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Convention Comp Policies

Most of the time, when I attend a convention and do programming, membership is comped (i.e., I don’t have to pay for a convention badge). This makes sense to me. Generally you have to do a minimum of 3 or so panels, but at that point you’re considered to be contributing to the con, just like someone who volunteers for X hours in exchange for a comped badge.

This isn’t always the case. Three examples come to mind.

1. World Fantasy Con. I was told I could do either a reading or a panel last year, and either way I was still paying the $100+ for con membership. For a world convention, where the majority of attendees are authors, you just can’t comp memberships to everyone who wants to do programming … nor can you put everyone who asks onto as many panels as they want. It’s the nature of the convention, and I get that.

2. Windycon. Their policy for years has been that authors pay for membership like everyone else. But if you do X number of panels, they’ll mail you a check several months later to reimburse your membership. I’ve asked about this policy, and it was blamed on “panelists who took their comp badges and then blew off their panels.” I’m … skeptical. Is this really such a huge problem? If so, then why aren’t other cons doing this? And why not just stop inviting those particular individuals to be on programming?

ETA:  My explanation above is quoted from an e-mail I received when I asked about Windycon’s policy, but I’m told that this is a vast oversimplification.

3. Penguicon. Program participants at Penguicon get a reduced rate. I believe it’s $25 this year. In some years, I’ve been told I could be a “nifty guest,” and got my membership comped for that, but I believe nifty status is pretty much up to the whim of whoever’s doing programming. I know of at least two authors who refuse to do programming at Penguicon for this reason, and I suspect there are more. Penguicon is a really fun con, but this aspect does make me a bit cranky.

I understand that panels can be publicity for authors, and we’re benefiting from exposure. At the same time, if I’m reading my Penguicon schedule correctly, I’m scheduled for eight panels, and the group signing, and a reading … and being told I’ll have to pay $25 for the privilege of working my ass off that weekend.

I generally enjoy doing panels. And they do help me sell a few books. But don’t pretend it isn’t work. And I find myself wondering … am I really so popular they want me on eight panels, or is this a result of other authors backing out?

I need to follow up with Penguicon’s programming staff about this, but I’m trying to sort out what’s fair. Should authors be content to pay for registration and settle for “exposure”? (I can tell you exactly what I’d say to a magazine or anthology that offered to pay me in exposure…) Or am I slipping into diva mode by expecting to be comped for my membership?

Discussion welcome, as always. I would especially love to hear from other authors and from folks who organize and run cons, to know what you think.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.


( 180 comments — Leave a comment )
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Mar. 21st, 2011 01:41 pm (UTC)
Foolscap is another one that (except for GOHs) is an "everyone pays" community - there it's more about the idea that everyone at the con is contributing something. Most everyone is on paneling, those not doing traditional programming are likely on the Artist's Alley, doing readings, in the dealers room or art show, on concom or staffing something - that everyone is contributing in someway and that everyone contributes financially as well.

It's been interesting over the years - the con seems to work fairly well that way - but it might contribute to the "size" of the con in that without comped members there's a certain number of folks who might never show up.
Mar. 21st, 2011 01:58 pm (UTC)
I'm not familiar with Foolscap. From your comments, is this a smaller con?
(no subject) - twilight2000 - Mar. 21st, 2011 03:01 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Mar. 21st, 2011 03:02 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - twilight2000 - Mar. 21st, 2011 03:15 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - scarlettina - Mar. 21st, 2011 03:02 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 21st, 2011 01:41 pm (UTC)
I have a problem with a small number of conventions who Simply Do Not Get It: Conventions advertise using our names to gain memberships and get bodies in the door. Authors, creators of all stripes, musicians, etc., anybody like that on the schedule -- they're providing the convention's content. That is, the reason to be there besides hanging around with friends and using the pool.

Think about it. You can order most of the Dealers' Room merch and Art Show works online. Streaming video and extensive importing of anime has made film/video rooms almost obsolete. Some creators do video chats, liveblogging, etc. The one thing conventions offer that cannot be done online is actual face time between creators and fans.

