Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Fan Conventions from an Author's Viewpoint!

Not everyone has the money or lives close enough to conventions to attend them. Or has the guts to put themselves out there. Here to help those of us get a taste of the crazy awesomeness of conventions, I've got a report from author Terri Bruce. 

I love fan conventions; I think they’re the best thing since sliced bread. They’re a chance for me to let my geek flag fly unabashedly, to meet other people who love the same things I do, and to be blown away by people’s creativity and passion. The costumes, the songs, the camaraderie—it’s always amazing.

Now, to be clear, today I’m talking about fan conventions—things like World Fantasy Con (science fiction and fantasy), Bouchercon (crime/mystery), and Authors After Dark (romance)—not writer/author conferences (like Grub Street, New York Pitch Conference, or SCBWI). Conventions are a slightly different kettle of fish because they are by fans, for fans. These aren’t opportunities for authors to hone their craft or pitch agents; instead, it’s an opportunity to get in front of fans of your genre, which can either go really well or really poorly. Results can vary widely in terms of book sales, attendance at readings, interaction with fans, and the general overall enjoyability of any given con, so it’s best to approach cons with humility, a sense of humor and adventure, and an ability to roll with the punches. Remember, there’s no filter between you and fans at a con.

Authorly Things You Can Do At Fan Conventions

1. Sell your books
Pro: Exposure! Readers! Money! Sit behind a table full of your books and feel authorly!
Con: Sitting at a table, watching people pick up your book, read the back cover blurb, shake their head with confusion or derision, put the book back, and then walk away.

At Parafest, actor Mark Sheppard (::swoon::) stopped to chat with the author at the table beside mine, so you never know who might stop by your table. Of course, you may also have to endure criticism of your book straight to your face, so if you’re the kind of person who obsesses over 1-star reviews of your book on Amazon, you might want to skip this facet of cons.

2. Hold a reading (either individually or as part of a group)
Pro: Exposure! Readers! Get to feel authorly!
Con: The cricket chirp of an empty room if no one shows up.

A fellow Broad Universe member was reading from her newly released book when she looked up and saw George R.R. Martin in the back of the room, listening. How she had the presence of mind to finish, I’ll never know. If you’re going to do a reading, make sure you’ve practiced reading out loud beforehand—reading too fast will make your story incomprehensible and reading too slow will make your story boring, and you’ll have blown the whole point of the reading: to pique the interest of readers (and George R. R. Martin).

3. Be on a panel
Pro: Exposure! Opportunity to be witty and brilliant! Networking! Engaging with author heroes as a peer! Engaging in interesting discussion(s) on thought provoking topic(s)!
Con: OMG, what did I just say? Did that really come out of my mouth? Oh God, it’s already on Twitter. Mayday! Mayday! Eject! Eject! (AKA theStephen Leathers’ effect)

Or, conversely:

Why am I just sitting here like a dummy? Say something, you idiot! That’s your heroine on the other end of the stage. Impress her! Impress her, damn it! Come on, brain! Help me out here. This is an easy question; we know the answer to this. What.Is.My.Name?

I have to be honest, I’ve never been brave enough to be on a panel because this one is fraught with peril—I’ve heard too many stories of female authors ignored or dismissed by male panel moderators and/or fans and I’ve seen too many authors put on the hot seat by over-zealous fans (“Tolkien was a hack?! Die heretic, die!!!”). However, from a fan perspective, I can tell you I’ve added a lot of authors’ works to my TBR pile because I was impressed with their contribution to a panel I attended, so if you have the cojones to enter the fray, it can be worth it.

4. Meet/Interact with Fans
Pro: There is no greater high than someone telling you they read your book and liked it or, even better, asking you to sign a copy of your book.
Con: this or this

I was manning the Broad Universe table at a convention this past year and a young woman came up to us, looking to get her copy of a fellow Broad’s book signed by the author. With tears in her eyes she said, “Oh my God, it’s such a sad book! So good, but so sad.” I almost burst into tears myself and it wasn’t even my book. It was incredibly powerful and moving to see firsthand how much the book had impacted her.

I’m still not comfortable asking cosplayers if I can take their picture, but I’m getting braver. Realizing how shy I am about approaching strangers has made me realize that many of them are probably as shy as I am, so when I’m wearing my author hat at a con I do my best to be as approachable as possible. If you happen to see me, be sure to say hi—you’ll totally make my day. :-)

5. Meet authors, actors, illustrators, and other creative professionals and engage with them as a peer
Pro: Networking! Ability to be on first-name basis with people you admire! Ability to be admitted to the cool kids’ table!
Con: this or this or any one of a thousand similar incidents. :-( Just because someone is an industry insider or famous, doesn’t mean they aren’t a douche-bag.

