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Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Pay Creative People For Their Work, Dammit.

I promise this is not a rehash of the old "don't ask people to work for exposure" argument. I've covered that about as well and fully as I ever will, and it's a lot more multifaceted than it might look at first glance. But no, I've said my say there.

This is more a pervasive mentality, not even remotely limited to genre entertainment. You'll see this in pretty much every demographic regardless of age, income, or choice of leisure activity: the idea that paying for creative output is unnecessary.

I could link you to plenty of the screencapped exchanges: people asking for art, artists giving their rates, and commissioner balking. "That for a picture?" they say. "Aren't you doing this because you love it?" Art should be shared. Art should be free. Why punish fans? Why put your work behind a "paywall"? Basically anything and everything that details why no money should exchange hands.

In the end, no money exchanges hands -- and neither does any art.

Since I began making my money via writing and presenting, I've had some pretty ignorant comments made in my direction. Not by ignorant people, mind. Perfectly lovely, perfectly intelligent people with whom I would happily grab lunch. Which makes it even more disappointing to hear them say these things. Saying they'd like to try my job for a weekend as a "relaxing break" from theirs, implying that I can do Anything I Want of a day and still apparently make money hand over fist. (I do neither of these, by the way.)

Fellow creators and I do have regular bitch sessions about the way we're spoken to on the regular. People wanting our work free or cheaper (where "cheaper" won't be cheap enough until it's free), "customers" being aghast that money has to change hands, strangers telling us we're not proper artists or writers because we're asking for money rather than just doing it for the love.

It would be fair to say a certain percentage of the population are just jackasses, but I'm not ready to saddle everyone with that. I am ready to say, though, that there are some massive misunderstandings at play, and asking people to release those misunderstandings will probably never turn out well. I can try. But I acknowledge as I do that it's an uphill climb.

Anything can be a job.

And I don't just mean that in the modern day you can get a job doing anything (though that sure seems true). I mean that any pastime or activity, expanded to a certain number of hours a day, can indeed become "a job." Acting, for example. Painting. Writing. Playing games in front of strangers on YouTube. If you are putting hours into a thing, working to excel at it and monetize it, it is now work.

Take me. I spend I'm not sure how many hours a day writing about anime, video games, maid cafés, movies, whatever. That involves me watching and playing things, interacting with media. It is honestly fair to say that talking about anime is my job because it literally is. I get up in the morning, I look at the news feeds, I write things. I watch shows and talk about them. I interview actors about their work. And in order to get paid, it is a thing I need to do.

Am I enjoying it more than being a bank teller or a Civil War mansion tour guide or a generic news editor? Yes. Absolutely. Does that mean it is not difficult, tiring, or time-consuming? Absolutely not.  I write more words in a week at a "dream job" than I wrote in a semester as an English major. It may be about stuff I like, but doing that does take time and mental energy that can't be divided up.

Just because something can be a hobby doesn't mean it will be a hobby at any speed. Sitting by the lake and sketching does not take as much energy as working on a full commission. In the former case, it can look however you want, you can take as long as you want, you're not being held to any standards, and you don't have to finish. But when something has crossed the line from hobby to job, there are standards. And with those standards come exertion of energy and a need for recompense.

"The love" exists, but we can't live on it.

Check out Camila and Akahi, self-proclaimed "breatharians" who forego food and live on love, air, and cosmic energy, only eating when they want to remember what fruit tastes like. If that sounds bananas to you, just bear in mind that that's how you sounds to creators when you ask them to do something "for the love."

Now, up front -- doing something "for the love" exists. Okay? We love what we do. Honestly. If we didn't love what we do, we wouldn't go into a field that doles out success largely on the basis of what millions of total strangers think of us. Like, that's terrible. That's a dumb idea. That's what I do, and Kara, that's a dumb idea. Why did you leave your easy desk job with health insurance and paid vacation to move in with your grandfather and become a full-time writer?

Because I bloody love writing. So now that we've got that squared away, let's move on.

We love what we do. But we cannot live on artistic fulfillment. Like that's impossible. Wawa won't give my my turkey cheddar pinwheels in exchange for me telling them I wrote a really solid GaoGaiGar retrospective. That doesn't happen. It'd be nice, but I actually have to work. I have to turn in my daily and weekly articles, write my invoices, paper the freaking world with stories that may not get published.

Could I have just stayed at my desk job and written casually? Yes. I could have. That also would have been a fine choice, and then I could have done things "for the love." But there is a step beyond that -- the pride in providing for yourself with what you love. It's hard to describe that feeling Stephen King describes, the moment you can pay the light bill with the paycheck for something you created, but there's something wonderful and beautiful and meaningful about that.

Again. I don't have to. I could have a much easier time without relying on the opinions of others and having people come to me asking for stories written "for the love" or saying they "only pay some contributors." And speaking of that:

No one gets to price me but me.

I'm talking to Ginger as I write this, and she just said, "You're going to have to address the people who say, 'But you do THIS for free.'" Yes, kouhai. Yes, I am.

