Gearing Up For Virtual Balticon

Memorial Day weekend, I usually hit up Balticon, Maryland’s regional Sci-fi and fantasy con, where I proceed to attend 30ish panels in four days, meet tons of people, and forget what sleep looks like.

This year is different.

In-person gatherings are banned. And? This time, I’m involved. A LOT more involved.

I felt a little self-serving when I decided on this topic for today’s blogpost — but then I looked back and saw that I pretty much ALWAYS do a blogpost on the con I’m about to head to, so that part isn’t out of my usual.

What IS different is I’m working on staff and I’m speaking on panels for this convention.

In case you’re curious about what Morgan’s been up to for the past month and half…

What Is Virtual Balticon?

Before I make this whole post about me, I should probably explain exactly WHAT Virtual Balticon is.

As I’ve told others:

Balticon is the Maryland Regional science fiction and fantasy convention, sponsored by the Baltimore Science Fiction Society (BSFS). Scheduled this year for Memorial Day Weekend, it has been held annually since 1966. Due to the pandemic, Balticon, unfortunately, could not meet in person this year. The good news? Balticon realized it could go VIRTUAL!

Balticon features discussions and presentations among authors, editors, publishers, artists, filmmakers, scientists, gamers, and, most importantly, fans.  

Virtual Balticon will have author readings, panels, and presentations; science programming, a film festival, watch parties, artists and dealers, a masquerade costume contest, plus, a variety of role-playing, video, board games, and more. You can find Virtual Balticon 54 on Zoom, Discord, Twitch, YouTube, and even Second Life.

My Roles At Virtual Balticon

I’d already applied to be a panelist when programming contacted me, asking for some input. Apparently, attending approximately 30 panels a year, then blogging about them, makes programming think you might have some ideas on panel concepts that work, panel concepts that don’t, and which panelists are totally worth the hour long panel investment for attendees.

So, I attended several working meetings, tasked with data processing and helping contribute to wording panel descriptions.

Separately, my application had already been accepted to panel at the convention.

Then, 2 weeks after the COVID-19 shutdown, Balticon reached out to me and asked if I would run their social media.

They already — and still have — Matt, their social media director who works for the parent organization: The Baltimore Science Fiction Society (BSFS), but the burden to go virtual was more than one man could handle.

Running Social Media

For running social media, I mostly create images and posts for all of our accounts (twitter, instagram, many fb groups/pages/etc). I’m working on 100% consistant branding, but some things take time.

Other departments will let me know when an announcement needs to go out, and I’ll make it. If people contact Balticon for details, I help draft the wording.

I’ve already started scheduling hourly posts to help people find the panels, presentations, and events coming up each hour when Virtual Balticon is in full swing.

I also recorded a “How To…” guide for each of the online applications Balticon is using, and am scheduled to address the technology basics for the Opening Ceremonies.

Our Technology

Since there was no one technological solution for creating this virtual convention, we had to pick and choose our tools.

For our panels, presentations, and many of our events, Shogren Productions donated use of a Business-level Zoom account. Because Virtual Balticon went free, and most of our donations are just going to help pay for the closed-captioning (1 panel per hour, unless someone wants to sponsor us at $2,000 per additional panel/hour), we’ll only have 5 webinars running at a time — so the typical Balticon schedule was cut drastically.

Attendees will have to register here for each event separately, but by using Zoom webinars, we can keep out trolls and bad-actors, and add security to the panel. This does mean that all the people watching can only ask questions via the Q&A window, but all the side comments people love to make? Book suggestions and more? There’s no reason not to toss those all in the attendee chat!

We’re using Discord for most of the “convention hall” space. The Dealers Room, Artists Alley, and Fan Tables can be found there. Plus, the Consuite, after panel break out discussion rooms, tons of gaming rooms (this is Discord, after all), and more. [The gaming can be signed up for here]

Two panels per hour will be livestreamed to either our Youtube [BaltimoreSciFi] or our Twitch account [twitch.tv/bsfsBalticon], with the rest of the recorded panels to come (once we get them closed captioned, using volunteer labor, rather than the paid stuff). Sunday and Monday, you’ll find our Film Festival on there as well.

