Last July I posted three articles called "Shy Girl at the Con (parts 1, 2,and 3)" about my experiences at three back-to-back events. Two of them were speculative fiction conventions where I was an invited speaker, and the third was a Young Adult writing conference where I was simply an attendee. They weren't the most awesome experiences for me, and I wrote that I was unsure whether I would go back again. Well, a year passed and I decided to brave two of them again and pass on one. I let Libertycon in Chattanooga go because, while it was a very well organized event, it actually cost money to attend (as a charity donation) not to mention gas to drive back and forth or a hotel if I wanted to stay down there. Being that I didn't sell a single book last year, I didn't think it was worth it.
I didn't sell anything at Hypericon last year either, the other spec fic con I "spoke" at. I was really unhappy with the way I was treated at that event and didn't plan on attending this year. They put my name on the list and website before I told them no. When I approached the woman in charge about it, she promised me it would be at a better venue and better organized. I agreed to participate, but I limited my availability to only Saturday. At first it was because I was planning to do a local musical, but I wound up not trying out for it (because I was too busy writing). I never told her I was available on Friday or Sunday (Father's Day), and therefore she put me on only one panel. It was still organized at the last minute, but at least this year it was a subject that applied to me. I guested with 5 other authors about writing short fiction. Having had 3 short stories in anthologies recently and about to work on a new one, I was happy to talk about this subject.
The panel was a lot of fun even if only three people were in the audience listening. Author Robert Krog, who edited A Tall Ship, A Star, and Plunder (the pirate anthology featuring my story "The Jamaican Dragon") was on the panel too, and it was very nice to meet him. Like last year, I was told I would have a guest author signing time, and it was supposed to be right after the panel. The other authors had papers with their assigned times. I did not. So, I mosied over to the signing tables, found an empty spot and set up for an hour anyway. Sadly, the guest author signing tables were in the lobby of the hotel, far from the ballrooms where the convention was being held. So none of us got any traffic at all. I sold one book to the very nice author next to me who had the most amazing flaming red and magenta hair. After I was done with my fake signing, I left. I saw absolutely no reason to stay at the very quiet convention where it appeared the only people there were the speakers. There were some cosplay people milling about, and I suspected they were just waiting for the contests later in the day. Big waste of time for me, and I definitely won't be back next year.
Four days later I was back at the same hotel for Utopia, the YA conference. Last year I went as an attendee and went to the panel discussions. I was a little disillusioned by it all. Over the year, though, I stayed connected to the social page for the event on Facebook, and it got me all hyped up about going again. I plopped down the money and bought myself an exhibitor table. It was way too much to spend, and I knew I wouldn't get it back. Still, I figured I'd sell a few books and still have access to the panels and keynote speeches if I wanted to attend them. I tried to be active on the social media about the event, liking and commenting on posts, occasionally posting something myself, and following people on Twitter and stuff. I tried dying my hair blue so I'd look more fun and approachable, but it didn't show up. I made a vow to be sociable and talk to people, maybe even start conversations. I spent evenings making mermaid tail bookmarks by hand to be my memorable (and hopefully keepable) swag for the event, thinking that handing those out to people would help start interaction.
All of that helped. People seemed mildly familiar with my name and face. I smiled the whole time and said hi to everyone. The bookmarks were a hit, and they enticed a few people to come close to the table. (Most people kind of walk down the center of the aisles, trying hard not to engage so they won’t feel like they have to buy). The two authors I really like that didn't recognize me last year, hugged me and chatted with me this year. Brenda Hiatt even remembered the name of one of my books without being prompted. That was cool. A couple bloggers that have reviewed my books came and said hello. One of them is Doris Orman (of Dowie's Place), who is a champion of Utopia and helped make me feel welcomed by saying hi frequently, posting this picture of her with me, and commenting on my posts. I was kind of thrilled to see a picture of me in the morning slide show on Friday morning.
Ultimately, though, my impressions of the event from last year remained the same. The bulk of the event is not about the exhibition room or the panels about writing and selling books. What the attendees are there for are the parties in the evenings and the lunches out. The place emptied out completely from 1:00-2:00 both days as everyone, including vendors, went to lunch. One author across the way from us was never at her table - she was out socializing the whole time. All the social media was about the karaoke event, the games, the award show and the dance party. If you weren't there for the social part of the event, there really wasn't much point in going. I live in Nashville, and although I am a singer I don't even go to Karaoke with my friends here in town (and I have a dear friend who runs a regular Karaoke show). As an extreme introvert and homebody, I couldn't drum up the energy or motivation to go back downtown Saturday evening to the award show or the dance afterward and didn't know exactly how I'd explain going to my husband. "Hey honey, I want to go to a party with a bunch of women I don't know. Whatcha think?" He'd think I'd been replaced by an alien.
I sold 2 copies of Cry of the Sea. That's it. The lady next to me on the right sold several copies of her picture book, which was unexpected for a YA event. The ladies to the left of me (who were possibly shy-er than me) sold about 10 of their book, which impressed me for a brand new self-published title that they confessed didn’t even have a genre (nor did that have any swag or fancy display). I didn't get too bummed out about it, because I didn't see anyone except the well-known authors sell lots of books. It also appeared that the romance/sexier novels were selling the best - especially the ones where hunky cover models came for photo opps. As there weren't a lot of actual teenagers there, that kind of made sense.
And that was the thing that kind of frustrated me the most. I had been led to understand that the exhibition room was open to the public, but I didn't see any non-conference people there. Plus, what teenager can make it to downtown Nashville on a Thursday or Friday morning? Their parents work during that time. I thought there should have been one more day of bookselling on Saturday. I mean, the Barnes and Noble room was open on Saturday. I also, being local, never saw or heard one single bit of advertising to the general public that this event was going on. Frankly, it's really hard to sell books to a crowd full of authors who are also there to sell books. I didn't buy any. I'd already spent enough just to be there. In the end, the only thing having the table was good for was that it forced me to talk to people, when as an attendee the year before I didn’t talk to anyone at all.
A couple of the panels and keynote speeches I went to were good. One was odd, simply because it was done by an erotic romance novelist. While I don't have a problem with erotic romance novelists, I did wonder why a keynote address for a Young Adult conference would be someone who doesn't write Young Adult.
What made the event worth it was the keynote panel on Saturday morning. A group of best-selling authors answered questions and spoke about their personal struggles with self-esteem, highs and lows of being authors, writing time conflicts, and other personal issues related to writing. I’d never been to a session like that before, and it made me feel less broken and daunted by this whole writing gig to know that even the successful authors feel doubt , fear, and dismay. While I didn’t go home from this event with the same "high" other Utopians expressed in their posts, I did feel a little more connected to the writing world than before. We'll see where life takes me over the next year to determine whether or not I'll drum up the courage for this event again.
Feel free to leave a comment if you like. Next time I'll be writing about my little experiment of putting my novella Passing Notes free for the month of June. So please come back.
(Last I checked, it's still free, but my publisher has set it to go back to 99 cents. It could happen any time, so head over to Kindle now and get your copy.)
D. G. Driver
Author of Young Adult books Cry of the Sea and Passing Notes.