If a convention want mes to work, I get comp'd. Period. No offense to panelists, but doing a full concert, let alone two or three or five, is work. For that matter, doing panels is work -- the cons are benefiting from your intelligence and expertise.

I'm pretty sure I break rules regarding Windy, in that I haven't paid for my badge and then been refunded in several years. And, now that I'm a past GOH, I suspect it's something I won't have to worry about there. (shsilver once told me it was an ISFIC thing, so you may want to talk to him about it.)

And, now and then, I still get a message from a con that offers me a badge to drive twelve hours one-way, because someone thought it'd be neat if I was there. Which I'm sure it would, but travel and hotel costs no grow on tumbleweed.
Mar. 21st, 2011 02:59 pm (UTC)
The cons I most enjoy are also about fans themselves. I'm mostly going to talk about broader themes ("hey, has anyone else been thinking about the implications of the way various utopias approach race?") and hang out with interesting people.

There are media conventions that are explicitly about meeting content creators, but the atmosphere in those places is very different. It's the difference between PAX (fans-meet-content-creators) and GDC (creators-meet-other-creators) and game panels somewhere like Aresia (fans-meet-other-fans-to-discuss-works-they-consume). If GDC comped pros they'd comp everyone, whereas Aresia is likely to comp anyone who puts significant time and energy into the con, regardless of who they are or what role they play.
Mar. 21st, 2011 01:55 pm (UTC)
Do they at least provide meals, or some sort of fodder?

IMO, if you'd go to the convention anyway, it would give you something to do there, aside from the panels you'd normally attend. If it's out of your way—if it's not a convention you'd normally attend, and you'd have to pay your travel and feeding expenses and volunteer, without compensation, to be a panelist, a barbecue at home might be more profitable.

You're a family man, Jim, as well as a writer. You also have a day job. Those factors need to be taken into consideration, too.

If you'd have fun at Penguicon anyway, then go, by all means. Fun is worth it, isn't it? But I'd also ask your family, too. You're the writer, but all of you are a unit, too, so to speak.
Mar. 21st, 2011 02:00 pm (UTC)
Some cons have a green room with snackage, and there's always the consuite (which varies in terms of both quality and quantity).

I do have fun, and that's a big part of why I do these -- getting to see and hang out with friends and peers and readers and such. But like you say, it also costs money and time away from family, and fun or not, it's also work.
(no subject) - snapes_angel - Mar. 21st, 2011 03:01 pm (UTC) - Expand
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Mar. 21st, 2011 02:06 pm (UTC)
I know the RT convention is huge. Do you know the average size of the mystery cons you mentioned? I wonder if those are the equivalent of World Fantasy, where there are just too many authors attending. (Also, are these fan-oriented or business-oriented cons?)
(no subject) - apis_mellifera - Mar. 21st, 2011 02:30 pm (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - apis_mellifera - Mar. 21st, 2011 02:57 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 21st, 2011 02:00 pm (UTC)
WorldCons typically ask everyone to pay upfront. Then, after the con, if it made money, if X has done X much (panelling, concert, gophering, whathaveyou) a reimbursement check arrives in the mail. Sometimes, in my experience, it has been the entire membership cost, sometimes, it's been a portion. A couple of times, reimbursements never came -- from which one assumes that the con didn't make its nut.

The reason given for this is that WorldCons are expensive and start-up money is needed. Therefore, everyone who wants a WorldCon has to pitch in.

