12
Aug
10

Lesson Learned–a Convention story

(I’m buried under deadlines, so this is x-posted. By the way, before I get started, I currently have a contest on my personal blog and one of the things the winner will receive is a sampler from Ace/Roc. Check out the details HERE. )

While I’ve attended conferences and conventions for nearly a decade, this year marked the change from attendee to guest, from audience member to panelist. In the years and years I sat on the other side of the table, listening intently to the writers on the panel, I picked up on a lot of things I didn’t realize I was learning at the time, and which the authors probably didn’t know they were teaching. As I sat there, hoping to learn some secret of craft or business that would help me reach that golden goal of getting published, I was also subconsciously learning what I, as an audience member, responded to. That information became invaluable this year.

For instance, I know that when I’m in the audience, listening to a authors I’m not familiar with, I’m not going to remember their names. I’m just not. Panels usually start with an introduction, but until I hear them speak and some part of my brain determines what they say is interesting, their name just doesn’t stick. Of course, by that point, the intros have already passed. Sure there are usually nameplates on the table, but the rooms are often large and I’m terrible about wearing my glasses, so I can’t read them. And even if I do remember their name throughout the panel or even during the entire convention, I’m terrible with names and that information doesn’t always stick in my head. But, if they have their books on display on the table throughout the panel, I’ll associate that funny/insightful/charming/whatever personality with that book. When I see the cover later in the store, I’ll remember. I can’t tell you how many books I’ve picked up just because I liked the author. Even if I don’t pick up the book while at the con, I tend to buy it afterward. So, when I walked in my first panel, I walked in with copies of my books to display on the table.

From being in the audience, I also know that I personally respond well to bookmarks. A nice looking bookmark is a great way to help me remember the author’s name after the conference. So, I bring bookmarks to my panels and invite people to come up and take them after the panel is over.

Basic manners are a must all the time, in my opinion, but especially when you’re on a panel. Another writing friend and I were talking about a convention we both attended earlier this year. During one of the panels (I was in the audience for this particular panel) one of the panelist said “you’re wrong and I think you’re and idiot” to another panelist (in a few more words, but that was the gist). The result included a lot of shocked faces both on the other panelists and in the audience, and a couple nervous giggles. That was months ago, but when we discussed it recently, I asked my friend if she’d ever read that particular author’s work. Her answer: No. A friendly debate and differing views on a panel can be educational and entertaining, but ugliness leaves a bad taste in the mouth (even if you’re right).

This one is probably obvious from either side of the table, but: no one likes a panel hog. I’ve been to panels where one panelist (typically the least interesting/knowledgeable) would not shut up. A question would be asked and they would jump in, rambling on and on–often not even about the right topic. (Occasionally it isn’t even a panelist, but an audience member who either thinks s/he should be on the panel or that they are having a private conversation with the panelists.) This puts the moderator and the other panelists in an awkward position because there is often not a good way to quiet the loud mouth without coming off as rude (see the previous point). It’s not fun for the panelists, and it’s frustrating for the audience, so when I’m on a panel, despite how nervous I am, I try not to ramble (unlike when I’m blogging, clearly. LOL)

So these are all things which can be learned from the audience side of the table, and when I showed up to my first panel, I felt pretty prepared. Oh, I still ran into my share of cringe-worthy newbie mistakes–like the fact I didn’t consider preparing a short verbal introduction before I sat behind the table for the first time and my brain totally went blank when they handed me the mic. I got the whole, “I’m Kalayna Price and write Urban Fantasy” part but then the moderator asked me to tell everyone a little about my books. ” . . . they are uh, about vampires, and shapeshifters, and uh . . . magic . . . ?” Major fail. But I eventually ironed that out and I can now describe both of my series in under three breaths.

Once my first con passed and I survived, I thought I had this whole panelist thing figured out. I was able to talk about my books without making a complete fool of myself, I was talking to readers, making friends with other writers, and generally having fun. No problem. Then something new happened.

Someone asked for my business card.

Business card? I’m a writer. I didn’t have business cards. I had bookmarks for released and upcoming books. I had thought that was all I needed. After all, I’d never once, in all my years attending cons, come home with an author’s business card.

But while authors are at the cons to interact with readers and they speak on panels about books, publishing, and craft, they are also at cons to network. They network with other writers, with editors, with agents, with organizers of other events, and with a plethora of other people. Part of me knew that, but I never really thought it all the way through. So, at the last con I attended, I ended up scrawling my email address on the back of my bookmarks–not the most professional approach. Needless to say, several of the people who asked for my card never contacted me.

Kalayna's Business CardsLive and learn. I now have business cards. They came in today, just in time for Dragon*con. They are simple, as you can see, just my name, email, and website along with my most recent book cover. I have no idea if anyone will ask for my card, but now I have one. I’m sharing this experience with you, because this con guest must should have wasn’t obvious from the otherside of the table. You never know what you don’t know until you’re faced with a new situation.

Any tips or tricks you’d like to share (that you’ve picked up on either side of the table)? Is there anything you’ve seen a panelist do that was particularly helpful/successful? How about something you really wish a panelist would never, ever do?

Anyone going to Dragon*Con?

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5 Responses to “Lesson Learned–a Convention story”


  1. 1 rachelaaron
    August 14, 2010 at 1:11 am

    I have bookmarked this post. SOME DAY, when some convention actually wants me, I will know how to behave!

  2. August 15, 2010 at 5:33 am

    Thanks for the post. I’ve attended exactly one con. I sat and listened to all the authors. I scribbled a few notes and DID NOT open my mouth. I didn’t even ask a question on a panel that my friend was hosting. I was there to lean. I can’t imagine sitting in the audience and hearing one panelist call another an idiot. Wow!

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