I’m currently taking a break from conventions for a number of reasons, with Melksham Comic Con back in August being my last for what was planned to be a year out.
There are a number of reasons for that including travel, health and, yes, money. In short, I can’t drive because my left eye is underdeveloped and I don’t really have any sense of depth perception, making driving extremely dangerous for me and everyone else on the road, so I’m reliant on public transport or my other half giving me a lift. The former is tricky due to living in a remote, rural, village and the latter became much more of an issue after we had kids.
Health wise, since needing some time off work years ago for stress, anxiety and panic attacks I now get severe stomach cramps, short of breath and other unpleasant symptoms when I’m under significant stress. As much as I love conventions and the community, there can often be a pressure to sell enough to cover your costs, to be able to print the next book, to be able to attend the next show. I’m not a salesman, far from it. I’m a socially awkward high functioning autistic (Asperger’s Syndrome) who often wears a paper-thin mask of staged confidence and bravado.
Finally, money. I’ve covered some of it above and the rest I’ve talked about in detail in a previous article. In short, you have to treat self-publishing like gambling, yes there are wins and occasional jackpots but you should never spend money you can’t afford to lose. Right now, I need to rebuild a buffer I can afford to lose.
On the other hand, I can really enjoy a convention. I get a huge buzz from seeing people buy and enjoy my work. I get to see amazing, like-minded, friends who are regulars on the circuit. I get to see parts of the country I’d have otherwise never visited. When I’ve had to skip a show in the past, part of me felt like I was missing out.
This weekend was the first true test of whether I’ve made the right decision as three shows took place (yeah, we’ll save the discussion of over-saturation for another day). There was Mall-Con, a free, small scale one day event from the organisers of True Believers, Nottingham Comic Con, a one day show with comics at it’s core, and then there was the mighty three day behemoth of MCM in London.
As you can imagine, my social media feeds have been flooded with posts of my friends tabling at these shows and I had surprisingly mixed feelings.
On the one hand, I look at the map for MCM, see just how many tables there are, then combine that with the photos of thousands of attendees crammed shoulder to shoulder and I feel physically ill. On the other hand, I see my friends’ awesome new releases I want to read, I see how many new fans they’re reaching and I see them going out for drinks afterwards and I wish I was there.
I see photos of hotel rooms, people sharing with pals, having a good time, a few days away from reality and it looks like a damned good time. Then I remember the extortionate costs of accomodation for many conventions (you can see plenty of evidence of hotels hiking their prices up for convention weekends), I remember lugging a heavy suitcase, bannerstand holster and messenger bag across various forms of public transport, being away from my kids for prolonged periods of time, and I shudder.
I think I’m currently in a place where I love the idea of conventions but hate the reality. It’s the Monday after MCM, usually I’d be using a third holiday day in a row (usually head down Thursday for set up) for my much needed recovery day. Instead, I’m on the bus to work (typing this on a smartphone so please excuse any typos and the lack of images), I was able to use those holiday days earlier in the year for my kids’ birthdays, and I don’t feel like a zombie.
I’m toying with the idea of returning to conventions in six months insted of a year, I’m considering only doing a show if I have a new book, I’m also thinking about other distribution and promotion routes. Is the self-enforced break working? Put simply, I honestly don’t know.