April 7 through 9 found me in Louisville, Kentucky, for the 2017 ConGlomeration, billed as Louisville’s “Geek Family Reunion.” I attended as an exhibitor representing Red Sun Magazine and my own imprint, Hen House Publishing.
First, let me admit that this is my first “con.” In a previous life, I planned, organized, and managed similarly sized conferences for professional associations, so I know the work that goes into an event of this scale. What I don’t have experience with is being attendee or an exhibitor at this type of event. I’ve attended Equine Affaire in Columbus, Ohio many times; however, that’s an entirely different type of convention of enormous magnitude.
My first impression of the convention came at the Louisville Maker Faire, which I attended as a “booth slave” for my brother who enjoys building steam engines. I ran the steam-engine pencil sharpener. Don’t ask. Yes, it was fun.
Anyway, one of the convention organizers patrolled the Maker Faire and handed out brochures, which piqued my interest. After registering, I received periodic notifications from convention personnel. Convention organizers promptly answered my questions, always appreciated.
Upon arrival at the Ramada Inn, I admit to being distinctly unimpressed with the facility. Like all lower-starred hotels, the beds were uncomfortable and the walls tissue-paper thin. ConGlomeration organizers, however, booked a room for use as a hospitality suite for vendors, which, I was informed, is a perk that most conventions don’t offer. The hospitality suite offered pastries, juice, and coffee for breakfast and chips, cookies, and soft drinks for all-day snacking.
With a small staff and dedicated workforce of volunteers, this convention operated smoothly. I’m sure that staff and volunteers put out organizational and logistical fires throughout the 3-day event, but from the attendee/exhibitor perspective it all looked well-coordinated. Kudos to the ConGlomeration staff and volunteers for a job well done! My only suggestion would be to seek out a better class of conference venue and hotel and then negotiate a good deal.
Being my first con, I was advised by my sister-in-law to expect “interesting” people-watching and “lots of skin.”
ConGlomeration promotes itself as a family-friendly event, so I didn’t see “lots of skin,” although I did see some unfortunate costumes. The parade of costumes leaned strongly toward steampunk, especially the female costumes.
I managed to attend one afternoon session on marketing for independent writers and publishers. While most of the information imparted held no astonishing insights, I did come away from it with a couple nuggets for consideration. That in itself makes attendance worth the investment, especially since marketing is not my forte. I also attended an author meet-and-greet session one evening and met featured author Emmy Jackson, who writes post-apocalyptic urban fantasy. I also met Les Johnson, a real-life rocket scientist for NASA who writes science fiction, and self-described “raging extrovert” Lydia Sherrer who has published an urban fantasy series based on her librarian character Lily Singer.
Fellow exhibitors and convention staff (paid and volunteer) were more than happy to chat and demonstrated many small kindnesses throughout the event. Because I’d forgotten an extension cord, author and illustrator Bill Levy (also and exhibitor) offered the loan of one for a day. Author Ronald R. Van Stockum, Jr. kindly served as my photographer and ensured that pictures of me sitting the exhibit table weren’t too utterly awful. The convention organizer’s son roamed the vendor’s hall periodically, dragging a large cooler and offering cold beverages to exhibitors chained to their tables.
ConGlomeration held a silent auction for artwork: paintings, drawings, jewelry, sculpture, and more. I wanted to bid on several pieces, both because I really liked them and to support fellow exhibitors, but my budget didn’t stretch that far. I did find some great artists whose work would look wonderful in the magazine.
So… sales. I loathe sales work and, being a confirmed introvert, approaching strangers to persuade them to buy my books or sign up for the Red Sun mailing list posed a real challenge. But I worked at it and then retreated to the hotel room after the exhibit room closed for much-needed peace and quiet.
ConGlomeration 2017 being my first con, I had no concept as to what were reasonable expectations for selling copies of books (autographed, of course) or persuading people to sign up for the Red Sun mailing list. I held a daily prize drawing: each day my “booth slave” (a.k.a. my younger son) drew the winning entry. I hoped for more entries, but have no idea as to whether the number of entries I did get was representative of a con that drew approximately 500 attendees. Simply put, this con established the baseline of expectations for any future cons I may attend as a vendor.
I managed to sell a handful of books, which came close to recouping the cost of my registration, but not my son’s registration, the exhibit booth fee, or our travel expenses. I owe a debt of gratitude to Mr. Van Stockum for his friendly advice to a newbie, not the least of which was “going vertical” with my display of books.
The con featured an impressive array of presentations and panel sessions in addition to a strongly attended gaming tournament that featured Magic: The Gathering, Flux, and a few others of which I know absolutely nothing. Not being a gamer myself, that part of the event held no interest for me, so I can’t comment on it.
I had the privilege of observing some phenomenal salespeople and meeting some great authors, artists, and attendees. I hope to attend ConGlomeration in 2018, perhaps as a speaker or panelist as well as an exhibitor. And maybe, just maybe, this diehard introvert will find a way to attend a few more cons throughout the year.
Karen M. Smith
Fantasy Editor, Red Sun Magazine