I had such a blast at WHOlanta! I’ve done a panel at Jordancon before, but this was my first time going to a convention with guest status. I had a table to sell my books (which I shared with the lovely James Palmer), I was on a lot of panels, and I got to meet Colin Baker, Nicola Bryant, and Camille Coduri from Dr. Who. I was a little nervous about speaking on so many panels, but fortunately authors Lee Martindale and Jana Oliver took me under their wing and talked me through all the tips and tricks of going to cons. I’m sure I still made missteps, but far fewer than I would have without their guidance. I’ve even picked up a few tricks of my own to pass along.
- If you don’t know what you’re talking about, shut up. There were several panels I was on where I only represented a portion of the equation. Almost every panel I was on spent some time in unfamiliar territory (self-publishing, animation theory in Disney movies, sexism in Classic-Who, bits of Buffy the Vampire Slayer I didn’t remember). It’s really tempting to feel like you have to address every point or worse, force the panel back to your pet topic. Don’t. The moderator will eventually steer you back into familiar waters that may not be familiar for the rest of the panel, and you’ll get a turn to talk.
- On that topic, don’t attempt to force the panel back to your pet topic.
- Be brief. There are three to four other panelists. Speak in sentences, not paragraphs.
- I worried I’d freeze, but thus far all the panels I’ve been on or witnessed are super conversational. It’s not like you’re giving a lecture on a topic. It’s a back and forth with the audience, so, for me anyway, stage fright doesn’t really get much of a grip.
- Don’t call on audience members. That is the moderator’s job (sorry Darin).
- Heather Lewis gave me this tip, bring a pen and at least three copies of your book in case anyone wants to come up and buy your book after the panel. She said she’d been in more than one panel where the author wasn’t prepared to make a sale right there. There weren’t really opportunities like that at WHOlanta (we generally had to skedaddle for the next group of panelists, so there wasn’t much lingering in the room), but I’ve seen other conventions where the panelists hang out in the room for a few minutes chatting with people who come up to them.
- Lee Martindale suggested that when you’re in doubt, look at the moderator. They’ll subtlety let you know if you’ve been talking too long, or if time is almost out, and if you get deer in headlight’s on them, they’ll help you recover/draw attention to another panelists if you need them to.
- I felt a lot better with a pen in hand and a piece of paper to write on. I’m not sure why. There wasn’t exactly time to take notes (though I learned a lot of fascinating things, and got tons of book/movie recommendations), but just the act of holding a pen was helpful to me for some reason.
- Most of the rooms have water cups and ice, but bringing a drink with caffeine was very helpful for the long streaks of back to back panels.
- Self-promote with caution. There were some panels I was on where it was absolutely appropriate to have my book on a pretty little stand and my cards on hand. Mostly the writing panels, because the act of writing my books came up. There were others (20 years of Buffy, for instance) where it really wasn’t. I still held up a copy of Persephone when I introduced myself, but then I laid it flat on the table and didn’t reference it again.
- This may vary with different cons, but I sold no books on Friday, a decent number Saturday, and a ton Sunday. I figure Friday everyone is still setting up, so people are hesitant to spend until they see what else is around. Also, if they’re like me, they’re budgeting food and trying to get an idea of what everything costs before they commit.
- A surprising number of people bought my books in sets of three or five. I still sold more copies of Persephone and Aphrodite, as trilogy starters, but only by two each. Fortunately, I had exactly enough copies of the middle books, and I mean exactly. I sold my last copies on my way out the door Sunday, so I’m in that super fortunate place of knowing I couldn’t have possibly sold more, and I didn’t sell fewer than I could have because I ran out.
- Bring a friend to watch to table. I have no idea how many sales I missed (if any) when I was in panels. But I also know I gained sales by being on panels. Most of the people who bought my books heard me talk about them on the writing track.
- If you can’t leave a person, leave a detailed sign. I had a sign that said I was on panels and would return, but I wasn’t being detailed enough until a fan asked if I’d mind including what time I’d be back so she’d know when to circle back around. If I had a do-over, I’d print some nice signs with the times I planned to be at my table each given day of the Con and what panels I’d be on during the gaps.
- Leave yourself a bit of time to go see the things and people you want to see. Friday’s the best day to check everything out in terms of stuff to buy, Saturday had the most people to see. There also tend to be booths for upcoming conventions, so get to know those people.
- Bring food. The con had a suite with food and snacks, but that’s more time away from the table, and the con suite hours may not match up with your off-time.
- Strike up conversations. It’s not all about selling books. I had so many people passing by in amazing costumes, or dropping by the talk shop writing, mythology, or Dr. Who. If attempt to pressure these happy, excited people into making a purchase, you’re a bad person, and you should feel bad.
- Bring lots of pens and change. Specifically what you’d need to break a $20, because that’s the most common bill you’re going to see.
- Bookmarks do better than business cards because there’s room to sign them.
- Local conventions tend to see a lot of the same people as attendees and volunteers. (Example: the person in charge of the writing track also runs Dragon Con’s). So be nice, friendly, and professional and make a good impression, even if you’re in a panel with three people in the room. (Hint: You should be doing this anyway). I can’t tell you how many cons I’ve been invited to speak at this weekend. And not always from the volunteers or track runners.
How about you? Any tips or tricks I might have missed?