Pros at Cons: How Professional Authors Build Their Careers at Conventions

If you live in an urban area, you’ve probably seen large groups of people dressed in colorful costumes, headed toward your city’s convention center for huge fan events. Possibly less noticeable, but a major element of these conventions are authors—from famous headliners to emerging enthusiasts and everyone in between.
In the digital book era, in-person conventions give authors great opportunities to build their brands and careers.

What Are Fan Conventions?

Typically, a fan convention is a weekend event, where creators and connoisseurs of a particular topic gather. Some focus on very specific franchises, like Star Trek or Marvel. Many are much broader, such as a “sci fi convention.”
Many fans attend not only to celebrate their shared interests, but also to hear from industry experts during panels and presentations and to spend money. Very successful authors, who have already launched major series’ and have millions of readers, are frequently referred to as featured guests. Many other authors go to conventions to grow the kind of fan base required for that featured-guest status.

How Can Authors Get the Most out of Conventions?

Authors go to conventions for many reasons, which might depend on the stage they are at in their careers or the kind of brand they’re building.


An important component of an author’s career is making connections. This is true for both the attendees and the pros who are speaking on panels or selling their books. You’ve heard the phrase, “It’s not what you know but who you know,” and cons create opportunities for in-person meetings.
An attendee who has finished a few short stories or even novels can talk to other writers, especially local authors, who have already completed that next step and published some material. Those newly published authors can also continue to build their networks through fellow authors, fans, and others in the industry, such as editors or marketers. Professionals at every level of the writing world carry business cards or bookmarks at conventions. If an attendee, volunteer, or pro makes a good first impression, future email correspondence is more likely to receive a positive response.

Selling Books

Many authors sell their books at conventions as a direct way of earning money for their writing.
However, selling at conventions is not always a simple equation. Authors need to consider the cost they pay for their books versus a sticker price that’s high enough to earn profit while being a good value to the customers. A signature, printed short story, or concept art print could increase the value for customers so authors can sell for more than the price listed at an online retailer. In addition to ordering books, authors generally have to pay for their table or booth at the conventions, transportation, and lodging costs. They should also factor in the time the convention takes away from other writing or marketing tasks.
Sometimes, the costs make authors feel pressured to make sales, but conventions also have ups and downs in sales. Many attendees will browse and walk by, which can be discouraging. It’s important to remember that each sale is not the ultimate end goal: providing a positive experience for long-lasting fans is. For that reason, authors should have a smile and a freebie with their information whenever possible.

Building Loyal Fans

In the information age, readers can look up the website or social media of any author. Fans who go to in-person conventions can interact with authors in a much more memorable way. They will cherish not only the signed memorabilia, but the personal stories and connections. Remember, both authors and attendees at conventions are in environments surrounded by what they love, and both enjoy “geeking out” about shared fandoms. Even if it seems counterintuitive, a discussion about the classic fantasy novels you grew up on or your favorite Batman movie might lead to the sale of a book and a lifelong fan.