Realities of Running a Convention Vol 1

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For those enthusiastically thinking of running a convention.


The initial enthusiasm many have to run a con is that they have a dream con in mind. That dream con is the con they dream of going to, the con they'd like to attend but have felt the usual disappointment of those that they do attend. You know, the ones we spend bitching about at breakfast (with the lycra dude chortling too loud at his fellow diner's retelling of the CSI furry episode) or later in the evening at the bar (where there's no signs of lycra but still the distant chortling of mid-list writers watching on a laptop a youtube remix of Battlestar Galactica, a Lady GaGa song and the CSI furry episode, intellectual chortling, though it sounds the same).

Anyways, you have a dream con all figured out and you make the commitment (while drunk at a room party or on a sugar high during a game of Cosmic Encounter) to rally your mates and make a bid at the business meeting. Your one mistake is that your dream con floats in your mind as if you're attending it. You forget you won't be attending that con because you'll be too damn busy running it. Well, that's what you should be doing. Funny how often that doesn't dawn on committee members till it's way too late. It's often why committee can look so damn unhappy or some individuals seem rather useless at dealing with anything when the con is actually underway. Committee members, I tell you: You don't get to go. Fuck off and run the damn con. You wanted to run it, now run it. Your job isn't to have fun, that's our job. Your job is to make it fun for us.

Now, this isn't to say a committee can't have fun. But it has to be a different fun.

So when you decide to run a con you have to make sure in your mind that your objective is to manage a con and not create the con you always wanted to go to. Now there's nothing wrong with the two overlapping, even coinciding (in a way, they should) but we're talking about the mindset. You have to sacrifice the dream of going to that con and replace it with the dream of giving that con to others. Like Buddha deliberately not achieving full enlightenment so he could remain on this earth and point the way to Nirvana. Your goal is to produce a convention others enjoy in your proxy. You can bask in the achievment, the closing ceremony applause, the good reviews on blogs, even the rare email of "Thank you" (which do feel the best). Running a con can be a rewarding and worthwhile experience. It usually isn't, but that's by the by.

I know exemplary committee members who have admitted to me that they don't entirely enjoy the con experience simply as a member participant, but get their fan jollys by working on them, usually because that is how they get there sense of community. These people are what keep conventions coming along every year. Usually, though, they aren't the driving force (unless they come out of the woodwork to save a failing con, which is more often than you think). The driving force, the initial momentum, is from those who get an idea in their head and say, usually, by the Sunday evening of the convention "You know what'll make a great con?" So after generating that first excitement, followed by a ping of bliss when winning the bid, it often, about three months in, turns into a deflating realization that it's actually work and then, about three months before the con date, that they'll not get to go cause there's all this shit in the way called running a con (which by now half of them regret having got involved in the first place). This is not a problem for the con pragmatists and realists, but for the dreamers it can be.

And that is why it is not uncommon for a committee member or two to resign just weeks before the convention is due. Sure, they'll have a reason, even a legitimate sounding one, but they invariably turn up to the convention and sit in the fan lounge, having fun, sometimes bitching about the committee who are running around keeping the thing going. And yes, the members of your former committee may have been rude arseholes and yes they did distort your vision for the convention, but you are still there, going to the convention you were meant to be running. But then hey, I've been to cons where almost the whole committee decided they'd also go to their own con. Needless to say they were shit conventions. [more down the track about resignations, particularly the public kind]

So if you are thinking about running a convention, think about the con you want the experience of having run, not the con you wish others would run for you so you can experience it. Do that from the very beginning and you've made the first step towards a successful, even legendary, convention.

Oh, and be kind to the lycra guy, he may be the one who saves your convention or sends you that thank you email.

Though not likely.

This document written by Robin Pen and located at This page reprinted with his permission.