And, for those on Second Life, or who create a free account, you can join our “Balticon 54” group, and hangout at Balticon station. Many of vendors will also be found there, as well.

All The Training

Now, these technologies are all well-and-good but… before we can run stuff with them, we need to make sure we have enough staff TRAINED.

We need to make sure our panelists can ATTEND.

So, in the transition from physical con to virtual con, the panelists we had space to bring over all had to go through a zoom test session, to make sure they had the audio, video, and internet capabilities to make it even possible.

Matt, BSFS’s Social Media Director stepped up to become our VirtualCon Platform Admin/Expert, helping shepherd us through the process.

We’ve been running 3 practice panel sessions every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for nearly a month to give both our technicians and our panelists opportunities to practice.

One of our artist alley members, bluestonearcher, joined the discord server early and offered to help me make some promo pictures. 2 days later, his teaching background had him volunteering to help run our Zoom training and lighten the load on our VirtualCon admin, taking over those 9 practice sessions a week!

For our Discord Servers, I’ve run 4 training sessions for our Moderators and Admins. I’ve drafted guides for our Vendors, Artists, and Fan Table guests.

Not to mention, of course, all the tech trouble-shooting I’ve done, including three 1am sessions with my dad, helping him try to get a very old, donated web camera working on a linux system. So far, we’ve got the driver installed, the camera working, and the camera option enabled in zoom. Next up? Sort out why the video is blank — but only in zoom.

What Morgan Will Be Up To This Weekend

Working

I will be on discord all weekend, both as admin, and because I’m a chatty sort of person.

Attending panels

If you’ve been following me for a while, you’ve probably noticed I have no sense of my limits when it comes to attending panels. I’ve signed up, just like a regular attendee, to see 28 panels. (I thought it was 22, but I’d miscounted.)

Since I often take copious notes at the writing panels, I didn’t want to run tech while watching those panels. However, I did review my schedule, and for the fun-to-watch, but maybe not ‘informative’ ones, let the tech team know they could schedule me as a backup technician. I did take the training after all.

Being ON Panels [the other side of the table!]

And lastly, but CERTAINLY not leastly, I’m going to be on THREE panels. I’m even moderating one of them – my first time moderating a live panel, and my second time ever being a panelist at any convention.

Sat 5pm Dealing with Literary Rejection
Sun 10am Beta-reading propostitions, what are you in for?
12pm What's this about establishing a social media presence (mod)

I hope all of you are planning to have a safe, but fun, and relaxing weekend. And please, feel free to check out balticon.org to find out all the stuff we have planned and scheduled. Let me know if you have any questions… it’s literally my (unpaid) job.

I’ll be back again next week, with more writing tips and writerly musings. Most likely? The Balticon post-con mortem.

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?

Writing In The Time of Covid-19

Last week, I was home sick with a normal cold — no fever, wet cough, progressing like my normal colds. I spent the week half-napping and binge-reading paranormal romances, half doing my day-job from home and vegging. Paying a little attention to the news.

By Friday, when I started to feel well enough to socialize? The state of Virginia had been told we should be “socially distancing” ourselves. I didn’t even know what that meant until a week ago.

My last hurrah was a D&D game with 5 friends and 3 pies, for Pi day. With D&D, you only touch your own dice and mini figure, and the host’s table is LARGE so were pretty spread out. We still all washed our hands 10 times and did our best to keep our distances.


I know I’m one of the fortunate ones. I’d already stocked up on groceries when I started coming down with my cold, I have plenty of toilet paper, and a day-job that easily supports work-from-home.

Watching the guidelines roll out, with 2 weeks turning into 4 weeks hinting at 8 weeks or more, I saw those conventions I was so excited to panel at just last week have to close their doors. They’ve tried to reschedule, there are rumors of trying to run a few things online, but the cons themselves aren’t happening.

With a death-rate ten times that of the flu, and a lack of any vaccine or natural immunity making the choice to let it just run its course look like a natural disaster on a scale not seen outside of war and/or the history books, I can’t blame them. I understand.

