Attending Conventions and Conferences as an Independent Author

| Posted in Interviews / Success Stories |


I keep saying I’m going to start going to writing and SF/F conventions so I can network, promote books, and pick up hot Klingons, but it hasn’t happened yet. Am I missing out? I invited fellow independent author Dale Ivan Smith to the blog today to talk about his experience in attending (and even being a panelist on) conventions and conferences. Yes, indies can get invited to speak! Here’s the lowdown….

Interview with Dale Ivan Smith

Heya, Dale! Welcome! You’ve blogged about writing conferences, and the benefits of attending them, for us before. It sounds like you’re not just going to them these days but have started to appear on panels. Where have you appeared?

I was a panelist at Renovation, the 2011 World Science Fiction Convention, and at our annual sci-fi convention here in Portland in 2011 and 2012. I had been invited to be a panelist at the 2012 World Science Fiction Convention, Chi-Con, held in Chicago, but had to decline because of scheduling issues, so that makes four conventions so far.

How, as an independent author, did you get invited to appear?

In the case of Renovation I was fortunate in knowing the Convention chair, Patty Wells, who offered, with no guarantees, to forward my name to the head of the Programming department. Literary sci-fi cons like Worldcon, World Fantasy, Norwescon etc. are run by committees divided into departments- programming, finances, PR, gaming, hotel, etc. It can be a bit challenging to find the name of the programming head, check the conventions website and look for committee members–they are often listed. This is important because the programming head is usually the one that decides on who is invited to be a guest or not.

I wrote a short bio listing the stories I had published online, emphasizing that I was working on becoming an indie author. Renovation’s programming department wanted to have a cross section of traditional writers and indies. It’s important to find out who is running the convention. They in turn can point you to the programming department. Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine has a regular convention calendar for North American cons. You can also check to see if your city has a local literary SF/fantasy society. If they do, there’s a very good chance members are involved in helping to run the local convention.

With our local convention, Orycon, I volunteered at the con in 2011 by going to the Green Room on Day 2 of the convention, and introducing myself to the programming chair, explaining that I was an indie author, as well as a librarian, and offering to be a stand-in if a particular panel was short a panelist.  It turned out there was a panel on scams and pitfalls for writing that had an opening.

Pointing out any particular expertise you possess, or background, or career outside of writing can be another way to be invited. If you were in the military, work in law enforcement, the sciences, computer industry, belong to a re-enactment society, etc. this can be of interest to attendees and programming committees alike and is really worth emphasizing.

Bear in mind that we’re discussing literary sci-fi and fantasy cons, and that media conventions and comic cons are different, typically having fewer panels. Literary sci-fi and fantasy cons can have well over a hundred panels in a three day weekend while media cons have fewer, and are usually more focused on media celebrities.

Writers conferences are a different, but a related kettle of fish, dealing with writing and publishing fiction. Check with the organizers about being a presenter — mention publishing credits, and also any related area of expertise. One of the indie presenters at our local writing conference had been an early success at Amazon and was something of an expert on Amazon’s recommendation engine. He spoke to a packed room of a hundred or so, and wound up with many of us on his mailing list.

What sorts of opportunities are opened up by speaking on panels?

You have the opportunity to speak to readers in public, first of all. Literary SF conventions are relatively small compared to Comic and Media cons, but you’re able to reach readers who might be interested in your work. You will have the opportunity to network with other writers, artists and editors that you are on panels with. Moreover being a panelist typically means wearing a ribbon identifying you as “guest”, or “speaker”, or “panelist,” which can be an ice breaker at a book launch or industry party being held at the convention.

There are also numerous networking opportunities with the other panelists, and other guests you may encounter after your panel concludes.

What sorts of topics are common at these panels? It seems natural that indies would be invited to speak on self-publishing, and perhaps blogging and book promotion, but what about the craft of writing fiction itself? Are indie authors taken seriously yet (and permitted to advise) by cons?

At literary SF and fantasy cons there are usually numerous panels on writing topics ranging from characterization to world-building, as well as panels on genre–say urban fantasy or steampunk, science panels, history etc, which is great way to showcase a particular expertise you might have. Writing topics would be a natural–I have been on several flash fiction panels, for instance. Emphasize your publishing credits and experience.

