April 1, 2019


In the con business, trust is one of the most important pieces of collateral that you have. People need to be able to believe that you will meet what you state you will do. This is the currency on which successful cons are built. Will every con live up to all their promises? No, that’s not likely to happen with a volunteer organization. The frequency of failure, though, is extremely important.  If you miss something on a rare occasion, and then immediately make up for it, that’s okay.  It’s when a pattern of failure takes shape that trust ends. When fans or pros feel like they can’t trust a con, that con is doomed to fail, because people will stop attending.

Gaining trust in the beginning is a lot easier than trying to repair it later. It takes a lot of work, both from an organizational stand point and through marketing, to regain people’s trust.  If things are bad enough, it might even require a change in management. Fans, in particular, are more than willing to take to social media to vent their frustrations. More than one person has been forced out of running a con due to a lack of trust.

The converse is also true. When a fan or pro thinks you have a well-run convention, they can help drive people to your con. It will not happen with the frequency that negative comments will, but it does happen. Fans and pros tend to take partial, mental ownership of a con. Once they do that, they will want their friends at the con with them. That is the best advertising you can get, and it doesn’t cost you any money. If a person does things the right way, they might even find themselves in the enviable position of running a convention for many years, maybe even to the point where they start to reach a stage of burn out and get to pass the reigns of a successful convention to someone else.

One major blunder can wreck a convention, but so will several small mistakes as well. Small errors can add up. A few mistakes are bound to happen, but when the mistakes are so frequent that they outshine the positive, the con’s trust will have been lost, or a least seriously placed in serious jeopardy.

May 17, 2018

Uninviting Guests

This is now becoming a real issue within the con community. Social media is beginning to lead concoms to second guess their decisions on the guests they have invited. It’s beginning to happen more and more, and it’s a very slippery slope.

So, let’s dig into whether you should un-invite a guest. My first reaction is to ask, “What did the guest do to get uninvited?”  I think too often cons react to social media without really doing any investigation into the allegations. Of course, if concoms did more vetting in the beginning, it would help, but sometimes even that doesn’t uncover everything.

As a concom, if you find yourself in a [crap] storm due to your decision to invite a guest, the best thing you can do is say, “We hear you and will be investigating this situation fully. Once we have made our decision, we will make a public announcement of our plans. Please be patient as we work through this decision.” 

Keep in mind that sometimes social media warriors are simply reacting to things which are greatly exaggerated.  It’s best to do your due diligence and find out as many facts as possible. This is where you will need to do a “deep dive” into the situation and uncover as much of the truth as you can. This includes contacting the guest for their side of the story.

You must make a truly informed decision. I can’t stress this enough.

If you find that you have made an error in judgement, contact the guest and explain the situation. Understand, though, that if you un-invite a guest, you will be alienating their fans as well. You will need to decide if you will do further damage to your con if make this move.  

Once the guest is informed, you need to prepare a brief statement. Don’t get into specifics as to why you made the choice you did, just that you made a thorough investigation and made a choice which you believe is in the best interest of the con and its members.

Side note: thorough investigations rarely take less than 3-4 days.

Good luck.

April 7, 2017

Why Can’t We Get This Right?

[The following rant may sound like it’s directed at you - whoever you might be - but it’s not. It’s merely a general note of a trend I’ve seen.]

I’ve noticed over the years that some of the worst people for ignoring ad specs (size, color, file format, etc) are other con-runners. I’ve never quite understood that. As con-runners, most of us have to put together a program book. We take the time to lay out the book and then create a file that specifies what size and format the ads should be submitted in for the book. Well, at least we should be doing it that way, and I think most folks are doing that. And, since some of us even take pride in trying to make the book look attractive, we go to extra effort to get the ad sizes right before we announce the correct formatting.

Well, every year, some of the same folks who scream about making sure the ad sizes and formats are correct for their book, turn around and send in stuff to me that isn’t even close to meeting my ad specs. Now, I could understand it if I hadn’t taken the time to create a web page with all of the relevant information carefully detailed out, so that the advertiser knew what was expected. But I do.

And, I could also understand it if I didn’t provide a link to that page on my social media requests for ads. But I do that, too. Heck, I even have a PDF that I send out when requested. The same PDF that’s available for download on my web page, where the ad specs are listed.

