Guest post by Bryan Thomas Schmidt.
So, you’ve done all the research. Whether from online sites like Locus, or a general search for science fiction convention lists like this or this, through word of mouth or reading the back of Asimovs and Analog, you’ve identified several Cons for which the stars seem aligned (locations, dates, guests, size, costs, themes, etc. all seem to fit your needs, wants and schedule. Great. But hold on a minute. Before you make contact, first things first. And the first thing here is you need a good bio.
A good bio should be short but highlight the key things which would make you desirable as a panelist/guest and attendee.
Let’s start with mine:
Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, and The Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and several short stories featured in anthologies and magazines. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. As a freelance editor, he’s edited a novels and nonfiction. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter under the hashtag #sffwrtcht. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF Publishing, Grasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.
In my case, mine has grown over the past two years a lot, but I mention my novels, recognition one received with links, my editing, including the headliner who is a big name, as well as my SFFWRTCHT work and blogging with popular sites. I also mention my SFWA membership. This immediately tells them I am not just average joe wanna be writer but have respect in the industry at least enough to get the recommendations needed to join the SFWA and to get the trust as editor and interviewer of name writers, etc. I also mention my web life accounts so they will know that 1) I can be contacted easily and where and 2) I am active with promotion and thus will likely help promote their Con. The point is to present what you do have in the best light. If you are graduate of a respected workshop, especially one taught by names which they can find information about online, mention that. Mention your social networking and blog. Mention where your work has appeared etc. There’s no guarantee you’ll get on panels but presentation is an absolute necessity for those who do so your bio needs to present you well.
Once you’re happy with your bio, then it’s time to contact the Cons. Contacting cons should be done at least four to six months in advance. Sometimes you can squeeze in last minute but out of consideration, plan as early as you can. As soon as the previous Con is over, you can contact them but, again, out of courtesy, I'd give them a month to rest first. Cons are exhausting. If you don't know, you'll see.
I usually target smaller local Cons to get feet wet for several reasons. 1) They are more open to new and local writers as panelists, etc. 2) They are smaller crowds usually and thus a safer place to get your nervous feet wet. And you will be nervous. If you’re not, there’s something wrong. I’ve been on panels now at seven or eight Cons and I still get nervous pre-panels, etc. It’s okay. That’s why having fellow panelists is so great. We lift each other up with our energy and support. 3) Local cons are easiest to get to and find people you know to help you navigate your first time. Going far away to a strange place, especially if you’re an introvert, is hard enough but do it alone with strangers and be expected to be knowledgeable and THAT’s pressure. So don’t do that to yourself if you’re not ready. 4) Local Cons introduce you to a fanbase with whom you can readily build rapport as well as a circle of dealers and writers who can become your support community. They will help you to sort out what's happening and when and also take personal interest in your work because of frequent interactions. You won't feel so alone. They will root for the little guy they know.
The way to contact Cons is via the contact links on their website. Some will have one direct to programming. Others just have an info one. Others list the contacts for various departments. Write the address you have, tell them you’d like to participate in the Con, offer your bio, and wait for their response. If you’ve done panels or been a writer guest at Cons before, mention that, but if you’re here for my advice, I’m assuming you probably haven’t.
Some take a while to respond. Some are prompt. They will always tell you yes or no. (I have yet to hear no) and then let you know what happens yet. Most require you to buy a membership. Some offer discounts. Sometimes this is only for SFWA members to weed out the wheat from the chaffe. Sorry if that’s not you. You’ll get there. Whatever the case, even at World Con, panelists pay to attend. Big names even. So don’t feel bad.
The next thing you’ll likely be asked to do is suggest panels. If you have ideas, send a panel name and brief description. Offer to do signings and readings if you’re up for it and have anything to sign or read. As a bonus, look at the website. Are they listing attendees yet? If you submit panel ideas with suggested panelists, you are helping them save time. It shows you are attentive to their needs and to detail and have given serious thought to your ideas. You’re not committing anyone. The people you suggest can turn it down. Sometimes I contact them first, sometimes I let the Con do it. But no one will be mad if you suggest they might be good for a panel. It’s flattering. If they disagree or have too much already, they’ll just say no. Most won’t even know the idea came from you. There’s just too much going on at Cons.
After you’ve done that, send a headshot and final bio in case they need it for a program and then wait to hear from them. Once you get a schedule, which will likely be no more than two weeks ahead of the Con, be sure and study up a little. Make up some questions you would ask if you were in the audience of each panel and then practice your answers. This serves two purposes: A) it helps you be sure you have something coherent to say. Don’t worry, it won’t sound rehearsed because live, you’ll say it differently and it’ll just come out. What it does is organize your thoughts and bring them to the forefront so whe n you need them, they’re ready to be articulated. B) If no one is moderating, you may be asked. Most panelists won’t call on anyone who really doesn’t want to do it. But the saving grace of moderating is you get to put pressure on everyone else for answers while you figure out what to ask and plan brief tag-ons to what they say. And you get the exposure of being heard in the panel without being required to speak as the top expert. It sounds hard but really you just ask questions and choose who gets to ask and when from the audience. It’s not that hard and it can take pressure off if you can handle that responsibility. Moderating also helps you feel and look more knowledgeable both to fellow panelists and audience but also to Con staff and you’re also showing you’re willing to pitch in and help make their Con better too, which goes a long way.
There’s two more things you should do now. 1) Prepare your agenda, including other panels or events you’d like to attend; including whom you’d like to meet; 2) If you have books to sell or anthologies or magazines with your story and don’t plan to pay for a dealer table (you need to be there when it’s open remember), look at the dealer list and see if any dealers carry books whom you can contact. Do not be afraid. Dealers like to carry stuff by Con participants because it encourages sales and brings people to the table not just from interest in panelists but from panelists telling attendees where to get their stuff. They may say no, but most are quite willing to help. Some will order your stuff in themselves. Others want to work on consignment for a percentage. It varies. But it’s worth it to have your stuff there if you have stuff. Stand in the dealer room near your stuff when you can. Offer to sign it. Pitch it if anyone shows interest. Mention the dealer on all panels.
Lastly, make it a point to thank everyone from con staff to fellow panelists to attendees to the dealers.
Finally, blog about the Con a week ahead, during, and after. This helps not only promote the Con but shows you’re involved in fandom and growing in your appeal enough to get invited. You can also talk about tips, as I do, for those following in your footsteps. It’s good fodder for blogging. People do find it interesting. And it helps prove to other Cons you’re someone they can count on to help make their Con a success. It also impresses agents, editors and fellow writers. For what it’s worth…
The Returning, new challenges arise as Davi Rhii’s rival Bordox and his uncle, Xalivar, seek revenge for his actions in The Worker Prince, putting his life and those of his friends and family in constant danger. Meanwhile, politics as usual has the Borali Alliance split apart over questions of citizenship and freedom for the former slaves. Someone’s even killing them off. Davi’s involvement in the investigation turns his life upside down, including his relationship with his fiancée, Tela. The answers are not easy with his whole world at stake.