December 31, 2011

Relationship building

Today I’m going to present a short, but necessary, blog on building and maintaining relationships.

One of the key ingredients to any successful business is relationship building.  To do that effectively, you must know how to approach your “customers” (ie. fandom).  Individuals in fandom often respond best to people who are sincerely interested in knowing their point of view.   Approach them with open ears and an open mind.  Understand that you are more likely to hear complaints, rather than compliments, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  Try not to take their criticism personally, and further understand that arguing with them will only cause problems.  Anyone willing to provide criticism probably wants to see the convention succeed.  This means you are working towards a common goal.  Just keep track of their comments, and any promises you make, so that other members of the staff can be properly informed. 
On the topic of promises, try only to commit to things you are 100 percent certain you can achieve.  It’s best to be completely honest with people and disappoint them, than it is to make promises you can’t keep.
Once you have an established relationship, you need to make sure you maintain it.  This means you need to be careful not to take their attendance for granted.  This is easier for new convention than it is for long standing ones.  Long standing cons have histories than can span years, or even decades.  You need to be familiar with your con’s history and the dynamics surrounding what’s happened.  A well-known, ancient proverb states that, “those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”  (At least that’s the version I’m familiar with.)  I know of one example of a convention having spent a very long time working with a specific fan group to make the con interesting to that group.  Ten years later, the staff had changed over and no one currently working on the con understood the history of the con and the fan group.  Today the convention finds itself hearing the same complaints the con heard a decade earlier.
If there has been a loss of knowledge over the years, you need to educate yourself in the con’s history.  It might sound daunting, but it’s not.  There’s usually some “old timer” who’s willing to share stories.  There is value in listening to those stories, but do not take those stories on face value.  Instead, take those stories as a first step.  The next thing you should do is seek out other view points from other fans that were present at the time in question.  Merge what you hear and try to get a clearer picture of the dynamics that were at work at the time.
To summarize, be honest, get input, and learn your con’s history.

October 16, 2011

Guest Blog - Programming

As promised earlier, here is Tera Fulbright's guest blog on Con Programming.

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Thank you, James, for letting me guest blog.

So today, we’re going to talk programming.   I suppose first I should talk credentials:  I ran Programming for UNCG’s StellarCon for 10+ years, RavenCon for 2 years and I helped set up the Special Events for ReConStruction 2010 (Raleigh NASFiC) before circumstances required me to step down shortly before the convention.   The following are just my thoughts and opinions based on my experiences.  As any good conrunner will tell you, there is no one “right” way to do anything.  There is just the right way for your con.

There are two main aspects of programming that I recommend thinking about when you start your programming:  your guests and your attendees.  Related to that is your theme, if you have one.   When it comes to programming, think about how your guests and your attendees interact with your convention and the theme (if you have one.)

Let’s start with the guests.   First rule, ask them what panel ideas they have.  Many guests have sat on more panels than you or I can dream up…they will have favorites that they enjoy and they will have suggestions for ones that came out of other panels they have been on.  I also recommend asking if there are any panels that they do not want to be on or people they don’t want to be on panels with.   There are two reasons for this.  One – no one wants to be stuck on a panel where they have little to no knowledge about the subject.  Two- putting people who dislike each other on a panel can make it uncomfortable for them, the other panelists and the audience if that animosity spills over into the panel itself. 

Once you have a list of panel ideas, share all of the panel ideas with other guests and try to fill out as many as possible.  I also recommend limiting the number of panelists to a panel.  I like five but I have seen seven work as well if you have a strong moderator.   You want enough panelists to give a variety of responses and opinions but not so many that not everyone has a chance to talk.

Speaking of moderators, your moderator on a panel does not have to be the most knowledgeable about the topic but he/she needs to be able to maintain control of the panel by asking questions and keeping the other panelists on topic.  

If you find a panel that nearly every guest wants to do, I suggest two options.  A) do a part 1 and part 2 and split the panelists.  This gives everyone interested a chance to talk about the topic.
Or B) set it up as a round table and make sure the moderator knows to encourage the audience to get involved with both asking and answering questions. This will save you space in the program since you don’t have to block two sessions but it requires a strong moderator who is not afraid of making it clear that the topic isn’t just for the guests to give their opinions.

