I recently wrote about some of the basic stuff you should do to prepare for a convention. The focus on that post lied mostly on setting up a vendor table to sign books. While I did briefly touch on panels, I thought it would be a good idea to take a more in-depth look at being on a panel at a convention.
Why you should be on panels
The days of letting your publisher do all the marketing and selling while you just sit back and write are long gone. Most of us, whether self-published, small-press published, or even Big 5 published, have to do all do our own marketing and promotion. By participating in panels, you’re not only getting your name out there to a larger audience and promoting yourself, you’re also in a some ways “sharing fans” with your co-panelists. Anyone who comes to see you will get to know some new authors, likewise anyone who comes to see your the other authors on the panels will be introduced to you. If they like what you have to say, the chances of selling enough books to make back your gas money goes way up.
Another reason is that it’s just flat out fun. Sitting on a table talking about something you’re passionate about leads to a good time. Maybe you’ll find out that you connect with the other authors. It’s never a bad thing to find new writer friends.
And, of course, maybe you’ll learn something too. It’s hard not to learn something after spending an hour or so chatting with other writers both inside and outside of your genres.
How to find opportunities
So if you’re convinced that participating in an author panel is a good idea, you’re wondering how to get on a few. I’ll admit that I’m not sure if there is an official way to get yourself on an author panel, but I would assume the best way is be to be invited an compensated for your participation. That has never happened to me, but I share what I’ve done so far to get on panels at three local conventions.
- Introduce yourself. I had attended OSFest in Omaha a couple of times, and I remember watching the author panels that second time thinking Next year I won’t be in the audience. I wasn’t exactly sure how to make that jump to the other side of the table, but I hoped to figure it out. I didn’t so I just decided to wing it instead. As soon as the dates for the next OSFest were announced, I emailed the program director of the con and introduced myself. I shared my credentials and asked if I could participate in any panels. And that was it. They send me a list of writing panels that could use another person.
- Know the right people. This one is a little more difficult, as it means you need to a) know other writers, and b) know other writers who are participating in a convention you’re planning to attend. But this one worked for me with ConStellation last year. A friend of mine was giving a talk on publishing and asked if anyone else wanted to join her. So I eagerly volunteered. While there, another friend was giving a talk on blogging, so I crashed her presentation. Sometimes things work out that way.
- Submit your own. This is probably the easiest way to get on a panel. If the convention has a form for submitting additional programming, do this. Even if you don’t have any other writers attending the con with you, you can also propose the panel and then ask the even planner if there are other writers they know of who would be willing to join you.
How to prepare
Once you are scheduled to be on a panel, it’s vital to be prepared. But it’s also not that difficult to be prepared. First things first: Don’t be on a panel if you are not qualified. For example, at ConStellation this year, there was a panel on writing film adaptations. I didn’t participate in that one because I have no experience in screenwriting.
So how do you prepare? Well, start with the panel description. Read it like a million times so you stay on track. In most cases the panel discussion will be audience-led, meaning the audience will be asking questions, so it’s not necessarily easy to “practice”, but you can be a little prepared. I would suggest a bringing simple single page document with some bullet points on whatever you can think about the topic. Familiarize yourself with your topic and be ready to talk about your own experience in it. For example, in a panel on publishing, be ready to talk about your own experience with publishing, querying, and rejection.
Another thing you need to do is be ready to talk about yourself. At the beginning of each session, the panelists will introduce themselves. Write a 3-4 sentence introduction and then practice it. You don’t want to bumble through your introductory statement and end up making a terrible first impression with an audience.
Finally, I think it’s a good idea to research the other writers on the panel. If you know their publishing history, visit their websites, and figure out what their strengths are, then you might be able to work better together as a team and give the audience the most informative panel discussion possible.
If you do a good job with this stuff, participating in panels is a great way to market yourself, meet some fans, and sell some books.
What type of panels have you watched or participated in? If you have any tips to share, or questions to ask, leave a comment. We’d love to hear from you!