Fandom Cons can be a Mixed Bag

Okay, so you have written your first novel, and have it published, either through self-publishing or through someone else. Now comes the time to promote your book. One good place to start is a fandom con.

What are fandom cons? These are conventions, cons for short, that are devoted to the fans of a particular genre. They are very popular in the science-fiction/fantasy community which also has begun to have sub-genre cons as well. Other genres which have fewer, but no less worthy, cons include westerns, romances, and historical fiction. There is even a Royalty Weekend in England every April to promote books and writers about European Royalty (I have yet to actually make it to one of them though).

My experience so far has been limited to the science-fiction/fantasy (SF/F) category and some of it’s sub-genres. This June, I will expand a little by going to the Histrocial Novel Society Conference in Florida, an annual international convention for historical fiction writers and readers. I am really stoked about that one.

One staple of each of these cons is an area, event, or series of events, dedicated to authors and opportunities for them to promote their books. Each con has to be judged on its own and no one sweeping statement will cover them all. As an author, what you want to look at are the costs associated with various activities offered versus the sales potential.

This past weekend I went to StarFest, a Denver-based SF/F con. There was an opportunity to have a table in what is typically called an “author alley.” The location of the author alley was in a hallway that was heavily used by anyone getting from one area of the con to the other. I opted to not get a table and I am glad I did so. Yes, the table was in a high traffic area, but that traffic was generally trying to get somewhere and not interested in stopping to look at books. Also the overall tenor of the con was geared more towards Movies/TV rather than writing. As an attendee, I had an okay time; if I had purchased a table, I would have been brooding about the waste of money all weekend.

This past January I went to COSine, a SF/F con in Colorado Springs. Here I did get a table. It was inside the Dealer’s Room. A Dealer’s Room is usually where you find all of the retailers who are selling T-shirts, figurines (manspeak: “action figures”), and any other assorted paraphenalia. At this particular con, there was no assigned author’s area, so authors’ only option was to buy space in the Dealer’s Room. This was an okay arrangement as it was a smaller con and the price for the table was very reasonable. I easily sold enough books to cover the cost of the table and almost covered my hotel room bill too. This con was geared more towards writers and artists, so there were many more author-oriented panel discussions and other programming. I found it very informative. There was also a very well organized mass author-signing where all of the authors present sat around a large ballroom signing (and some of us selling) our books. The overall experience was wonderful. I am sorry to say the organizers have decided to not have a COSine in 2014 and will decide how to proceed after that when the time comes.

A much larger version of COSine is Mile Hi Con which also is in Denver. It is held each October and really is a must-go-to event for any SF/F writer in the Rocky Mountain region. This con is specifically for authors, but artists and TV/Movies have a place there too. If you are still working on your first SF/F book, just thinking about writing a story, or even have published something, I would recommend Mile Hi Con. The panel discussions are very good and cover everything from “Where do I start?” to “How to get the best bang for my marketing buck.” This year, my publisher is getting a space in the Dealer’s Room which will feature my book as well as others that they have published. If you don’t have a publisher, there are also author tables. Each year they handle those differently, so I’m not sure how that will look in 2013.

How do you know what cons you should attend and should you pay for space or not? Do research! First question: does my writing fit the genre of this con? If it doesn’t, don’t spend money there, except maybe as an attendee if you happen to like the genre. But no one wants to hear from someone whose stories are about Ancient Egypt at a Steampunk Con. If you don’t know what steampunk is, just go with me on this one. So make sure your work would be marketable to the audience you are trying to reach.

The next one is a little less cut and dry: should you purchase a table or not? This is where the research is really crucuial. What is the nature of the con? If it is promoted towards TV/Movie fans, an author table may not be worth it. I would recommend seeking out cons that are specifically oriented towards authors and readers. You also want to consider the size of the con in comparison to the price of the table. While COSine was a great experience, if the table had cost me an arm and a leg, it would have been a different story. The size of that con would not justify a high price. At Mile Hi Con, I would probably not go for space in the Dealer’s Room by myaself (unless I had a bunch of different titles to sell, and then only maybe). However, being part of a larger group under the umbrella of my publisher is ideal for that situation. I did the author table route last year and that went pretty well.

At the HNS in Florida, I opted to not pay extra for marketing space. That con is designed specifically to connect writers and readers of historical fiction and their programming will give me ample opportunity to pimp my books, maybe even my non-fiction ones. Furthermore, it is an expensive con. The con organizers will have a store on site and will be carrying my books there, which will be a big help.

If you are still writing and have not published yet, I would strongly recommend going to a con or two just so you can get a feel for them. If nothing else you’ll probably get some good advice for when you are ready to publish.

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