For small cons, if I'm expected to work (do panels), then I expect that my membership will be comped. As Tom says, I'm providing content, and hopefully some people are showing up because I'm there. If my contribution isn't worth twenty-five bucks to the con in terms of other memberships gained, then they're right not to invite me. "Inviting" me and expecting me to work *and* buy a membership just makes me cranky.
Mar. 21st, 2011 02:03 pm (UTC)
The WorldCon model makes sense. (And given that I'm hoping to attend my first WorldCon next year, that's good to know, thank you! :-)

Your point about being invited is a good one, too. There's a difference between the con e-mailing to ask me to be on panels vs. when I was brand new and I was the one contacting them and asking if they could put me on programming...
Mar. 21st, 2011 02:03 pm (UTC)
We Aussies must be cheap - I don't know of any conventions here where panellists (other than the invited guests of honour) get paid or get reduced rates as a matter of course! :) So many of the attendees are on panels at one time or another I guess that in the end, most memberships would be free if we went by that model!
Mar. 21st, 2011 02:05 pm (UTC)
What's the average size of an Aussie con? I'm wondering if part of what happens is that with smaller cons almost everyone is doing *something*, so there's no realistic way to do any sort of reimbursement or comp policy.
(no subject) - editormum - Mar. 21st, 2011 09:42 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 21st, 2011 02:06 pm (UTC)
I have been on panels at several cons and never had my membership comped for it, nor do I expect to (unless/until I get to a point at which someone wants me to be a GoH, but I don't think that day is coming soon). I think it depends on whether you have an entertainment/audience model of cons as filkertom cites above, or whether you think of a con as an ongoing conversation everyone is contributing to. I think both are valid, but it turns out I like the model wherein everyone is contributing to the con experience better. I enjoy it more. I can be on panels without feeling like I am someone's dancing bear. I am talking to people, some of whom might be friends and some of whom might like my stories; I am not The Entertainment for The Peons, and, equally importantly, the con is not there to provide me promotional space for my work. The reason we call it membership instead of admission is because this is a thing we're doing together as a community--at least in theory.

The other thing not being comped gives me is the ability to say OH HELL NO. Which I would say--politely--to anyone who asked me to do eight panels, a signing, and a reading. That is beyond rudeness. That allows for no time for you to enjoy the con, and I suspect that by panel #6 you would be ready to collapse on the floor in a sad little heap. I know I would. My personal max is four panels and a reading (I think short story writers doing signings is kind of silly unless they have a collection out), and that's when I'm doing reasonably well health-wise. I feel like people who have been asked to do more than four or five panels are likely to get to either autopilot or exhausted taciturnity. I would tell them no even if they were comping my membership. Eight and two other events is just too much.
Mar. 21st, 2011 02:08 pm (UTC)
Comped membership or not, I'm going to be e-mailing to ask for some clarification on my schedule, and pointing out (politely, of course) that I do require time to breathe :-)

ETA: I wonder how much of one's viewpoint depends on how you got into conventions and fandom. I had never attended a con until I started publishing, which probably affects the model I'm using...

Edited at 2011-03-21 02:09 pm (UTC)
(no subject) - mrissa - Mar. 21st, 2011 02:40 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jaylake - Mar. 21st, 2011 04:30 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - deborahblakehps - Mar. 21st, 2011 10:44 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - cissa - Mar. 24th, 2011 11:03 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - filkertom - Mar. 21st, 2011 02:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - shsilver - Mar. 21st, 2011 02:25 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - cathshaffer - Mar. 21st, 2011 02:37 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 21st, 2011 02:15 pm (UTC)
*g* I was *just* talking to a conrunner about this over the weekend.

I believe in comping pros, but I understand the problems.

1- Some cons need every cent they can get. Comping pros might actually lead to them not breaking even.

2- Who is a pro? Who decides on pro status? Is that self-published author a pro? Do you comp somebody who published three short stories 20 years ago? A smaller con could suddenly lose a significant amount of income from a liberal comping policy.

3- My conrunner friend brought this one up. Some pros suck at panels. They don't add anything other than their SHIELD OF BOOKS. Should they get comped over a knowledgeable fan who gives great panels?

I've talked to people at WindyCon about their odd reimbursement thing. I still don't understand their reasoning. It seems to be a product of behind-the-scenes politics from incidents that occurred over a decade ago.

