The enormous success of Comic-Con and the hit show The Big Bang Theory has brought fan conventions into the mainstream. What began as small get-togethers of enthusiasts have grown into huge events attracting growing numbers of genre devotees. There are now countless “cons” for fans of every genre, from romance to horror, mystery, historical fiction, graphic novels, and sci-fi/fantasy.
As a genre fiction writer, you should be at cons too—and not just to sell books. Here’s why.
Are we having fun yet?
I write dark fantasy and have attended many sci-fi/fantasy cons. As a newbie author, I admit that I did not sell many books at these events, but then I have profited enormously in other ways:
- Cons are fun. If you are passionate about what your genre, then you will enjoy the con experience. The more fun you have, the more you will benefit as an author.
- Cons surround you with your tribe. There is no better place to make new friends and network with people who “get you”. Cons provide an instant potential fanbase of hundreds to thousands who love your genre.
- You never know who you might meet. Cons are a hotbed of industry VIPs who can be critical to an author’s career. I once met a big-name Hollywood producer who attended the con incognito to check out new talent, trends, and ideas. He loved my cover and my pitch and bought copies of both of my books. It’s a longshot that my series will become the next HBO mega-hit, but the opportunity to get it into the hands of a celebrity filmmaker was priceless.
I have also met many indie film producers at cons, as well as indie publishers, bookstore owners, podcasters, promoters, agents, video game developers, and event organizers—who all want to discover the next great genre writing talent. If you are not there, they won’t meet you and learn about your fantastic book.
Remember also that many genre cons overlap in content or are multi-genre. For example, you will find a lot of horror fans at a sci-fi/fantasy con.
Networking at cons has led to countless opportunities for me, from podcasting to speaking invitations at other events. At one con, a video game developer approached me about writing for story-based video games.
I’ve also met and gotten to know nationally-known best-selling authors. I was even invited to write a short story alongside New York Times bestselling authors for an anthology. Also, website hits and online sales generally spike for me after a con.
Unfortunately, it took some growing pains to figure out how to make this happen. At my first con, I did what many fledgling authors do: I shelled out money to buy an author table to sell my books. I sat at my table for hours with my eager-beaver, buy-my-book face—and watched as people shied away.
Finally, I got out from behind the table and commiserated with other new and indie authors in “author’s row”. Everyone had the same problem. Readers at cons are bombarded by so many authors and books that they are reluctant to engage authors, fearing the “hard sell”. The most common phrase I hear is a polite, “I already have too many books.”
Making the most out of a convention
Unless you are a celebrity author or a New York Times bestseller, cons may not the best place to sell books, but they are a fun and fantastic opportunity to sell yourself. This does not mean hiding behind an author table for three days, scrolling through Facebook. This is a mistake I made, and I see other new authors make all the time.
The key to getting the most out a con is participation. Here’s how.
- Mingle. If you are an introverted writer like me, the thought of mingling with hundreds of strangers can be overwhelming. I learned that it’s not that hard if you remember that everyone at a genre con shares your passions. Going with a friend is also helpful.
Make the rounds at author and vendor tables. Introduce yourself as a writer. Ask them about their books or products, share marketing ideas, and generally shoot the breeze.
By mingling, I have met many new writer friends, as well as well-known authors who are often happy to share insights with new authors. We now follow each other on social media, and I have been personally invited to their events.
- Try cosplay. Wearing a costume is a great way to break the ice at genre cons. If that’s not your thing, chat with the serious cosplayers in costume and ask to take photos with them. Most cosplayers will be flattered, and they love to interact in character.
Anything can happen. At a recent con, I connected with a cosplayer whose happened to be dressed like my main character, a barbarian warrior. He is the founder of a non-profit organization that makes anti-bullying presentations in schools. He asked if he could “cosplay” my warrior character to make his presentations more engaging for the kids. Win-win for everyone.
- Join the team. Genre cons are powered by volunteers. The best way to get in with the in-crowd is to join the team. Volunteers meet everyone. Do a good job, and you will have the eternal gratitude of the event organizers, who are the gatekeepers to everything and everyone at a con. Volunteers also often get free or reduced admission and other perks.
- Help out a sponsor. Instead of paying for an author table, consider offering to man the table of a sponsoring organization. Industry sponsors, such as publishing organizations, author associations, and other cons, often need help staffing their tables.
This is a killer deal for authors. Some of my best networking has happened at sponsor tables, which tend to attract other industry people. Also, the sponsor will likely give you all kinds of industry insight and other extras for lending a hand.
- Split an author table. If you want to invest in an author table, consider splitting a table with other writers. This cuts your cost and allows you some free time away from the table to network and attend panels and activities. This can be the best of both worlds.
The next step: How to get on a panel or pitch a presentation
Panels and presentations are pure gold for author exposure—if you can get them. Con organizers are most interested in authors who have a solid author platform and following. They also want to see that you are an active participant in the genre community, so get out there! Mingle and help out, maybe try a costume. Most of all, make friends and have fun with your tribe.