What Are Panelists?
Conventions have speakers. Fan-run conventions typically have a small number of guests of honor whose ways are paid, and a larger collection of panelists. Some conventions make panelists pay full membership fees, some give a discount, and some let you attend for free in exchange for being on a certain number of panels.
While guests of honor and special guests are always invited, more and more conventions are going for a “apply if you want in” model — in part to make sure it’s an opt-in sort of program. And partially to encourage fresh faces. If you have the same panelists, year after year, sometimes you end up with them all on the same panel discussion. And cons like to have at least a percentage of new offerings, for those who have been attending for years.
Paneling is a good way to network and establish a reputation in the community. A few years ago, I applied to a bunch of local conventions to be a panelist, on my friend Doc Coleman‘s advice.
I’d hesitated because I wasn’t a published author at that point and barely qualify now, but I went ahead and applied on my other merits: being a blogger, vlogger, podcaster, etc. While I’m not a teacher, I like to think I can string together thoughts on a topic in a coherent way — and give a few useful takeaways. I usually even manage to let the other panelists get all their thoughts out.
And? I made it onto the list of panelists for RavenCon 2020 in Williamsburg, VA. In part, because they like to have 1/3rd of their panelists be fresh faces each year (a thing more and more cons are doing).
Then Covid happened, and my inaugural RavenCon attendance got pushed back to 2021, and then to 2022, and moved to Richmond!
This past weekend, it happened.
I went down late Thursday night, and found myself at a campus-style hotel center, spread across 3 buildings. I made it to my room by 1 am, and headed off to sleep.
Friday morning, I sorted out the schedule, managed to get a couple of chapters edited in my space fantasy, then took a nap. I woke just in time for the registration line to open. Halfway through, I found out that panelists had a different line — in the other building. I chatted with a few other panelists as we walked over, and getting my badge was a breeze.
Lunch was the hotel buffet — corn dogs and funnel cake fries made for a happy Morgan. As I go to sit down by my lonesome and pull out my phone… I realize I don’t have my phone! I told the buffet staff (especially since my phone is my wallet and I didn’t want them to think I was skipping out!) and retraced my steps, frantic. When I returned, empty-handed, they offered to call me. I’d just given over my phone number when I found it in an unfamiliar pocket in my shoulder bag. Whoops!
Reg opened at 1, but the panels and Dealer’s Room didn’t open til closer to 5, so I went to the courtyard, and reviewed my panel schedule, and found I was the moderator for both of my Friday panels, not just one. So, I made some notes, then headed inside before I could sunburn. I ran across a few friends and chatted their ears off. After my late-night drive, my neck was feeling one wrong move away from misaligning itself, so I was thrilled to find chair massages available.
I took a stroll through the Dealer’s Hall, and bought a poster from a lady outside, in the Artists’ Alley. Unfortunately, the bags she’d purchased for her legal-paper-sized prints were wrong. Very wrong. How can a bag be wrong, you ask? The bags weren’t open on the handle end! And? The print size matched the bag size — including the handles that the bag wasn’t open to. So, she couldn’t seal the bottom, to keep the print from falling out. I hope they were a mis-send, because they were ridiculous.
I managed to get the poster safely back to my room, then hunted across two buildings to find my panel room for ‘The Writer and the Beta Reader’, where we ended up with… two of the four scheduled panelists and one audience member. We gave people a few more minutes to trickle in, then shrugged and got on with it. With that small of a group, we just asked the audience member what she was working on and which end she wanted advice for. I think the panel went well, although we were running out of things to say by the end.
Hungry, I headed to the bar and ended up chatting with a couple I knew from working Balticon for a while, and then a cosplayer, before heading off to my next panel. ‘Social Media — or Why I Haven’t Finished My Book’ had three of the four panelists and two audience members! A good friend and the wife of the third panelist. Despite the small numbers, we had a great discussion and I don’t think the audience was too bored.
