Are Sci-Fi Conventions Worth It?

Over on VP this morning, Vox wrote this morning about why he doesn’t attend sci-fi conventions. It was a cheeky post with basically the message of “I’d rather have fun doing ANYTHING with normal people than listening to a crowd of nerds talk about stuff like this.” I laughed.

And there’s a good point to that worth exploring. I, as a writer of a web comic, game fiction, shorts and RPG settings for several years before releasing my major award nominated debut novel, used to attend a lot of these on a local level, both as a guest and as an attendee.

When I first-first got into writing, there were a few pretty cool things. I met people, did a couple writer’s workshop things, through those found a critique group which was pretty helpful at the very least at getting me to practice writing regularly. I found more structured, formal writing seminars/workshops like Jody Lynn Nye’s at Dragon*Con to do a lot more for me in developing the craft (if you can sign up and make that any year, I highly recommend if you are a new writer).

However once I got into the business, panels about “how to write” aren’t that useful. I know how to write. Thousands of people read me write, that now? At that point a convention needs to do one or two things for you: 1. be so much fun that it’s better as a use of your time than your pal’s soccer game or 2. sell you books/get you business opportunities. Do they do that?

Most SF cons focus on panels about social justice causes, not science fiction books, and so you get stuck in these repetitive complaining cycles for hours. When I was working with Baycon, I made a concerted effort to pitch fun panels, things that would be different and provide laughs and entertainment, in order to make that place better in that regards– and it works, even though I am so blackballed I’m blocked on every social media (they wouldn’t want to see one of their former guests be a popular writer! how horrific and triggering!), they actually still use some of my suggestions to this day to their credit.

But those fun elements are maybe 10% of the con and usually after hours after a long day of slogging panels on how to write. So for fun factor, there’s a lot of better things to do.

Conclusion: Science Fiction cons are not your best place for fun

On the book selling side, I’ve watched people who are very popular in these communities set up tables, usually in vendor halls that are tiny, don’t have much to offer and have very little con traffic, situated away from the con in a not-so-good place for selling. Like you see online, most of these people are not business oriented, and that ends up not being great for authors much of the time. The other odd part of these conventions is there are very few fans. Most are novice to intermediate writers trying to get noticed by other novice to intermediate writers. As a result, you have people who don’t have a lot of disposable income and aren’t actively looking to spend, but to penny pinch. The price of admission or a table is often more costly than the books you’ll sell at these things.

The contacts you make from these are typically invested in their own stuff, their own friends, and so they don’t help you get loyal followings to buy future books either.

Conclusion: Science Fiction cons don’t help you sell books

There are some exceptions: LIbertyCon in Chattanooga TN is so filled with real, high level professionals that there’s value in terms of craft learning, business contacts and even selling books directly at the convention.  The larger cons like Dragon*Con or GenCon offer such a variety of things to do and SO MANY PEOPLE that you’ll be endlessly entertained.

But for the most part, these smaller writer cons don’t do much if anything for the business, mainly because they’re not focused on developing that, which hurts up and coming authors spending their time that way.

There’s a difference with local, regional and large comic-cons compared to these SF writer cons. These are vendor oriented, so if you don’t mind being a salesman and setting up a table and selling, these can be valuable for you as a way to get into the community, meet repeat customers, and form a base. To do so requires a LOT of hours and attending these on repeat so that you reap the benefits, and like anything, don’t think you’ll be gaining a reputation or getting good at selling at these without at least 2-3 years effort. Everything takes time, there’s no instant gratification.

I also enjoyed the Realm Makers Writers Conference — very different than a convention in that it was structured classes on writing and marketing, honing business and craft. This was something a little more like continuing education for professionals, and though those classes were aimed at a target audience slightly behind where I’m at in the field, there’s always something to learn if you keep yourself open to it. The other thing these formal conferences offer is meetings/talks with agents, editors, publishers etc. These are useful because you rarely get to pick the brains of these people in person. This was my first conference like this, but I understand there’s many on regional levels focused toward different genres.

Those type of events seem to be worth more than the generic science fiction con of yore. Those are my experiences and I would steer away from the groups of novice to medium writers running panels on social justice in genre, and steer toward things that are going to develop your business.

6 thoughts on “Are Sci-Fi Conventions Worth It?

  1. Cons are where I go to hang out with my friends and engage in actual adult conversation, at this point. I enjoy being on panels as well. They helped me when I was a newbie writer, and I look at it as a way of paying it forward.

    And, you know, I basically got my book deal because I was in the right places at the right times at Salt Lake ComicCon.

    Also, BarCon.

  2. I’m actually starting to come to the conclusion that unless you manage to do some actual networking there, attending small regional or local cons might actually HURT your career as a writer. That’s right – the value might actually be negative.

    With that said, I also concur with some other points: DragonCon is an absolute blast, and worth attending for that alone. And LibertyCon was fantastic for networking, at least for me. But I’m actually scratching most cons off my list entirely and focusing my time on Amazon.

  3. When I was young, “talking on panels at cons” was my idea of success. It was what I wanted.

    For many years, I got to do that. I agree with those who says it doesn’t really sell books, though it has sold a few.

    I think part of the issue is social media. When I started, I think cons did sell more books. It was your sole chance to interact with your fans. Now…many of us talk to fans online, so that is less of an issue.

    I think cons changed in the last five years. They used to be immune to politics. We were all SF fans together. We loved SF and that was all that counted.

    Then the culture war it SF. Suddenly, many cons became about the culture war. They stopped being one of the few places immune to it, as they were before.

    I do agree that there are a few conventions/conferences out there that are worth it. Others…

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