Attending Fantasy and Book Conventions – Should You or Shouldn’t You?

RT-conventionI asked people to tell me of their experiences in attending book or fantasy conventions, and although I didn’t receive many responses, the ones I did receive were interesting.

Among the replies, I received two that described the responder’s experience with some detail. Their stories showed me that, while their attendance at these conventions was in part exhilarating, exasperating, interesting, and nerve-wracking, it was also costly and probably didn’t gain the hoped-for results.

The costs associated with attending one of these conventions as an author can near $500, and that’s not including travel, accommodations, and food costs. Then there’s the time factor. Evidently, if you want to make the most impact, you need to be there for the entire event, or at least the key days of the event. That means, taking time off from work (if you have a regular “day job” other than author), which can be a long weekend, or a whole week (depending on the convention).

It seems as if there are two main goals of those authors who attend these events:

  • Network (with agents and publishers, and other authors)
  • Recognition (give away free copies of your book(s), give away other free items with your brand/logo on them—t-shirts, pens, coffee mugs, etc., get noticed—give a speech/reading, make an impact on potential readers)

While these seem like worthwhile goals, the second one (especially) can be done for less money and with less hassle via the Web. If you want to give stuff away, create a web site and announce free stuff; list your book(s) for free with Amazon (or other online vendors) for a day or two; announce a contest and the prize can be a free mug, t-shirt, or book, or even lunch with the author; create posters of your book covers and offer them on some of the art sites; create an electronic newsletter or blog and build an audience via your writing.

If you really crave the spotlight and want to give a speech or reading of your material, you can arrange to do so at local gatherings (libraries, country clubs, social clubs—red hat society meetings, reading clubs, schools—present yourself at career day for high school or middle school students or college campuses, give a history or writing lecture for school students or local college, etc.). If you can afford the travel expenses, then you can pursue these same types of venues in other (further) locations from where you live.

As for the networking angle…well, I’m all for meeting other authors, I think most of us are a great bunch of people. However, I’m not all that stoked about landing a contract with a “real” publishing house, and I don’t really see the advantage of sharing what few commissions I make with an agent. Now, I might be willing to share my commissions with someone who could actually help me do the marketing of my books, but since most agents and publishers don’t really help you out with that, I’m not really interested.

As it is, I’m too busy trying to build my readership and develop some name recognition to really spend time cultivating a network of agents and publishers. Nearsighted? Maybe, but I’d rather shake hands and socialize with those few people who just might want to read my stories.

So, to sum up:

Pros of Attending: Lots of chances for networking, opportunities to listen to and learn from more experienced people in the industry, possibilities for building readership recognition

Cons of Attending: costly, crowded (easy to get lost in the crush), not a great venue for introverts

Therefore, I think if I were to attend, I would go as a guest. I would get a day pass and attend conference sessions, lectures, and demos; speak with other authors; and make connections with potential readers. However, I don’t think I would bother with the hassle of renting a space and a booth, and then hoping that people would find me. I think I’d rather go out and find them.

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The Magic of The Starstone

Starstone_Front_Cover_Only - 1There’s a certain amount of magic that goes into creating a story—whether that story remains short or turns into a full novel, the magic is still there. When you first start to write out your ideas, the story world and characters have little more substance than ghosts or shadows. The world itself is no more than a set propped up on the stage in your mind. But as you continue refining the story and reworking it, the characters become more real, and the world itself becomes something that you can actually visit. You can see the rocks, trees, and animals. They are so real that you can actually touch them, or so it seems.

In writing and developing The Starstone, I spent days on the lanai talking to people that no one else could hear, immersed in a world that no one else could see. It was surreal both for me and my spouse. There were times he would step outside to ask me something, and then struggle to figure out whether my response was to him or to something one of my characters had said. Even while walking the dog, the conversations continued. I can’t even begin to guess how many neighbors crossed the street to get away from the mad woman carrying on crazy conversations with herself, the dog, or no one. Yes, it’s magical, but it’s also intense and all-encompassing.

My life became so enmeshed with the world of Danaria that it sometimes became impossible to tell them apart. I was immersed not only in the world, but also in the lives of the characters—sometimes as an observer, and sometimes as a participant. But even as an observer, it wasn’t always safe. There were sword fights and arguments, kidnappings and escapes. The flight to Darkwind’s castle on the back of one of his wyverns left me nauseated and gasping for breath (I do have a distinct fear of heights), yet the trip was necessary if I was to write about it.

But worst of all, I think, was when the characters took umbrage at something I wanted them to do or say. They turned their backs to me and refused to respond to my queries, or else they simply walked off and disappeared from the world I had so painstakingly created. It hurt. They had become more than just characters, they were my friends. Yet, when I figured out that I was wrong, they would step back into the drama as if nothing had happened.

It was very difficult each time I had to put the story away, and it would take days, weeks, and sometimes months for the world I had created to fade away. There were times I would come around a corner of the house, and find myself not in the kitchen, but in a canyon. I would quickly look over my shoulder to see whether the ice beast was skulking behind me, before realizing that I had let the magic of the book out again. I would then bundle it back up and tuck it into a corner of my mind, until I had the time to let it out to play.

This time I not only let it out so I could play in Danaria, but I’ve let it out there so others can play, too. So, come immerse yourself in my magic land of Danaria. Feel the rush of the wind against your face as the wyvern you’re riding swoops down to within inches of the white caps, and laugh at the antics of the tree-runners as they scamper from branch to branch. It’s a wonderful world to get lost in.