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The Fannish Life: A Down And Dirty Convention Primer, Part 1

Before you decide you want to be a convention maven, read on


Conventions have become a staple of science-fiction fandom. When Isaac Asimov, Frederik Pohl, Robert Heinlein and Ray Bradbury attended the first WorldCon, there were 200 attendees.

Fandom has grown by giant leaps and bounds and now includes genres the original sciencefictionists could only imagine.

Back in those early days, conventions were uncommon. Now, Id be surprised if there is a weekend during the year on which there are not many conventions you could attend if you had the time and money.

Some of these conventions are as small as that first WorldCon and some rival, or even outmatch, the population of my current home town, Plant City, Fla. GenCon, which is the one mega mega convention I attend, broke 30,000 in attendance this summer. That about equals Plant City.

One thing that all conventions have in common, whether they are tiny or humongoginormous, is that they take a lot of planning.

Ive worked on Necronomicon, a general interest science-fiction, fantasy and horror convention, held each October in the Tampa Bay area of Florida, for 29 years. Over that time, the only two areas Ive never helped with in the planning stages are gaming and the art show.

Though I have not been a part of the planning in those areas, I have been to the Clue Store and bought a few, so I know a bit about what is necessary to make those departments work well.

In recent years, there have been some conventions in Florida that advertised themselves and got my hopes up that I would be able to attend another convention similar to Necronomicon but would not be working at it. Sadly, they have fizzled. What it came down to was that they didnt understand that you plan before you hype.

So, for those who are thinking of starting their own convention or who are considering volunteering to work on someone elses convention, the remainder of this column and my next two columns will comprise a down and dirty convention planning primer.

The first thing you decide is that you want to host a convention. This might seem to be the bleedinobvious but it really isnt.

Sometimes, people think they want to have a convention because they like attending conventions. Thats a whole different animal than hosting. When you host a convention, you dont necessarily get to see or hear the cool stuff you helped plan. You might be stuck in registration or in a hall making sure people dont try to sneak in without having paid for memberships.

If you find that you want to host a convention knowing this, you are on the right track. You probably have that missionary thing, that so many of us do, in wanting to spread the word of Geekdom to others.

The next thing you need to do is beg, coerce, or bribe some other people to help you get started. There have been conventions that were started and planned by one person but that way lies total madness. Just dont do it.

With the other unwitting souls you have hoodwinked, you then figure out what kind of convention you want yours to be. Starting with one main focus is a good idea. What this will be is going to be determined to some extent by how you will finance your convention. Even small conventions cost a lot of money.

There are two basic types of convention: the all-volunteer, fan-run convention, and the for-profit, paid staff and volunteer convention. WorldCon is the former and Dragon*Con would be the latter. These are examples of very successful conventions of each type.

It is not impossible, but it is unlikely you will start out at their level of success.

Some things to know that can help you decide what type of convention you are going to have are:

Movie and television personalities are expensive. There are still a few who will come for expenses and a table at which they can sell pictures and autographs. But when you add up those costs to you, its not insignificant.

Those celebrities who charge talent fees could ask for as little as $3,000 to $50,000 or $60,000 or more!

Most science-fiction, fantasy or horror authors who appear at conventions do so for travel, food and lodging expenses. They may also want a dealers table.

You can have a convention without guests for whom you pay anything. Local authors will show up just so they can get the word out about their work to fans.

Your venue will be costly. There is no way around this. (OK, there is one way; you can start out by working with a college science-fiction club and they can very likely get free space to use on the college campus. This will have to be a not-for-profit convention however.)

You need to start early. Give yourself no less than nine months for a small convention and at least two years for a large one. Time runs ever so quickly when you are two months out from your event.

In Part 2 of this down and dirty convention primer, youll get information on negotiating with your venue, space allocation and staffing your convention.

Live long and prosper.

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