Tag Archives: conventions

Expanding Your Convention Horizons

When I re-started my writing career after a long hiatus, I had to figure out how to get back into the convention circuit. My base of operations shifted from upstate New York to the Denver area, so I didn’t know any local authors and I had no idea what conventions were in the area. Most importantly, I didn’t know how much it would cost.

I wasn’t too concerned with meeting new local authors, since I figured once I discovered where they lurked, we’d say hello. I trundled off to Google’s House to search through their drawers of data. I wanted to focus my search on conventions that involved the genres I was interested in. My horrible search string was this:

+convention  +(denver|”colorado springs”)  +(comic|book|literary|steam|”science fiction”|”sci fi”|”sci-fi”|fantasy|horror)

Yes, it’s written in geeky Google-ese. Translating it to English: Look for conventions in Denver or Colorado Springs for any of genres I listed. (If you’re interested in learning some tips for using Google to research things, see my Fictorians post on Advanced Google-Fu.)

I found plenty of local conventions, and my conventioneering career was underway. I reached out to the contacts I found on the con websites, offering my services on panels. The ones who asked me to sit on a panel received my highest priority, assuming they compensated me with a membership ticket. The ones who weren’t interested I put on a check-next-year list. Since I had no problems talking to a large audience (I used to teach at the college level, which helped me with my public speaking chops), programming directors heard that I “gave good panel.” I made a page on my author website that covered what panels I attended for which con, and I even made sure to include a list of fellow panelists. Sometimes it helps to name-drop.

After a few years, I was known to a large segment of the local con-going crowd. Most didn’t buy my books (I would be writing this from my island paradise if only that were true), but enough people remembered the Guy in the grey beard who made people laugh on panels. Folks would stop me in halls to say hello, and even the occasional celebrity/Guest of Honor would interrupt a conversation with a fan to say hello to me by name.

I figured I had saturated the local market with my branding efforts. I was wondering what to do at that point when my brilliant wife, Tonya L. De Marco, suggested that I start expanding my convention horizons.

Cue a Homer Simpson “D’oh!” That made sense.

I had to figure out where I could travel and remain in my budget. I decided on expanding east of Denver, for no other reason than there was more real estate in that direction. I didn’t want to fall off of the edge of my map, since it’s turtles all the way down. (Bonus geek points if you got that reference.)

I picked a couple of cities in Nebraska and replaced Denver and Colorado Springs in my Google search statement. It turned out there were several vibrant cons in Lincoln and Omaha. The first one I went to, CONStellation in Lincoln, wasn’t interested in me at first. I attended as a regular Guy just to experience what the con had to offer. The second convention I contacted, Omaha’s OSFest, was interested, and I was invited to attend as a panelist.

I’ve only been back to CONStellation once, where I shared a dinner table and conversation with Elizabeth Bear. I had so much fun at OSFest that I talked to the convention chair and helped to build an author panel track. I asked around my gaggle of Denver-based author friends and came up with a group that was interested in traveling to Omaha. The group returned for a couple of years until this year, when they were no longer interested in having us set up the author track (the new programming chair decided to go with an online submit-your-own panel methodology).

No worries, I thought. Look, there’s more unexplored territory on my map! Utah has a huge convention called Salt Lake Comic Con (SLCC), and there’s one in the other direction near St. Louis called Archon

I opened my browser, found the names of the convention chairs, and fired off an email. I’m now attending SLCC as a Special Guest, and I’m waiting on a reply from Archon, one of the oldest fan-run conventions.

I’ll keep you informed as my horizons expand…


About the Author:DeMarco_Web-5963

Guy Anthony De Marco is a speculative fiction author; a Graphic Novel Bram Stoker Award®; winner of the HWA Silver Hammer Award; a prolific short story and flash fiction crafter; a novelist; an invisible man with superhero powers; a game writer (Sojourner Tales modules, Interface Zero 2.0 core team, D&D modules); and a coffee addict. One of these is false.
A writer since 1977, Guy is a member of the following organizations: SFWA, WWA, SFPA, IAMTW, ASCAP, RMFW, NCW, HWA. He hopes to collect the rest of the letters of the alphabet one day. Additional information can be found at WikipediaGuyAndTonya.com, and GuyAnthonyDeMarco.com.

