I am a working artist that attends many conventions each year as a guest speaker. I also own my own convention and seek out other artists as guest speakers. As I grew from Artist’s Alley participant to Guest Speaker to con owner, my understanding of how things worked greatly changed. I was able to experience all sides of the industry and understand what is valuable and what isn’t.
For this post I am pulling knowledge from both of my worlds. I hope it helps someone who is out there looking to take their career to the next level.
1. Realize that your value has nothing to do with you being you. It has everything to do with how many butts you can get to buy tickets.
Imagine that you are an event organizer. Let’s just say that you invest 10 grand into the operating costs of an event. You need to now make that money back and to make the event self-sustaining for the next year. Who would you invite?
Person A: Someone who will just show up, do the minimum, and expect free food?
Person B: The person who will post click-able links to your event, tell people to register, and get that idea in front of as many people as possible by pulsing the information out on their various social networking outlets and encouraging their fans to greet them?
Unless you are insane and want to bankrupt yourself, you’d invite Person B.
My advice to you is that no matter how famous you are – be Person B. In my years and years working events and tabling at events, I have even seen “well-known” people not promote well and prove they weren’t worth the expense to the organizers. I remember at one of my first conventions I was approached by someone who was way more famous than me at the time. This person marveled at my vocal fanbase that showed up and asked me how I did it. I was absolutely floored because at the time I was an unknown. I just told people where I was really well.
Don’t just assume that because you are famous that your fans are psychic and know where to find you. Use the internet! It’s free!
I think of my speaking engagements as people who have contracted me to let you know about their event. Why? Because that’s how I can best help them, help me, and encourage them to have me back.
2. Advertise your appearances like your life depends on it. Your career as a guest kind of does.
What benefits you the most of the following two scenarios?
Scenario 1: A convention of 2,000 people – none of which know who the heck you are and may not give your table a second look while they pass you to go to the guy they recognize.
Scenario 2: A convention of 2,000 people – 500 of whom already know who you are because they came from your website to the event. They will show up, buy something from you, and drag their friends over to your table at the con.
The correct answer is Scenario 2. It is always better to have evangelical people at the event already buying from you to encourage new people to check you out. People don’t always seek out new things. They most often seek out things their friends tell them are cool already.
Never assume the convention is there to give things to you. It is a partnership. If you don’t do your part, it really hurts you the most. The con will see that you didn’t draw any people and you’ll walk away grumbling that no one bought anything from you.
3. Don’t be a jerk, even if you think it works for someone who is more famous than you.
In every scene there are always a few people who do act selfishly that manage to get somewhere. However, this is a small number of people who generally have friends in high enough places who can shine enough light on them to get them some notoriety. You can put a turd in a lighthouse and it’ll have some sort of fanbase.
I can’t lie to you and tell you that the biggest people are always the most talented. There are tremendously talented people who will die and have died in obscurity. The amount of visibility you get depends on how many eyes you can get on your work. Once you reach the flashpoint, you can do stupid and awful things and you won’t necessarily lose your whole fanbase. Information doesn’t generally penetrate everyone in a fanbase that is very sizable. It will self renew. (You might lose some sales or generate some kind of blowback that has other negative consequences, but you’ll still be where you are.)
If you haven’t had to work your way up on your own and can act however you want while still raking in the cash, you probably don’t care about getting invites to cons and so are not reading this. For everyone else, it is in your best interest to not be a jerk so that events will want to work with you. On the outside it might not seem so, but there are people who are blacklisted from various events after doing horrible things. A lot of the events talk to each other and propagate that blacklist.
Generally even someone who is huge gets bit in the butt at some point by being a jerk. Unless you are in insult comedian, just don’t do it – unless you arbitrarily like making less money than you could and enjoy angry fans trying to assault or prank you.
4. Don’t wait for cons to come to you. Go to the con!
The internet is large. VERY LARGE. There is no way that an event can look at everyone. If you want to start speaking at events, the best thing to do is to contact them and ask to be involved. Pitch a fun topic or a great marketing idea that will get more people in the door. If it doesn’t work, be cool with that. Show up at the event and meet people. Everyone is more persuasive in person than they are online. You can’t beat personal contact. If it doesn’t work, try another event. There are some events that just don’t handle certain types of creators or speakers. If you keep up a good attitude – before you know it, you’ll be involved with something fun!
5. Stay in touch.
Don’t just ditch communicating with the con staff after the event. Friend them on your favorite Social Networking site. If you have time send them a holiday card. Let them know that you really do appreciate the opportunity they gave you to be involved. People who staff these kinds of fan events do it for the love of the scene for often no money. They have to deal with all kinds of problems on little to no sleep and they work hard to make sure you have a great time. Nothing annoys con staff more than someone who takes what they want and leaves without a word. If you want to stand out, stay in touch, be excellent to each other, and party on!
NOTE: I need to mention that there is one caveat to this list. Not every convention is run the same way. This list assumes the convention you are dealing with is organized well, doesn’t change staff every year, and understands what value is. The points are the same no matter what kind of event you are attending, though. If you find you are dealing with an event that is not very organized and doesn’t seem to care much about your efforts to help them get people in the door (Believe it or not, it can happen.), then you are actually still in a great position because you have the opportunity to educate them on how to make things even more awesome than they already are and to show how much of an asset you are.