Ah, the life of an infa– er. I guess just not-famous panelist. Timing matters, because you’re not the main draw for anything. Apparently, I should start bringing my own audience?
Done for the evening, I wandered into a panel room for “This One Time At A Con” and laughed quite a bit. As my evening wound down, I went in search of room parties, but they seemed sparse. Or I didn’t wander the right way. I did find one and hung out for a while. Then bed. Late.
Saturday morning came far too soon. Especially because I decided to hit a 9am panel on ‘Pacing Your Novel’. What can I say? Pacing’s the thing I stress about the most, and the Author Guest of Honor — Terry Brooks (of Shannara) was going to be on the panel. I was only a couple minutes late and got a bunch of notes.
I followed the crowd into the Falstaff Book’s roadshow and heard about a lot of great books, then wandered across the hall for ‘Writing The Alien’, since my space fantasy has three points of view — and one is a sentient space not-an-octopus. Some panels are good for the notes you get from them, some are great for the ideas and inspirations you come out of them with. This was definitely a great panel.
After that, I finally made it back to my room for a shower, got my editing done, and then: lunch. I ate tacos with a local lady who’d already spent out her budget and was heading out after lunch. (She also believes in the ‘nachos with the chips on the side’ philosophy, so I felt vindicated!) After I checked out the Dealer’s Room, I decided to hit the concert for the Musical Guest of Honor — Rhiannon’s Lark. I was tapping my feet the whole time.
At 5pm was my next panel ‘Best Social Media Practices for Writers’. I’d been worried it was going to be me, solo, since initially the schedule had only two of us on the panel and the other panelist had stayed home with a sore throat. Luckily? Two other panelists had signed up, and I wasn’t the moderator! Saturday had a much nicer crowd, probably into the double-digits, and you’re probably well aware how much I have to say about social media and best practices…
I snagged the moderator after the panel with a couple of his friends and we talked about Facebook ads and such for almost the whole next hour — eventually snagging an unused table in the gaming room to continue our conversation.
7pm brought my final panel of the weekend, “NaNoWriMo”. As a 6-time finisher, and repeated Camp NaNo attempter, I got to share what works for me. The audience, again, was probably double-digits, a huge relief after the day before. Then again, with such a small convention, I suppose it wasn’t a surprise that Saturday was the main day.
Hungry again, I spotted a friend in the restaurant and joined her and her table. She wandered off pretty quickly for her ‘Escape Room’ appointment, but I chatted and introduced myself to the revolving crowd of people, while I waited for my food. After an hour, I flagged down a waitress, and the food finally showed up – hot. Some great conversations and I met one of the people who’d been mentioned in the Con Tales the night before.
I wandered til I found the room parties and had just gotten myself a (weak) red vodka jello shot when someone came looking for more people to attend a concert! I like geeky music, so I and probably 6 or 7 others decided to give it a try. We even picked up a friend of mine on the way. And… we walked into a WALL of sound. It was far too loud for the space, and way more metal than I was up for that late at night. Then again, you’re talking to the girl who wore earplugs for the Christian Rock concert when she was 16. I covered my ears to muffle the volume, but split before they finished a second song. And I wasn’t the only one. I tried, I really did. Sorry! A little less volume and I might have stayed, instead, I headed back to the room party to mingle til the yawns overtook me.
I woke far too early on Sunday, especially considering what time I went to bed, and then failed at rolling over until I dragged myself up at 10:45am, flung on clothes, and packed quickly before I’d overstayed my 11am checkout time. I slipped into the “Building a Subplot” panel (with Terry Brooks again) not quite 10 minutes late. Good notes from that one, too.
With a quick look through the schedule and a hard look at the time, I did one last pass through the convention to say goodbye to people, then hit the road, making it home in time to give Catticus an hour of lap-time before my weekly live stream write-in. Where I finished this round of edits on my space fantasy, only one day late for April’s Camp NaNo.