Last weekend I flew down to San Francisco from home-base Seattle for the big giant comic book/pop culture convention Wondercon. Though both big and giant compared to some conventions I’ve attended, Wondercon is a little sister convention to the overwhelmingly mammoth San Diego Comicon—but as is true with cities and cups of coffee, bigger is not necessarily better. Wondercon was a blast, and though I hate flying, get lonely when I travel on my own (I’m so sensitive), and I get really miserly when it’s my own money on the line, I’m extremely happy that I went.

The exhibit hall seen from above, with annoying reflections on the glass (sorry).

My purpose in going to Wondercon was twofold, as I mentioned in a previous post wherein I advised all authors, aspiring and otherwise, to get to conventions and use them wisely. Goal one was to do my seminar based on The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction: 6 Steps to Writing and Publishing Your Bestseller!: a one-hour Q&A on the eponymous subject. Though that was the last thing I did on my trip to Wondercon, I may as well report on that first, since for me it was the real highlight.

The first time I gave this talk was at Steamcon, a much smaller but big-in-spirit steampunk convention here in Seattle. There I had about ten people show up. Saturday at Wondercon I spoke to about 150 people—a fantastic turnout that was instantly gratifying. Same as Steamcon I started out with a variation of my Five Things Every Author Should Know, which I tweak from time to time. This time I brought along a swell set of PowerPoint slides that showcased the full extent of my 1st Level PowerPoint skills.

I took a picture of the audience at my seminar. I’m such a dork.

We got a late start, which is to be expected at even the best-run cons (and Wondercon was very well organized), especially for the last event of the day, which mine was—in that room, anyway. I ran through my slides quickly, sensing a little impatience in the crowd. If you’ve read my piece on convention etiquette for professionals, that counts as thinking on your feet.

The real meat of the event is the Q&A. Once I got to that bit, lots of hands flew up and there was never a lull in the conversation. But all in all, a bit less than an hour really isn’t much time, so it’s hard to run some kind of writing master class—check that, impossible to run any kind of writing master class in that short span of time, but I think we touched on some interesting subjects and I stand by the advice I managed to convey.

For authors, you really need to be able to do this sort of thing—speak in front of a crowd of 150 people who have chosen that room at that time instead of all the other stuff going on at the convention just then. One of my five things slides was: Be Prepared to Sell Yourself. When that slide popped up, I told the crowd, “I’m doing it right now.” And I was, but a slide with a picture of my book’s cover and a final slide with my Twitter address, the URL for this blog, and the name of the booth down in the exhibit hall that agreed to sell a few copies of the book on consignment, was pretty much the extent of the plugging. I hope it didn’t come across as an infomercial. That was definitely not the intent. I really wanted to convey to people who are writing, who are thinking about writing, who are struggling with writing, that there are skills you can learn that will make you a better writer, and that the publishing industry is not a closed shop. There are ways to “get in,” and the first thing everyone has to start with is an original, well-written, complete manuscript.

Thanks go out to Matt at Matt’s Cavalcade of Comics, who sold my book at Wondercon. How did I set that up, authors with books to sell at conventions may ask? I went through the list of exhibitors on the Wondercon web site and Googled everyone who seemed like a variety of bookseller. Again, Wondercon is a bigger than average convention, so I ended up with a list of 21 possibilities. I ended up sending out seven emails, and Matt got back to me. I dragged the copies with me in my suitcase, found him Friday right after the hall opened, and there we have it. It was just that easy. He has a couple copies left after Wondercon ended and he’s bringing them to another convention. It’s all good.

So then what about the other of the two things I went there to do: Get work writing comic books.

When I was with TSR and Wizards of the Coast I never brought a contract with me to Gen Con, though every time I went to that convention, and others, I talked to numerous would-be authors. I’m not sure that any of those conversations led directly to someone writing a book for me, but maybe in a roundabout way they did. Editors need more than a conversation at a convention—especially at a convention as big as Wondercon where you can have lots of those conversations and it’s easy to lose track of who was who by the time you get home—to hire you. So I went in with very realistic expectations, which is to say I did not come home with a signed contract, and was not in the slightest bit surprised or disappointed.

I did, however, attend a seminar at 2:30 on Friday called Breaking into Comics the Marvel Way, which was fantastic. This was exactly how a panel like this should go. It was encouraging, but realistic, welcoming but cautionary. Well done, C.B. Cebulski and co-panelists Joe Quesada, Jeph Loeb, Axel Alonso, and Jason Aaron.

