What Cons Are Looking For In Panelists

So, you’ve published a book and now you’ve got to market yourself. You’ve done the Facebook ads and giveaways.

Now? You’re supposed to do book fairs and conventions and stuff.

However, before you just go blast-emailing every convention and book fair within driving distance, you should know that there’s a wrong way, and a right way to do this. While some shows just want your money and are happy to give you a table, many conventions are a little pickier.

Know Who You’re Talking To

If you’re reaching out to a convention, make sure you’ve done your research.

If it’s a larger convention, you should be asking about being there about the time they’re wrapping up the previous year’s show. The smaller the show is, the closer to the convention you should be reaching out, but 6 months out isn’t uncommon.

Make sure you know which year the convention is. Don’t ask about being on CoolCon 12 when the convention is celebrating their 20th year.

Make sure the convention is on-brand for you — the right genre, the right age group.

Once you’ve emailed the convention and someone’s replied… Use Their Name. That’s your contact!

Respect The Convention’s Process

Everyone does things their own way. The convention you’re applying to has likely done this before, and has a way that they know works for them.

Every con does things differently. That doesn’t mean they’re wrong.

Be sure to follow this year’s directions, for this convention:

  • Give them what they ask for
  • When they ask for it
  • In the format they ask for

The easier you are for the convention to work with, the more eager they’ll be next time you ask to come back — or maybe, next time, they’ll do the asking.

Have Something Unique To Offer

There are tons of debut novelists out there. And sure, you can give a reading, but if you’re not big enough to be a draw, that’s not really adding value to the convention.

The best way to get them to accept your offer to panel is to offer something they don’t already have.

Do you have…

  • A large following?
  • A unique specialty — history, knowledge about cutting edge technology, or a career as a detective?
  • Experience with a niche subject that is popular this year
  • A great storyteller?
  • An experienced moderator is often a huge draw
  • Basically: can you speak confidently on a panel for something that is going to bring in a large crowd?

Be A Good Speaker

Now, you don’t have to be an amazing and dynamic speaker to get on a panel, (although it helps). Conventions know that the only way to become a great panelist is to be on panels.

But, there are some speaking skills that are gonna go far toward getting you asked to come back.

  • Have clear and concise answers — you don’t want to confuse the audience or waste panel time
  • Be courteous to the other panelists — don’t talk over them, don’t insult them
  • Don’t relate everything back to your book — we know you’re there to get name recognition and to sell your book. But it’s heavy-handed and makes you sound like a one-trick-pony. You’re more than just your book. If you’re interesting, the audience will be interested in what you write.
  • Be passionate about the subject — excitement can be contagious, as can boredom (with rote, polite answers).

Now, these are just tips to be a good panelist. Being a great panelist? That’s the subject for another post.

And sometimes? Even if you do everything right? The con still won’t be able to offer you a place on a panel. Maybe they’re full. Maybe you don’t fit with their branding. Maybe, you need to expand your skills so you can fill a niche they’d like a fresh take on.

It’s hard to put yourself out there.

Writing is typically a solo activity, usually attracting people who like being alone. Marketing one’s work is often the opposite of what we like to do — our face is our brand, and our books are our children.

And now? We’re supposed to put a monetary value on something we’ve poured our hearts and souls into and convince people to read it and judge it online.

If anyone finds an easier way, let me know!

Good luck marketing yourself and getting on conventions. Hopefully, they’re still around and kicking when group activities are back on the table.

Any other tips I’ve missed?


  1. Good post, Morgan! I’ve just applied to a “virtual” convention to be held here at the end of May, a two-day affair. I hope they’ll accept me since my books are “only” self-published, you know? We’ll see!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh, heh, I never thought of speaking – I did offer to do a reading from one of my books, plus I’d like to be a vendor. This is all-virtual and all-free (if I read the description correctly! …Maybe I’d better read it again, huh? :-D) It’s being put on by a Canadian publishing company.

        Liked by 1 person

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