News, commentary, and fiction by Barb Hendee, co-author of the Noble Dead saga (; author of the Mist-Torn Witches series, the Vampire Memories series, and more.

The Wednesday Writer’s Corner: The Cost and Benefits of Conventions

JC and I often get asked why we don’t attend more SF/Fantasy conventions.  We used to do Norwescon whenever we could, along with our more local Orycon in the Portland area. We know writers who do up to ten conventions a year, hoping to promote themselves and their books.  There are several types of conventions that writers tend to target. 

Those who want to do serious book promotion tend to aim for something like Worldcon or DragonCon, because those conventions draw thousands of people (fans).  The idea is to get yourself up in front of a filled room while doing a panel—and hopefully more than one.  You display your books and talk about them to make your work known to new readers.

The World Fantasy Convention is a business con.  We did one in 2003 in Washington D.C. We also had a blast taking Saturday off to visit a few of the Smithsonian’s museums.  There aren’t many fans at this convention.  Rather, the hotel is teeming with editors, publishers, agents, and writers who all want to make “connections.”  For some writers, this might be the only chance out of a year to physically be in the same space with their agents or editors. These conventions tend to be staged in large (expensive) cities.

Okay, so our round-trip plane tickets to D.C. were $600 a piece.  The hotel room was $200 a night, and it was not an upscale room.  It was smelly and the toilet didn’t work properly.  The breakfast buffet was $17 a person, and we quickly started looking for other meal options.

By now you can see at a glance that it would be easy to drop $2,500 on one of the big conventions for two people. 

In following years, JC often said, “That was fun, but it really didn’t do anything for our careers or our books sales.  I don’t think it’s worth the money to do another one.”

Even when JC and I drive up to Seattle to attend Norwescon, between three nights in a hotel and our meals, the long weekend normally runs us about $550.  Back in days of Dhampir, Thief of Lives, and Sister of the Dead, JC did note a small (very brief) spike in sales. Over the years, as general sales numbers rose, the same small spike wasn’t so noticeable, if at all.  We no longer see any noticeable impact on book sales after having been “on stage” all weekend.

I was chatting with a writer a few years ago, who was recently divorced, and he told me that he and his ex-wife had different ideas about money. He told me that she sold her first novel for a $5,000 advance and then proceeded to spend $12,000 over the next year to promote it at every convention possible, even before it was released.

When the book came out, it tanked.

Honestly, I don’t know how much of an effect that conventions can have on book sales.  I can only speak from ten years of experience and how JC and I have watched our sales with or without extensive attendance at events. JC and I both hate getting up in front of people and doing the whole dog and pony show, though we do enjoy just talking with readers and other writers.  Some writers love performing, but those folks are probably much better at it than we are.

About four years ago, we decided to stop attending conventions, as they weren’t having an impact on book sales. We preferred to save our money for such things as new floors, a new roof, building a garden, and other things for our first real house. This was a good decision for us, and I think we’re happier for it.  But each writer has to decide this for him or herself.

There might be something in the convention circuit for those who’ve sold their first book. There might also be a danger there, for the cost may outweigh the return.

There might be something in it for those at the top of the authors’ list worldwide, for they have enough name recognition for the buzz of a new release to go viral, to spread beyond that one place where they appear in public. But…

For those in the middle, it’s worth thinking twice—or even three times—before buying that plane ticket and making your hotel reservation.