James Wymore is a cheese-eating, pizza-loving, milk-shake-drinking, cookie-making… Dammit. I still don’t have it back. Those things are all still awesome.
You know what else are awesome? Conventions. (In the “business” we call that a segue.) I’ve been doing conventions since Writers of the Future, about 12 years. In that 12 years I’ve built up a nice little network of professional friends.
THIS IS GOING TO SOUND LIKE A BRAGGING POST. I actually feel really weird posting it. I mention people in blogs, but usually it’s so they will see their names, not so that you will see their names. Except for Wymore. The world must be warned about Wymore.
[Start Name Dropping] I went to worldcon with Brandon Sanderson and Dan Wells. I’ve eaten many meals with Larry Correia (and once I gave him an L5R map I made). Kevin J. Anderson happily shouts insults at me when he passes me in the Comic Con green room. I ate dinner with Adrian Paul once. Howard Tayler once had his readers break my web page (and downloaded something like ten thousand copies of my audiobook in the process). It is impossible for me to walk to the bathroom at a Utah Convention without a strategy and my game face. I have four stand-up comedians volunteering to perform at my book release. I found out last year I have fans that are only fans for me doing one specific type of game panel that Wymore does.[/End Name Dropping]
Now whether I convert these in sales is a whole other matter, and we’ll see how well I do in May. But even if I fail at closing, it’s hard to argue I haven’t done better than average at the setup. So how do you do it?
I don’t know for sure, but I can tell you this: Howard Tayler used to run panels, I was on at least one, called Charisma Is Not a Dump Stat. The point was that being likable among fans was every bit as important as being good at your job.
And often, that’s all about the conventions. People who come to you events already like you. At conventions, you meet new people. I feel like whatever my skills as a writer, I’ve gotten pretty good at conventions. People were lying to get into my Plot a Novel in an Hour Friday at the Life the Universe and Everything academic symposium. The woman in charge of programming came up to me to tell me that she’d given me a good spot at the book signing because she assumed I was going to have a large line. I had to break it to her that my book wasn’t out yet.
I was thinking a lot about this at LTUE. This is the last time I do this Symposium without a book released, and I have only one other convention on my schedule before the release date. So I paid close attention to the things that I’ve come to do without thinking.
Some of it might not fit your personality and you don’t want to ape me on everything, but some of it, (the tipping for instance) is just a good public service lesson.
So here we go:
Remember one telling detail about everyone you meet. If you can even pull out “How’s the self-publishing business going for you?” they won’t even ask if you know their name, they will feel special, and they will remember you fondly.
Try to make sure everyone who’s name you DO know hear that name called out in joy at least once. Once a day, if possible. I greet people starting about thirty feet away. Having someone greet you warmly is good. Hearing your name shouted from a crowd is better.
Feed people. Invite people to eat. Communal eating brings us together as humans.
Try to find at least one person who is too shy to start a conversation. get them to talk about what they love. This isn’t because that person might one day be famous. This is just about paying it forward. I once realized that Roberta Pournelle (Jerry Pournelle’s wife) singles out the shyest writer at the Writer’s of the Future BBQ and makes them talk about themselves. I want to be that good of a person. So do you.
Take moderating seriously. I’ve posted about it before. Here’s a summary from this LTUE:
If you are on par with the fame of the other panelists, try to keep your remarks to a minimum. You are a moderator, so they should speak more than you, but you’re important too, so contributing your own thoughts from time to time is okay. Try to make sure everyone gets more time than you and that their time is about equal to each other.
If you have one panelist more famous than all the others, try to make sure everyone gets time to shine, but know that the audience is there to see the celebrity.
If there are a couple superstars on the panel, make sure people get to speak, but be as unobtrusive as possible. If possible, try to stay out of sight lines. I usually don’t sit at the table and I wander to the corner. My job is to make the whole audience forget that I exist, except when I’m asking questions. All the while, I’m watching body language to see if any of the panelists want to speak but afraid to interrupt a big star. When I see that, I say something, like, “Jim, what do you think?” and begin hiding again. (About fifteen people tracked me down to compliment me on my moderating the Writing Action Scene’s panels. Usually you only get complimented for moderating by other panelists and by random people stuck talking to you while waiting to speak to other panelists.)
If you are the most famous or have the best credentials at the table, just to the best you can.
And step up. Always be ready to moderate if the moderator is unavailable or unassigned. If you spot a moderation problem, (such as Larry Correia being assigned to moderate a panel where he should be the superstar) volunteer. The most famous person at the table shouldn’t have to be worried about whether the least famous person gets to speak. The most famous person at the table should be able to concentrate on giving the audience what they came to see. The moderator can worry about everyone getting a chance to shine.
I moderated between 7-9 panels, I think. I was scheduled to moderate 3.
If a panel is dead get the energy up. In general, get people cheering before you start. If a panel has been dead despite your efforts, try to end on a high note. If a panel has an energy-sucking panelist, God help you, just do the best you can and don’t be insulting.
Fights can be good. Fights can be bad. A great CIVIL fight can be the best panel at a con. If you think a fight is getting acrimonious, try laughing joyously and complimenting the other person. Make jokes about “how bad” the fight is. It will keep the mood light.
If two people are arguing in the green room and you are the type of person to automatically exclaim, “Oh my goodness!” every time you stand up, try to time that better than I did.
Overtip the wait staff. There will likely be a time during the con where you need a server to go above and beyond. I once overtipped a waitress at a hotel restaurant and then lost my voice. The next morning, at breakfast, she heard me talk and immediately made me her mother’s special voice remedy (no charge). It became a breakfast tradition for the rest of the con. Aside from that, you will probably have a time where you need to eat fast to make a panel. Cultivate good relationships.
Bring mints. If you forget mints, bum mints from other people. I won’t mention showering to you, because if you’re reading this, you’re way beyond that advice.
Be friendly and respectful to people more famous to you. Be more so to people less famous than you.
Hug those who will be hugged. Warmly greet those who won’t. Know the difference. Love everyone.
If you shout “Hi” while walking in a determined fashion, people won’t be offended if you don’t stop. “I’ve got to pee!” will also get you out of a multitude of potentially rude situations, especially if you say it in a comedically panicked voice.
When going out to dinner with large groups of writers and fans, don’t be afraid to overtip in advance. Just be aware that no one within two people of you at the table will get service after you do that (the wait staff will skip straight to you when they get close, ask if you need anything and leave when you answer, it’s human nature). Let everyone around you know how that works and take their orders for them (“I’m fine, but Randy needs a refill and Sandra could use some more fries.”)
laugh a lot.
If necessary, take over the counter pain meds. They don’t call them “Ranger Candy” for nothing. You need to get through the Con. It’s okay if you can’t go dancing the last night.
Wear comfortable shoes.
And finally, be handsome. No, handsomer than that. Still not handsome enough… There you go.
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