Even though the weekend was cut short, I still did have a great time Friday at ConStellation 8 in Lincoln staffing the Nebraska Writers Guild table with a couple of talented authors and participating in a panel on writing horror.
I’d been on panels at previous conventions, but this was my first time not only proposing and moderating panels, but also setting up a table in the vendor area and making sure we could get it staffed. Since attending conventions is on the list of things writers must do to sell books, I thought it would be a great time for me to share how I prepared for this convention and give a heads up on a few of things you should be prepared for before your first con.
Know where to park.
This might seem like an afterthought, but I’ll say this a hundred times. Figure out in advance where to park. Does the location have on-site parking? Are there meters or garages nearby? Will you need coins? Will the convention validate parking? You may think, well who cares? and that’s your prerogative, but take it from me. Pay attention to this detail. At ConStellation 8, I just figured I’d park at the lot I use for my day job. This let to two unexpected problems. The first was that it was rainy and cold. The second was that that lot is nine blocks away and I almost died making that trek. Oh and on a final note, when you do find a place to park, make sure to take note of where that is. The last thing you want to do is get lost walking around in the middle of the night with a box of books looking for your car.
Know where to stash your merch.
This is sort of a continuation to the parking tip, but if you’re planning to sell anything, it’s helpful to know the easiest way to unload it. I brought three boxes of things with me to this convention. Fortunately, the dealer contact sent out emails beforehand letting us know where the loading area was, and they had staff waiting to help unload the car and get the boxes to a safe location while I moved the car.
Know your table.
When you sign on as a vendor, you should be told the dimensions of your table. If you’re not, you might want to check with the staff beforehand. That will make it possible for you to lay things out in advance and plan on what to bring. Bring as much as you can fit on the table, but also try to keep it from becoming too cluttered. And you know what? It might not a bad idea to confirm that the location is providing the tables. 99% of the time they do, but it never hurts to check.
Know your role.
How you dress depends on a couple of factors. First, what type of convention is it? If it’s a science fiction convention and you’re signing books geared toward that audience, it’s okay to go casual with your favorite Star Trek shirt. (Unless it’s a shirt that goes with the J. J. Abrams remakes. Avoid that at all costs.) However, if you’re presenting at the con in addition to signing books, I’d say dress up a tiny bit. No suit and tie or anything like that, but when you’re doing a panel, remember that there is a chance you’ll be photographed. So try to look like a pro 🙂
And if you’re signing at a more formal writing conference, I would recommend stepping it up to at least business causal dress. It’s up to you, but for better or worse, you appearance does make an impression on your audience.
Do your homework.
You’ll have the opportunity to see the vendor list, event/panel schedule, and guest list in advance. This gives you a great opportunity to network with a variety of people. Have some questions ready. There is a good chance many of the other vendors and authors have been to other conventions. Ask them which ones were worth the time and which ones weren’t. Ask them what conventions they plan to attend next. It’s a great opportunity to network.
If you happen to be on any panels, try to sit in on a few other session before yours in order to get a feel for the audience and be better prepared for what kind of audience participation to expect.
And while you’re at your signing table, try to get a good sense of what kind of people are stopping by your table. Everyone you talk to is either a reader or a writer. If they are a writer, talk about the business. Talk about the con. Talk about upcoming events or panels. Don’t try to sell them books. And if they are a reader, don’t do a hard sell. Get to know them. Talk about what you like to read. Talk about what they like to read. Then talk about what you write. If it’s a fit, you’ll get a sale and maybe even make a friend.
This is the most important thing to remember. Conventions are about having fun. People get together at these things to celebrate a common interest. You are there in part because you share that common interest. Remember that. Even if you don’t sell any books or hand out any business cards, the most important thing is that you were able to have a good time and enjoy yourself.
I’ll be back tomorrow with a part two of sorts as I’ll talk about how to prepare to be on panels at conventions.
Until then, if you’ve got any tips on how you prepare for conventions we’d love to hear ’em. So leave a comment!