On Saturday, I spent the day at RustyCon, a small science fiction convention hosted near the Seattle airport. By small, I mean probably not more than 500 attendees, which makes it easily the smallest convention I’ve ever attended. However, it still felt reasonably dense, because it was pretty much clustered into one wing of conference rooms at one hotel. This was not another NASFIC, where a tiny con got spread out over two hotels and a massive convention center.
There seemed to be a general steampunk theme to the con (most of the costumes certainly fit the category), an impression which was reinforced by the massive inflatable steampunk-style airship in the main corridor:
Personally, I’m not sold on steampunk. I mean, some people are huge fans, and more power to ‘em, but as for me… it’s an interesting style, but it’s just one style. Fandom represents a huge variety of interests and passions, yet steampunk seems to be increasingly dominating the con scene. Maybe it’s just that steampunk costumes are good looking and relatively easy to put together; I’m tempted to do one myself, just so I have something more interesting than street clothes to wear to cons. But I still like to see more variety in the costumes and the styles at a con… although it could just be that I’m spoiled by Dragon*Con.
Despite my complaining about steampunk, the highlight of the afternoon was a reading by Phil and Kaja Foglio, who write and draw the steampunk webcomic Girl Genius. They recently came out with a novelization of the first three comic books, called Agatha H and the Airship City, which is sitting on top of my to-read list. Still, I’m afraid that reading it may be a letdown. I’ll never be able, even in my head, to duplicate the voices that Phil uses while he’s reading out loud. He’s the best oral storyteller I’ve ever heard, and Kaja is pretty darn good too.
Afterward I went to a panel on “Promoting Yourself via Social Media,” in which a bunch of authors, none of them younger than their mid-40s, talked about how odd this social media phenomenon was and lamented how much time you have to spend nowadays on the Twitters. About halfway through, the panel got hijacked by a marketing consultant in the audience, who went into her own philosophy on social media, which I would sum up as “Ask them what kind of soup they like!”
I didn’t feel like I got much out of that panel. Admittedly, I haven’t spent a great deal of time promoting myself on the Internet, because I feel like I need more of a product: in other words, more stories, preferably on websites that aren’t my own. I do have a “social media infrastructure” in place: a Twitter feed on which I try to be entertaining and responsive, and a blog where I try to post stuff that is hopefully interesting to read, even for someone who doesn’t know me very well. But until I hit some success with my writing, I’m basically just another random dude on the Internet, and no one’s going to care what I have to say on Twitter or Facebook or even the blog, really.
Of course, the writers on the panel did have “product” to push, in which case my main advice to them would have been: make it easier for people to connect. Include your website and Twitter account on everything you do. At cons, have postcards to hand out with your book cover on the front and your website on the back, or even just business cards, so people who might not want to spend fifteen or twenty bucks on a book right then can nevertheless engage with you, particularly now that they’ve seen you on a couple panels, maybe asked you a couple of questions, and know who you are.
Once they’re following you on Twitter or Facebook, don’t just post crap. Be funny and witty (this should be easy… you’re a writer), link to blog posts, mention cons or events you’ll be attending, and by then they’ll be fans and will have no problem buying your next book (or even your backlist). At least, that’s how it’s worked on me. At the con, I picked up Brave New Worlds, an anthology edited by John Joseph Adams, mainly because I’ve been following his Twitter feed, which in turn got me to buy his book. Of course, it didn’t hurt that the anthology had stories by Cory Doctorow, and Philip K. Dick, and Neil Gaiman, and various other illustrious authors in it… and hey, look, now I’m promoting it myself. Social media at work!
Of course, this is just my own take on the subject; it’s not backed up by studies, or marketing experts, or even my own success. I haven’t succeeded. But based on what I like to see as a fan, I can extrapolate what I think would be a successful strategy as an author or editor.
Next up was a panel on E-books vs Paper, which basically reached the same conclusion as everywhere else I’ve heard:
-E-books are here to stay
-The Kindle/Nook/etc is convenient and awesome but DRM and occasionally incompatible formats are still a stumbling block
-Paper books probably aren’t going away anytime soon
-E-book piracy sucks
Whenever I think about the format wars and the ramifications this debate has on the publishing industry, I could easily give myself an ulcer worrying about what to do as a new author. So I’ve decided to pretty much ignore this debate for the time being and work on improving my writing… once I have something to market, then I’ll worry about it. Yeah, yeah, I know… create the product and market it afterwards… what an old-fashioned way of thinking.
Later, I went to what turned out to be the main highlight of the evening: a geek-themed burlesque performance by The Tempting Tarts. Didn’t know tribbles could be incorporated into an erotic routine? Ha ha, goes to show what you know!
After an overpriced meal of fish and chips at the hotel bar, I stuck my head into a few of the room parties, but nothing was particularly engaging, so I left. I still need to work on my conversation skills at cons… my experience at most of them has been that unless you already know people, it’s hard to meet new folks, particularly if: you’re not a panelist, you’re as shy as a typical geek, and you’re not in costume. Most people are already hanging out with friends, and, well, most aren’t that interested in striking up conversations with random strangers. Of course, now I’ve just descended into the Introvert’s Lament, which means I should probably wrap up the blog entry.
The one-sentence version: RustyCon was all right, but personally, I prefer larger cons with more variety.