Tag Archives: panels

Speaking Engagements as a Tool to Build Your Base

One of the most feared things in the world is death, followed closely by speaking in public. Some folks equate the two as the same thing. Considering that most authors are solitary beasts that hide in their writing dens and poke keys and scribble lines that magically turn into stories, a suggestion that one should consider getting out in front of crowds and talking is up there with making your own medicine in your basement and doing a live-action game of Frogger™ at the Indianapolis 500®.

If you have anxiety or panic attacks about speaking, then it may not be for you. Don’t put yourself in a situation where you can have a medical emergency. If you were able to get through your high school or college class where they made you talk about goofy things for ten minutes before you could sit down, this might be for you.

There are plenty of organizations and corporations that are looking for folks to come in and give a positive speech about almost any subject.  You may be wondering why a software company would want an author to talk to their programmers for fifty minutes. What do they have in common?

Turns out you can fit your self-motivated method of writing into almost any subject. For those programmers, your speech can range from watching out for repetitive stress disorders like carpal tunnel to methods to document your code (think building a worldbuilding bible) to motivational ways to tackle a problem (like your characters have to do to get out of a jam you stuck them in).

If you’ve never had to give a speech in front of a crowd, consider joining Toastmasters. You’ll get lots of excellent training and opportunities to practice in a safe environment. Their entire organization is dedicated to developing communications and leadership skills. You can connect with places looking for folks to give speeches, and there are local chapters all over the place — most likely there’s one in your neighborhood.

When you are ready to get your name out on the speech circuit, look for local organizations first. Businesses, charitable organizations, and even places like libraries, chambers of commerce, and military veteran organizations are looking to bring folks in to talk to their members. You can even combine some charitable service and giving a speech, like going to a retirement home and talking about writing memoirs.

Some professional writing organizations have a speaker’s bureau listing for their members. SFWA is one, and the Missouri Writers Guild is another.

So, if you give a speech and don’t explode on stage, what’s in it for you? The top of the list is getting your name out there in front of a bunch of new folks. Some businesses will buy copies of your books to distribute to their folks. Depending on how famous (or infamous) you are, you can get travel, lodging, and meals covered for distant speaking gigs. It’s similar to going to a convention, where you’re sitting on panels and getting some in-kind reimbursement like free con passes or access to the VIP green room.

And since we’re on the subject of conventions and panels, that is an excellent way to start your speaking career. You’ll get used to talking to a crowded room but you won’t be alone behind the table at the front. Sharing a panel spreads the load between enough folks that the time usually flies.

It may not be a traditional method of getting your name out or even building an email list, but it’s one more arrow in your quiver that you can use on your literary adventures.

About the Author:

Guy Anthony De Marco is a disabled US Navy veteran speculative fiction author; a Bram Stoker Award® and IAMTW Scribe 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; and a coffee addict. One of these is false.
A writer since 1977, Guy is a member of the following organizations: SFWA, ITW, WWA, SFPA, IAMTW, ASCAP, MWG, SWG, HWA. He hopes to collect the rest of the letters of the alphabet one day. Additional information can be found at Wikipedia and GuyAnthonyDeMarco.com.

Treat Yoself to a Dragon*Con

First, if you haven’t seen Parks and Recreation, do that. Do it. All of it.

Next, go to Dragon*Con.

This year was my first Dragon*Con, and can I just say “wow”? Wow. While it has a reputation as being a party Con, I found Dragon*Con to be one of the best. There’s something about being in a place with thousands of other people, taking up a lot of space, and being there for the same reason: to geek out together! I especially loved that I could look at anyone and smile. I felt the excitement and camaraderie almost immediately.

Dragon*Con has a few unique aspects. The panels and events are held in six hotels and buildings in downtown Atlanta, Georgia. Also, because it’s such a big Con, the organizers put the events and panels along a number of tracks. You can access the schedule and information about these panels via the Dragon*Con app. For example, if you are particularly interested in Anime/Manga, the organizers have a proposed schedule for you for each day. Some of the tracks include: Animation, BritTrack, Comics and Pop Art, Costuming, Fantasy Literature, High Fantasy, Horror, Military Sci-Fi Media, Paranormal, Podcasting, Sci-Fi Literature, Star Wars, Table Top Gaming, Urban Fantasy, Writer’s Track, Young Adult Literature, and many more.

But what’s in it for you as a writer? Lots.

I attended about 13 panels at Dragon*Con this year, most along the Writer’s Track. I loved the YA panels – it felt like we were all there together, laughing and geeking out over YA literature instead of an audience watching writers talk about writing.

I especially liked two panels over the weekend. The Magical Mavens of Fantasy/SF panel included Laurell K. Hamilton, Sherrilyn Kenyon, Mercedes Lackey, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, and Jane Yolen (I’ll save you the play-by-play of my geek-out over Jane Yolen). Hearing these women talk about the industry, the people who told them they wouldn’t make it, and how they paved the way for the rest of us really made an impact on me. The sister (brother?) panel to Magical Mavens of Fantasy/SF I attended was Magnificent Men of Fantasy/SF with Kevin J. Anderson, Jim Butcher, Larry Correia, Peter David, and Larry Niven. I wasn’t expecting to laugh that hard, nor come near tears when they told touching stories.

Each night, the Westin hotel hosted a Writer’s Bar where professional writers could go to meet fans and fellow writers. I spotted and/or talked with Myke Cole, Sam Sykes, Jim Butcher, and Delilah Dawson. The cast of Wynonna Earp also showed up to hang out, which blew a lot of our minds. The accessibility of writing professionals at this convention seems abnormal, especially compared to other bigger Cons like San Diego. But nothing will light a fire under your ass to get published more than talking with professional writers and wanting to be on panels with them.

I’ve attended smaller conventions and a few huge conventions. Dragon*Con was my favorite. The Writer’s Track, High Fantasy Track, Sci-Fi Track, Urban Fantasy Track, and the Young Adult Literature Track provided multiple choices of panels each hour, and I didn’t attend one panel that I didn’t love. The access to professional writers was unlike any other convention I’ve been to. You’ll find that price of admission is well worth it to attend Dragon*Con. Oh yeah, and you’ll have a blast, too.

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.