Have you found that some conferences are more amenable to featuring self-published authors than others?

I have! Like I said, I attended Renovation and Orycon and was invited to Chi-con. It really depends upon the organizers at this point in time. This past year’s Willamette Writers Conference featured several successful indie authors as speakers and a full slate of panels on self-publishing, SEO, the Amazon Recommendation engine, etc, much more so than when I last attended in 2009. Clearly Willamette Writers is aware of the growth in self-publishing and its potential.

On the other hand, I’ve heard from another successful indie author friend that her local writer’s conference had decided against having panels on indie topics, and instead focusing on traditional publishing. This same indie author friend was well received at her local literary SF convention, which goes to show how things can vary even in the same city, between organizations.

There seem to be a lot of conferences out there to choose from. Do you have any recommendations for authors?

There are indeed many conferences and conventions to choose from. First off, identify what your goal is in attending as an indie author. Do you want to network with other authors? Possibly meet fans and potential readers? Are you interested in leveraging your self-publishing success into a traditional publishing contract?

I met one successful sci-fi indie author at Willamette Writers who was pitching to agents and editors there. Writers conferences are a great place to network with other writers, as well as angle for a traditional publishing contract. For those staying indie, the networking would be the main reason. Literary sci-fi/fantasy cons can be great places to raise awareness of your writing by appearing on panels, as well as network with other writers.

Save for World Fantasy and Worldcon, agents and editors don’t attend in the numbers they used to. World Fantasy (being held in Brighton, England this year and D.C. next year) is a great place to meet other writers and authors. It’s low key, a limited panel track, lots of readings, and many opportunities to network. I met indie author Lorna Suzuki at World Fantasy San Diego in 2011 and we’ve become good friends since, and was fortunate to be interviewed at Lorna’s site about my indie published SF story “Persisting.” I also made several other friends there, and had the opportunity to meet a few short fiction editors as well as an editor from TOR Books.

Worldcon, held in San Antonio this year, is a great place to appear in front of a larger audience. If you have several books out and have been invited as a panelist it’s another way to raise your profile.

 Great news! Thanks, Dale!


 Dale Ivan Smith has his mother to thank for his love of science fiction and fantasy. When he was five, he glimpsed the cover of a paperback sci-fi novel she was reading and was immediately interested. (It had a giant radioactive spider on the cover.) When he was fifteen, she loaned him her collection of Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Barsoom novels and he devoured them in short order.

He got into trouble in grade school for sneaking off to the library during class, so naturally he wound up working as a librarian.

Dale’s stories are available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords etc. He is currently working on season 1 of his superhero serial, Weed, scheduled for publication in 2013.

You can find him at:

And on Twitter: @daleivan



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Comments (11)

I would recommend WisCon as a good example of a literary SF/fantasy con.

It’s fairly easy to get on panels if you sign up for the con well in advance, at least for WisCon. (I was also a panelist at ChiCon, though I wasn’t specifically invited to be one; I just went through the topics on the website and signed up for the ones I thought I could contribute to.) Usually, you should register several months before the con, so you get progress reports. In fact, some cons even let members suggest panels, though that doesn’t mean your panel will make it to the final schedule.

I’ve heard good things about Wiscon. Two friends of mine, authors Cat Rambo and David Levine, have had great experiences there. Your excellent advice on approaching Wiscon about being a panelist is also a good example of how it all depends on the individual convention. I think in general, earlier is better when applying.

I attended a handful of sci-fi cons this year (not as a panelist, but I did do flyers). It didn’t work from a marketing perspective (I don’t think such cons are necessarily great places to find readers, as opposed to writers), but it was great for meeting people involved in the various aspects of publishing, getting information, and just all-around professional development.

I agree the networking and info gathering can be worth it by themselves.

Very informative, and not a topic that gets talked about a lot. Conferences almost seem to be an automatic part of the traditional publishing experience, though. Good to hear things from the indie side. Thank you both!

Glad you found my post helpful!

This was lovely. Thank you both very much. I have been thinking a lot about Conventions and their value to today’s writer.

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This looks to be another interesting con option:

This will be Indie Recon’s first year. It is a FREE and ONLINE con. It will be modeled after the very successful I “attended” writeon con for two years and found it very valuable.

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