Thoughts On a Con

Over Memorial Day weekend I got to participate in a con for the first time.

No, not this kind of con.


This kind.


Specifically, Vandalia-Con up in Parkersburg, which is specifically a steampunk-themed con.*

“But wait,” you say, “you don’t really do steampunk, do you?”

Well, actually: (1) I have; (2) I’m getting ready to do it again (details coming!); and (3) I figured that steampunk fans might be interested in gunpowder fantasy like The Water Road. At the very least, it would be an interesting fact finding mission. So what did I learn?

First, before I go any further, I want to say that everyone I interacted with at Vandalia-Con – from the organizers to the attendees to the other vendors – were great, friendly, fun people. As a clear outsider (a DC United jersey does not constitute steampunk cosplay) and newbie at all this I couldn’t have felt more at home.

To my eyes, this con was mostly about embracing the steampunk “lifestyle,” as opposed to the celebration of any particular work of steampunk fiction. Most of the other vendors were selling clothes, jewelry, and the like. Aside from a couple of presenters who also had some books for sale the only other person selling “content” was a small publisher of sci-fi and fantasy books.

And, oh, the fashion. I was impressed by the wide variety of detail applied to different costumes. Guys seem to have it easier than women. A vest and top hat will suffice for the fellas, while the ladies seem doomed to bustiers and bustles (and very tiny hats – for some reason). To each their own, I guess, but it looks very uncomfortable from where I’m sitting. But as I said – that was while in a not-at-all-chic DC United jersey (although it did get some love from one of the hotel staff, even if he is a Crew fan).

But the primary reason I was there was to try and sell some books and drive some people to my mailing list. On that front, the con didn’t really meet my expectations. As I said, I think most people there weren’t really interested in consuming content, but having fun dressing up and what not. Which is totally cool – but it’s not a great setup for an author trying to move some copies. I did sell a few (one woman – complete in bustier and bustle – bought a complete set of The Water Road trilogy) and got some mailing list sign ups, but not enough to offset the investment (hotel costs, mostly). But when considering what kind of event you’re going to, it’s worth trying to figure out what the audience of regular attendees is like – you may have brilliant widgets for sale, but if nobody’s really interested in widgets it won’t make much difference.

Unfortunately, that’s the kind of mercenary mentality I have to have these days. Which is a shame, because the weekend was a lot of (expensive) fun. Thanks for being my first, Vandalia-Con!

* Note that none of these photos – even the first one – were actually taken at Vandalia-Con. I can’t find any of those online and my phone pics didn’t turn out well enough to use. All images via Wikimedia Commons.


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