My last post, about my (ahem) appearance at Escape Velocity, just happened to coincide with this year’s AwesomeCon, another convention at which I appeared on a panel (I remember the subject of that one: Are Heroes Getting Smaller?). This year I didn’t get the chance to attend AwesomeCon, but depending on the breaks, I may attend Escape Velocity this Memorial Day weekend. But I can say that, whether I attend or not, I’ve become soured to the experience of being on panels, and don’t plan on doing so again.
Mind you, this isn’t because I had a particularly bad time on the panels. In fact, I rarely get the chance to talk to crowds of people who actually want to hear what I have to say… and in both convention instances (and a few business-oriented presentations I’ve given), I’ve enjoyed my experience talking to the audience, answering questions and generally feeling (for an hour, at least) like I’m an authority on something.
But beyond that experience, everything leading up to it and following it tend to make me feel small and worthless; and I derive absolutely no benefit—not social, intellectual or financial—from the experience.
Okay, I understand that conventions exist to make money off of enthusiasts of whatever their subject… even those that have absolutely no products for sale at the convention, but make their money off retailers renting space to show off their products, like movie companies showing off their upcoming films. Science fiction conventions also tend to have products for sale at the venue, and the convention profits off of renting space to those retailers.
The other popular thing to do at conventions is to watch people talk about things they know something about that interests attendees. Sometimes it’s celebrities… who mostly talk about themselves, the roles they’ve played or the books they’ve written. Often, it’s an expert in some field or someone who had a unique experience, who imparts their knowledge to the audience.
And sometimes it’s people like me, who show an interest in a particular topic, volunteer to speak on it, and are welcomed by the con as a panelist. Both of my appearances, at AwesomeCon and at Escape Velocity, were like this; though, at Escape Velocity, the idea for the panel was my own. Both cons were nice enough to give me free admission in exchange for appearing in a panel (AwesomeCon gave me free admission for just the day I was paneling). When I arrived, I found a table where I was given a special badge, some instructions about showing up for the panel, and left to my own devices.
Which sounds cool, I’ll admit. I’d hoped to meet some of my speaking peers, maybe strike up some relationships that could lead to promotion and cross-promotion, and even outright friendships. But when I sought out con organizers, they were nowhere to be found or too busy to speak; and other presenters were either not present, or in crowds of people that I, introvert that I am, was always hesitant to penetrate.
My panel at AwesomeCon was with two other writers, both friendly and knowledgeable… and at the end of the panel, after I spoke to a few attendees and thanked them for coming, saw that the other writers had already departed. I never saw them again, nor did I ever actually meet the person who’d organized the panel or my appearance. I had better contact at Escape Velocity with my organizer, but not with any other presenters or celebrities, as they were always surrounded by others. I went home from both, unnoticed and unthanked, feeling like another attendee with nothing to show for it but a different-colored badge.
Afterward, I thought it would have been nice if the organizers of either con had sent me a thank-you letter or email, acknowledging my effort and assuring me I’d made some small contribution to the success of the con, etc, etc. I got crickets. And when the next year’s con came around, no one got in touch with me to see if I might want to present, be a panelist, help with snacks, anything.
And of course, that effort at the con didn’t help my book sales. At all. As a promotional tool, let’s face it, I might as well have stood around with a message board over my head, for all the good that did.
I guess what I’m saying is that I felt the experience of paneling on a con didn’t feel worthwhile, or even appreciated, for me as a non-celebrity writer. And afterward, I just sat around feeling like I’d made a fool of myself going through all that trouble for nothing. (Oh, wait: I got in for free. I guess that’s something.)
Now, none of this means I won’t ever attend a convention. I like cons, they can be fun, I get to see cool things, buy interesting and hard-to-find swag, and maybe even dress up for it. Maybe one of these days, I’ll set up a booth to sell my books outright. But be a panelist? For me, it’s clearly not worth it.