Convention Comp Policies
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.
March 21, 2011 @ 9:47 am
Like, exposure is no way to pay bills, it’s a reason of death. 😉
I don’t know enough about cons to make a serious comment.
Jim C. Hines
March 21, 2011 @ 9:50 am
I wonder what would happen if I told my mortgage company that I wanted to pay next month’s bill by exposing myself…
March 21, 2011 @ 9:56 am
performing circus monkey attraction selling pointpanelist at an average convention I would expect you would not need to pay to get in, especially if you are talking 10 hours worth of work. I certainly am not there to listen to fans speak all weekend, I am there for the panelists and guests of honor. I would imagine slavesvolunteers do not need to work 10 hours for free admission.
I suppose my real question about the cons is… are you paying room and board?
Jim C. Hines
March 21, 2011 @ 10:17 am
Yep. Room & board are generally covered for guests of honor, but that’s about it.
March 21, 2011 @ 10:19 am
You could back off a few of those 8 items, maybe commit to five.
Jim C. Hines
March 21, 2011 @ 10:21 am
I’m going to be e-mailing them in the next few days, and reasonable scheduling is the top item for that e-mail. But I wanted to sort some of this out in my head beforehand.
Daniel J. hogan
March 21, 2011 @ 10:44 am
These days, I’m just happy if they spell my name correctly in the program.
Joking aside, yeah, it would be nice to get a 100% comp (I did at this year’s ConClave, which was great), especially when you’re putting in five to eight hours of work (which I have at a few cons, and then some).
At the same time, however, I’m happy to be allowed to talk to folks and that the programming chairs return my emails. I know I’m not at the point where most cons approach me to be a guest (aside from ConClave), so I’m content to pay my dues, or in this case, membership, since I am the one contacting the con about being on panels.
But, if they contacted me first and said, “OK, you’re on 10 panels” and didn’t give me much of a price break, I’d be a bit grumpy too.
Jim C. Hines
March 21, 2011 @ 11:10 am
Were you around when John Scalzi was Toastmaster at ConFusion, and they printed up badge ribbons saying “I met John Scalvi”?
I’m not actually grumpy about the 10 spots, but I am going to follow up with them about why they’re trying to kill me 🙂
March 21, 2011 @ 11:23 am
There’s another flip side to offering free memberships to Pros. Most cons have a hotel room block commitment to afford their function space. Pros usually take hotel rooms reducing the amount you need to worry about, which does contribute to the con overall.
We had a 2 panel policy when I ran Philcon, and yes we did have a few authors who blew off panels after agreeing. They were politely spoken to and reminded that free admission is a privilege not included with SFWA membership 🙂 That said, local pros were often scheduled heavier, because we knew they could get there in a pinch (it’s a winter con)
If there are significant problems in that area, it’s usually something related to programming management I would expect (which is always a fun area in a volunteer operation), most authors I know are pretty good about it.
Daniel J. Hogan
March 21, 2011 @ 12:02 pm
Ha! No, I was (sadly) not at that ConFusion. “Scalvi” sounds like a pirate sickness.
Sorry, I didn’t mean to say *you* were grumpy 🙂 – I meant I would be, at first, upon seeing that kind of work load.
March 21, 2011 @ 12:11 pm
Simply put, putting you on so many is an error. Typically what Penguicon does is say “Here are a dozen (plus or minus) that we think you’d enjoy. Pick the ones you like.” That’s probably what should be happening here.
As for comps…everyone except GoHs and Nifties pay (and Nifties, just like GoHs, are at the whim of the inviter…which tends to be the ConChair and the programming track heads). This is by design. Panelists pay, everyone pays. Staff pays. ConCom pays more than staff or panelists. Penguicon doesn’t want panels done by the sort of folks that do panels simply for the free badge. (And to pre-answer the question that is likely to follow, yes, that is a huge problem…as evidenced by the grossly unprepared state of about 50%–anecdotally–of panelists at most cons).
The two issues, however…you being grossly overprogrammed and panelists paying…should be treated as the entirely separate issues that they are.
Jim C. Hines
March 21, 2011 @ 12:15 pm
Jer – thanks for weighing in. I’m not too stressed about the overscheduling, and will be following up with programming to get that schedule revised.
March 21, 2011 @ 3:05 pm
One thing I’d say Jim is that conventions are great for exposure. Is $25 a high price to pay for getting yourself out there and getting yourself known? Of course, the other examples you mentioned are quite expensive. I wouldn’t pay $100 (Or the UK equivalent; Think it’s possibly £70) to attend a con, let alone work there.
I’m not saying you should have to pay it, however, and I suppose the term ‘guest’ is a bit of a misnomer in the cases you posted.
I’d have thought the publisher would pay for con attendance, to be honest. As near to free marketing as you can get, right?
March 21, 2011 @ 7:14 pm
I’d be tempted to pay the bill for someone who would try that…
March 21, 2011 @ 8:27 pm
Does DAW comp you for any of these things? One would think it would be in their best interest to load you down with DAW apparel and pimp you out. I obviously do not know how the publishing industry works. My line of work they do anyway.
Look at the bright side, you should be able to deduct the gas and $25 bucks on your taxes as a business expense, and the rest of your con visits throughout the year (if you itemize). I admit not a great tax deduction, but you get to expose yourself and stick it to the man (the IRS is the man in that reference).
Where do you find out about cons in your area, i have never been to one but have to assume there are some here in San Antonio¿
Jim C. Hines
March 22, 2011 @ 7:45 am
Nope, no compensation from DAW. For the most part, I don’t think it’s standard publisher practice to cover author convention appearances. Though showing up all decked out in DAW gear, the authorial equivalent of a NASCAR jumpsuit, could be entertaining 🙂
Mostly I learned about the local cons online and from talking to other authors and fans in the area. Plugging “San Antonio Science Fiction Convention” into Google brought up a few links that might work as a starting point.
Jim C. Hines
March 22, 2011 @ 7:47 am
True – membership aside, I’m one more room toward the hotel block commitment.
I suspect you’re always going to get a few authors who abuse the privilege and blow off panels, etc. But addressing those authors individually seems like a reasonable way to go. (Though I say this without first-hand experience running a con, so there might be problems I’m not thinking of.)
Jim C. Hines
March 22, 2011 @ 7:51 am
I’m not aware of any SF/F publisher that pays its authors to attend conventions.
As for the exposure … depends on who you ask. I know some people will happily work for exposure. A lot of people won’t. One way to look at it is that, given the royalty rates on paperbacks, I’d have to sell 40-50 books to cover that $25 expense. I usually check in at the dealers room, and my books tend to move pretty well … but not that well.
March 22, 2011 @ 10:39 am
The largest problem I had with authors on panels were usually those who were unprepared more so than blowing them off. Both of these affect the fan experience. But your program staff usually knows who they are.
As far as publisher payments, I’ve never seen a publisher pay for an actual author’s room or travel, but they have paid for memberships and/or artist alley type tables a few time for new authors they want to push. Or they will provide copies of books from an attending author as giveaways. I’ve also seen them mix the con in as part of a book tour when the schedule works out, to save the author a bit of money, that was rare, especially as a winter con.
Kerry (aka Trouble)
March 22, 2011 @ 11:05 am
I would imagine slaves volunteers do not need to work 10 hours for free admission.
Actually, most of the cons I work require 12 or more hours to get membership reimbursed.