I also suggest that you do not add panelists at the last minute as it can throw off the vibe of the panel.   Many panelists will try to get a quick idea of their fellow panelists by reading biographies or doing web searches prior to the panel.   Putting someone on at the last minute also means that the moderators are unfamiliar with his or her work and have not had time to prepare themselves.

Also, make sure your program book lists the panelists.  They are often who your attendees have come to see and panelists are one way attendees decide which panel to attend.  Related, make sure your moderators know they are the moderators.  Try to give them as much notice as possible as well, since a good moderator will want time to prepare questions and have suggested topics.

Next, think about your attendees, i.e. your target audience.  If you are a general SF con, then you need to try to have a wide variety of panels in order to accommodate the myriad of fans you should be getting.  If you have a theme (i.e. Steampunk or Paranormal), then I recommend a strong track with that theme but I would still suggest other panels as well to help fill out your event. 

I also recommend keeping in mind that fandom is aging so you have to consider balancing the interests of older fans (Star Wars/Star Trek, literature, RPG’s, costuming) with newer fans (anime, urban fantasy, MMORG’s, cosplay).  While you will have fans of all ages in all interests, keep in mind that older fans may have other obligations (i.e. kids) that preclude them from being up until midnight for a panel.    

Final thoughts:

1. Be prepared for last minute suggestions, additions and changes.  
2. Try not to schedule panels too early on Sunday morning.  Many guests (and most fans) are still half-asleep until 9am or 10am at the earliest.
3. You also have to decide if there are events that you consider “Core” to your convention and decide if you want to try to limit scheduling something opposite them.  For example, some conventions limit what panels they have at the same time as Opening Ceremonies or Auctions. 
4. Be careful what you schedule at the same time as any loud events, like a dance.  If the panelists can’t hear themselves talk, it’s not much of a panel.   
Okay, that’s a good run for the first time.  Any particular questions?

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Thanks T for the guest blog!  Since she's already asked for questions, have at it.

October 2, 2011

Convention Space Layout

Okay, I admit it.  I’ve been slack.  I woke up the other day and realized it had been two months since my last blog update.  Fortunately, this isn’t a paid gig, or I’d have had my boss breathing down my proverbial neck by now.
Anyway, I’m back at it.  And I’ve talked my wife into doing a guest blog as well, so look for blog on Programming, sometime in the next week or so.

Convention Space Layout
Today’s topic is convention space layout.  This seems pretty straight forward, but I still run into conventions that do not do this particularly well, so I’m making it a point of discussion.

There are two main issues in this topic, flow and walk spaces.  Flow is sort of the larger view of where you put each main piece of your convention (Dealers, Programming, Gaming, etc.) and walk spaces, well, that’s fairly self-explanatory.

For flow, this is partially a matter of personal preference… your attendees’ preferences, not yours.  When trying to decide what pieces to put where in the space, I recommend keeping a couple of things in mind.  First, where are your attendees likely to spend most of their time?  Second, is the dealer room near the main flow?  This second point is critical for future success of your convention.  Placing the dealer by the main flow of foot traffic means folks have easy access to the Dealer Room.  That makes the dealers happy.  Happy dealers equal a greater potential of cash flow for the convention from the future sale of dealer tables.

In general, the layout of the rest of the con should be based on what rooms are best for each area of your con.  I typically determine which rooms are of the appropriate size for each part of the con and then determine how the flow of traffic will work.  For flow, you need to consider where folks are going to be most often.  I like to group things like Programming and Dealers together.  If the con has an Art Show, that needs to be close to Programming as well.  Gaming is best placed slightly away from the main flow, unless you’re running a gaming con, then it should be your primary focus.  For Programming, I usually like to have all of the panel rooms within quick walking distance of each other.   They do not have to be literally next to each other, however.  In fact, I suggest dedicating one large room for Main Programming (GoH’s, Opening Ceremonies, Masquerade, Dance, etc.) and then have a number of smaller rooms for panels that are not adjacent to Main Programming.  This helps to reduce the noise level in the panel rooms.