Your post leads me to a related pet peeve. If you have attending pros at your con, advertise them. It's almost impossible to tell who's going to be at certain cons. Why comp a pro and then keep their appearance a secret?
Mar. 21st, 2011 02:20 pm (UTC)
I'm guessing the advertising thing is at least partly due to organization issues and the nature of volunteer work. I.e., it's great to advertise the pros ... *if* you've got a good volunteer who's on the ball and able to keep the web site up to date and get the information out elsewhere.

I guess my counter-question to #3 would be why this pro was invited to begin with? If you know a pro sucks at panels, don't invite them to do panels.

For #2, would you comp based on status or the number of panels/amount of work done? A "lesser" author who's knowledgeable and good at panels might be a much better deal than a #3 author with more books in print.

#1 makes sense, so I have nothing to say about that one.
(no subject) - michaeldthomas - Mar. 21st, 2011 02:31 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - controuble - Mar. 21st, 2011 03:08 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Mar. 21st, 2011 03:13 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - shsilver - Mar. 21st, 2011 03:45 pm (UTC) - Expand
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Mar. 21st, 2011 02:21 pm (UTC)
Jim, the explanation you provide above for Windycon is a vast oversimplification of the reason for their policy (and I'm not sure who provided you with it). As the person who eventually formulated the current policy, I'll be happy to explain (in excruciating detail, but not here or now) the various reasons behind the policy.
Mar. 21st, 2011 02:24 pm (UTC)
Steven - I'm paraphrasing almost word for word out of an e-mail I received when I asked about the Windycon policy. That said, I'd love to hear the actual explanation, thanks!

Also, added an ETA with a link to your comment.

Edited at 2011-03-21 02:26 pm (UTC)
(no subject) - controuble - Mar. 21st, 2011 02:50 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Mar. 21st, 2011 02:56 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 21st, 2011 02:21 pm (UTC)
I'm always a little thrown by this, as over here in the UK authors pay con membership just like everyone else, regardless of programme commitments. Only the GoHs are comped, plus the occasional special guest speaker. It may be a matter of scale: our cons are smaller and the hotel costs can be comparatively higher. But I suspect it's more a matter of custom: we've always done it this way. Being on programme items comes under the heading of helping the con go well, alongside all the other flavours of volunteering. I've spent years running Green Room (and UK GR is a lot more work than US GR) and also being on programme items, as a fan and as my professional selves (the writer and the historian). It works for me. Cons give me a lot: I'm more than happy to give back. (I'm less than sympathetic to 'consumer' fandom if they whinge about standards while not being willing to pitch in, but that's another matter.) Different practices for different countries, I guess. And writer-me gets to set the con off against tax, which Green Room volunteer me never did, which may be something.
Mar. 21st, 2011 02:29 pm (UTC)
Oh, you UK authors and your socialist cons!

I do think scale is probably one issue, and custom/culture seems to be another. Definitely interesting to get different people's opinions on this. Thanks!
(no subject) - la_marquise_de_ - Mar. 21st, 2011 03:55 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - shekkara - Mar. 21st, 2011 06:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - la_marquise_de_ - Mar. 21st, 2011 06:18 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - shekkara - Mar. 21st, 2011 06:38 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 21st, 2011 02:24 pm (UTC)
I think scheduling you for 10 things is a little outrageous to begin with. Never mind that they're then charging you for the 'privilege'!

If you want alert, engaged, prepared panelists, you need to not overschedule them. Or stick them on panels they're not very interested in.
Mar. 21st, 2011 02:25 pm (UTC)
I dunno ... exhausted, hungry, hallucinating panelists can be entertaining too.
(no subject) - julieandrews - Mar. 21st, 2011 02:37 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - marycatelli - Mar. 21st, 2011 04:48 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 21st, 2011 02:33 pm (UTC)
For established fan-oriented conventions of more than 400 people* I expect a reduced membership rate, if not a full comp - but then, as much as I love conventions (I was a fan before I was a pro), I am also "on" all weekend, not only when I'm doing panels but in the hallway if someone approaches me, in the bar likewise. I get no writing done, so that's a cost to me. I come home emotionally and physically exhausted, so that's another cost.

