Ravencon. MagFest. Conjecture. MileHiCon. Libertycon.
These are just a few of the hundreds of science fiction and fantasy cons which go on yearly in the US and abroad. Why are they important? Well for one, they are a quick and easy way to begin building a fan base early on.
Each of the aforementioned cons I have attended as a guest in some capacity and have both enjoyed and benefited from the experience. I have never, ever regretted a decision to accept an invitation to a con (except for Libertycon ’06, because I ended up in the hospital. My own fault, and a humorous tale at that…) and have always come away from the experience having learned something new or, better yet, come away with a new contact or new fans.
Conventions, as a new author, are a great way to get out and build the fan base. The best thing to do, if one could afford it, is to swamp the “swag” table of a con with bookmarks with your information, website and whatnot. It’s an easy way to have people stop by and say “Well, who’s this?” and pick up your info. Also a few copies of your book (free, of course) laid near the swag table also will help a few lucky fans unwittingly spread the gospel that is you. Ask Toni Weisskopf of Baen Books. She has the same modus operandi, with a few of her own wrinkles. And compare her book sales to other small publishers and you see why she does this. It works.
Another easy and more appreciated way of getting known is to take part in panels. A panel, for those who haven’t been to a convention before, is when the organizers throw a group of novelists and/or experts into a pit to duel with swords, clubs and maces. No, really, they do. Of course, the weapons are usually the author’s acerbic wit instead of the more traditional dueling swords but hey, I like the pit idea.
Anyways, the panelists are usually seated in on a topic which they are intimately familiar with or, more often than not, thought it would be a great panel to take part on. Then the authors chat among themselves and oftentimes have audience participation, which can lead to more humorous memories of the con. And that is where you want to be. You want these fans of other authors to remember your name, and what better way to do this than to sit on the panel with their favorite author?
You want that fan or two to see you making a good point while sparring with another author. You want those fans to think “Guy’s/Girl’s an ass, but entertaining. I wonder what his/her books are like…” You need them to experiment and risk their hard-earned money on your novel, and you need them to be entertained. As I mentioned in July in the post “How Do I…?”, the first five to ten pages are the attention grabbers. Make certain that you mention to your prospective readers once that your book is on sale now or whatnot and they’ll perk their ears up. Just plant the seed, glasshoppah. Don’t throw that seed into the Mississippi River and talk incessantly about your book. Unless, of course, you’re in a panel to talk about your book. If you’re at that point, why are you reading my page?
Oh, right. You needed something to laugh at.