Convention Panels for Newbies

Most professional authors have attended conventions as a fan before they were bitten by their muse. Some attend to sell books, sit on panels, and even do a reading or two. I’ve been asked numerous times how a new author can learn the secret handshake to get behind the table or podium instead of getting stuck in the back row of a crowded room.

The answer is: It depends on the convention.

Getting panel time is easier for the local conventions, and it is a good place to start. The budget for a 150-attendee convention can’t sustain bringing in a lot of headliners, so they usually focus on a big name or two to draw the crowds. This leaves plenty of room for a newly published author to get in front of an audience and polish their presentation. Smaller cons can also allow you to interact with folks who inspire you as a writer. When I started going to conventions again after a 23-year gap, I found myself sitting next to luminaries like Kevin J. Anderson, Connie Willis, Peter J. Wacks, C.J. Henderson, Carrie Vaughn, and Eytan Kollin.

Your attitude will help determine how far you’ll get. Approach a potential panel opportunity from the perspective that you will be glad to help the Con Panel Chair in any capacity. Never act like you’re doing the convention a favor by appearing in their midst. If you sold one pro short story or over fifty novels, remain humble and helpful.

Now that you’ve been invited to the other side of the table, here are a few things I’ve learned:

  • Be on time. You can be fashionably late when you’ve won a Bram Stoker Award®, an Edgar®, and a Hugo® or two. If you’ve won those awards, you’d probably be too professional to be late anyway.
  • Look the part. Be clean, wear reasonably decent clothes, and try to avoid the controversial t-shirts. If it’s part of your persona to be a smelly bum with less than three square feet of ripped t-shirt covering a beer gut, understand you won’t be looked upon with favor for the next convention.
  • Pay attention. When another author is talking, follow the conversation so you can contribute without repeating points others have made five minutes ago. When an audience member is talking, look at them and nod your understanding of their question. When a luminary is talking, pay close attention to how they interact with the audience. They’ve been doing the panel gig for a while, and you can learn quite a bit just by using your senses instead of using your smartphone to update your Facebook status.
  • Panels are not a competition. There is no need to one-up the previous panelist, and you are not getting paid by how many seconds you can keep the microphone in your hot little hands. Share with others, allow the other panelists to complete their thoughts or stories, and don’t forget to keep yourself on the topic of the moment.
  • Be appreciative. Always thank the other panelists and, most especially, the audience. Remember, the folks who are buying the books are the ones you want to make a good impression on, and you want to be remembered.
  • Be prepared. Unless you’re a last-minute addition to the panel, you should at least know who the other panelists are, what they’ve written, and you should make yourself familiar with the topic. Don’t forget to memorize a quick blurb about yourself for your introduction. I also like to bring a nameplate, some cards or treats, several pens, and a few copies of my latest work.
  • Be positive. Unless you have the funniest goth schtick going, you want to be remembered as someone who is fun, someone who compliments others, and an author who is professional. If you can contribute something funny, do so unless it is at someone else’s expense. Above all, never insult an audience member or the guest of honor.
  • Be yourself. Relax (as best as you can.) I like to imagine I invited a bunch of friends over to my back yard for a barbecue. If you have a phobia about public speaking, I would suggest taking a class, joining Toastmasters, or just focusing everything down to the person you are talking to and ignoring the rest. I find that making eye contact and smiling works best for both my nerves and the audience member stammering out a question.

Eventually, word of mouth will spread that you “give good panel”, and you will be asked to come back next year. Since there are usually several conventions in a geographic region every year, you may find yourself talking to volunteers from other events. For example, I attended Constellation Nebraska one year, and I met the chairwoman for a larger convention in Omaha. I was invited to attend OSFest, and they asked me to bring a few more authors from the Denver area. Along with Promethius Award winner Eytan Kollin, Peter Wacks, and Quincy Allen, I ended up on 13 panels, met two artists who I hired to do some book covers, and I made a lot of new friends.

