Ask For Things
Speaking of Guests of Honor, @RyanMacklin gave a really good tip I’d love to share again. While cons ask some to be GoH, some ask the orgs.
There’s a perception that you need to wait until you’re invited in order to take advantage of something, like being a guest of honor or to work with a company you want to. And that sort of thinking will hold you back. It did me for years.
I grew up in a predominantly female household run by a Southern woman, and her influence firmly taught me to be in Guess Culture, where we didn’t ask outright but did ways of hinting that we wanted something in order to get the other person to offer it to us. Because that was how I was brought up, that’s how I lived my life for years, and today it’s no surprise that I stunted my professional and personal growth with that way of life.
The full realization happened at the first RinCon I went to, which I believe was the first time they got seriously regional. I was there, hanging out with Paul Tevis (a special guest), John Wick (a special guest), etc. I joked with friends that I flew there because they invited my friends, and I wanted to hangout with them.
One of the folks running the show came up to me and said, “Dude, what are you doing at our show?” He was surprised — in a good way (yes, shocked, I know) — that I flew in for their shindig. We talked briefly, and he ended with “Dude, if you asked we would have made you a guest.”
I thought, and might have said, “Oh, you can do that?” That’s when it started to sink in.
How to ask
Let’s say you’ve done some writing or art or whatever, and have been published. You think it’d be fun to be on the some panels at a regional convention you attend to every year. You have two options:
- Wait until you catch just the right person’s attention, at just the right time when he or she is thinking about panelists for a show… (And if you meet a eventcoordinator at the show, they’re (a) busy and (b) probably have several months of forgetting your impression unless it’s especially good or especially bad.)
- Find out who to ask and, well, ask.
The “finding out” part is the hardest bit. Do you know someone who has been a panelist? (Or whatever it is that you’re looking to do.) Ask them how they got in. Ask them who they should know. Ask them to make an introduction.
If you don’t have that in, you might want to spend some time making friends first. Hotel bars are fantastic for that.
Once you know, see if you can get an introduction. Because it’s one thing to email out of the blue — you’re a strange name in an inbox list. It’s another for that to be started by a name then know and respect.
Whether you have that, the next step is, well, asking. Often, we’re shit at selling ourselves, so if you find you can’t come up with a decent email to send, write something and have some friends look at it. Fix it up based on their comments, no matter how boastful it might seem to you, and fire it off.
And that’s it! You might hear back. You might not. And you might get turned down — especially if you’re late coming to this and they’re full up for the year already. With every response, but respectful and gracious — you’re playing the long game here, and a no this year could be a yes next if you aren’t a raging cockbite about it.
(Also, event coordinators are like everyone else: they talk. If you’re a cockbite, others who are in a position to grab you for a convention will know. Ours is a world rather small.)
Why This Works
There are two main reasons why this works: event coordinators are too busy to randomly vet people who may or may not be interested, and asking speaks of professional character.
Let’s say a convention has a budget for ten special guests, because they comp hotel rooms and only have so much space & event bandwidth for guests. (When the guest/event coordinator ratio is out of whack, that spells doom for a convention.) Four of the guests are regulars, so they’re invited back and say yes. A couple suggest an up-and-coming colleague, so that’s six total. There are three people who wrote in asking to be guests, and seem like a good fit for the show. That’s nine out of ten. For that last one, the coordinator asks some folks he knows who would be a good match, and that one person is invited.
Incidentally, you might notice that this is not based necessarily on merit, but on who you know and whose positive attention you’ve gained (which is often at least partly based on merit, as like attracts like).
Now, being a guest is a gig, not a free ride. They’re looking for people to speak at panels or do meetups or run special event games, etc. People who stand up and ask communicate that they’ll Be able to fill this role. Is that inaccurate? Totally. But that doesn’t make the perception less a factor.
If you’re like me, you’re fighting against Guess Culture here. And since Guess feels natural, you’ll grit your teeth at doing this. I used to. Now, I live Guess Culture more in my personal life and Ask in my professional. (Though, the more I live Ask professionally, the more I appreciate it and the less alien it feels, so I’m starting to live it personally.) we Guessers aren’t doing ourselves any favors by waiting, because the larger successful world is full of Askers.
So stand up and ask for what you want. You might just get it.