But it hurts.

I was so excited and proud.

Now? I’m just bummed and fighting anxiety.

I’m worried for my friends with high-risk factors — age, wellness, public service sector jobs. Worried for my friends who are going to lose their jobs — their healthcare, their food access, their homes. And hoping the grocery stores keep managing to restock.


I’m a bit type-A, so once I realized I’d be working full time from home, I set up a folding table so I could see 3 laptops and a monitor at the same time. Couch-working, like I did when I was home sick last week? Isn’t really set up for full-time work.

Next? I took inventory of all my food and grocery items, just to reassure myself I’d be okay. Seriously. On a pad of paper — down to calculating servings per meal and doses of meds.

It reassured me at first. Until the 8+ weeks part started to spread and I realized, my calm, “totally handling this” self was having trouble falling asleep. I guess I’ll have to stop avoiding the grocery store at some point, but not for a few weeks yet.


I know I’m going to start getting cabin fever at some point. I’m an ambivert and going INTO social isolation after a week home sick really just belabors the point. So, I’ve taken a few steps to try and ward off the inevitable. (Remember: Type A)

5 Things I’m Doing On My Own

  1. I’m keeping to my same wake/sleep/work schedule that I do when I have to go into the office.
  2. I’m getting dressed, not just staying in my pajamas all day.
  3. I’m making sure to stop and eat regular meals, not just snacking all day, like work-from-home can so often turn into.
  4. I’m taking a walk a day (weather permitting), to try and get some steps in, get some fresh air, and keep from sitting at my desk 16 hours a day.
  5. I’m stepping away from my computer for at least an hour between the end of my day-job workday and the start of my writing time.

It’s scary, not knowing when this is going to end. Not knowing when or if things will ever get back to normal. I like to plan, and you can’t plan unless you know when an emergency will be over.

So, it’s more important than ever to keep in touch with Team You. The people who love and support you. The people who brighten your life and enrich it. The people who can distract you from the news for more than 5 minutes.

4 Ways I’m Socially Connecting

  1. I’ve participated in a live-stream author write-in. It’s a great way to socialize with other writers, online where it’s ‘safe’, and actually get some writing sprints in. I plan to join more.
  2. I’m calling friends or family at least once or twice a day, to hear a voice other than the one inside my head, or on my telecon.
  3. Some of my weekly hangouts with friends look like they may be going online. A voice-chat editing session with my Anansi Storytime people, Netflix Party with some friends to watch a movie or tv. Just hanging out and chatting, only from more than just a chair away.
  4. And obviously, there’s that whole “Morgan has a social media addiction” thing.

It’s tough. It’s scary. We’re all worried.

But, I do know one thing. I can’t make it through this alone.


If you’ve been told to ‘socially distance’ yourself, how are you handling it?
How is your workplace handling it?
If you are one of the amazing people on the frontlines of this thing (medical professionals, food service/grocery, cleaning), how are you holding up?


P.S. I cope by using a lot of gallows humor. Anyone got some good pandemic memes?

Everything You Need To Know About Convention Panels

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you probably know that I share a lot of notes from “panels”.

If you’ve never been to a convention, you may be unfamiliar with panels. If you’ve only been to corporate/work conventions, you might look at them as torturous boredom. Or, at the very least, strictly educational.

At their most basic: panels are simply several people, sitting at table, facing an audience, sharing their thoughts on a subject.

Typically, these individuals are what’s referred to in the DC metro area at least as “SMEs” – subject-matter experts.

And, quite often, these panels have one of the panelists acting as a moderator. A good moderator asks the panel questions, makes sure everyone on the panel is heard, tries to keep any debate lively without getting too personal, accepts the questions from the audience, and does their best to help with crowd control.

A typical con panel is 50 minutes, with the first 30-40 minutes being for the panelists to talk amongst themselves about the subject, and the last 10-20 minutes being for Q&A. With a brief introduction at the beginning, and a minute or so for closing thoughts and self-promotion at the end.

