A rite of passage for many authors is the exciting “con”—a convention of readers, artists and story lovers who gather for several days (usually a long weekend) to celebrate all manners of geek culture: books, movies, TV shows, comics, anime and more. Once you’ve published a book either through a traditional publisher or as an indie, you have the opportunity to begin participating in cons as a featured author who will be present for panels, book signings, and other meet and greets that can be beneficial for selling books, meeting fans and networking. Cons are not only a rollicking good time but a fantastic marketing tool, which is why I was extremely flattered to be invited to Westercon 70, a fantasy and science fiction con being held at the Tempe Mission Palms Hotel in Tempe, Arizona on July 1st to the 4th, 2017. As I spoke with fellow authors and coordinators about preparing for my first con as a featured author, I came up with a list of the five most important actions to take before attendance:
1. Find Out Which Panels You’ll Be On and Create Some Talking Points
Author panels at cons usually consist of topics surrounding world building, creating complex characters, “writing do’s and don’ts,” clichés to avoid, and other popular discussions regarding the writing process. Whoever is coordinating the authors’ appearances will probably assign you to certain panels (and may ask which ones you prefer), and the sooner you’re aware of the ones you’ve been given, the more time you have to prepare some talking points for discussion. Spontaneity, charisma, and wit are all positive traits to show during an author panel, but it’s best to come prepared with some responses in case your nerves also make an appearance.
2. Become Familiar With Your Fellow Authors’ Works
Something that several people pointed out to me was how beneficial it is to read your fellow authors’ books before meeting them. Not only is it a great icebreaker, but if you’re a self-published author or a first-time attendee and haven’t spent much time with the other attendees in the con circuit, it shows an eagerness to get to know them and an appreciation of their skills.
3. Order Enough Copies of Your Books Beforehand
This point is mainly for self-published authors who are using a print-on-demand service like CreateSpace and need to order their books ahead of time. If you have a traditional publisher those numbers will most likely be worked out behind the scenes, but as an indie, it’s important to gauge the size of the con and level of involvement you’ll have (how many panels you’ll be participating in, etc.). For Westercon 70, the anticipated turnout is between 800 and 1,000, so I’ve estimated that 20 books altogether from my steampunk fantasy series will be enough. If it isn’t, then it’s important to have something else to give out, which I’ll discuss below…
4. Bring Swag
Ah, beloved swag. Stickers, bookmarks, business cards, buttons, you name it—one of the best ways to leave a lasting impression with con attendees is by giving them a little something to hold on to if they haven’t yet purchased one of your books (or even if they have!). Always be sure to have this information on your swag items whenever possible: your website, titles of your books, social media accounts and where books can be purchased. For inexpensive business cards or bookmarks, try a printing service like Vistaprint or NextDayFlyers, which often have discount codes and specials on their websites.
5. See About Additional Passes for Family Members
As a featured author, you’re almost always promised a free pass to the entire con, and it’s worth asking whether you might be able to receive any additional ones for immediate family members. One of the most exciting things for me as a first-time author attendee is the thought of my family getting to see me up there on the panels, and ticket prices can add up. If you’re unable to receive free passes, however, sometimes there’s a one-day attendance option that costs less than the full event price.
To learn more about Westercon 70 and purchase a membership for this year’s event, go to their website here.
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