Welcome to the 4th post of the Year of Living Authorly. This is the second post regarding conventions. Previous posts can be found here, and over at Unreliable Narrators. Eventually, I'll get all of these put on a page somewhere, and hopefully they can be of some use.
Last Friday, I burbled on about how much I liked conventions. Conventions are great for authors for a variety of reasons. You can connect with authors, agents, and editors. You can meet like-minded fans. You can create a good impression on people so they might buy your book (alas, the opposite is also true, so be careful out there. One of the ways authors can get involved in conventions is by being on panels.
How hard or easy is it to get on a panel at a convention? You have nothing to lose by visiting the website of a convention you are planning to visit and contacting the programming chair asking you how you can be of service. Usually, being on panels is a volunteer affair, which means you will pay. Occasionally, some cons have invited participants and are willing to waive your fee if you qualify. Those cons generally have instructions on their website and forms you might need to fill out. Remember that cons are often run by volunteers. Some cons will want to include you on programming, and some will be eerily silent. Take it all in stride.
If you've managed to contact programming, and have been assigned to a panel, here are some ideas that might help you.
Usually you're not alone. Usually there's a group of a few people who will speak to the topic with you. If you're very lucky, one of these people will be the moderator, who will control the flow of conversation between and among the panelists and the audience. Sometimes, cons are less formal, and panelists will moderate themselves.
If you can, prepare for the panel in advance. Many cons will give attendees each others email addresses, so people can discuss what individuals might cover. I've been on panels where I've gone in cold, and the panels have worked, but often preparation in advance means you can have handouts, or power points, or thought out conversation. Don't be afraid to be the first person to initiate contact if you need to be.
Many authors on panels will display their books around them like a little fortress. While it might be great to have some of your books for sale, many people feel that's a bit much. I feel that's more appropriate for a signing than a panel. Your mileage may vary. However, don't forget that the panel topic is not your books, even if your books exemplify what's being discussed. You can mention your books, but remember not to be a commercial for your books.
Try to think about speaking up. Don't dominate the panel. Don't be eclipsed. I always try to think that if I am one of a five person panel, I should probably say something about 20 percent of the time. Do your best to be clear while speaking. Always use a mike if you got one. This isn't about how loud you can speak. This is about helping people hear you. And yes, they really can't hear you in the back of the room. Treat your fellow panelists and your audience with respect.
Readings and signings aren't exactly panels, but they too are ways in which you can become more involved in a convention. A reading is exactly the place to generate interest in your work. I'll try to do a post on readings at some point this year. And signings? Well, there's some conventions around that too. But again, see if your con has such events, and ask if you can be involved.
Next up: Image. It isn't everything, but it is important.