Since becoming an author I’ve had interaction with people at conventions I never thought I’d be able to interact with. I’m a high-introvert, so I tend to be reserved when meeting other people. Being an author, however, is like a magic pass card: it gives me an excuse to talk to people at a convention. There’s something about sitting behind a table in the vendor room or at a panel that gives you an instant sense of camaraderie with other people in the same boat.

And there you have it—a round-up of some of the great perks of attending conventions as an author. How about you—what’s been your experience attending fan conventions?


Terri Bruce has been making up adventure stories for as long as she can remember and won her first writing award when she was twelve. Like Anne Shirley, she prefers to make people cry rather than laugh, but is happy if she can do either. She produces fantasy and adventure stories from a haunted house in New England where she lives with her husband and three cats. Visit her on the web at www.terribruce.net.

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HEREAFTER (Afterlife #1)
Coming January 31, 2014
Thirty-six year old Irene Dunphy didn't plan on dying any time soon, but that’s exactly what happens when she makes the mistake of getting behind the wheel after a night of bar-hopping with friends. She finds herself stranded on earth as a ghost, where food has no taste, the alcohol doesn’t get you drunk, and the sex…well, let’s just say, “don’t bother.” To make matters worse, the only person who can see her—courtesy of a book he found in his school library—is a fourteen year old boy-genius obsessed with the afterlife.

This sounds suspiciously like hell to Irene, so she prepares to strike out for the Great Beyond. The only problem is that, while this side has exorcism, ghost repellents, and soul devouring demons, the other side has three-headed hell hounds, final judgment, and eternal torment. If only there was a third option…

THEREAFTER (Afterlife #2)
Coming May 1, 2014
When recently-deceased Irene Dunphy decided to “follow the light,” she thought she’d end up in Heaven or Hell and her journey would be over.

Boy, was she wrong.

She soon finds that “the other side” isn’t a final destination but a kind of purgatory where billions of spirits are stuck, with no way to move forward or back. Even worse, deranged phantoms known as “Hungry Ghosts” stalk the dead, intent on destroying them. The only way out is for Irene to forget her life on earth—including the boy who risked everything to help her cross over—which she’s not about to do.

As Irene desperately searches for an alternative, help unexpectedly comes in the unlikeliest of forms: a twelfth-century Spanish knight and a nineteenth-century American cowboy. Even more surprising, one offers a chance for redemption; the other, love. Unfortunately, she won’t be able to have either if she can’t find a way to escape the hellish limbo where they’re all trapped.


  1. Excellent post. As someone who grew up on Sci-Fi (back in the old days when wearing a red shirt on Star Trek was not a good sign) it is nice to see an author who still embraces the fan side. Nothing annoys me more when someone forgets their roots. Good for you TB, hope your geek flag flies for a very long time!!

    1. Thanks, Andrew, I hope so, too!

      I attended a con last year and at one point during a hanging out/networking reception, I looked over at a grouping of chairs nearby and there was GRRM, just hanging out. It was awesome. I love it when creators (artists, writers, actors, etc.) just hang out with fans like ordinary people. It's the best!

  2. My first comment didn't appear to go through, so sorry if this is a duplicate. I love doing panels at conventions, but dread readings and selling. Maybe I'll come to love it all. Let's have our own convention when we're ultra famous, mega millionaires.

    1. LOL - I'm the opposite. The readings are fun - I think I secretly wanted to be an actress - but panels scare me. The selling can definitely be hit or miss. Ultimately, my dream moment would be if I was sitting in the audience at a panel and the person next to me leaned over and said, "Hey, you're Terri Bruce! You wrote that book!" That would be awesome - to be recognized, but not have it be a big deal. :-)

  3. I love fan-run cons because I attended them first as a fan long before I was ever an author. Where else can you do a live reading of your book dressed as Hit Girl or Cat Woman or do an author signing dressed up as one of your own characters? :-) I've started dodging sitting on most of the writer-oriented panels in favor of the fan panels, including fan-panels that have nothing to do with my books or writing because fan-run cons are really for fans, which I am first and foremost.

    1. LOL - some days I think I'm happer as a reader than a writer because I agree with you - first and foremost, I'm a fan :-)