Convention Organizers: Treat Your Event Like A Business, Not Like A Party
As you may recall, I had previously promoted my upcoming appearance as author guest of honor at the Wild Wild West Steampunk Convention in March. I signed on to make an appearance for them after they approached me last October. I told them my appearance requirements (the usual necessities of travel, food, and hotel), which they agreed to. So I cleared my schedule for that weekend, and I and my publicist began the process of promoting their event. I did this in good faith, despite the fact that the convention failed to sign contracts with me or book my flight in a timely manner.
Two days ago, one of the convention’s organizers contacted me informing me, to my great surprise, that they would not be providing coverage of my flight or hotel room. I replied to them and explained that I would not be able to make an appearance without my expenses being covered. I am a working artist. We don’t have “day jobs” (no full-time artist does: our art is our “day job”) and so we rely on our art (whether writing, illustration, sculpture, music, tailoring, etc) to pay our bills, and we are seldom if ever in possession of the extra money necessary to simply attend a convention. And moreover, when we make guest appearances, we are providing the event with content to entertain the attendees. As much as we love getting out there and meeting with our wonderful, wonderful fans (because we do very much), we can’t afford to do it on our own dime.
When the convention replied to me this evening, it was with a new story: they no longer planned to have me as a guest. And this only three months before their event, after they had been promoted and publicized in the understanding that I would be appearing there. I had cleared my schedule for them and used my name and connections to help them with their ticket sales. Having received these benefits, they then abandoned their side of the agreement when it came time to start putting their money down.
Now obviously I am insulted by this behavior and I will no longer be giving the convention my support. But what is more important here is what this signifies for the treatment of working, full-time artists. I have seen this sort of behavior before, toward myself and toward other artists, and each time it has been done by a small fan-run convention, and usually because the convention is either trying to cut costs or because they have over-budgeted and cannot follow through on their agreement. Now I don’t know if that is the case here, and it doesn’t matter enough to speculate. But there is a lesson here that needs to be learned.
Artists and writers are not rolling in money. They cannot afford unnecessary expenses. There is a reason why bands that perform at an event not only have their expenses covered but in many cases are paid as well. As an author and a speaker, I have the experience of waiving an appearance fee in order to make an appearance and give an event content, while bands whose sets are often shorter than my total appearance time are being paid. And I’m not crazy about that, I don’t think any writer or non-musical artist likes that fact; but we put up with it so that we can connect with our fans, so that we can answer questions and make people happy, so that we can promote our projects in the hope of selling enough books/paintings/comics/etc to feed, clothe, and house ourselves. When we clear our schedules to make an appearance, we are potentially missing out on paying work for the sake of doing so.
Now if you can’t afford to pay your speakers, then that’s fine. Small conventions often have very little money; but you cannot agree to the cost of an artist’s appearance, get promo out of them, and then turn around and claim you can no longer afford it. Budgets are tricky, yes; sometimes there are surprise expenses, yes; but when you make an agreement with someone to cover certain expenses in exchange for an appearance, you are making a commitment to them, just as they are making a commitment to your event. Reliable artists do not back out of an event unless they are ill, face a personal emergency, or some other drastic event occurs. A reliable event gives artists the same courtesy.
So again, all you events out there, take note. Artists are not fans. They can’t afford to be. They can’t afford to come to your event just for the fun of it. When you cost them time, money, and/or work, it hurts them. So please, have the basic professionalism to be serious when you approach someone about an appearance; be serious when you agree to payment or the coverage of expenses; and please have the decency to stand by your agreements. Remember, making exaggerated promises or failing to follow through on them both hurts people and makes you look bad. And no one wants that.
And as a side note (because I know a great many wonderful people who make their living off of vending and merchandise sales), all of this goes for vendors as well. They can’t afford to be jerked around, promised certain vending hall amenities or a particular layout only to have it canceled or changed last minute. Heck, the same goes for fans: they’re coming to your convention, paying you money, on the understanding of an enjoyable, well-run event that will follow through with the promised content. Running a convention is a business. You don’t do it “to be cool”, you don’t do it “for the lulz”. You do it to bring artists, performs, and vendors together in order to give your attendees a good time. Please remember to be serious about your commitments to all of the people who make it possible for you to have an event at all.
Not surprising. When I did their show in 2011, I had to struggle for three months afterward to get paid, and I wasn’t the only one. I know artists who never got paid.
Additionally, their top-billed musical “guest of honor” is a known rapist. WWWC knows it. I personally told them the details, to which they replied, “we take sexual assault very seriously, but our hands are tied.” (Paraphrased)
Boycott WWWC. Not only are they unprofessional an have a history of shafting artists, but they also support known assailants of sexualized violence to make a few bucks.