it is that someone in audience will want to find your books.
The science fiction and fantasy genre has exploded in recent times, especially given the popularity of online book ordering and ebooks. Competing for the attention of readers through your book alone can be difficult. Enabling potential readers to have a personal encounter with you and your ideas can often make – or break – an attendee's interest in seeking out your books.
If you are not the moderator of the panel, do not take over the job of the moderator by calling on people in the audience, interrupting other panelists, calling on other panelists to speak, and so on.
While at larger conventions you can sometimes make some business connections, fan conventions are not business oriented. If you do engage with other genre authors, editors, or agents:
Do not carry your manuscript around or attempt to give it to agents/editors whom you meet.
If an agent/editor does ask what your work is about, be ready with a short teaser description.
Do carry a supply of professionally printed business cards. (Having a small photo on them can help jog people's memory.) However, do not press these on absolutely everyone you meet.
Do keep track of who you met and who introduced you. If you later query an agent or editor whom you met or were introduced to at a con, you can then mention specifics. (For example, "I enjoyed meeting you last year at X Con, and found the conversation about Y interesting." Or, "Joe Pro was kind enough to introduce me to you at last year's convention.")
Inside Worldcon: The Writer's Tour by science fiction and fantasy author Brenda W. Clough
Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America Information Center – Provides information and resources about the craft and the business of writing
Tips for Having a Convention Table – Written by a comic artist for comic cons but full of useful advice for any type of convention
Some cautionary tales – feedback from experienced panelists at science fiction and fantasy conventions about unpleasant experiences with writers concentrating solely on selling their work:
Manifesto by author Maureen Johnson
Panels: They Are Not All About You by award-winning author John Scalzi, in reference to an essay by fantasy author Michelle Sagara. (Note the comments as well.)
Don't think about the convention as solely a business opportunity. Meeting people who are interested in the same sort of books and subjects that you are can be fun for its own sake!