I promised myself to work on my blogging skills. It’s a bit like getting back into shape, you know? I’m struggling to get back into a routine, and everyone around me is telling to cut myself a break considering the year I have been facing. The reality is, just like staying in shape, I have to do this. Next year, as many of you know, I will be returning to novel-length fiction with my first mass market paperback novel, Phoenix Rising: A Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences Novel. Me. The Kiwi. Steampunk. The cover is just beautiful, I’m telling you. Stay patient and, as soon as we get approval, we will go live with it.
2011 is a big step for me as a writer; and I’m trying to take everything I have learned since 2002 when Morevi first rolled off the presses, and apply it to the now. One of the hardest lessons I learned over this near-decade of writing professionally is just how easy it is to find yourself in the red. Not the red ink of an editor’s pen, mind you, but the financial red of your bank account telling you in so many words that you — the professional author — are flat broke.
With my bank accounts and credit scores all in the green (pardon the pun), I don’t intend to drive myself, Sonic Boom, and Pip into that dark territory. I’m also trying to make sure Pip doesn’t overreach financially, committing herself both in time and money into appearances. I still believe that face time is extremely important to the author, of course. However, it is more important to pay the bills, have a safety net in the bank, and make certain the roof you’re keeping over your head can be fixed at a moment’s notice.
Oh yeah, and writing. Writing is very important to the writer, last time I checked.
Today, I was reminded of just how tough it is to “give the people what they want” as tweets were asking us when we would bring Eliza and Wellington (our heroes from the Ministry) to local bookstores and Science Fiction conventions. These tweets were coming from the west (Oregon), from the south (the Carolinas), and from points south AND west (Texas). Flattered as I was that Pip and I are finding ourselves in demand, I hated coming to grips with the truth. Most likely, we won’t be heading to these friendly fans next year.
Before I continue, let me be clear — in no way is this blogpost meant to be a guilt trip. On the contrary, I want to give authors (and authors-to-be) that are considering the con circuit as a ways and means of promotion a realistic look at how much one Science Fiction convention could cost you. The bills may vary based on who buys you lunch, how many visits you make at the bar, and how many rounds you feel like picking up at said bar. This post is also a gentle (seriously, a very gentle) reminder to any and all of you organizing cons how much making an appearance at your event costs, and sometimes the weekend pass just isn’t enough to justify the trip. (Would you believe some cons won’t comp even that? Now that’s tacky.)
The convention I’m using as the boilerplate is Philcon, Philadelphia’s premier Science Fiction and Fantasy convention held in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. Why is Philly’s con held Jersey? Probably to bring the cost down which, if memory serves, did quite considerably when the convention was downtown. (Nice hotel back then, but you paid for its convenience.) Here is the breakdown of how much Philcon 2010 cost:
- Gas: $38.00
- Tolls: $18.00
- Hotel: $273.70
- Food: $283.54
- Petty Cash: $60.00
- Grand Total: $673.24
Considering that Pip was along with me, we ate in the hotel, and the hotel itself was more than reasonable ($119/night for a Crowne Plaza), this is a pretty inexpensive weekend. I’m sure we could have shaved off a few dollars here and there, but $600-700 for a con weekend within driving distance sounds about right. Factor in larger events (Balticon and Dragon*Con, for example) and you can easily tack on another $300-400 on that tab. Factor in air fare (Nova Albion, coming up for us in March) which can fluctuate from $225-450 per person, and now we’re doubling (or tripling) the amount.
Yes, I know, it’s a tax deduction…but it was that thinking that pushed me into serious financial trouble. While a book promotion is a deduction, I’m not getting all of it back. Only a piece of it.
Now, for the reality checkbook…
According to the current budget and the Philcon average, Pip and I have enough in the bank to cover four more con appearances. That’s cons within driving distance. Not counting an event in February (where we are being flown in on the host’s dime), we have currently confirmed for 2011:
- Nova Albion, March 25-27, in the San Francisco Bay Area, CA
- RavenCon, April 8-10, in Richmond, VA
- Balticon, May 27-30, in Hunt Valley, MD
- Renovation (The 69th World Science Fiction Convention), August 17-21, in Reno, NV
We are still waiting to hear from The Steampunk World’s Fair (May 20-22, in Piscataway, NJ) in the hopes we can launch The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences there. If it is a go, that would make it five trips planned for next year. Two of these trips will include cross-country flights.
And we’re not quite done. Along with these trips, Pip and I need to put together a budget for other items such as:
- A Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences trailer (similar to her Geist trailer)
- A Spectyr trailer (considering the success of the Geist trailer)
- RockButtons.com (arguably the BEST promotion we had at Worldcon 68: Australia)
- A MoPO coat of arms, Alex White commissioned for the work
- Costs involved in a podcast production (a MoPO anthology, another Chronicles of the Order, etc.)
- Any other promotions we have planned for either Ministry or Spectyr
Sure, we will be adding to our budget as the year progresses, but at the same time we have to make every dollar last.
This is why, if your local con (or if you yourself are a con organizer) contacts us, we will be asking for compensation beyond the weekend registration. For a con to pick up the air fare or hotel room save the author a good amount of change. Speaking from both Pip and my perspectives, it makes us work harder at a con. But what happens when a con comes back with “We can’t afford anything beyond the weekend membership…” as a response? No offense taken. We both know what goes into planning a con as well as how important it is for a con to come into the black. Unless you are a draw, a con wants to know what the Return on Investment (yes, even cons worry about that) will be when picking up a hotel, airfare, or both for a guest. Maybe Pip and I would be a valued investment. Maybe we’re not there yet. Who’s to say? (Well, the con’s Chair, Treasurer, and Programming Director, that’s who.)
When it comes to promotion, whether it is a personal appearance or a podcast, authors must be economical. I look back on my schedule of 2002-2003 and understand why people described it as “aggressive” because a con a month was a gusty, rigorous, and risky move for a new author. I also shake my head because I could have — and should have — managed my finances with more scrutiny so I would have realized sooner rather than later the dangerous gamble I was taking…and losing. It was an education for me, a school of hard knocks that I would prefer not to attend again. So, in 2011, I have to pinch pennies. I have to weigh the benefits. I have to use terms like ROI and USP. I have to stop being the artist and become a businessman. That is what this is, after all. The business of being a writer. Not full time (yet), but still a business.
That doesn’t mean Pip and I won’t be at a con near you. You never know. A convention chair may be a huge fan of podcasting, or have a slight crush on Sorcha Farris; and the numbers for Geist or Phoenix Rising might be enough for a committee to say “How about Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris? Do you think they are available?” And while we might not be able to come out to your part of the country (or the world), you could always brave the airports and come out to an event where we will be in attendance. Something I have noticed about the events we attend is an abundance of good times. So keep checking with us here, or on Facebook; and if fortune (or fandom) favors the steampunks, we might very well find ourselves announcing an update in our travel plans.
See you in the future? Anything’s possible.