I’ve attended three conventions over the last six weeks. It’s nothing nearly as intense as my buddy Matt McElroy, who usually attends 15-20 (or more!) conventions ever year for his job, but I’ve been thinking about conventions quite a bit: not only are they a chance to get away for a weekend, they also represent work and networking opportunities for me as a writer.
I attended Motor City Steam Con in July in the Detroit area, and had a great time. Dressing up and hanging out with friends is a fun way to spend a weekend, and Salathiel Palland and her crew put on a terrific event. Besides seeing and hanging out with friends, I also get to spend time with fellow writers I don’t see very often, and we talk shop, our lives, and what we’re working on right now: all in all, a very pleasant way to pass the time. In only their second year, Motor City Steam has grown substantially, and is already the talk of the Steampunk world in many circles. It’s an event well worth your time if you’re into steampunk: I cannot recommend it highly enough.
Gen Con is the 800-pound gorilla of gaming conventions. Everyone wants to go because it represents the single best opportunity to connect with fans, colleagues, and publishers. It’s also REALLY expensive: a week at GenCon could easily run two to three thousand dollars after travel, food, and lodging expenses are taken into account. A badge for the four days of the show costs around $100 all by itself.
The only way I can realistically go to GenCon every year is to work in a booth for a publisher so my badge and room are covered for me. It’s a trade-off; I spend all day on my feet at a booth, I miss programming because most everything I’m interested in (especially the GenCon Writers’ Symposium, which I have yet to attend) all happens during the day. On the other hand, I get to be there, and can hobnob, network, and make connections in the evenings, which is better than nothing.
GeekKon on the other hand is a small, local convention I’ve attended for the last eight years — seven of those as one of their Local Guests. I’ve been on my share of panels talking about writing, gaming, and general convention topics, met lots of people, made a few friends, and even had a drink or two at the bar. Geek Kon began life as an anime convention hosted on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, and has since grown into a full-fledged, general-interest con. Though they’ve made efforts to expand their audience into gaming, fiction, and film, their audience still has a strong emphasis on anime and cosplay, probably because when they promote GeekKon at other conventions, they are most likely to be other anime-oriented shows. I was very pleased that gaming luminaries Eloy Lasanta and Neall Raemonn Price were headliners at GeekKon this year. I saw them both at GenCon (Eloy only briefly) but at GeekKon I had the chance to spend some quality time with them, and greatly enjoyed their company.
Seven years in a row is a long time to be a regular guest; my greatest fears as a guest are not only being irrelevant to the convention, but also having nothing new to say. It is for this reason I’ve decided I need to step back from my run as a GeekKon guest. It’s also important for them to experiment with bringing in new talent to help give other people a new set of eyes to put their work in front of. There are lots of local people who could use a boost in public awareness, and in return have a lot to offer as panelists; I’d like to see GeekKon develop more of those contacts in their continued quest to diversify and expand their audience.
Attending conventions is fun, but it can also be exhausting. For the last several years GenCon and GeekKon have been on consecutive weekends. It was easier when I was a young man: I need to come to terms with the fact that I’m not that any more, and doing shows can take a lot out of a person, physically, mentally, and emotionally. I still plan to attend a number of conventions next year, but have hope that I can space them out a little better in the future.