Robert J. Sawyer

Hugo and Nebula Award-Winning Science Fiction Writer

Pros and Cons

by Rob - February 10th, 2006.
Filed under: Uncategorized.

A writer friend is contemplating going to a science-fiction convention (“a con”) to promote a first novel from a small press. Here’s the advice I offered:

I feel I should say a few words, one writer to another, about going to conventions on one’s own nickel.

The upcoming con you’re thinking of going to will doubtless be a wonderful event: you’ll have fun and you’ll meet neat people. But I should point out that last year, when I went to the same con, just as a panelist, as far as I could tell, not one single copy of my new novel Mindscan sold in the dealers’ room. And even for a guest of honor at a con, selling ten copies of a book over the course of a weekend is a lot.

Also, if you’re a small-press author, it’s very likely that dealers won’t have copies of your book; few dealers stock small-press titles. Even if you’re with a major press, you may still find that no one has thought to bring your book; many cons are dilatory about letting dealers know who will actually be on programming. You might want to bring a half-dozen copies of your title on your own, and either sell them directly after your reading or offer them to a dealer to sell for you (normally, dealers take a 40% commission, so you barely break even doing this if you’ve bought copies at your author’s discount, although you do eventually get royalties credited to your account).

I just want you to have your eyes wide open about the return-on-investment of making such an expensive trip. As an author, I can’t say that over the years going to cons has had great financial benefits for me. They’ve been lots of fun, sure — but I figure I spend at least $500 on any out-of-town con, and the return is never even a tenth of that in royalties. I just want to make sure you understand that going to cons is neither required nor expected from a business point of view. You should only do it if it’s something you really want to do for personal enjoyment.

That said, if you are going to go to a con as a pro, I have some tips that I offer to every writer:

On why writers go to cons

More on why writers go to cons

Tips for public readings

A 37-minute podcast with me and Tee Morris on how writers can get the most out of cons and other ways of promoting their books.

Best of luck!

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