David Doub on Creating a Convention

This is merely an opinion piece and is meant to start conversations about starting cons.

David’s Rules for Starting a Convention

  1. Start with a one day show. One reason for this is you need to grow your fanbase large enough to support several days.  Each day of a con costs for an organizer, so there is no point in spending for a 3 day show when you haven’t built the audience for it yet.
  2. Do one show a year. Again this follows the logic of the Rule 1, you need to build an audience and awareness of your show before you can run multiple shows a year.  Also with the current con calendar so full it’s hard enough to find one date a year that is relatively free of other events, so finding several dates wide open is a bigger trick.
  3. Be aware of the full calendar. For example, just because you are the only Comic Convention on a certain date, that doesn’t mean you won’t get competition from other events from Anime Cons to local town festivals.  Even then when your weekend is free, there can still be events in other nearby towns and nearby weekends that can have an impact on your dates.  Don’t set a date in a vacuum.
  4. Have all the money for your show up front. If you are doing a con, you need in worst case be able to pay for everything out of pocket if it bombs.  This is responsible and professional.  Don’t rely on pre-reg or other potential revenue streams, have all the cash on hand.  Ideally you’ll make a profit and not be out any monies, but it’s only sensible to be prepared for the worse.
  5. Figure out what your core reason for your show is and be honest to it. You can have a business of an autograph show or a love fest of fringe artists, and both are fine reasons for a show, you just need to recognize that and own it.  If you try to be everything to everyone, you are just going to be stretched thin and the final product is going to feel a bit bland.  Build the show you want to build, not the show you think people want.
  6. Talk to as many people as you can in the convention scene and process it all. Too many times I see people go at a show and they repeat the same mistake that many of other shows have already dealt with.  I’m not saying have people tell you exactly how to make your show, but don’t be afraid of talking to vendors, creators, con runners and so on about their experiences.  Without talking to them you’ll never know if they have any worthwhile information or not.  And feel free to pick and choose what applies to you and your con.  No one person is going to have all the answers you need (or didn’t know you needed).
  7. Build a core team or staff. It may seem easy to go at it alone, but we’re all only human and we’ll make mistakes so it’s good to have people to rely on.  Also, it’s good to have other folks to bounce ideas off of and get a different take on things.  Yes, one could do it all alone, but if it’s easier on you to do it with a team, then why not?
  8. Be patient. Anything worthwhile will take time to build.  One con may be an overnight success, but some take years to build up.  You can use other shows as a guide for growth and expectations, but don’t wholly be bound to those.  If you are truly serious about a show, then you must be willing to put in the time to build one up.  Now on the flip side, don’t be stubborn to change when some things aren’t working.  A convention is a balancing act of a lot of moving pieces that will take time and effort to find the right equilibrium for you show.

That’s the core ideas I’ve been floating around in my head recently.  Remember all these rules are from my experience and it’s quite possible to start a show by breaking all of these rules.  Feel free to add your own rules or comment on others.

Thanks,

Vendor, Creator, Guest, Volunteer, Show Runner, Attendee

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