Featured image used with permission by Aerlyn’s Costumes and Designs!
So, if you’re at all into comics, you’ve probably seen this.
Denise Dorman, wife of Dave Dorman, recently illuminated a problem that’s been talked about for ages and has now been coming to a head: Comicon doesn’t seem to be about comics anymore. She goes on to list a number of artists, none of whom have made any money from attending several shows, and then attempts to explain exactly what might be the cause of that.
Her explanations are a bit…hm.
I have slowly come realize that in this selfie-obsessed, Instagram Era, cosplay is the new focus of these conventions–seeing and being seen, like some giant masquerade party. Conventions are no longer shows about commerce, product launches, and celebrating the people who created this genre in the first place. I’ve seen it first-hand – the uber-famous artist who traveled all of the way from Japan, sitting at Comic-Con, drawing as no one even paid attention to him, while the cosplayers held up floor traffic and fans surround the cosplayers–rather than the famed industry household name – to pose for selfies.
As an ardent fan of cosplay, selfies and youth culture in general, I’m going to have to disagree with this.
And while it does come close–dangerously close, in fact–to being the sort of statement that is accompanied by a shaking cane and a number of directives toward kids about their placement relative to a lawn, I think it’d be foolish and disingenuous to write off her concerns as mere angry ranting. Because, as she points out, she is hardly alone in the observation of this.
Many artists, I’ve learned, have found it harder and harder to justify going to Comicon. While I’m certainly thrilled to see them there (I bought four prints from Todd Lockwood this year and felt pretty damn good about myself), I can’t support them all by myself. It eventually becomes a cost-benefit analysis and a lot of people are finding the costs outweighing the benefits.
The question therefore becomes: are big cons, with all their media attention and all their giant populations, a viable source of income?
I can’t answer from an artist’s perspective. Nor a comic writer’s perspective.
But I can tell you from an author’s perspective that the answer is a definite yes.
As people who are also trying to make a living from our own creative work, we have a similar problem and whenever we meet up at a convention, we always ask the question of whether it’s worth it or not and whether small, local conventions tend to be better than giant comicons for an author. But we diverge shortly after that.
Unlike artists, an author’s takeaway from a convention might be intangible. You certainly might sell some books at a convention (or, more likely, the bookseller will sell your books, which is still a big benefit to you), but the major takeaway is developing readers: making a positive enough impact to guarantee someone will be looking for your books every time a new one comes out. That can be hard to gauge, of course; sometimes you see sales spike after a convention, sometimes it takes a long time to notice anything. But, having attended a number of small cons and large cons, I have noticed something.
Fandom has split into two categories.
I’m very supportive of small cons. I think they’re great. I think people who run them are awesome and the people who enjoy them are tremendous. But they don’t make a lot of business sense. The crowds tend to know what they like and prefer to keep reading that, proving amazingly resistant to new authors. Whenever I’m speaking on a panel, I can see the audience’s eyes glaze over as they wait for me to be done so they can ask a question of the author that they really came to see. And that’s the downside of a small con: people are rarely there to see you, you just happen to be in the same space as other guests. This can prove great, at times, and I’ve made a number of lifelong readers from small cons, but they’re hard to get to and difficult to justify. There’s a big benefit to solidifying fans if you’re already a big name that they came to see, but if you’re a debut or newer author, it’s hard to get into.
Big cons, however, have a marked difference in tone. People who come to a massive, mixed media con are open to just about anything. You have gamers rubbing shoulders with art-lovers, comic geeks walking side-by-side along novel fans, tabletop roleplayers interacting with movie nerds, MMO players and, yes, even cosplayers. All of these are potential readers and damn near all of them are open to the idea of new authors. These cons are marked by a general enthusiasm for nerdiness and geekiness that’s easy to tap into if you know how.
I agree with him wholly on this. Unless you’ve got a big name to carry you, you can’t really rely on sitting down and expecting people to seek you out. You need to make an impression on people. You need to be open, thoughtful and, above all, enthusiastic. You need to reflect the excitement that these potential fans are feeling.
Cosplay is just an extension of that enthusiasm–one that someone felt strongly enough about to go through the effort of making an entire costume for. But it’s everywhere: people come to a big con to be shown something cool. If you act as though you are that something, then things get easier.
It’s really not that different from social media, which darn near every publisher wants their authors on these days. People want to come to see you, see you be glorious, see you be brilliant, see you be awesome. They want to see your work, too, but as a costume is a statement about the cosplayer, so are you a statement about your work and you want to be able to reflect that.
Now, my hands kind of quivered when I typed that, because every time I make a statement that says “you need to be friendly and outgoing if you want to make it as a new author,” someone who identifies as a militant introvert will swoop in and scream “that’s not true! You’re not doomed if you’re shy or reclusive!”
And that’s true. You could have a lot of publisher support backing your newest book that negates the need for you to market yourself. You could have one of those books that’s just lightning in a bottle and everyone inexplicably wants it. You don’t need to be outgoing for these.
But considering how rare those are, you can’t bank on them. And even if you’ve got them, you’d be screwing yourself if you weren’t also good with talking to people.
I know we’re all in love with the idea of the reclusive writerly genius, puffing cigarettes and drinking coffee as they type away on a typewriter, so deep in the throes of wordsmithing that the mail piles up and the goldfish is dead and the spouse has left because, damn it, the work is more important than people. But times have changed. I’ve got rent to pay, motherfuckers.
No one’s asking you to be eloquent, merely to be enthusiastic. Believe in your work enough to make others want to also believe in it. Believe that you are great and worth buying. Believe that your audience wants to see you be great. Believe that you are worth it.
You can work on the actual talking to people once you’ve got that down.
But for now, it’s my ardent belief that big cons are the best way to get noticed as a new author. Sharing that enthusiasm, being excited about your own stuff, making that impression upon readers, is what it’s all about.
I dearly hope that the same can be said for artists, in the future.
UPDATE: Denise Dorman has clarified her views in an additional blog post, shifting blame to a “new breed of attendees.”
And while I continue to share her concerns, I remain opposed. The “new breed” is the only way new authors can get any traction in this world.