Walk Spaces
This part should be pretty easy to figure out, but it I end up attending conventions where I have to squeeze through people to get somewhere in the con that I need to be.  This is bad when it happens to your attendees, it’s even worse when it happens to your guests.  I’ve seen more than a few Guests of Honor make apologies for being late because they could not walk 20 feet from one panel room to another in a timely manner.

So, how do you alleviate this?  Well, most bottle-necks occur where there are tables.  Whether it’s in the Dealer Room, or out in the Prefunction Spaces, conventions need to provide adequate space for people to walk.  By adequate, I don’t mean just adhering to local fire codes.  I mean wide enough spaces that people can actually get past the tables when they want to walk by.  Keep in mind that you have to allow for space behind the table for someone sit comfortably, space for the table itself, space for someone to stand in front of the table and room for at least two people to walk past the table, side-by-side.  If there are tables on both sides of a walk space, that same amount of space needs to be provided on each side of the walk area.
Too often I’ve seen cons cram tables into a space to try to get more exhibitors (dealers, fan tables, etc.) in the convention.  This usually only ends up irritating everyone involved.  Attendees get frustrated because they can’t get to where they want to be.  Dealers get mad because people can’t get to their tables.  And guests get upset because the crowds make them late to panels.  My suggestion is to figure out how many tables you can comfortably fit into the space, and stick to that number.   

Warning: Do not be surprised if someone comes up to you once all of the tables have been allocated (sold out) and says, “hey, X group wants to set up, can we find a place to put them?”  That answer needs to be “no,” unless you remove something else to make room for their table. 
Well, That's it for this post.  As usual, I probably could have covered a lot more, but this is where I'm going to stop.  Look for Tera's guest blog on Programming soon.

July 16, 2011

Volunteers! (Guest Blog)

Today, I'm allowing an old (well, she's not that old) e-Pal to take over as a guest blogger.  So sit back, read and an enjoy!  Oh, and feel free to comment, as usual.

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Foundation's Edge has to be one of the least enjoyable books I've ever wrestled with for book group—but Asimov, you will not defeat me!

Oh wait, wrong blog. 

Hi, I'm Laura Haywood-Cory. I ran my first convention in 1986, ChimeraCon VI on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus.

In the intervening twenty-five years, I've started up a convention, Trinoc-coN, presided over its Board of Directors, been con manager, assistant art director, low-level gopher, and more. In between, I co-founded a local sf club, attended other conventions, wrote some fanzines, got a job as an editor at a science fiction publishing house. Now I'm (mostly) retired from conrunning, though certain people ahem keep trying to pull me back in.

Today's topic is at the heart of all conventions: recruiting and retaining, happy volunteers. You can have all the pie-in-the-sky dreams about the Best Convention Ever, but without boots on the ground, it won't happen. If your pool of volunteers starts to feel ignored or taken for granted, they're going to walk, and you can't run your con without them.

So you’ve decided to start a convention. You and maybe a few of your wild-eyed friends got together one weekend and after too much tequila or whisky, decided that Running a Convention was the thing to do.

And now here you all are, in someone's living room, coming to the horrified realization that... you need help.

Possibly professional help, but definitely con-running help.

None of you know one end of a hotel contract from the other, the intricacies involved in running a good art show elude you, and everything you know about putting together a great costume contest would fit in a thimble.

Don't Panic.

You just need your first round of volunteers, your Con Committee (ConCom for short). This is the group that will get you from the post-hangover living room scene most of the way to having a con.

Assuming that you have friends, now is the time to call them.

You'll probably want That Friend Who Always Reads Every Hugo Nominee to be in charge of your literary programming.

That Friend Who Schmoozes Really Well should go with you when you talk to the hotel. Schmoozer—if reliable—can also be a good person to pick up out-of-town guests from the airport or train station.

