To Con or not to Con – that is a Steampunk author’s question

For an author or a budding author, is it worth one’s time, energy, and money to attend Steampunk conventions and events.  After reading an article by Jay Lake, the Guest of Honor at Gaslight Gathering (San Diego) 2013, one might conclude the answer is no.  But I would like to differ (with much respect to Mr. Lake as he brings up many good points and does not entirely discourage his fellow authors.)  The gist of his article is that Sci Fi conventions are author friendly where Steampunk conventions are not: so why bother?  (FYI, I am not quoting Mr. Lake below, I’m just summerizing what he and a few others have suggested.)

A little background: I’ve been a Geek all my life.  Prior to getting published, I wanted to be a comic book artist.  I highly recommend trying and FAILING in a big way – which I did.  I’m not too bad an artist but I just don’t have what it takes for the comic book industry.  And I’m still here!  The world did not blow up.  I did not die of shattered dreams.  I just moved along, considerably wiser (one hopes.)  During the nearly 20 years I spent flogging my art, I did 80% of it at Science Fiction conventions.  I know conventions, especially those designed along the same paradigm such as today’s Steampunk convention.  From this weird and wonderful experience I present my point of view.

  • Steampunk is costume and prop oriented where Sci Fi conventions are more literary, thus authors don’t do as well.  Okay, some of this is accurate in my experience.  Steampunk draws to it those who love gadgets and bits and parts and shiny things.  Yet, I spent many a dollar getting “stuff” at the Sci Fi cons too.  People competed for who could reproduce the latest Star Trek weapon or make something new.  The costume aspect has dropped a bit at Sci Fi cons, but it hasn’t gone away.  Without meaning the slightest negative connotation, cons are very much about posing and appreciating others who are posing.  Therefore, I conclude that Steampunk and Sci Fi share a love for the aesthetic, and this has not slowed Sci Fi books sales in the least.  Get the author to dress up a bit, and things go even better for them.
  • Steampunk fans want toys and workshops, not books.  I have to argue against this point.  Steampunkers are avid readers.  When they gather up, they want to make things and show off.  When they are at home, they want to tinker and read.  Conventions need to recognize this emphasis and to make appropriate adjustments.  Clockwork Alchemy is giving this the old college try: we have the Author’s Salon – a series of panels and workshop intensives for writers, cosplayers, and LARPers.  Want to get published; want to design fascinating characters; want to understand how a real gunfight works?  CA has designed a “maker” style approach to authorship.  I’ll let you know how it goes.
  • If one is not selling books now, they never will because Steampunk conventions are different.  Sure they’re different, they are also new.  Consider that most people still haven’t heard of the Steampunk genre.  Every convention I know of is either brand new or no more than five years old.  It takes 5 years minimum to establish an event.  It takes time for things to settle, change, and evolve.   It takes time to get more than your cousin Joe to attend because you got him a free membership.  Many conventions have tiny membership numbers, so your potential market is a little stunted at first.  The same was true of Sci Fi conventions at first.  Let’s leave off despair and abandonment just yet.  There is room to grow a convention environment that includes writing and writers.  If in 10 years nothing has changed, well, then we can rethink things.
  • Books don’t sell at Steampunk conventions and poor book sales are bad.  Well, no duh – we all want to sell our books and to quit our day jobs.  But not selling today doesn’t mean you won’t sell tomorrow.  If you want to guarantee a lack of sales, don’t show up.  Don’t shake hands or make eye contact.  Don’t share what you’ve learned.  Like the event that needs five years to get up to speed, so does the author.  Look, it’s going to take you a while to get established, especially in a world where anyone can get a book printed, and the first few years are going to be expensive.  Be the outstanding author no one can forget.  Enjoy the journey and take every chance you can get to meet fans.  Make them happy to say they’ve met you.

Be an unrelenting force.  Don’t just let things happen, work with the conventions and build them to be author friendly.  So slap some goggles on your hat and get out there.  Steampunk is a whole new, old world.  If you want it to be author supportive, make it that way.  No one is going to do it for you.

5 thoughts on “To Con or not to Con – that is a Steampunk author’s question

    1. Sorry it took me a bit to reply, but I believe Big Rich that you have a bery good point. Some venues are very pricey and tough to get to. In my own experience, I’m being very picky because right now, it’s all coming out of my pocket. If the hotel is +$250/night and the table is +$150 for three days, with only 300 people pre-registered, I would have to seriously consider all the external varibles (such as market, could this be an introduction to a whole new region and people, is this a vacation as well as a convention, etc.) Good point.

  1. Adam Lid

    Personally, I really think it’s more about getting yourself out there than anything else- pure promotion. I think the whole genre is too new to make any hard and fast rules although I’d expect that it will begin to shake our more in the next three to five years with some events becoming more prominent and others less so. So you may not be selling product there but I think it’s still a good thing to do, if nothing else there’s the physical connection. But that’s just me.

  2. I absolutely love love love this!! Beautifully said. – Be an unrelenting force. Don’t just let things happen, work with the conventions and build them to be author friendly. So slap some goggles on your hat and get out there. Steampunk is a whole new, old world. If you want it to be author supportive, make it that way. No one is going to do it for you.

  3. Post-Clockwork Alchemy convention report in a couple of days, but let me say that it’s Author Focused track of panels was a great success and will be repeated. We learned tons of things we didn’t know about authorship, fans, organization, and presentation. Good convention and well worth the effort.

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