By Jan S. Gephardt

This week I’m preparing for DemiCon 33, to be held in Des Moines, IA May 6-8, 2022. There is a lot to do. Would you like a glimpse of my process?

My son Tyrell and I had been in the habit of attending 6-8 science fiction conventions per year before the Pandemic locked everything down. In our attempts to evade the roller-coaster of Covid dips and peaks, we dared to attend Archon 44 in person last October. But the Omicron surge (and an extremely untimely snowstorm) shoved us back into attending Capricon 42 virtually, last February.

Preparing for a virtual convention differs dramatically from preparing to go in person. There are logistics involved with both, but it takes far greater organization and effort to attend an SF convention in person. Either way, we have to iron out membership details, but an in-person appearance means making hotel reservations and lots more planning ahead. Not to mention hauling all our stuff several hundred miles to go encamp somewhere for several days.

The DemiCon 33 header says: “The After” – DemiCon 2022, Des Moines’ 33rd Annual Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Gaming Convention, May 6-8, 2022.
Jan and Ty are preparing for DemiCon 33 (header courtesy of DemiCon 33).

To Attend or Go Virtual, That is the (First) Question

Even as we’re preparing for DemiCon, we’re keeping a wary eye on the recent rise in Omicron BA.2 cases. I’m double-vaxxed and double-boosted (Ty’s too young and healthy to need the second booster). Both my Beloved and I are in a higher risk category because of our age. And my family also cares for my frail, 97-year-old father, whom we’d like to keep alive and well.

I know a lot of the country is young, healthy, and really, thoroughly beyondtired of being careful. For well or ill, however, my family still can’t afford to take undue risks with Covid. So it was with considerable caution that we decided to give DemiCon an in-person try. They’re following local health guidelines at the con, but we’ll definitely bring our hand sanitizer and masks!

Hovering above the undulating graph of Covid peaks and troughs during the Pandemic is a photo of a burning car, way up on top of a roller-coaster.
This is kind of how a lot of people visualize the Covid “roller coaster.” (See credits below).

When I go to a convention, I no longer go just as myself, but also a representative of Weird Sisters Publishing. That somewhat alters the advance publicity planning. For one thing, I decided this year to try advertising in conventions’ program books. This might raise awareness of our little company, and it also might help financially-distressed cons – which means most of them, these days.

Preparing for DemiCon Way Beforehand

Advertising means I must design an ad. Ad deadlines usually come a month or more before the convention. But it’s a way to represent, when we’re still too small to support a dealers’ table. We don’t have many titles in print yet (also, the hours I’d have to keep, to run a dealer’s table, might seriously end this confirmed old night owl).

But, few or many, preparing for DemiCon means I had to have some books. In stock. At the con.I have more on order, and I’m lucky to have what I hope are enough for DemiCon already in hand. We currently have print editions of my three XK9 books. That’s it for now, but not for long.

My sister’s Deep Ellum Stories are too short for individual print copies bigger than maybe a booklet. Those might be more expensive to print than I could ask people to pay. We’re holding out for an omnibus edition before we print it, once she’s finished the other two stories she’s planning. Starting this fall, once my late brother-in-law’s Windhover Tetralogy is back in print, I may have to make a different calculation about that dealer’s table.

Jan sits behind signs for all three of her books, plus G. S. Norwood’s two “Deep Ellum” stories She’s laid out bookmarks and copies of her books in front of them.
Here’s Jan, masked for Covid protection at Archon 44, October 2021 (photo by Tyrell E. Gephardt).

Long Live S.W.A.G.!

Lacking a dealer’s table, I am a mobile exhibit. I’ve made signs. I always carry a copy or two of each book. And I like to come loaded with S.W.A.G. for the freebie table or to give away at autograph sessions or my reading.

What is S.W.A.G.? I wrote an entire blog post about it, a while back. The acronym stands for “stuff we all get.” That is, free things handed out at a convention. For Weird Sisters, it consists of bookmarks for each book, a postcard that promotes What’s Bred in the Bone and my reading, and badge ribbons. I do have new bookmarks to hand out since the Pandemic: I had some made for The Other Side of Fear, A Bone to Pick, and my sister’s story Deep Ellum Blues.

Making bookmarks and badge ribbons are two other long-term projects, along with ordering books and making ads. I first have to figure out designs and badge ribbon one-liners. Then I compose and design them, and place my orders so I’ll have them when it’s time to go to more conventions. Preparing for DemiCon, plus preparing to have enough S.W.A.G. for the rest of the summer and fall, took a while.

Photos of Bookmarks, badge ribbons, and books barely unpacked from a crate surround a 2020 photo of Jan with some of her S.W.A.G.
A lot of work goes into the creation of “freebies” at conventions. (See credits below).

