By Alex Segura
The term "con season" gives me chills - mainly because I think it's a misnomer, at least in the comics world that takes up my day job hours. There's no "season" anymore - we have conventions all through the year. We're at a "lull" now - New York Comic Con has come and gone and we probably won't see another show until 2015. But as that lull begins, another "season" kicks off - for crime writers! Or for me, at least.
Like some authors, I'll be attending the great Murder & Mayhem in Milwaukee event this weekend. There's also NoirCon going on in Philly at the same time. Later this month, it's Bouchercon 2014: Murder at the Beach, or as I refer to it when explaining it to my comic book industry friends "It's the San Diego Comic-Con for crime/mystery people."
I know I've talked about blurbs, panels and stuff like that in my earlier blog posts but Kristi's note about Bouchercon got me thinking that it might be good to put together some tips for events like these.
Now, to be clear, this is my first Bouchercon as a published author. That being said, I've been going to conventions - comic book, book industry and the like - for about a decade. Your mileage may vary on the notes below, but they're just some general bits of advice for authors when participating in conventions like these.
Be nice. My rule of thumb for pretty much everything. "Please" and "Thank you" go a long way in any arena, but especially in one where people are working behind the scenes to make you, as an author, look good.
Be professional. That applies to a lot of things, but mainly - be on time/show up for panels or commitments, don't dress like you just rolled out of bed and be somewhat cheerful - these people are either working on this event to help you out or are attending an event hoping for a positive interaction with you, the author. I personally hate being late - but it happens. At Long Beach Comic Con, I had three back-to-back panels, with about 30 minutes of overlap. I had six panels that day, plus a signing. It was insane. It required me to leave a panel early, come to a panel late and then rush to the next panel. I felt bad doing it, but I tried my best to explain that my schedule was nuts and that I was sorry. Did it work? I hope so. The panels were fun and the panelists were fine with or without me. My point is, by being professional you can make up for any issues that may arise. Stuck in traffic? Call ahead to let people know. Scheduling snafu? Make it clear to the people that matter that you're willing to do the best you can to make it work, but you're dealing with some unforeseen stuff. Communicate. It's important and people will appreciate it.
Promote yourself beforehand, during and after. You can't complain about attendance at an event if you didn't promote it. I've had events where three people showed up - and hey, what can you do? That's just how the day went. But the event was promoted and people knew about it. On the flip side, I've had packed events and panels where I knew promoting the event with time was a factor in getting people to show up. And, going back to "be nice" - it never hurts to let the organizers or bookseller know you appreciated them having you. It'll probably help your chances of being invited back. In terms of promoting beforehand, make sure your social media is queued up at the right times, loop in your book publicist so they can promo via their channels and be consistent - don't just blast out your info once and hope it catches everyone. That being said, don't SPAM people, either. A post a day in the days leading up to an event is perfectly reasonable, assuming you're talking about other stuff on your platform, too.
Engage with people - fans, publicists, editors, press. People come to these shows for access. To talk to authors, let them know what they think of their work and to see them in action. While networking with fellow authors is important (as I'll explain later), there are a ton of other people at the show that would love a bit of your time - whether it's a few minutes while you're signing or a quick conversation while in line at Starbucks. Look, I know this can be weird at times - "I was just waiting for my cab!" - but fans are here for the experience, and as strange as it might seem to think someone would be starstruck by seeing you, this event is all about meeting people fans admire. So why not give them a minute or two? It could make an existing fan's day and also motivate them to suggest your work to another, and so on. Plus - you never know who you're talking to. It might be an editor at a publishing company you want to work for, a reporter for a major publication or a big tastemaker/blogger. Always err on the side of being nice. Notice a theme here?
Pace yourself. Eat regular meals. Try to get some sleep. Give yourself an hour or two during the madness to sit quietly by yourself or have a few minutes, as a friend of mine put it to me this week, "to walk around your hotel room barefoot." Cons are marathons - sometimes they can make you feel anxious, out of sorts and wiped. Try your best to prevent that by giving yourself some time to catch your breath and reconnect with yourself. Zen, right? Trust me, you can't overstate the value of a quiet cup of coffee amidst the insanity of a huge convention.
Network! Have fun! Author events and conventions are cool because other authors will be there. Other, solitary writers are coming into the light! Talk to them - ask questions, share experiences and have a good time. These things are supposed to be pleasant, so let off some steam and enjoy the company of people you've probably only networked with over Facebook or email. Who knows - you might get a new connection or find out some useful industry information while enjoying yourself. If not, you at least had fun and made some new friends who are in the trenches with you. Also, attend panels you're interested in. Listen to other authors talk. Let yourself be reminded why you do what you do.
Last, but certainly not least: Don't be a dick. Should be self-explanatory.
See you in the book room!