Now, panels aren’t the only things to attend at a convention, there are workshops, dances, book-readings, concerts, parties, and more. In fact, before I got so involved in my writing journey, I had attended a bunch of conventions and maybe 2 panels. These days? It’s a weird weekend if I attend fewer than 20.

Never fear, you can be a writer or a fan without ever attending a convention. Although, that’s partially why I like to share my notes, so that those who can’t, or don’t attend panels still have access to the nuggets of information I try to glean from the experts.

But, should you ever attend a convention, I want to set you up for success — so you’re seen as an excellent audience member and not someone to avoid.

4 Things Not To Do During The Q&A Period

  1. “This is more of a statement than a question…”

    If you attend panels, if you’re on panels, you will hear this phrase. A LOT.

    I know that there are plenty of bright, intelligent people in the audience, I know many of them would have made excellent panelists themselves, and many ARE actually on other panels. BUT. Unless you are on this panel, this is neither the time, nor the place to insert your own opinion on the subject.

    Save it for twitter. Or facebook. Or your friends — after the panel. You will not impress the panelists, you will not impress the audience. You will, however, trigger a massive eye roll, and a lot of tuning out.
  2. Providing tons of background for your question

    Especially in writing panels and gaming panels, audience members will want to provide background for precisely why they’re asking this question, in the hopes that they will get a tailormade answer. And because they’re just plain excited about their world and their story and… everything.

    It’s fine to give a little context, but no more than 20 seconds. I’ve listened to audience members who took up to 5 minutes to get to the question portion of their statement. Most moderators aren’t going to let you get that far.

    When you take that long, you’re taking time away from the panelists answers, and keeping other people from asking their questions. (And sometimes? It comes across like you’re stealing the time to market your own stuff, which is exceedingly rude.) If you know you have trouble getting to your question within 30 seconds, work with a friend in advance to rephrase until you can. Or, take it off-line, talk to them after the panel or at their table.

    Caveat: People at merchandise tables are NOT your audience, they are trying to sell their own merchandise and it is incredibly rude to scare away potential sales by dominating their attention.
  3. Off-topic Questions

    The panelists are prepared to speak on the subject described in the program. The other audience members are there to hear the panelists talk about the subject described in the program.

    If you have a specific question, that is unrelated to the panel, ask it after the panel.
  4. Asking tons of questions

    If no one else is asking, feel free, but don’t monopolize the Q&A period. Ask one, then give other people a chance to ask theirs — they’re paying as much to attend as you are and deserve the chance just as much. Only, if no one else has questions, should you go for a second question.

All that said, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Ask for recommendations, or a panelist to speak more on something they hinted at.

For some shameless name dropping here, I once attended a panel with the ever-famous George RR Martin on it, and, once the panel opened to questions, I asked a question addressing what I *thought* the panel had said it was going to be on in the first place. (Martin complimented my question, but the moderator actually answered my question the best…)

As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, if the Corona-virus permits, I’m actually signed up to be a panelist at three cons this spring and summer. Hopefully, I’ll be as good behind the table and I try to be in the audience.


Have you attended con panels? Are there any tips or tricks I missed?

Getting — and Staying Published

All writers who want to share their work with the world want to be published. Some want to self-publish while others would prefer to have the backing — and distribution — of a publishing house.

At the titular panel at WorldCon 2019, George Sandison, Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Rachel Winterbottom, E.C. Ambrose, and Michelle Sagara talked about the realities of traditional publishing — when you’re not an A-list author.

The Top 3 Ways Writers Make It Hard On Themselves When Getting Published

  1. Quitting their dayjob
    • A publishing contract is great! It’s a huge amount of money. But, look at it as a year’s salary (or 5 years). There is no guarantee your next book will find the same market — or that your current book will perform as well as the publishers hope.

      If you get an advance, there are shockingly few authors who ever “earn out” — or make back for the publishing house — what the publishing house gave them.

      Many authors see their advances getting smaller and smaller, until they reflect what the market will give.
  2. Switching markets
    • Of course it’s always best to write what you’re most passionate about. If you’re forcing the writing, it usually comes through to the readers as a lack-lustre book.