Anal-Retentive Friend can look over the contract for you, help design a programming grid, and if s/he is good with language, can proofread flyers, other promotional material, and the program book.

And so on, until, your ConCom is complete.

The point is that you want to match people's skills and interests with the areas where they'll be most beneficial. Having people responsible for things they have no interest in or aptitude for is a wide open invitation to all around misery. The person stuck with a job they don’t enjoy will be unhappy and ineffective, and everyone else will get stressed out and frustrated cleaning up their mess.

Now that you have a ConCom, your next challenge is finding the much larger cadre of boots-on-the-ground volunteers: ones who will work at the registration desk, the ones who will print out flyers and take them to other conventions, the ones who will staff the con suite, the ones who will run security at the con, the ones who will set up and stay with the art show, etc. The folks who will do all the unglamorous behind the scenes work that make a con a success.

In dealing with your volunteers, always remember: volunteer-run cons are a labor of love. We're all doing this because we want an event that we'd like to attend, so that we can meet and interact with our fellow fans and with the creative types—authors, media guests, artists, gamers and game designers, scientists, etc.—whose work we all enjoy.

Nobody’s getting rich, or even paid, so everyone who's working on the con has to feel like their contributions are important. Otherwise, they’ll find something better to do with their time.

So work on that from the very start…starting with staff meetings. Listen to that still-wet-behind-the ears gopher; don't brush off suggestions with "we've always done it this way" or somesuch, and allow and encourage questions and suggestions.

A mainstay in your volunteer reward strategy should be to make sure all of your volunteers actually have some free time over the weekend to relax and attend the con. Find out if there's a person or event they'd really like to see, and do your damndest to make sure their volunteering schedule allows them to attend.

There are other standard rewards. Free memberships in exchange for working X number of hours is a fairly common reward for volunteering at a con. You work a certain number of hours, or run a certain number of games, still get to attend the event, and don't have to buy a membership.

Unfortunately, you may run into a problem here: folks who’ll sign up to work enough to get the free membership, but then reneg on their commitment. This happened to Trinoc-coN. Our solution was to switch to a membership reimbursement policy: you paid for a membership up front, and got a refund once you had put in the minimum number of hours.

Free T-shirts are another way to thank volunteers for all that unpaid effort. In addition, they are free, targeted advertising for your con (after all, the people wearing them are likely to hang out with other people who share their interests).

The end of con, Dead Dog party is another way to reward volunteers for their hard work. Trinoc-coN would solicit goodies from the guests and local companies, and have a drawing at the party to give them away. Everyone who made their volunteer hours got a ticket for a chance to win some cool stuff.

ve 'deallow and encourage questions and suggestions good about what theif they don'tmentolicy: you paid for a membership up fronI'm sure I've missed some points, and I welcome feedback.

Thanks to James for temporarily handing over his blog to me; now back to him.

July 4, 2011


I have a very quick topic for today... T-SHIRTS!

The short form is, don't!  Do not spend money on them.  I can't tell you how many cons I've seen sink financially because they printed t-shirts they couldn't sell.

If you really just have to have t-shirts, try getting a dealer to come in and sell them.  There are a number of t-shirt vendors who will sell your shirts, if you provide the artwork and a table in the dealer room.

The main problem with t-shirts is the overhead.  It costs money to make them and you are unlikely to sell enough to recover the expense.  I'm not saying cons haven't made money on t-shirts, it's just really risky.

And, oh yeah, Happy 4th of July!

June 28, 2011


Woo boy. Marketing a SF con. Let me start by saying, it’s hard.  The first thing you have to do is to be able to interact with other people.  Well, maybe it’s not the first thing, but it is kind of necessary.  I’ll explain why when we get to face-to-face promotions.  Unlike my previous posts, I’m going to break this topic up into smaller segments where I introduce various subtopics.

Okay, this seems pretty simple, but you really need a website before creating just about anything other part of your advertising.  The reason is simple enough, all printed materials need to have your web address on them. 