So, here’s my final point. Ad specs exist for a reason and we all know it. We all curse under our breath when ads arrive that are not in the correct format or in the correct size. So, why are we, collectively, so bad at putting together ads that don’t meet the book’s specifications? My challenge to you, my fellow con-runners, is to do a better job of working on meeting the ad specs. And if you have questions, well, you know the drill… ask. I’m pretty sure the program book editor would rather answer your question than get something that doesn’t work in their book.

November 10, 2016

How to Deal With Financial Success

One of the things I’ve often been asked is “what are we going to do with this year’s profits?”

Normally, I respond with, “Nothing,… why, did you have something you need the con to spend money on? We can talk about it.”

Smart businesses always hang on to their money as part of a “war chest” because good years, profitable years, can easily be followed by bad ones.  Industry conditions change all the time.  And make no mistake, if you are running a con, whether non-profit or for profit, you are running a business.

As an example, I was recently involved in a convention that made around a 20% profit in one year, but then lost about 10% the following year. The budget was not vastly different from year to year, we just had more competition in the latter year. But, because we didn’t overspend, we still had a decent war chest to work with for the coming year.

And that’s why smart businesses save their money.  Competition, local or national economic/ political issues, even just bad weather can impact your convention. In the example above, we had a reasonably local con move their dates from 3 months prior to us in the past, to our exact weekend. I’m sure they didn’t see us as direct competition, but their convention did impact our attendance.

Now, can you spend some of your profits? Sure. The idea is to not spend heavily. If you need a piece of equipment, or if there is something you’d like to try with the con, then spend some of it. Just don’t spend all of it. Hang on to enough to help offset a bad year, because bad years happen to everyone… well, maybe not DragonCon, but most cons.

My suggestion is that 3 years makes a trend. If you continually grow for 3 years, then maybe you can increase your budget and spend some of those profits. Just remember, a bad year will eventually catch up to you and “kick you in the teeth.” Make sure you have something saved to offset that day.

August 31, 2016

Why Guests Should Respond (Politely) to an Invitation

Okay, so you’ve been invited to be a guest at a convention. Maybe you want to attend, but can’t, or maybe the con just doesn’t interest you. Either way, you’ve decided not to attend.

So that’s it, right? You let it go, because, hey, you’re really busy and if you don’t respond, they’ll just move on.

Here’s why that’s a bad idea… You may have just “blackballed” yourself, from not only this con, but others as well. Yes, cons do talk to each other. As matter of fact, there are several Facebook pages out there, some public, some not so public, where cons share information about everything from hotel issues to guests (we assume there are similar forums for guests as well – and I, at least, try to keep that in mind when interacting with any guests).

The best practice is to be honest with the con. And, if possible, also try to be prompt in your reply. Yes, it’s best if you’re not brutally honest. Responding with, “Your con sucks and I would never attend a con like yours if my life depended on it” might not be a good approach. However, you can convey your message with, “I’ve reviewed your webpage, and while I’m certain it’s a great con for your attendees, I’m not certain I would be the best fit there. Thank you for inviting me, though, and best of luck on your convention!”

Con runners will get the idea, at least the smart ones will. And frankly, those that aren’t smart don’t tend to last long in this business.

Now, what if the guest is a major player? Someone in high demand? There’s little the con can do to impact the guests’ future revenues, so why should the guest care if you’re not happy with them?

Well, here’s the deal. The good con organizers can last a lot longer than the demand for a guest. Seriously, I’ve seen it. The con might not survive, but good organizers are rare and tend to get recruited by other cons.

Now, consider this experience from my past: One very popular writer was extremely nasty to a con I was involved with back in the 90s. Said author could schedule personal appearances as often as they wanted, and was willing to brush aside any con that didn’t fit their criteria, or desires.

Guess what, 20 years later I’m still running cons, and that guest is now selling a lot, a whole lot, less books than in the past. Said individual will likely never be booked by a con I’m involved with because they “burned that bridge” many years back. And let me tell you, I’ve shared that story many times at other cons. It is, after all, harder to unmake a bad reputation than it is to create a good one to start with.