The Art Part

Anyone who’s seen me at a convention knows I nearly always have artwork in the Art Show. I’ve “always” been a visual artist. I was an art major (printmaking and graphic design) for my undergraduate degree (I minored in journalism). During my full-time teaching career, I worked as an art teacher who also taught some publications. But, although I steadily honed my writing craft in the background, in the early years the artwork always came first.

And after 40 years of bringing artwork to science fiction conventions, it just doesn’t feel right if I don’t have an Art Show display! Thus, preparing for DemiCon means gathering enough work for a display, getting registered, and preparing the paperwork needed.

If you’ve followed this blog, you have seen lots of “Here’s my art show panel at X” photos. I’ll probably post one of this year’s DemiCon display, too. Sorry to say, it will be smaller than in past years. Between writing fiction, working on my monthly newsletters, blogging, and working on covers for Warren’s Windhover Tetralogy, I’ve had less time than usual for paper sculpture.

Jan’s art show panel at Archon 43 in October 2019, when she won an award for “Best 3D” (photo by Jan S. Gephardt).

Panels, Readings, and Presenting Myself

Conventions, large or small, are entertainment venues that operate on thin profit margins. They often give panelists free memberships, but that’s not just because they love them. It’s because they’re relying on them to help provide a worthwhile experience for con-goers.

I spent too many years as a teacher preparing lesson plans to stomach just walking into a panel “cold,” and “winging it.” To me, that’s grossly unprofessional. But that means I must develop materials for panels ahead of time. My ideal? To go into a panel with enough material (even if I’m not the official moderator) to guide the panel into interesting discussions for the full time we have. If we don’t get to all (or any) of them, that’s okay, as long as the audience enjoyed the panel.

For readings, especially when I share a short time slot during a session with one or more other authors, I plan ahead. Readings are like auditions for my books, so I practice. I time myself to be sure I respect others’ time allotments. And, although it’s always a challenge at this end of the “con season,” coughing fits are not entertaining. I try to get my voice in shape, so I’m able to read all the way through smoothly.

Photos of Jan at ConQuesT in Kansas City (in 1985 and 2012), plus at Archon 43 (2019).
Here’s a walk through the decades that Jan’s been going to sf cons. (See credits and panelist identifications below).

Preparing for DemiCon

As you can see, preparing for DemiCon – or any convention – takes a lot of work. I think it’s worth it, because I love science fiction conventions. If you also go to conventions and enjoy the special exhibits and/or panels, now you have a bit more behind-the-scenes understanding of what goes into them. And if you’re a newer creator, getting ready for an early-career foray to a convention, maybe this post has offered some ideas (the teacher in me hopes so).

And thank God the conventions are coming back! Many thanks to all the dedicated convention committees and their financial backers. And here’s a hope for the DemiCon committe, my fellow panelists and exhibitors, and all my fellow attendees, that with all of us preparing for DemiCon, it’ll be the best one yet!

IMAGE CREDITS

First of all, many thanks to DemiCon 33! Thanks for inviting me, for providing me with a venue to show and read my work to others, and thanks also for your header graphic at the top of this post!

I assembled the “Covid Roller Coaster” montage with two images: Statista provided the graph of Covid cases in the US from the start of the Pandemic through April 9, 2022. The burning roller coaster photo came from Inspire More’s article full of Covid-related memes (the credit there said only “Instagram”). Tineye Reverse Image search found it on a website I can’t access, back in early September 2014. Other hints in its early record on Tineye indicate a possible location in the Los Angles area, but that’s all I could find in a quick search.

SF Convention Memory Lane

I owe Tyrell E, Gephardt repeated thanks for photos of me at conventions. He took the one of me, masked up behind my current collection of signs, books, and S.W.A.G. at Archon 44 last October (2021). He also took the one of me at Capricon in 2020 with my then-full display of S.W.A.G., at my autograph session. And he gets further credit for the photo of me at Archon 43 in 2019, preparing to do a reading.

I took other photos of our S.W.A.G., as well as the wide photo of my Art Show display at Archon 43 in 2019. Sorry: the one at DemiCon 33 won’t be that big, because I’ve sold a lot of that artwork since then.

I don’t think I was ever sure who took the “historical documents” that show me at ConQuesT in 1985 (ConQuesT 16) and 2012 (ConQuesT 46), but I can identify my fellow panelists. In the 1985 photo they are L-R: Dell Harris, Ken Keller, me, and the late Roland Schmidt, my former co-teacher and a fantasy watercolorist. BTW, that’s my calligraphy on the name cards, back before desktop printing made them easy to print. And in the 2012 photo that’s me on the left. Tracy S. Morris sits in the middle with her book Bride of Tranquility. At the right is fellow Kansas City writer, artist, and longtime sf fan Sherri Dean.