The Pros at
the Cons: An Author's Guide to Surviving a Convention
by Tee Morris
Conventions, provided you know what you're
getting into, are a lot of fun and a great to get the
word out on the streets and your work into readers' hands.
I've been hitting the pavement HARD and for many reasons.
1. I'm a no name...at present. (Editorial note:
given Tee's level of talent and determination, and his
commitment to his writing, I fully expect this to change.
2. Dragon Moon Press is a small press,
competing with Tor, Baen, and other heavy hitters.
3. Let's face it...there's a lot of competition out
Promotion plays a large part in the early successes you
have and when you go to these cons, a wrong word or bad
attitude can leave a bad taste in the fan's mouth.
Here are just some ideas for promotions and approaches to
THE FANS ARE JUST LIKE YOU
Okay, yes, some of them are terrifying...but you know
what -- they're just enthusiastic people who are sharing
their passion for the genre you write. Okay, they
will be holding you to their own standard because you --
yes, YOU -- are coming to a con and promoting your work
against some of their favorite authors.
The fans, aggressive or appreciative, are going to want
to know why they should buy your book. Just remember,
fans are people, too. Some are smart and supporting, some
are tacky and tasteless. Be appreciative and polite,
Some authors HATE doing panels. Many times, cons
will say "You need to do at least three..."
because there is a scam that authors will say "I
want to participate..." sign up for one panel, and
then get in for free to have fun, crash other panels, and
promote their work. So when you get the list of
panels, really look through the topics. Throw your
name in the hat for as many panels as you like, but make
sure you KNOW the topic you're signing up for.
Another reason you should sign up for panels -- FACE TIME.
People associate your face with a book, and this is what
sells it. That, and how you carry yourself on a
If you are honest, sincere, and a little witty (a little
wit can go MILES...) you will sell books. If you're
half on wit, make up for it with energy and enthusiasm.
If you are not excited about your work, no one will be
excited about purchasing it for themselves.
BEFORE YOU SPEAK.
You're on a panel, in front of people, talking about what
you know, before uttering a sound. Think about what you
are going to say. Is it positive? Is it educated? Are you
slamming any particular author, movie, or show? Think
about it. What you say is how you come across to the
audience. This was a HUGE mistake I made on my first
panel. I made a dig towards another author, one who is
enjoying a GREAT DEAL of success.
Now I don't think I made enemies on this panel, but I got
a hint of what I must've looked like when at another
convention my fellow panelists started busting on author
Terry Brooks. (I'm a fan of Terry Brooks.) Slamming other
authors really doesn't make you look good. If you want to
pick on someone, you can always insinuate towards the
work of others. Let your audience fill in the blanks. If
they get you in a one-on-one setting, then it's your call...but
tread gently. Sometimes comments made "in private"
can come back to haunt you. Just keep your thoughts
positive, encouraging, and educated. Don't ever try and
"BS" your way through a topic either.
Fans can sometimes be dumb...but they're not stupid, know
what I mean?
FAN IS ALWAYS RIGHT
I got into a fan's face at one con because she made some
nasty comments towards a friend of mine, behind his back.
While I was calling her on this cheap shot, it was a
stupid thing to do. Fans range from all walks of
life. They can be housewives, Wall Street
professionals, and scientists. They can also be
webmasters for book review sites, wives of critics, or
publishers' boyfriends. You NEVER know whom you're
talking to unless you spend some quality time in getting
to know them...and even then, you're not sure.
If a fan starts to get argumentative or just says
something completely stupid (and they will), then just
nod and smile. You can even say "And that is
an opinion you're entitled to." If they harp
on it, then let them. You move on to the next issue
or discussion at hand. Don't get "trapped"
or "baited" by fans. Some fans live for
that. Just make certain when you leave a situation,
you look good.
Now what exactly do I mean by this? Okay...let me
tell you what not to wear. Suit. Tie. Formal
wear. That makes you appear a little less
approachable and appear as somewhat of an elitist.
I've seen authors do that...and that was exactly how they
came across. Then there is the other side of the
spectrum. I saw one of the exalted, one of the
special guest STAR TREK authors (and no, that's not a
slam on ST/media tie-in authors...at this particular con,
small press guests were treated like cattle while the
staff bent over backwards for the ST authors. A
perk, I guess...) come in to give his readings. He
was dressed in faded jeans, flip-flops, and a Star Trek
Tee-shirt. He looked like a fan.