I would not expect any other compensation (food, travel, room) unless I was a GOH.

(this is also why I limit the number of conventions I do; there are only so many hours in a year)

*startups and relaxacons have different expectations, as do "professional" conferences like WFC. I am doing RT this year as an experiment, but it may prove way too expensive to repeat.
Mar. 21st, 2011 03:24 pm (UTC)
I hope you have fun at RT (although I am bummed that you picked a year I'm not going as your year to go)! I am always super-excited when SF/F people are there because those are people whose books I've actually read. I do read romance novels, but not anywhere near the volume that I read SF/F.
(no subject) - suricattus - Mar. 22nd, 2011 01:50 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - apis_mellifera - Mar. 22nd, 2011 02:00 pm (UTC) - Expand
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Mar. 21st, 2011 02:36 pm (UTC)
There definitely is a difference between.. 'I'm a local author and I want to go to this con.. hello, con people, are you interested in putting me on panels or giving me a reading?' and 'Con people just asked me to go to their con and be on stuff. Cool.'

In the latter case, I'd expect something in return. A free membership being the least of it. /You/ invited /me/. That makes me a /guest/. I should be treated a little bit like one.

For Guest of Honor, I'd expect a free membership and hotel room. Probably expect to be fed a couple of times. (Green room and consuite count in here.) I wouldn't expect them to pay my transportation costs. Though that'd be nice.

When I'm Super Famous Author, I might charge an appearance fee. Depends if I like the con or not. ;) You can darned well bet a Creation Con would be expected to pay me!!
Mar. 21st, 2011 03:02 pm (UTC)
For a Guest of Honor (generally a con will have between 2-5), I would expect a minimum of membership, hotel, transportation, and meals.
Mar. 21st, 2011 02:37 pm (UTC)
When I ran a small con (inspired by a panel at WorldCon called "Smaller Than A Breadbox"), we didn't comp anyone for the first year. We also didn't have invited guests we used to advertise: we got the word out to local people, we baked cookies and had gophers who's job it was to wait on the panelists hand and foot, but that was it. We ended up with 55 attendees of whom about 18 were on panels; that $180 was a significant chunk of the total revenue we raised (which we then used to comp panelists in the future.)

It also happened to be at a time of flux in local con-space and I liked that we weren't saying "these professional authors are so much cooler than you", especially since in a con mostly full of students 80% of the authors can better afford the $15 than at least 80% of the students. Sort of like the Isaac Asimov NESFA story ;-) It led to an interesting, collaborative atmosphere with different panels than usual (less "how to become a published author like me" and more "here's stuff I've been enjoying doing lately" panels). I think cons with compensated panelists play an important role, especially any con that is, or is trying to, make money. I mean, I think media conventions also play an important role. But sometimes I enjoy "let's get together and all drink coffee for a weekend" too.
As a professional author, though, I totally understand how that might not be worth your time.

The year I gophered for WorldCon I got mailed a check, but that was because how much you got comped was based on how much money the convention raised, so it was slightly different I think.
Mar. 21st, 2011 05:21 pm (UTC)
Someone up above -- I think it was Laura Anne Gilman -- said she holds startup and very small cons to different standards, which makes sense.

I'm not familiar with the Asimov story -- what's that about?
(no subject) - sylvanstargazer - Mar. 21st, 2011 06:02 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Mar. 21st, 2011 06:04 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 21st, 2011 02:42 pm (UTC)
Eight panels plus two other events, and you get to pay for the privilege? Screw that. I would tell them you are only willing to do X number of panels (three? four?), and if they want you to do more, they need to comp your badge.

The worst that can happen is that they'll take away all your panels in retaliation -- in which case you can skip the con altogether, either spending the time with your family, writing, or at another con that is willing to comp you.
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Jim C. Hines


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