When it comes to web design, one of the pitfalls I have seen far too often is webmasters spending more time on “bells and whistles” than functionality.  For a website to be functional, it needs to be informational and easy to navigate.  My suggestion is to let someone not familiar with your con take your website for a test run.  Can they easily find what they want to know?  If so, you’ve been successful.

For content, you need to put everything that you, and everyone you know, can come up with about your con on your website.  Really, everything.  I’m not kidding you.  You would be surprised the questions I’ve gotten over the years about topics not covered on the website.  To get you started, however, I’ll shorten the list a bit.  Make sure that you answer the following questions:  What, when, where, who and how much?  Be careful, the “who” part is a bit tricky because it’s really “who are your guests and other program participants,” and “who is running this con? “ You need to answer both of those. 

Side note: If you can find a copy of Roger Black’s Web Sites That Work, I recommend reading it.  I have seen it on Amazon, so maybe you could start looking there.

Flyers are like small versions of your website.  Their sole function is to be informational. Pursuant to that, they need to include the following items, at a minimum: convention name, dates, location, membership cost, hotel room cost, con website address and a contact phone number and email address.  I also recommend you have a list of the types of events you plan to hold, a list of all guests of honor (GoH), and a list of any other guests you feel might be a draw.

This next part seems like it should be obvious, but for some reason I still see cons violating this rule: your flyer needs to be easy to read.  Try to avoid creative details which might distract the reader.  For example, one mistake (that has fortunately become less common) is watermarks.  My suggestion is to avoid them, and anything else that makes the flyer hard to read.  
A final note on flyers, most people will only look at them for about 3 seconds before deciding if they are interested in knowing more about your con.  You need to make sure your top selling point is the first thing they see.

Online Advertising
You cannot over publicize your convention.  Make sure you have listings on all of the major social media sites.  Also, make sure you hit every con listing website you can find.  In the southeast, one place everyone seems to visit is the Southern Fandom Resource Guide.  I believe there are similar listings for other parts of the country/world… find them.

Now that you’re listed, you need to learn the following phrase, “push advertising.”  Place a link to some sort of email list (Google, Yahoo, whatever) on your website.  Anyone who signs up is asking you to send them updates.  Do so.  You can also do the same thing with several of the social media sites.  Try using their direct mail feature as well.

Face-to-Face Advertising 
Now we get into one of the older traditions in fandom, marketing your con at other conventions/events.  Step one is to ask the host convention for a fan table.  Once they agree to that, you will need flyers and a tri-fold board.  The board is a static version of your website.  It needs the same information on it you have on your flyers… plus pictures.  In place of (or possibly in addition to) the tri-fold board, you can use a computer and a PowerPoint slide show.  I personally prefer the board, however, as it doesn’t change slides when someone is in the middle of reading it.

Remember when I said you needed to be able to interact with people?  Well, here’s the first point where that comes in.  When manning your table, avoid this common mistake: sitting behind your table.  Do not sit behind your table!  I suggest getting out from behind your table and engaging people as they walk past.  You want to be friendly and say, “Hi,” introduce yourself and your con, get a flyer in their hands, and ask if you can answer any questions.  You might even suggest they attend the party.

Party, you ask?  What party?  The answer is, your party.  That’s right, you’re throwing a party.  Preferably on Saturday night of each con you attend before your convention.  

For the party you will need munchies, soft drinks and alcohol.  Don’t drink?  Find a friend who does, so that they can help you run the party.  Speaking of friends helping, you will need 4-5 of them to pull off a good party.  You will need one person at the door checking IDs/badges, one person tending the bar, one person keeping the food and soft drinks in stock and at least two people pushing your con.  This last part is the entire reason you’re throwing the party, so use the time wisely. 
I have thrown my share of parties over the years and one suggestion I found very helpful (can’t remember who told me to do this) was to have our folks rotate jobs about every hour or so.  This really helps keep everyone from getting bored or tired.

One last note on parties, assuming you have enough people to help run your party, I suggest each person take some time and visit the other parties at the con… it’s the polite thing to do.  Besides, you might be able to advertise your con while you’re out “roaming the hallways.”

