The Paradox of Steampunk Conventions
Created by omgrey on 2/6/2012 2:17:21 PM

Notable Steampunk Paranormal Romance Author O.M. Grey gives us our first in a regular series of columns.  The first of which on the new trend of steampunk-themed conventions! 

For the past two years, I've had the honor of being a literary guest at over 20 scifi/fantasy conventions, mostly Steampunk-exclusive events, as I write Steampunk Romance. And I'm so excited to be the literary guest at several more in 2012. As with anything, the longer you do something, the more you know what to expect...and the better you get at doing that very thing. You discover what works and what doesn't work.

I'd imagine that the convention experience greatly differs between a patron and a guest or performer. One is there to play, the other to work. One pays to be there, the other gets paid to be there. Sometimes. Okay, rarely. More often than not, unless the guest/performer is headlining, they have to pay part, if not all, expenses to work at the convention.

No kidding.

The experience between many performers/guests and the convention organizers is more similar, I'd wager. Both work extremely hard, and both have serious financial restraints. First year conventions are notorious for having budgetary issues, and it's no surprise. Generally the people who organize conventions are huge scifi/fantasy fans. They want to give back to their community by hosting an event full of entertainment, information, networking, and, above all, fun. Few have experience in event planning, and the outcome of what most organizers do on passion for the genre alone is simply amazing. I'm always impressed with what a few focused individuals can pull together.

I'm a hard worker and a very passionate woman with seemingly endless energy, but I would never, ever take on the task of throwing a convention. I'd wind up at the end of a rope. Seriously.

2011 saw a record number of first-year Steampunk conventions, and 2012 will bring twice that. So many Steampunks are geared up to make their mark on the convention circuit. If only there was a way for new events to learn from the former mistakes of now-established conventions. could we make that happen?

Two colleagues have expressed interest in publishing a guide for running a convention, outlining such topics as common mistakes and how to avoid them to the best way to treat convention guests/performers for the benefit of all. I might even write one myself.

That might help, if the convention organizers would both read it and heed it. Because also, as in anything, people have a tendency to learn the hard way. I know I sure do. Although the realities are out there if one does the proper research, so much of that is ignored by new organizers. They say, "Sure most first year conventions don't even break even, but not ours! Ours won't just break even, it will profit!"

Yeah. They don't.
I can't say never, because, as in everything, there are exceptions to the rule, but in most cases they don't profit or break even. The difference comes out of the organizer's pocket, in the best circumstances, and out of the performers' pockets in the worst. I've actually been present at a convention where the convention chair approached the headlining musical act and said, "Sorry, we can't pay you."

And if the headliner didn't get paid, no one else did either. My guess is there were a lot of very angry artists that weekend.

Nevermind they had a contract.
Nevermind they need pay rent and eat.

That's, of course, a worse-case scenario and doesn't happen very often.

I hope.

Sorry, I digress. Imagine that.

Conventions are ultimately fun for the patrons, the guests, and the organizers, even with the inevitable snafus that occur at ever first year event. Still, with every convention I hear patrons complaining about the cost of entry and having to pay extra for special events. I hear organizers complaining about the ungodly amount of stress and limited budgets. I hear guests/performers commenting on the lack of attendees, scheduling issues, and the general plight of the struggling artist.

Especially in this economy, all of the above are understandable.

Some unsolicited advice to ease the stress for all:

Organizers, treat all your guests like VIPs, headliner or not, especially if they are paying (even in part) to travel to, stay at, and work at your convention. Have a schedule ready for them in their welcome packet so they don't have to wonder what they're supposed to do or where they're supposed to be. Give them VIP access to special events, and please, please feed them, if only from a convention green room suite. At least offer them lodging for the event. Negotiate those rooms from the hotel. It can be done. If you don't know how, contact the organizers of another event and ask for advice. They, like most people in this fabulous Steampunk community, are happy to share secrets and knowledge. Above all, honor your contracts, even if that means it has to come out of your own pocket. It may not be fair, but please be a professional.

Guests/Performers, don't behave like divas or act entitled. Get everything in writing and treat your appearance/performances like the professional obligations they are. Be on time. Be courteous. Be grateful. Get paid *before* you perform. It's not fun to chase down con organizers for months afterward. I know. I've had to do it. I've known other performers who have had to do it. Get the business out of the way so everyone can relax and enjoy themselves.

Patrons, support the artists. Yes, you paid to get in to the convention, and often a pretty penny, especially for VIP events, so what's another $15 for a CD or a book? The artists are there to promote their work and entertain you because that's how they make a living. As you've read here, sometimes that's the only money they make for doing so, and it rarely is a profit, as they're trying just to break even from travel, hotel, food, and other expenses.

Conventions are so much fun, and I'm more than honored to be a part of this Steampunk community. I've met so many wonderful people from all three tiers: fellow artists, hardworking organizers, and fun loving patrons. I just can't wait until my next one.  See you there!


O.M.Grey is a writer of paranormal romance and steampunk fiction.  Her Blog, Caught in the Cogs, discusses her short stories, podcasts, and essays on relationships and romance advice.  

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