If you are attending a convention as an audience member, take the time to seek out the panel chairperson. Let them know who you are, give them a professional business card with links for further information, and tell them that you are available if there are any last-minute panel cancellations. Make sure you give them your cell phone number and keep your phone with you (on vibrate only during events, of course!) I was on three panels at MileHiCon in Denver, and I made sure to tell the panel chair I was available for more if needed. Sure enough, an author had to cancel and I was the person she called to fill the open slot. They remembered I was accomodating, professional, polite, and that I helped them out of a jam. I was invited back the following year.

As for the larger conventions, it may take a while to get your foot in the door. It helps if you were on panels with solid authors who remember you in a positive light. Send in a request for a reading or panel suggestions to the panel chairperson, along with your writing credentials and group affiliations. I usually include a link to the panels I sat on within the last year (http://guyanthonydemarco.com/panels/), and note the name-brand authors who were on some of the panels. If you keep in touch with other panelists, you can always ask if there are any open slots for upcoming panels. Sometimes it takes one person to remember you so you can get your foot in the door. Thanks to Peter Wacks and David Boop, two gents from the Colorado writing scene, I was able to get on panels at StarFest in Denver, which is a notoriously difficult con to crack.

The more panels and readings you do, the more people will remember your name and your face. If they enjoyed your events, they are more prone to read your latest book, especially if they can get it signed. That’s the difficult task…getting something published that shows off your talent. If you did your writing job well, the rest will follow.

About the Author:DeMarco_Web-5963

Guy Anthony De Marco is a speculative fiction author; a Graphic Novel Bram Stoker Award®; winner of the HWA Silver Hammer Award; a prolific short story and flash fiction crafter; a novelist; an invisible man with superhero powers; a game writer (Sojourner Tales modules, Interface Zero 2.0 core team, D&D modules); and a coffee addict. One of these is false.
A writer since 1977, Guy is a member of the following organizations: SFWA, WWA, SFPA, IAMTW, ASCAP, RMFW, NCW, HWA. He hopes to collect the rest of the letters of the alphabet one day. Additional information can be found at WikipediaGuyAndTonya.com, and GuyAnthonyDeMarco.com.

Moderating the Fear & Loathing Panel

A guest post by Guy Anthony De Marco.

I’ve always enjoyed going to conventions. After getting back into writing professionally following a 20-year hiatus, I decided to see if I could get on a couple of panels at my local cons. It looked like a lot of fun, and since I was used to talking in front of people due to my time in the college teaching trenches, I thought I could at the very least be entertaining.

The first convention I approached was already booked, but the programming chairwoman noted there was one panel on H.P. Lovecraft that only had two people on it. She graciously invited me to participate, and I accepted after I sent in my credentials.

Around this time, my son expressed an interest in going to a convention, so I invited him along. I was quite sure he would enjoy himself.

Unfortunately, at this point the villain made his entrance. This antagonist was dressed in the suit and tie of the convention chairman.

The two folks who were already on the panel were the Guest of Honor and an author I personally admired. I sat through a couple of panels with my son, parked in the front row. He enjoyed most of the panels, as did I. When it was almost time for my panel to start, I started to stand up.

The con chairman walked up to the front table and said (on an open mike to a packed room full of fans and attendees) that there was someone “that nobody had ever heard of who wants to be on the panel. He won some award from a small pro organization and nobody has read his stuff. Do you want this nobody to sit on the panel?”

I was taken aback, and my son was too.

“If he bothers to show up, we’ll see if he’s just wanna-be and sort him out,” the panelists said.

I sat down in shock. The panel went on for only twenty minutes before it fizzled out and they ended it. Most of it was a bashing session by the Guest of Honor. They never even got around totalking about things like how much Lovecraft valued his friend, Algernon Blackwood, or his formative years before he became a writer. I had actually put in hours of research, looking for stuff that the average reader might not know.

My son was very angry as to how I was treated. He doesn’t attend conventions anymore.

At this point in our story, I was full of doubt, fear, and yes, even loathing when it came to being on panels. It’s only natural to feel despondent at getting rejected, particularly in front of a room full of strangers. In some ways, it’s the same set of feelings that convince some writers to give up writing after their first rejection by an editor. I could have just shriveled up and hid under a rock. For my sake, and to set a good example for my son, I decided to swallow those negative feelings and applied to be on some panels at MileHiCon in Denver.