      That said, if you change genres and markets, it can be like building your audience from scratch. Except, without the “like”. you ARE building your audience from scratch.
  3. Getting the wrong agent
    • If you get a contract before you have an agent, it is usually very easy to find an agent. It is always wise to get an agent or contract lawyer to look over your publishing contract, but unless the lawyer specializes in book sales, the agent will likely be better versed in industry standards — what’s expected and what’s not.

      That said, make sure you know if the agent you’re working with is invested in your career, or just here to help you through this single contract. Misunderstandings can leave your career in shambles.

Is It Three Strikes and You’re Out?

Usually, what it looks like from the writers’ end is…

  1. Your first novel? Floats on clouds of hope and optimism — and the traditional publisher advance reflects this.
  2. Your second novel? Well, they like to give writers second chances.
  3. Your third novel? Good luck.

The reality is that publishers need to sell a writer and their voice, not necessarily just one genre. Plenty of authors have more than one type of story in them.

Typically, writers query agents, and agents submit manuscripts to acquiring editors. Occasionally, some publishing houses will be open to unagented submissions. But, once you’ve sold a book or two, a working-relationship can evolve.

Acquiring Editors Can Work For An Author

Editors that select works for publication at publishing houses can have working relationships as close as an agent with a given writer.

And, of course, the more senior the editor, the more clout they have when it comes to deciding what gets published.

Here are 4 ways they can help a writer.

  1. They can go to bat for your novel, versus the publishing board, even if the numbers aren’t there. (i.e. We messed up marketing last time, but this writer is too good!)
  2. Publishers can pitch ideas internally, and bring in the author they want to write it.
  3. Even after a slump, if your pitch is keen enough, they can get you an offer.
  4. Some have success changing by-lines, to re-introduce authors to new audiences.

But sometimes? You need to walk away.

Reasons to find a new publisher

  1. Sometimes, a new publisher is what you need after a slump. The old one has already used all it’s connections and marketing techniques. It’s time to try something new.
  2. Sometimes, the editor you’ve worked with leaves and no one has the passion for the manuscripts they left behind.

But not everything relies on the publisher. There’s a lot you can do to make sure you’re ready for the market.

Ways To Set Yourself Up For Success

  1. Network
    Make friends in the industry. Hit conventions (if you have the time/energy but no money — volunteer! Or, you can just keep reading my notes).

    But, be sure you’re making a good impression when you do. Everyone knows somebody here, so be friendly but respectful of boundaries.
  2. Be prepared
    Rejection stinks. Seeing friends (or frenemies) succeed while your novel is passed over hurts — whether you’re at the “hoping for an agent” level, “hoping to publish” level, or the “hoping for awards” stage.

    Know that you aren’t alone. Know what you need to keep your passion from burning out.

    Read! Write! Ignore jealousy. Or acknowledge it — and then move on.
  3. Don’t give up the day job
    Even if you do get a huge contract, or tons of steady ones, fear of bills and falling behind can put too much pressure on you, and take away the love of the writing. Remember to take care of yourself.

    Age doesn’t matter, but financial security can affect your approach.
  4. Remember what you’re comparing
    When you see social media feeds and think about all the ways you don’t measure up? You’re comparing their highlight reels to your blooper reel. Take a break if you need to. Step away if you need to.

Audience Questions

  1. How does maternity/health leaves of absences affect your career?

    If you’re writing on a schedule, know this:
    1. Publishing schedules are flexible – but…
    2. Write first — as much as possible, if the leave is scheduled, and drop everything you can to make it happen.

    If you don’t have a schedule, it’s up to you.
  2. Should I self-publish?

    The more niche your book it, the more successful it could be as a self-published book.
  3. What does it take to succeed as a writer?

    Ideas are a dime a dozen, it’s all about the writing.

    Can you write a sentence? How about a paragraph? A chapter? Can you plot?

    There is a huge cliff between a great book and a ho-hum, not bad book. Most are ho-hum.