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Ask For Things

The whole #FemaleGenConGoH thing yesterday, and something that Tracy Hurley (@SarahDarkmagic) mentioned on Twitter today, made me realize that I should write about asking 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.

– Ryan

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9 Responses to Ask For Things

  1. Albert A says:

    One big reason Nancy and I work so well together is that she learned Ask, and she learned it before she met me. Has she used the phrase “Nancy subtitles” in your hearing? Basically, it’s what she calls it when she realizes she’s doing the Guess game, and I’m not picking up on it, so she adds footnotes to her hints explicitly calling out what it is she’s getting at. (She doesn’t have to use them all that often any more, though. She has me pretty well-trained). I am constantly grateful to have a partner who is emotionally mature enough to be happy ‘just’ with getting what she wants, without also having to magically receive it without even asking. (Also with the self-awareness to know what it is she wants, and the ability to articulate it).

  2. Amanda says:

    Hello! I’m Amanda and I am an Account Manager within the event industry. In my spare time I am an event organizer for the Las Vegas Steampunk Tea Society. Prior to this I have worked in events/cons as talent,administration, and as just general grunt labor. So you can say I’ve been doing this awhile. I say this only so that you know I’m not just some random internet person.

    When you email an event coordinator/guest of honor chair/your contact for the con be specific about what panels you would be happy to run, about what games you feel comfort GMing, about what you would like to do as a guest of honor. Cons invite guests of honor to help promote the con and bring butts to seats. The more people at a Con the more likely the Con is to make money or break even. You as a guest of honor are there to entice people to come and pay the entry fee and then help them have a memorable, fun experience while you promote your own body of work.

    The thing is a lot of event coordinators have a BILLION details on their mind from ‘how much CAN a hotel charge for catering?!’ to ‘what kind of event insurance do I need to cover liability’. The smaller the Con the more likely that people are taking on more than one hat to organize it. I watched a local Con I loved (that shall remain nameless) completely mismanage one of their Guests of Honor because neither gentleman in charge of her schedule was familiar with her experience, her body of work, or what she as a person loved doing. Often times the organizers may not be entirely familiar with a guest because that guest doesn’t fall into their personal nerd wheelhouse and the guest was chosen due to it A) fit into the travel budget and B) was recommended by someone who the organizer trusts. Honestly, it’s nothing personal – people get busy and we all tend to hyper focus on the things we know.

    So help out your local event organizer and when you ask to be a guest tell them what you are happy doing. Tell them panels you have run (or you know, panels you would like to run). Be familiar as you can with the Con you are pitching to if possible and that way you can say how your panel on “How to Break into RPG Industry by Working Really Really Hard” panel would fit within their events. Offer to run a one shot of your RPG you developed. Be the moderator at the table of the board game you created. Offer to judge a costume contest. whatever you can bring to the table to promote your brand and help make the con a memorable experience for patrons offer to do it. Don’t feel like you have to go outside of your comfort zone either – if you are strictly a board game developer don’t feel like you have to talk on anything other than board games or host anything other than board games. (although frankly if a bunch of guests of honors got together and formed a kazoo band and played the Dr Who theme that would be awesome too. If you steal this idea, please tape it and email it to me.)

    I feel like quoting Jerry Maguire here by saying “help me (as an event organizer) help you (as an artist/game developer/writer). Tell me what you can do to make my Con awesome and I’ll help you promote your work and continue to do what you love.

    -Amanda (who is not currently organizing any Cons at the moment other than for her corporate clients and misses it)

  3. Anna Kreider says:

    I think this is an important perspective to consider, however I want to provide a contrasting experience as someone who (until recently) was very aggressively out there as a female nerd on the internet. There can be a reluctance on the part of women in any community to put themselves forward as being deserving of special recognition because, frankly, experience tends to teach women not to do that. While men who do this are often lauded as being “confident” and “competent”, women who do this are called “bitchy” and “arrogant”. When all of your experience tells you that putting yourself forward is a bad thing, it can be a pretty terrifying thing to contemplate. This is DOUBLY true in the nerd community, owing to the fact that misogyny and privilege are part of the culture that many nerds are unwilling to face or admit to.

    Of course, even if one does not attempt to advance oneself, the reactions that women in nerddom get tend to push them out of the hobby. While I’ve been flattered that I’ve been mentioned several times in the official thread as a potential Guest of Honor, the backlash I got against my blog ultimately burned me out and caused me to shut it down – which pretty much kills any realistic shot I had of being made a GoH. And the crazy thing was, I didn’t really make any effort to promote or publicize my blog. I just occupied my little corner of the internet and said things about games people didn’t like. The sad fact is that when you Talk About Games While Female, you can expect backlash – no matter what it is you say! And a lot of people don’t want to deal with that.

    Of course, none of this is to say that women shouldn’t ask for things anyway. A lot of these bullshit double-standards won’t go away unless people challenge them, and honestly “you can ask for stuff” can be a fucking revelation for a lot of women, myself included. It’s one of those things that we’re so socialized not to think about that it’s kind of revolutionary when someone brings it up.

    But I also want to bring up some reasons why women, ESPECIALLY nerd women, DON’T ask. The blame doesn’t lie entirely with women not asking, and often there are women who have thought about asking and decided that they just don’t want to go there.

    Food for thought.

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      Anna,

      This is me nodding. I don’t agree 100% — the double-standard isn’t uniform, and I know I am an arrogant ass to some for presuming to ask for shit, and some folks don’t automatically see a woman asking as bitchy (like me), but yeah, it exists, and I agree that because it exists in enough places there’s reason to not risk dealing with spoon-eating bullshit with someone you don’t know.

      Which is where I think having others recommend you is a big deal. I prefer that to asking outright when I don’t know someone.

      – Ryan

  4. Ryan Macklin says:

    Oh, and Anna’s comment triggered a follow-up thought: one good reason to ask a friend for introduction/reference (if you can) is to also get a sense of the organizer. If your friend responds with “Yeah, I’ll introduce you. He’s a good guy.” that tells you something as much as “Sure, but fair warning: he’s a fucking cockbite.”

    Which is to also say: we pros talk, too.

    – Ryan

  5. Thomas D says:

    I can’t remember if that was me or Bo you mentioned above, because I knew I was surprised to see you at RinCon. For some reason, I thought you were living up in the Seattle area and our lil’ ol’ convention in Arizona was quite honestly way too small and far away from you. I think that year, we were looking at people in Arizona, New Mexico, (southern) California, and west Texas as our range of guests/attendance.

    • Thomas D says:

      Oh, and thanks for the nice comments about RinCon!

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      Thomas,

      It was actually both of you, independently. I think it was Bo who said it first. I don’t recall. There was a lot of bourbon. ;)

      I was in Sacramento, which is still a bit out, but micro-culturally I’m in the Southern California indie tribe. Thus, totally in your target. :D

      And I totally fucking loved RinCon.

      – Ryan

  6. Amanda says:

    If Convention people are professional they will treat any reasonable and respectfully worded email with the same tone it came to them in.

    If the people can’t responded to a reasonable and respectful request with the same manner I wouldn’t want to help them anyways. Oh and I would tell my friends what they said. Maybe that makes me mean but I believe in shaming of people who can’t handle being an emotionally mature adult.