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Monday, May 28, 2012

What to do at the Convention When Your Books Aren't Selling

Just completed a great weekend at ConQuesT 43 in KC!  I had a super time, talking with lots of other authors, readers, collectors, vendors, and of course, the Con Committee, who work their tails off to see things go smoothly for everyone (except themselves).  I was signed up for nine (that's NINE!) panel discussions, everything from costuming to gender roles in the genres of SF/F, to real science behind SF writing and how it's coming true much faster than we could have ever imagined.
As with many conventions today, attendance was, shall we say, less than desired.  The dealers room was pretty full with vendors, the art show well represented, and the guests accessible and cordial to readers and fans.  
It's tough to sit at your dealers table and basically have little to do for long stretches of time.  We're talking 10-15 minutes at a time, before someone stops by and listens politely as you describe the virtues of your wares, or books, or artwork you're hawking.  This year I did only three random-page readings at my table, and one during the all-author signing fest on Saturday afternoon.  I sold one (that's ONE!) book all weekend (and traded another with an author I met and was on a couple of panels with).  On Friday I had only a half-dozen people just stop by to say hi.  The dealers room was abuzz with vendors... artists were hanging their creations... the Con Committee was hustling and bustling... but for all the busy-work and energy in the room, there were few attendees to be seen.
Now granted, ConQuesT does a great job of getting things moving quickly, in terms of panel discussions (one of the strengths of the Con as a whole), and in those panels, of course, are the Guests of Honor and other writers/artists/luminaries who donate their time to speak on their favorite subjects. And the panels are VERY popular, with decent attendance and good interaction by those listening (another strength; ConQuesT wants everyone to feel involved, and the panels are always great sources of lively discourse). 
Many of the vendors make their livings from conventions like this, and the Memorial Day Weekend is the unofficial kick-off of the Convention Season.  It's sad to see such a proud tradition in KC such as ConQuesT so lightly attended.  
Be assured, there are good folk doing the necessary work to get things off the ground every year, and the Guests of Honor and others who donate their time as speakers are always willing to do whatever is asked.
The Con is 43 years old... I think it may be in the midst of (dare we say it?) a midlife crisis... searching for the who and what the Committee thinks it should be.  It's tough... to keep something like this running for such an extended time.  Energy sometimes wanes, and imagination with it... inertia takes over and (as I've suffered times in my own life) we find ourselves doing the same thing over and over, just because we don't know what else to do.  
I hope the Con Committee takes a hard look this off-season at where ConQuesT is going and what they think it should be.  Personally, I don't go to the convention to SELL, SELL, SELL!.  I go to visit, to mingle, to network with other writers and virtual media professionals.  I enjoy the pleasure of talking about the craft of writing, marveling about how fast technology is moving and how SF writers sometimes can hardly keep ahead of reality.  I like the feel of conventions, the getting-away-from-it-all they provide for a few days.
Take a deep breath, ConQuesT, and talk it over.  Toss out ideas, however crazy they may be.  Make lists of your strengths and weaknesses, your good and bad, your Light Side and Dark Side.  And find a way to keep this going... because it would be a shame for such a grand tradition to simply fade away.

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