The Marvel guys told us all exactly what to do to make that first contact with them, and I’m going to follow their instructions to the letter. This is precisely the advice I gave at my own seminar: If a publisher or agent has anything like submission guidelines, read them, understand them, and follow them to the letter. Help publishers find you, help them like you, help them want to work with you.

Now, everybody concentrate really hard on sending me positive comic book writing vibrations.

A little magical thinking on the side never hurt anybody.

Other high points?

Well, I really only had that one hour of “work” to do at Wondercon, but was there all day Friday and Saturday, so I got a chance to just attend the convention and be amongst my tribe.

In no particular order:

I went to the presentation on the new Green Lantern movie featuring the star of the movie, Ryan Reynolds. He was funny and charming, and they showed about 10 minutes of the movie and it looks really cool. Kinda Green Lantern-meets-Tron, but, y’know, in a good way. I will be there with IMAX 3D bells on.

Jon Favreau (right) and producer Roberto Orci answer fan questions.

The other movie star I went to see was Jon Favreau. I’ve been a big Favreau fan since I first saw Swingers, which I still think is the single best movie about men ever made. Iron Man was good, too. He was also funny and charming, and I got a seat closer up, which was cool. He showed some footage from Cowboys and Aliens that looked promising. This might not be a bad summer for movies. Hollywood owes us one after last year, after all.

I trolled my way through the big exhibit hall and was glad I spent a lot of time there on Friday. On Saturday the crowds seemed to multiply by ten and it was impossible to move in spots.

I found a guy with a bunch of boxes of comic books for $2.00 each. I ran across a copy of Fantastic Four #200 there, bought it, then wandered past a booth—I think it was for the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund and there was comic legend Marv Wolfman, who, it so happens, wrote Fantastic Four #200. I handed him the copy I’d just bought and he signed it for me and we chatted for a minute. Really a nice guy.

People who know me at all know that I’m a big Survivor geek and I follow a few other reality shows as well. Though it doesn’t hold quite the place in my heart as Survivor my wife and I watch The Amazing Race. I wandered through the celebrity, artists, and small-press tables and there was Kynt and Vyxsin, the “goth couple” from The Amazing Race. I paid then $10 for an autographed photo for my wife and they were fantastic—really friendly, open, and appreciative of the crowd of fans. They were both just great, taking photos with fans and not being overly commercial. Some of the “celebrities” there were a little post-D list, and a few of them just looked depressed—straight out of The Wrestler. But Kynt and Vyxsin haven’t been beaten down by that end of the business yet, thankfully, and for their sakes I hope they don’t.

Lou Ferrigno presses the flesh with fans.

I got a blurry photo of Lou Ferrigno, who looked great, but I couldn’t justify the $40 he wanted for an autographed photo. No offense, Lou. You know I love you, man.

Speaking of people who are accessible and fun at a convention, DC Comics’ Don DiDio is a madman. His genuine enthusiasm really shined through, despite a convention-damaged voice that was painful to listen to. I love it when these guys really seem to get how cool their jobs are.

If you’re a writer, want to be a writer, or are just a fan of genre fiction, comic books, movies, or pop culture in general, you just have to get to conventions. You have to. This one cost me less than $1000 all in to attend—I didn’t have to pay admission, being both a “professional” and a panelist, but there was airfare and hotel to contend with, meals, etc. And I bought t-shirts and stuff for the kids . . . I could have spent $10,000 in that dealers room, but I didn’t.

If you can find a convention within driving distance, you’ll save the airfare. If you live in or near anything like a city, there’s got to be a local convention that won’t even cost you a hotel room.

Go, people. Go!

—Philip Athans

About Philip Athans

Philip Athans is the New York Times best-selling author of Annihilation and a dozen other books including The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Writing Monsters. His blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook, (https://fantasyhandbook.wordpress.com/) is updated every Tuesday, and you can follow him on Twitter @PhilAthans.
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2 Responses to WONDERCON 2011

  1. easylifestyles says:

    I enjoy your writing very much thanks for posting this. You have a wonderful blog. Writing is a hobby I truly enjoy. It’s very relaxing and puts your mind at ease for that single moment in time.

    A Day at the Park – A Creative Story

  2. DCal says:

    I was one of the many standing on the sides of the room during the Q&A. I agree that one hour was not enough to cover the topic, but most of the questions opened up a lot of information on what it takes to become noticed/published. I just wanted to say thank you for holding the Q&A, I took a lot away from it that I will be sure to follow.

    Also, I felt like SciFi and Fantasy writers should have been better represented out there on the main floor. There were a lot of online comics and artists in the main hall, but I was pretty disappointed by the lack of authors.

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