Thursday, 15 September 2016

Conference Etiquette: Guests and Vendors

Since I was at Can-Con last weekend, I've found myself thinking a lot about conference etiquette.  (And allow me to say that Can-Con was an excellent conference and few to none of these challenges occurred there.  I have seen them at other conferences, though, and it is amazing how quickly a few breaches can make the atmosphere toxic.) Conferences can be a lot of fun for guests and professionals alike, but a few simple tips and guidelines can help to keep things running smoothly.


Fan conferences, no matter what type, are fueled by the enthusiasm of the guests.  There is something intoxicating and magical about being surrounded by people who are all sharing their enjoyment and passion for a particular topic, which leads directly to my first guideline.

Be respectful of different views.  Not everyone likes the same things or all aspects of the same thing.  In case people missed this particular lesson back in kindergarten, it's okay to disagree and like different things.  I'm more of a Marvel fan than a DC fan, but it doesn't mean that I have the right to run down DC comics or say their fans are somehow stupid because they don't agree with me.

Debate is great, but it should be done respectfully.  And if the positions are too greatly separated or too vehement, then don't waste your time.  I had one man tell me with great confidence that all romance was garbage.  I nodded and shrugged, saying that I enjoyed it and that I guessed my books wouldn't be enjoyable for him but that I hoped he had a good day.  He walked away feeling superior and I got to get on with my day and my sales.

I could have argued with him.  I could have brought up any number of sources and references.  But I let it go because the odds were we'd just both end up miserable.

Be respectful of panelists and vendors.  Most of the time panelists are simply enthusiastic amateurs.  They're not professional speakers or scholars, so they are sharing their opinion, not absolute facts.  There is usually time reserved for questions in a panel, so if a guest feels that something has been missed, question time is a good time to point it out.  It is not a good time to engage in a spirited debate on why the panelist is wrong.

Similarly, there may be vendors who are selling things that a particular guest isn't interested in.  Or supporting a charity or genre or series that the guest doesn't endorse.  A face to face confrontation in the vendor room isn't the best way to handle it.  If a guest feels strongly, then they should speak discreetly to the conference organizers.

Vendors pay a fair amount of money to be at conferences, which is why they can get upset at people selling things outside the vendor room.  Trying to redirect customer traffic away from the vendor room to purchase products from someone who is ostensibly a guest is disrespectful.  Now, I'll admit, that I usually bring a copy or two of my book along with me to conferences, just in case someone is really interested and wants it on the spot, but I try to be discreet.  Most of the time, I'll provide a card with my book's information so that they can pick it up later.

And a final, should-be-common-sense piece of advice.  Don't stalk people.  Don't follow them to the bathroom.  Don't prevent them from going to panels or events in order to talk to them.  Conferences are small and there will be plenty of time to bump into people later.  If they're in a hurry, respect that.

Contain fangirl/fanboy moments.  I'm not cool and I probably never will be.  I cannot do blase when I'm excited.  But I can keep myself together for short periods and then discreetly exit and have my geek out moment in private.  I adore meeting people who have inspired and entertained me at conferences but I always try to respect the fact that they don't know me and that what might have been extremely important to me may have only be one job among many for them.


Getting ready to sell your books (or other products) at a conference is exciting and challenging.  Vendors, even those who are past the first-time status, spend a lot of time wondering how much stock to bring, what price to sell at, etc.  It can be difficult and nerve-wracking, wondering if anyone will visit the table and buy a book.  But there are some basic courtesies which can make it easier.

Be respectful of your fellow vendors. One of the worst experiences I've ever had at a conference was when I had to deal with sharing a table with a woman who kept making degrading comments about my books and romance as a genre.  (To be clear, she'd never read my books, but if someone showed interest in them, she would make a rude comment and try to get them to look at her books instead.)  To add insult to injury, when she finished for the day, she left all of her garbage for me to deal with.

Recently, at Can-Con, there was one vendor stopped by my table and made a few dismissive comments about genre fiction, saying it was poorly written and formulaic.  He condescendingly said he preferred to read quality literary fiction.  I will admit to a certain satisfactory enjoyment when I sold out and he was packing up most of his books.

There's no need to put other people and their work down.  Guests have a wide variety of interests and they're all worthy of respect.  Be kind, even if something isn't your cup of tea.  If nothing else, vendors are stuck with one another for hours and days in fairly tight quarters.  Tensions can build quickly in such an environment and that leads to tension which can turn off all potential customers.

Be friendly and approachable.  It always shocks me how many people pay money for vendor tables and then sit there, scowling with their arms crossed, making it very clear that they are not happy to be there.  I'd be hesitant to approach such a table, even if I was a rabid fan with money to spend.

Similarly, it's not helpful to be too desperate.  If the only words out of a vendor's mouth are "Buy My Stuff" then guests will instinctively move away.

Find an icebreaker to get a conversation going.  People like to talk about themselves to an interested party.  (Incidentally, this is where I originally had a challenge.  I would have long conversations and never work up the courage to share details about my book.)  If someone is having fun and has pleasant memories of being with someone, they are more likely to be interested in buying a book.  A vendor has to sell themselves first and their goods second.

Make sure all body language signals openness.  Standing up, keeping the arms loose and at the sides, and smiling all tell guests that a vendor is approachable.

Practice your pitches.  Break down your series to a 5-10 second elevator pitch.  Mine is "Paranormal romance and urban fantasy about a secret society of superheroes living among us."  If a guest looks interested, then I can go into more details about the specific books.  Don't overwhelm with details right away.

Be prepared.  I was mortified at Can-Con when I had to keep a customer waiting to call my husband to get the login information for my credit card swiper.  Luckily it was a friend and fellow author who understood I'm not usually that disorganized (Thanks for being patient, Nathan!).  Have the necessary items (pens, cashbox, swag, etc.) conveniently laid out so that everything is easily found.  Make sure any computer programs or technology is running smoothly before the conference begins.

I like attending conferences, both as a fan and as a vendor.  Most of the time, it's a lot of fun.  In the end, it boils down to common sense and politeness.  We're all there to enjoy ourselves and share our passions.  Surely that's enough of a common ground.

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