While it's okay to be a fan, it's hard to be taken
seriously if you're dressed like one. I'm not
exaggerating...he looked like he had just rolled out of
bed. Find a happy medium. Dress smart and
carry yourself with just a touch of pride at your
accomplishments. You can still have fun, buy
souvenirs, and network, but you don't want to look like a
fan and you don't want to look like a snob. Take
care of yourself and make sure your breath doesn't stink.
Bad breath is always BAD. (I never go anywhere
without the Listerine strips.)
YOUR READINGS AND COME UP WITH FREEBIES
You will hear authors describe their readings as death.
Well, get this...a lot of times people won't attend
readings because they won't know when or where they are.
Some authors will pack them in. Some will be lucky
if more than two show up. Don't expect to have SRO
(standing room only) at your readings, and if you have
two show up then give it your all. As if you had a
Here's a little trick I've been implementing at my
readings and maybe attracting a few more folks. I
print up flyers, leaving a stack at the Freebie Table (a
table with flyers announcing other cons, books, etc.) and
then hanging up flyers at various high traffic areas of
the con. I also say on the flyer that I'm giving
away a book in a drawing. A lot of times, people
will show up for a chance to win a free book. Just
make sure you give the book away at the END of the
Along with a drawing for a free copy of a book, you can
also give away promos for your work. If you can
make flyers at work, copy off 100 at your local Kinko's
or copy place. Copies are cheap. If you want
to really impress folks and you have the means (either
with yourself or a friend), burn a CD with samples of
I have a sampler CD that has a short story of Lisa's, the
first chapter of my WIP, and the first two chapters of MOREVI. I have them
in three formats: PDF, HTML, and PDB (Palm Reader).
I will (try to) burn 100 CD's. (Yeah, this takes
time and some money...but it's a deduction and well worth
it.) They will be gone by the end of the weekend,
provided I set out only a few at a time. DO NOT
GIVE AWAY THE PROMO CD AT THE READING! The reading
is your "hard sell".
UNTO READERS AS YOU WOULD HAVE THEM DO UNTO YOU
When you're at a con or a book signing, take a second to
talk to people who are investing in your work. If
you're having a bad day, check the nasties at the door.
You need to treat everyone there with courtesy, respect,
and a smile. The nicer you are to people buying
your book, the more memorable you are and the more
positive feedback you'll receive. Offer up at your
signing something fun like cookies, brownies, or candies.
(I've got this little mini-treasure chest that is filled
with Hershey's gold and silver nuggets.) DO NOT
OFFER UP THE PROMO CD, but also look into bookmarks.
People love the free stuff.
THE PEOPLE RUNNING THE BOOKSTORE WITH RESPECT
Reread previous paragraph. Apply it to the staff at
bookstores, and tell yourself "Things can go wrong."
You can also gage at cons how cool booksellers will be
with you versus those who are just pulling your chain.
If they remember your name, that is usually a good sign.
Be polite and professional, and if they cop an attitude
with you then just roll with the punches, smile, and stay
positive. That is the best defense against the
And if you sell 4 - 6 books in a three hour signing
period, pat yourself on the back. New-names rarely
do that well. And never judge signing and cons the
same way. At cons, it's about the Guest of Honor or
media guests and you are along for the ride. As far
as a signing at a bookstore is concerned, it is all about
you then so have a good time. Wave to people.
If someone stops, considers the works, and then decides
not to buy it (even if you get someone like the lady I
got who read the book for ten minutes and then decided
"No."), you still smile and say "Thanks
for looking." and MEAN IT.
If you want a REALLY terrific resource for knowing what
to do and what not to do, take a listen on Quiet Storm
Radio.The BookCrazy Radio Newtork (an Internet radio show)
for Quiet Storm Radio. Clint Gaige and Darla Shoemaker go
into the marketing and promotional side of things.
It's a great little show (one of a couple of gems in the
network's lineup) and worth your time.
And now I'm gearing up for a speaking event next
week. Time to practice what I preach and take notes.
Enjoy the Ride.
Copyright 2003 Tee Morris. All rights reserved
Tee is the co-author of MOREVI and a contributing
author of The Complete Guide to Writing Fantasy. You can read Tina
Morgan's review of Morevi here
Learn more about Tee by visiting his website at: M O R E
V I: The Chronicles of Rafe and Askana, a book written by
Lisa Lee and Tee Morris and available from Dragon Moon Press