I have always chosen my conventions carefully. Because I am limited in the number I attend I want to catch a small one every year and a couple of larger ones when I can. The last couple of years it's been the North Eastern Writers Conference (NECON for short) and the World Fantasy Convention. Both have their benefits. Both did and do a lot for me.
This year I'm throwing Dragon*Con back into the mix. I like Dragon*Con too, but sometimes it's a bit overwhelming. There are a LOT of people at that convention and it happens on Labor Day weekend and the city of Atlanta is, frankly, a sweltering sauna in late August/early September, so, you know, it's gonna keep you searching for air conditioning. Also, because it's local and I'm a miser, I'll be commuting every day. Up very early, out very late, take the train to the station and the car back home. the last time I actually managed this feat I was also moving into a new place simultaneously. It was an adventure. Beside which, I had not planned ahead and getting a room in Atlanta would be exorbitant and insane.
So there we have it, that's my list of appearances as it stands.
At all three conventions I will do whatever the convention asks of me within reason. Want me on a few panels a day? I'm there. Want me to moderate? Not a problem.
Where I once made my mistake was telling a convention basically those exact words. The catch was they took me up on it.
In the span of three days I was on eighteen panels and had a reading besides. I flew out to Arizona for this particular convention and I paid memberships for my wife and for me as well and paid for our airfare, hotel room, meals and, of course, the ride to and from the airport.
Let me clarify: I was not a guest in the sense that any part of my trip was covered by anyone but me.
And for this, I got to work on a total of nineteen panels including my reading. Mostly what I remember was looking out into the conference room and seeing an army of different faces. The one constant was my wife, who sat through all of that stuff until I told her to go have fun.
That will never happen again.
Want to pay my way to a convention? Cover my room and board and flight? Sure. I'll do as many panels as you need. Hell, make me a guest of honor and I'm yours for the weekend, because there's a good amount of exposure and I can always use the extra exposure. And also, because, hello, you're paying for the privilege.
Want me to do endless panels on my dime?
I once did the programming for the World Horror Convention. I was asked and a laid out the panels, chose the panelists, arranged everything to the best of my ability and in accordance with the requests of the convention runners and the guests alike. I am happy to say that the programming was well-received and there were very few complaints.
When I got to the convention and one of the volunteers asked me to handle something, I looked right back at him and said, "Not my problem. The programming is done." That might sound harsh, but I meant it. I was not paid to do the programming. I was given a free membership. No room, no board, and by that time I had learned from my previous errors. Setting up the programming took something in the neighborhood of a hundred work hours. They got me at a bargain. The tickets I received came down to about $120.00. I had done my part to the tune of one dollar and twenty cents an hour and I was not about to do anything more except actually attend the convention.
After that, I pretty much did two panels and networked.
Here's the thing. I do like panels. But I also like time to do what I need to at a convention. I barely had time to do anything but move from room to room at the Arizona convention. Sometimes I was in the same room, so between panels I would run across the hallways, hit the restroom and grab a smoke (I was dumb and smoked back then) and then back for another hour of questions and answers.
At that time, by the way, my first novel had not even come out. I was basically a warm body. I was glad of the exposure, as I have said before, but after a while it dawned on me that I was doing a damn sight more work than most of the professionals at the convention and that I had paid for the privilege.
These days, again, I'm not likely to do six panels a day on the average. And if I do, they better be spaced out enough to allow me the time to do things like stop for lunch.
One other thing I don;t do at conventions. I don't LARP. I never have, I never will. This despite several attempts by LARPing groups to include me whatever the hell they were doing.
James A. Moore
Dragon*Con Saturday Morning before the chose moved inside, 2010.