Most of the time, when I attend a convention and do programming, membership is comped (i.e., I don’t have to pay for a convention badge). This makes sense to me. Generally you have to do a minimum of 3 or so panels, but at that point you’re considered to be contributing to the con, just like someone who volunteers for X hours in exchange for a comped badge.
This isn’t always the case. Three examples come to mind.
1. World Fantasy Con. I was told I could do either a reading or a panel last year, and either way I was still paying the $100+ for con membership. For a world convention, where the majority of attendees are authors, you just can’t comp memberships to everyone who wants to do programming … nor can you put everyone who asks onto as many panels as they want. It’s the nature of the convention, and I get that.
2. Windycon. Their policy for years has been that authors pay for membership like everyone else. But if you do X number of panels, they’ll mail you a check several months later to reimburse your membership. I’ve asked about this policy, and it was blamed on “panelists who took their comp badges and then blew off their panels.” I’m … skeptical. Is this really such a huge problem? If so, then why aren’t other cons doing this? And why not just stop inviting those particular individuals to be on programming?
ETA: My explanation above is quoted from an e-mail I received when I asked about Windycon’s policy, but I’m told that this is a vast oversimplification.
3. Penguicon. Program participants at Penguicon get a reduced rate. I believe it’s $25 this year. In some years, I’ve been told I could be a “nifty guest,” and got my membership comped for that, but I believe nifty status is pretty much up to the whim of whoever’s doing programming. I know of at least two authors who refuse to do programming at Penguicon for this reason, and I suspect there are more. Penguicon is a really fun con, but this aspect does make me a bit cranky.
I understand that panels can be publicity for authors, and we’re benefiting from exposure. At the same time, if I’m reading my Penguicon schedule correctly, I’m scheduled for eight panels, and the group signing, and a reading … and being told I’ll have to pay $25 for the privilege of working my ass off that weekend.
I generally enjoy doing panels. And they do help me sell a few books. But don’t pretend it isn’t work. And I find myself wondering … am I really so popular they want me on eight panels, or is this a result of other authors backing out?
I need to follow up with Penguicon’s programming staff about this, but I’m trying to sort out what’s fair. Should authors be content to pay for registration and settle for “exposure”? (I can tell you exactly what I’d say to a magazine or anthology that offered to pay me in exposure…) Or am I slipping into diva mode by expecting to be comped for my membership?
Discussion welcome, as always. I would especially love to hear from other authors and from folks who organize and run cons, to know what you think.