When I first started going to conventions, I went there to sell books. I sat behind a table for eight hours in the giant vendor hall trying to get people to come over so I could sell them The Crown Conspiracy. I did it because I was trying any venue possible to get people to read my books. Bookstore signings, conventions, appearances at private homes where a tiny reading group was discussing my book—I did everything I could. Turned out there was something called the Internet and it worked a whole lot better.
As a result I stopped doing bookstore gigs and book-hocking in giant convention halls. Given that the return on investment for attending conventions is abysmal (meaning negative numbers) even my publicist-wife, Robin, didn’t try and force me. I had every intention of never going to another con. A few things changed that.
I went to ConFusion because it was in my hometown and was known to be an “authors con” and I didn’t actually attend the con; I only went to the hotel and hung in the lobby and bar and chatted with other authors. So no hocking books. No panels.
Then I was invited to ConnectiCon. In the past, I always had to beg and pay. No one ever invited me. They also said they wanted me to be their guest of honor. Turns out there were two guests of honor. The other one was Brandon Sanderson. So I went to that one.
I went to GenCon because my wife ambushed me via a “vacation” that turned into—“Hey! We’re in Indiana, and look, GenCon is right over there, and oh yeah, I said you were going.”
Now if you go back and read my post-con-report on GenCon entitled Mile Marker Nine, you might know why when DelRey asked me if I’d go to three cons this year I didn’t say no. To be precise, there were nine reasons—the nine people who identified themselves as my fans.
I can’t speak for other authors but talking with people who have read and enjoyed my work, hearing them describe their favorite characters or scenes, or that reading them managed to impact their lives in a positive and concrete way, is like God’s way of telling me I didn’t waste my life.
So I don’t go to cons to sell books, which is why the people at DelRey have to keep telling me to bring one to signings and panels. I go to meet the people who went on adventures with Royce and Hadrian to share stories about common friends.
It didn't hurt that DelRey paid. They did even more than that. The first con DelRey sent me to was Chicago’s Comic Con. They covered my travel and lodging expenses, which I thought was really nice. But when I was concerned that the flight arrival was too close to my first con appearance and that I might not have enough time to figure out the train/bus system to get me from the airport to the con, they replied: “Well, we’re going to send a car for you.” As if—don’t be ridiculous Mr. Sullivan, we also aren’t going to make you travel as carry-on luggage, or HALO parachute from your American Airliner as it does a Chicago flyby. I was still bragging to friends and family how cool it was that the local Barnes and Nobles had once put out a sign in front of their store reading: PARKING RESERVED FOR AUTHOR, when I did a signing there. DelRey sent a luxurious black Lincoln Town car complete with bottled water and the morning paper to my house. The chauffeur opened the doors for me and my wife, and insisted on handling the luggage as if the tiny ten pound overnight night bags were too much for us. I felt a bit like Thomas Crown on his way to work, and had fantasies of stealing impressionist art for the thrill.
They did the same thing for this last weekend’s Phoenix Comic Con.
The “weekend” which lasted six days, started with a cozy dinner hosted by Kevin Hearnes (author of the Iron Druid series) at the Herb Box restaurant, and followed immediately by a book signing extravaganza at a local bookstore called the Poison Pen. The event was dubbed Elevengeddon and included: Kevin Hearne, Patrick Rothfuss, Brandon Sanderson, Pierce Brown, Beth Cato, Adam Christopher, Ryan Dalton, Leanna Renee Hieber, Jason Hough, Mary Robinette Kowal, Tom Leeveen, Michael Martinez, Brian McClellan, Joseph Nassie, Sarah Remy, VE Schwab, Scott Sigler, Sam Sykes, and Django Wexler. I was there as well, between Dan Wells and Scott Sigler. The place was packed with a line that extended down the street well into the night, which in Phoenix, I discovered, is hot.
The temperature hit a weekend high of 118 degrees. That kind of desert heat is interesting because you can jog outside in direct sun and never sweat. At least you don’t think you are. People suffer dehydration effect without realizing it. And because it’s so dry, it doesn’t feel all that hot, but it is like trying to breath with a hair dryer blowing in your face.
DelRey was giving away free copies of Age of Myth’s Advance Reading Edition, that I signed in their booth. I think they do this to build author’s confidence. People will stand in long lines for anything free. And they did. The line wrapped the sizable booth. Most never heard of me before, but that was good. The whole point was to capture new readers.
Then there were panels, mostly with other DelRey authors, so I got to know Kevin Hearne, Pierce Brown, Scott Sigler, Jason Hough, and Ali Oliva, all of whom are really nice people. Kevin, who used to be local, played the part of the perfect host. Pierce, who, the night I met him, was described as “Objectively, incredibly, hot” (by the female author a few seats down from me), turned out to be genuinely friendly and considerate. Scott is a dust-devil of fun, and far more pleasant than his standard Bruce Willis yippie ki yay expression would suggest. Ali (short for Alexandra) is about to see her new debut novel released, and is understandably excited.
Still it was my readers that I came to meet, and they came to meet me. More than ever before. They brought bags of books for me to sign. They had stories they wanted to tell me about how my books had affected them. They wanted to tell me “thank you.” I always find that strange. I enjoyed writing the books, and they gave me good money for the pleasure. I’m the one that needs to be thanking them.
During the “Cocktails With Authors” event—where authors get to drink and chat with readers in a large wedding-style hall—I met one fellow, a huge reader of mine who asked me how I felt being stuck in this “horse and pony show.” I guess he surmised that I would hate it. Most of those who call themselves “my fans” appear to assume that. They apologize: “I’m sorry—must be really awful to have people like me come up to you like this, acting like I know you. It’s just that after reading all your books I feel like I do.” Or they tear up and say, “I’m sorry, it’s just that your books mean so much to me.” They apologize for liking my work so much that many of them traveled hours and paid money to enter the con, specifically and only so they might get thirty-seconds of my time so that they could apologize for liking me.
Maybe it was the beer I was drinking, or the fact that it had been a long day by then, but when the fellow asked how I felt to be in the “dog and pony show”, instead of saying it was great, or it was another day in the life of an author…I told him the truth.
“I feel guilty. That I don’t deserve the adoration. I didn’t feed anyone. I didn’t cure people of illness, or pull anyone out of a burning building. I merely made up some stories and wrote them down. And everyone thinks far too much of me for that.”
And so, where before I felt bad that I didn’t have any “fans” coming up to me at signings clamoring for my autograph. Now I do—and I feel guilty about it. So maybe this is a new milestone, a new mile marker for me. And if so, should I be happy or sad? Funny, how you never think of these sort of things when you’re alone in your room making up stories to entertain yourself, but everything you put into the world has an effect. Most you never see or hear about. Tolkien never knew that his silly little tale of hobbits turned me into a writer who apparently touched so many others. Makes me wonder if the future of the world can really be fundamentally changed with nothing more than a well timed smile or a frown.