This time, even though they did not know who I was or what I wrote, they treated me well and placed me on a couple of panels. The experience was night-and-day different. My son didn’t attend, since he had decided conventions were not worth the effort. Too bad, because I think he would’ve enjoyed attending MileHiCon. The panels went very well, and the programming chairwoman said she heard positive feedback. Ever since then, I’ve been invited back every year to sit on panels.

So, what’s my bottom line? You are going to have setbacks in your career as an author. You will have times where you are treated like dirt. You very well may feel unworthy because of someone who disrespects you—sometimes in front of a huge audience.

You can duck your head and decide not to stick your neck out, or you can give it another try. As long as you act professionally and avoid any negativity originating from your camp, you have an excellent chance that your second “debut” will be the one you remember fondly. I ended up becoming fast friends with several of the local authors from those panels, including frequentFictorians contributor Quincy J. Allen.

Trust me, it’s worth the effort.

DeMarco_Web-5963Guy Anthony De Marco Bio:

Guy Anthony De Marco is a speculative fiction author; a Graphic Novel Bram Stoker Award® finalist; winner of the HWA Silver Hammer Award; a prolific short story and flash fiction crafter; a novelist; an invisible man with superhero powers; a game writer (Sojourner Tales modules, Interface Zero 2.0 core team, D&D modules); and a coffee addict. One of these is false.

A writer since 1977, Guy is a member of the following organizations: SFWA, WWA, SFPA, IAMTW, ASCAP, RMFW, NCW, HWA. He hopes to collect the rest of the letters of the alphabet one day. Additional information can be found at WikipediaGuyAndTonya.com, and GuyAnthonyDeMarco.com.

Forming the Fictorians

The first Superstars of Writing Seminar
The first Superstars of Writing Seminar

When I went to the first Superstars Writing Seminar in Pasadena back in March of 2010, I thought I was going to get some sound business advice from successful writers – and I did. In spades. I had many expectations which were all exceeded by lengths of football fields. I also thought I’d meet people and make some nice acquaintances – wrong. So very wrong. I made friends. Lifelong friends and writing peers and a writing family we now call The Fictorians.

I remember clearly one night in Pasadena, we were walking back to the hotel after a night of food and beer at a local pub. I was talking with Kevin J. Anderson and I was saying that the group of him, Rebecca Moesta, Dave Farland/Wolverton, Brandon Sanderson and Eric Flint reminded me of the Oxford group that met regularly to talk writing which included C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. I asked how a group like that formed because it seemed to enhance everyone’s writing and careers.

Kevin said, “Look around.”

I did and what I saw were all the people who I’d been hanging with at every break and meal. The ones who’d gravitated together and felt a connection. I saw people I liked, respected and thought had awesome ideas they were working on in their writing. I saw people like me. People who wanted to be writers, took their writing seriously and were taking steps to succeed in this cool and difficult profession.

When I looked back at him, he said (and I paraphrase), “You’re doing it. Right now. With these people. This is how groups like that are formed.”

We left that seminar, with emails in hand and a goal to stay connected. We live all over the world. We write in different genres. Some of us have met in person again in Las Vegas for one of ours to renew her vows to her lovely husband. We’ve seen each other at other Superstar Seminars since the first one. We have conference calls and stay connected via email and social media. We have areas of expertise that the others can tap into with a simple request. We’re friends and peers.

I have one other writing group that I feel this way about, and I value those friends as well.

So, when someone asks me what is a moment that makes me love being a writer, I think of my friends and fellow writers. The people who support me and keep me motivated. Who inspire me. Who share a dream with me. These are people who keep me going when times are hard.

Because I’m a romance writer, I use the ‘L’ word a lot and I’m going to use it now. These are people I love for all they give me and pull out of me and share with me.

It’s four years later, and Kevin was right. We’ve become one of those groups. We’ve been through bumps and growing pains. People leave the core but remain on the peripheral, some return, some never left, but we’re still together, doing what we love and supporting each other. We are the Fictorians. And I think we’re Fictorious!