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Okay, that concludes Marketing Strategies for SF Cons.  As always, I’m sure I’ve missed a lot of stuff, but I’m discovering that you just can’t get everything into a single blog.  If you can think of something I’ve missed, ask me about it in the comments section.

June 20, 2011

Hotels 101

A friend (yes, I’m talking about you Laura) asked me to cover hotel contacts.  I’ve never been really good at negotiating hotel contracts, but I have seen enough of them over the years to know what hotels typically will and will not do for (to) you. 

[I guess I need to mention one thing about my background, that isn’t part of my con running history.  I spent a few years renting out a ballroom at a local performing arts facility.  So, I’ve been on both sides of this deal.] 
The first thing a con runner needs to understand is that renting hotel space is kind of like buying a car.  The hotel staff has had a lot of time to prepare to negotiate with you.  They want to maximize the amount of money they get from your con’s coffers, and have a number of ways planned to do just that.

Most hotels will initially talk about a fee for the ballrooms.  This might be a lump sum or it might be broken down by room.  Regardless of how it’s presented, get a total figure for the weekend.  They will probably discuss the cost of tables and linens, and then hit you with a service fee.   Service fees are normally a percentage of one, or all, of the other costs.  Be careful, if they do not mention the service fee, ask about it.  Also, find out exactly what the service fee applies to, and if it’s pre-tax or post-tax.  I’ve seen it show up as post- tax only once, but it was a nasty little surprise that the con was not prepared to pay.  Speaking of taxes, find out what the tax percentage is on the ballroom rental, tables, chairs, etc. 
The hotel will most likely suggest to you that you can lower, or even remove, the cost of the space if you buy some food.   Catering is the single highest profit center for the hotel, so they really want to sell it to you.  It will likely cost you more than the ballroom rental, so stay way from it, if you can.  Buying food has wrecked more than one con’s budget, and hotels are usually really persistent on trying to get you to buy some.

If you decide you are not buying food, but then someone on your ConCom wants to hold an event with food, be aware that you will be very unlikely to be able to just bring in your own food.  Health laws prevent that in many states, and even in the ones where you can get away with it legally, you will end paying a corkage fee.  Corkage fees are charged by hotel to discourage you from not using their catering services. 
Similar to corkage fees, a lot of hotels own A/V equipment and require that you rent it from them, instead another local company.  Some hotels will allow you to bring in your own equipment if you are not actually paying for the equipment.  So try to work that into the contract.

You should discuss your operating hours with the hotel up front.  Some hotels will charge for security after a certain time of night.  This can get pricey if you have much late night programming.  Also, while discussing hours, be sure to include time for set up and tear down when you tell the hotel how long you need the space.  The hotel considers your event to begin the moment you need in the building and does not consider it over until every single person is out.  This includes you and your staff, by the way.

The cost of guest rooms is the final major cost you will need to negotiate.  Before you visit any perspective hotels, do a little web surfing, and find out what the other cons in your area have listed as the “con rate” for hotel rooms.  This will give you two pieces of information.  It will tell you if the hotel is competitive, and what your members are likely to be willing to pay.  Keep in mind that if you have to cover the guest rooms for some of your guests, and you probably will, this will affect your bottom line.  Be sure to also find out what the tax percentage is for the guest rooms.   Normally it’s between 12% and 15% depending on your local and state government.  That adds up pretty quickly.
Okay, so that’s Con Hotels 101.  There is a lot more to it than what I’ve already covered, but this should be the major points.

June 18, 2011

Program book

Since I discussed badges in last post, I’m going to stick with printed materials and discuss program books in this post.

I have recently become very concerned that the printed word is quickly becoming a lost art, so what follows is some basic info that you should consider.

For cons with a real budget, program books should never be overlooked. I’ve been to a number of cons where the program was simply a stack of papers stapled in a couple of places. And if that’s what your budget can support, so be it. If your budget is large enough, though, you should save some cash for the program book. Having an actual printed program is often times cheaper than most ConComs think it will be. It’s nearly always cheaper than photocopying tends to be. By printed, by the way, I mean take an electronic file to an actual print shop and have them print your book. You should be able to find a suitable print shop in your area.