So, please, try to keep all of this in mind if you’re invited to be a guest. I promise, a polite no is an okay answer, even if yes would make us happier.

And if you run cons, try to remember that the opposite can happen to you just as easily. You don’t want to find yourself receiving a lot of polite, “thank you, but no” responses.

April 13, 2016

Cons and Politics

This is going to be a very short post.  Well, probably.

During the last 3 weeks in NC, we have been completely buried under “news” articles, either for or against HB2.  As someone who partially owns a con in NC, I’m staying the heck out of the most contentious part of the law… bathrooms. 

This practice should be followed by every con runner out there.

Why? Simply put, as a business owner, you will lose either way. If you back one side, the other will walk away, probably taking other folks with them.  It’s for this reason, we decided to adopt a politically neutral position for all issues when we formed our company.

If you own a convention, my advice would be for you to do them same.  Stay apolitical.  Your company (con) has no business getting involved with these arguments. It will hurt your business. Your con is no place to jump up on a soapbox.

Now, having said that, let me add that avoiding discrimination is actually a smart move for your business. Encouraging everyone, who interested in SF, to attend your con, can increase your opportunities to be successful. Just make sure you have strong policies about everyone needing to set aside their politics once they walk in the door.

See, I told you it would be short.

March 3, 2016

Con Crud and the ConSuite

As my family awakens in our hotel room on Sunday morning of our latest con, the incessant coughing is telling me we have it. Con Crud, the bane of all con attendees. Sleep gets interrupted. Panels get skipped, and misery runs rampant.

This inspired me to write a post on what we, collectively, can do to prevent this plague (pun intended) on fandom.

The first step is making sure we wash our hands… a lot. Yeah, I know, most of us wash our hands when we go to the restroom. But really, if you think about it, how often do we really wash our hands throughout the weekend? Do you hit the bathroom prior to grabbing that slice of pizza at the concessions booth? If not, think back to how many people you have had the opportunity to shake hands with that day. I’m not saying everyone is a carrier of some dreaded virus, but it does increase your chances of picking up something. And even if washing your hands isn’t possible on a frequent basis, you could carry some hand sanitizer that you can use when no one is looking (you don’t want to offend the guy you just shook hands with, after all).

[Option B comes from Cami Walker, my con’s Marketing Director. She says to make sure all of your costumes have gloves.]

Now that I’ve covered how you can personally reduce your risk of Con Crud, let’s discuss what conventions can do.

The most common location for Con Crud to spread is the ConSuite. There are lots of people handling items that can spread germs… ice scoops, open bowls of chips, soda bottles, serving utensils, etc. Contact with any of these things immediately after someone with dirty hands and/or a virus has touched them, can result in you picking up an illness.

My solution is for cons to move to more individually wrapped items.

I know, I know. I can hear ConSuites Directors everywhere screaming as I write this, “That’s too expensive!”

Is it though? Is it really?

Let’s take a look at the cost of soda as an example.

I’ve done the math, and ounce for ounce, the cost of soda is pretty close for cans and 2L bottles. Now, if you don’t buy sodas when they are on sale, then, yeah, maybe it’s cheaper for 2L bottles. But I’ve found the cost at club stores is roughly the same. Also, often times the manufacturers run sales on 12 packs of cans… buy 2 get 3 free kinds of deals. At $6.69 a 12 pack (a recent price at Harris Teeter grocery store), that means we could buy five 12 packs for $13.38, or $0.22 a can. For those “keeping score at home,” that’s $0.018 per ounce.

To be fair, the manufactures sometimes run sales on 2L bottles also, which usually come in around $1.69/each. At 67 ounces, that’s $0.025 per ounce. Even at $1.25 per bottle, the price would be the same per ounce as the cans promo listed above.

Hopefully, this example is enough to persuade cons to look a little deeper and actually see what the relative costs are for their stock. Reducing Con Crud in the ConSuite should be a priority. And reducing Con Crud in the ConSuite will absolutely reduce it at the con in general.

And in case you’re wondering, yes, my convention serves individually packaged products. It has worked out fairly well for the past two years. We haven’t had any reports of a massive attack of Con Crud, at least not yet, anyway (that is not a challenge for Murphy!).

*Note: prices listed above are for name brand sodas.