Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Do's and Don'ts of Conventions (The "Pro" Edition)

So I recently attended Con Nooga to help work the table of professional author and dear friend John Hartness. He is being kind enough to let me go out with him to sci-fi and fantasy conventions this year, both to learn a different side of the business and improve my skills as a salesperson. In return I help keep his ledgers, book things, pump gas, buy food, etc. Basically it is an internship in hyperspace.

One of the things I notice about conventions is that they often bring out people that want to get into the business of publishing, gaming, film, etc., but another thing I notice is that a good number of people completely shoot themselves in the foot. Previously I wrote an entry on the Do's and Don'ts of Writer Networking, which received some really good reviews and a few nods from pros in the business. However, after going to Con Nooga and being exposed to a variety of new people, I wanted to write a follow-up to it because were are a bunch of other things I never considered until I actually ran into them. Two of them are actually a minor fuck-ups on my part, but I am choosing to own it and make it a teachable moment. So here we go!

DO present yourself as a professional!

One very startling memory I remember from Dragon*Con 2014 was attending a writing panel, which usually are pretty good at that convention. Being the person I am, I arrived ten minutes before the room was even available and waited outside. The panel was sponsored by Bell Bridge Books and hosted by Deb Dixon, a super-talented bestselling romance author and Senior Editor at Bell Bridge. The topic for her one-woman panel was "voice," and while I could go on forever about what she talked about, this isn't the time for that. What I do want to talk about is what happened beforehand.

As I was waiting in my seat for the panel to start people filed in. A few of these individuals came in and started speaking to each other across the room, talking about how awesome it was to be at Dragon*Con and how everyone in the room, especially them, were all going to be "famous authors" one day. Beyond being slightly disingenuous and panicky, one thing they did not take into account is that there were actual authors and editors in the room, and those people were turned off.

You have to understand that the publishing business is very small, and with it being so small there is a lot of room to make yourself look like an ass. Someone shouting to each other about how awesome they are/will be is a deterrent to actual professionals in the field--first, because your worth is in your work, not in your mouth. Second, it has lot to do with how your present yourself. Speaking as someone who will be taking on their first editorial project later in 2015, I want to work with people that understand how this business works, and to me those people won't be shouting at each other before a panel at Dragon*Con. Some of you may be turned off and go "I'll never submit something to him," but you'd be surprised how many other people feel the same way.

DON'T undersell yourself!

This one kinda hits home for me because I used to do this a lot in private, and looking back on it I could have created some bigger opportunities for myself if I had just stopped self-sabotaging with doubt. Anxiety is a real thing people in my family deal with, and while I am not the worst, it still rears its head from time to time. A person wanting to work in this business needs to get over that, because if they don't they can really stop themselves from being something and making money (let's be honest about what the goal of the business is.) Case in point and without naming names and pointing to specific individuals, I met someone at Con Nooga who was taking an art class with a really well known cover artist who I adored, and I had the opportunity to see a project they were working on. It was amazing to the point I told them they were just as good as their teacher (and they were.) However, this young artist immediately started downplaying themselves before everyone, stating that they could never do cover art professionally because of reason A, B, C...

People know the stink of timidity, and for me, the moment this young artist started doing that I kinda knew I would probably never see them again, let alone work with them (I was actually really close to throwing down some money for a cover, believe it or not. Real money, too.) If you want to be in the business you have to believe that you belong there, but if you don't think belong then you don't belong. This person, for all of their talents, may never rise out of their excuses. Of course I could be wrong, and I will be happy to be so if that happens, but the important thing to realize is that if you want people to believe in your worth then you have to believe in your own worth first.

DO pace yourself!

Having now sat on the other side of a convention table, it is so amazing how quickly working an event like that can wear you out, even when you aren't up and moving around. I sat behind a table selling John's books (I did okay) for THREE HOURS, and those three hours were miserable because I made them miserable. I discovered quickly that sitting for three hours thinking that I constantly needed to be at the table led to me being a poorer salesman for it. I should have taken the time to get up and go eat, go to the bathroom, and in general just calm down. It is really easy to go to one of these conventions and work yourself into believing that you have to do everything at ALL TIMES, and that's impossible.

John really showed me how to do it, as he had three back-to-back panels that day, and even he was tired after all of it. Yet he made time to go to the bathroom. He made time to walk around the convention hall. He made to eat. He still sold a good amount stock, but watching him not kill himself over it like I was really showed me how do it better. Pacing, just like in storytelling, is integral to making the journey fun instead of actual labor. Remember to take your time.

DON'T be a fanboy/girl/appropriately-gendered-"fan"-term

This is the spot where I messed up until, again, John Hartness came to my rescue. One thing that young creative professionals often face when they get in this business is that they do not feel like they can consider themselves equals. That can be very daunting to deal with, and perhaps more than a bit annoying. I made that a mistake a few times, and the best thing you can do is just remember: these people are just like you. They are all grinding towards something. They don't have time to spot and pay attention to your fangasm. However, they will give you time if they know you are serious about the craft you are pursuing. It is better to just be calm, relaxed, friendly, and professional as you can be. If you want to be an equal, act like an equal.

In conclusion, conventions can be a daunting place to be if you are trying to break into this creative business, but if you stay calm, remember your worth, and act like you are deserving respect by giving respect, you will do fine.

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See you soon!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks so Jay.. That was really helpful. I've been daunted by the whole convention concept, the 'I'm not good enough to do that yet' kind of thing. That's great you and John got to do that together. I definitely need to hit ConCarolina so I can see all of you in action. And get my work out there too.