Thoughts: Being a Little Guy at a Big Convention
September 14, 2011
I’m a small author. I have no illusions. I have my small but loyal fan base, and every day I add a few more, but it’s a lot of work. Keeping your brand moving is like a hamster running on the wheel–as long as the hamster is moving, the wheel turns, but, the moment he gets tired, goes for lunch or–God forbid–takes a day off, the wheel refuses to turn any further. It really would be nice if the wheel turned by itself. Keep on turning, you wheel you.
A key component of spreading the plague that is my brand is showing my smiling face: craft shows, bake shows, car shows, any place I can set up a table is fair game. And, truth be told, those lowly roadside shows can be a virgin goldmine: “You wrote this??” they cry. “Really?” An author standing proud amid fresh fruits and salted meats is a real novelty, and out comes the wallet and off goes the book sitting merry in its bag. Everybody wins.
A convention, on the other hand, is a whole different sort of cat. You got mind-scanned people coming and going in droll waves, you’ve got costumes and flashing lights and buffets of questionable foods … and you’ve got authors left and right, coming out of the baseboards, reading, speaking, standing in front of their tables, hucking and shucking. Wow! At a convention, being an author isn’t really a big deal. It’s pretty normal.
And then, you’ve got the handful of “Name Brand” folks moving about, the authors who are rather Big and have an Established Following, messiah-like amid the eager faithful. Just like in Lankhmar on the Street of the Gods, the bigger gods take their place at the end of the street and all the little gods and ragged priests line up nearby, hoping to snag a wayward or drunken worshipper or two. In such an environment, being shy and coy simply will not do. You cannot simply wait for the fish to jump into your boat, you’ve got to trawl for them.
My good friend Pete Grondin, author of the McKinney Brothers murder-mystery series, is a master at it. People pass by and Pete fearlessly casts his line: “Hey, lady! You like murder?” he asks to astonished stares and quickening paces. But, occasionally, people stop: “Yes, I do like murder,” they reply and the sale is transacted. So I sigh and give it a go: Hey! You like Science Fiction?? No? You like Fantasy? How about Romance … I got `em all!”
Oh is it tiring…
For me, the greatest value of attending a convention is the contacts and genuine friendships I make. I walk around and talk to the authors and show genuine interest in their work. I listen to them. I support them either with a pledge to mention them at future events or with my money. I speak on panels, and occasionally people remember that. I’ve met some great people. I met the incredible Shandahars–Tracy Chowdery and Ted Crim, and Denise Verrico. I got to know Nic and Fiona Brown of “Werewolf for Hire” fame, I met the sweet and misunderstood Elizadeth Hetherington (is she ever tall) and, of course the amazing and also upbeat Stephen Zimmer. I come out of these conventions exhausted, a little soiled, but enriched–people who didn’t know I existed before know me afterward and that is worth it all.
I sometimes wonder what it might be like to be the Brand Name, the Big God sitting at the end of the street entertaining throngs of followers. Does the Big God know the names of his followers, can he recall their faces?? Certainly, it can’t be as fun and fulfilling as snagging that select person or two and making a real connection. Now that’s a happy ending.