Warning: Pricing at print shops can vary widely, so I suggest getting several quotes.

Still need more convincing that you need an attractive program? Well, consider this; people tend to take them home with them. I’ve picked up a number of programs from cons I could not attend. After flipping through the book, I frequently made a decision on whether I would attend one of their future cons. Think of it as advertising for the future. If folks get a good vibe about your con from looking at the program book, then maybe they’ll come to your next convention.

Okay, assuming you have bought into spending some time and money on the program, let’s discuss some of things you need to be aware of when creating your book. Number one, the book needs have a number of pages that is divisible by 4. It is a mathematical fact, so live by it. Second, you can have too many fonts. Pick one for the headings and one for the text, and then STOP.

The next thing to consider is font size. For the uninitiated, fonts are not all the same size… really, they’re not. An 11pt Arial is a whole lot bigger than an 11pt Times. My recommendation is to go with no more than a 10pt font for the text, and about a 14pt font for the header. Artistic license applies here, but just be careful. Also, keep in mind that using too large of a font can actually cost you money in the form of needing additional pages in the program.

Once you’ve made your decisions on fonts, it’s time to consider columns. The number of columns you need greatly depends on your book size. If it’s a standard 11 x 17 folded (that makes it 8.5 x 11, btw) then you want 2 columns, perhaps three. You do not want one column, trust me on this one. It just doesn’t look right. Smaller books can get away with one column, but not larger ones.

Now, let’s discuss the cover. Bleeds are nice, but can be costly. You can save money by having a nice color cover that doesn’t go all the way to the edge of the page (bleed). For the artwork, ask your AGoH if they are interested in contributing. If they are not, then start asking other art guests. Someone is usually willing to donate artwork. Nice artwork can make your book look really professional. Just be sure to credit the artist in the book for their contribution.

There are a number of additional topics I could cover on program books, but I’m going to end with the topic of content. Unless you have a large convention, like say, DragonCon, the program should contain more than just guest bios. You should provide con rules, a list of ConCom members, guest bios, event descriptions, a gaming schedule, locations of area restaurants (with a map), rules for things like the Masquerade and Art Show, and a schedule of book signings and autographs sessions by your guests. Basically, if folks need info about something at the con, it should be in the program book. Your attendees (members) may not read the program, but the content should be there anyway. One thing I used to be very adamant on, but I now see as optional, is placing a schedule grid in the program. If you provide a pocket program, you can get away without a grid in the book.

Alright, that’s it for this post. As I said, there’s a lot more I could discuss about the program book, but this post is already too long, so I’m going to stop, for now. If you follow what I’ve already covered, though, you should have a decent start on a professional looking program book.

June 13, 2011


Okay, here’s the first entry in my con running blog. 

Today’s topic is badges. I have no idea why I chose this to be the first topic.  It was just one of those, “it hit me in the shower” kind of things, so here it is.

I am going to start with discussing why conventions have badges to begin with.  It’s not about security, though that is a convenient, and useful, bonus.  It’s because it’s the rare convention where the members know everyone else at the con. It helps you identify who you are currently engaged in a conversation with, when you’re standing in the hallway, at a party, in a panel room, etc.  Causal conversations tend to pop up frequently, and it’s really nice to know who the other person is.

Okay, so given that, let’s get to the most common mistake I see at cons regarding badges.  This issue was first pointed out to me by Fred Grimm, and he was absolutely correct.  Too often the person (people) responsible for labeling the badges, make the names too small.  If you can’t easily read the name at a distance of about 4 feet, then it doesn’t fulfill the primary reason the badges exist.

The second mistake I see is that the convention views the badge as a way to show off the AGoH’s artwork.  I like good artwork as much as the next guy, but if the artwork makes it impossible for the badge to meet its primary function, then the badge is not actually useful.  My recommendation is make sure there is ample room for the name on the badge.

That’s pretty much it.  Badge quality, size, etc. is up to your budget and preferences.  Please, just make sure we can read the badge.