This falls under a couple categories. One is "me stuff" -- my NaNoWriMo, my webcomics, my blog posts on this website, D&D campaign settings for friends. Things that are made not for money and never will be for money. That is where "for the love" really comes into play. After the working day is through etc. etc., we get to retire to our own thing. We've been doing commercial work all day, now we really just want to do some fan stuff. Or idle. Or whatever. And sometimes we do share that. Without asking for money. Why? Cuz we decided to. That doesn't mean that we should offer everything we do gratis, any more than it means that you should cook everyone dinner all the time just because you brought a cheese ball to the church potluck.

Then there's other creators. Many price themselves low because it's not their main income stream. Many others, sadly, do it because they've been bullied to or because they've had too many bad experiences charging a fair price and getting nothing in return. Much of what I do is even at a cut rate for this reason, and I'm slowly working my way back up to what's fair for my time spent. You may hear a creator say they don't mind not being paid, or they think their low prices are fair. That's perfectly true. For them. Applying it across the board would be a bit like saying "My girlfriend likes being catcalled so all women like being catcalled," and we know where that's going to put you.

This isn't even mentioning people I choose to work with gratis -- for charity, as friends, because I know the Right People will see what I do, etc. In any case, yes. Sometimes I will charge someone where I don't charge someone else. This is because I know what the other person has that is worth my time. Be it an even trade, genuinely good exposure (a rare but wonderful beast), or simply years of friendship that I want to observe, that's my choice. The choice of any creator.

You're still asking for something for nothing.

I could talk to you all day about how creators work their asses off to make things, and if I go for too long I'll start sounding like one of those damned inspirational straw man comics about "me creative, you mundane," and that's not what I'm going for. (Hot gossip: many creatives have this mentality, and I'm sure I'll get more than one author or artist who stands up with his hand on his heart talking loftily about how he really does do it for the love and a true creator wouldn't be so obsessed with the money. He likely has a steady income stream from elsewhere. Also, he gets to speak only for himself; see previous section.)

But at the end of the day, this comes down to the fact that someone has put in a great deal of effort, put a price on that effort, and you've just said "no." If you were selling off a piece of furniture or some old books and a person just walked up to you and said "No, I think I'll just take these without paying," you'd be understandably cross. Why? Because you apply value to the things, you set the price and want it to be respected, and (likely if you're selling things off) you need the dosh.

If you walk into a store and see something overpriced, you don't buy it. You don't, like, steal it or yell at the cashier. (Or maybe you do. No idea. If you do, maybe don't.) Because even though you disagree with the value placed on the item, you still respect that the value is not going to change for you.

And yet when you are interacting firsthand with the creator, you can't accept the price. Why does a creator willing to make a one-of-a-kind piece for you get less respect than the impulse rack at a grocery store?

This is not to say that everyone is obligated to always buy from all artists. But if you want someone's work, pay for it. If you recognize that you can't pay for it, don't ask for it. If a creator asks for recompense for their work, don't fault them for it. And if you don't think their work is worth paying for... why the hell do you want it?

Monday, June 26, 2017

BOOKS: "Judgment Day" ~ Spinning the Tarot

When I was in high school and college, I collected tarot decks. I didn't make use of them so much... it was more that I loved the stories of them, the different interpretations of each card, the way that even off-the-wall redrawings still somehow managed to bring the imagery home.

When I saw that NILVX was doing a tarot-based anthology, I definitely wanted to have a go. Their Tarot issue promised to cover The Fool, The Hanged Man, Judgment, and The World. I eventually settled on the third of those, and brought out a strange sci-fi quasi-spiritual piece that honestly surprised even me.

One of the interesting things about the tarot is that many major arcana cards -- Death, the Devil, Judgment, and the like -- that sound very ominous and definite and overbearing are actually to do with elements within ourselves. Death represents change. The Devil represents our own internal wrongdoing. Judgment, too, is internal.

My story, "Judgment Day," is one woman's story of her own judgment after a lifetime of judging others -- in this case, quite literally. The Judges work behind the scenes so you never see them... not until after your time has already passed. When you die, they are your final confessor, observing your secrets under their magnifying glass so you can decide for yourself what happens next. The problem comes when one Judge questions why they can do this.

This is definitely one that falls under my "grim" work. Science fantasy, maybe? That seems to be how my work skews. But it's one I'm unexpectedly proud of, and that I hope you'll all enjoy.

A Book of Magic I(II): Tarot Series I goes on sale this Friday. Check out the website for more info.

Friday, June 23, 2017

PERSONAL: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Dress

This is a story I've told many times before in person and on my Facebook, but I've had requests for it so I feel it should be here for posterity.

I love pretty things.

I love fluffy dresses. Shiny earrings. Pretty makeup. Sparkly nails. Fluffy socks. Colours in my hair. I love it all.

I also love giant robots and explosions and monster trucks and action movies and propane porn. And for many, many years, I believed that I was not allowed to have both.

In all fairness, no one in my family ever made me think this. My grandmother made all my school clothes when I was in preschool and enrolled me in cotillion. My grandfather taught me how to bait a hook and took me out to the local football field to fly RC planes. My uncle introduced me to the ability to watch basically anything I liked and find some meaning in it. And none of them discouraged the others from what they were doing.

It was more when I got into high school. The mean girls all wore lipstick and smelled of Bath and Body Works, and all I knew was that I wanted to be the opposite of them. When I got to college and into the con scene, I found that most of my friends were guys. And I found that, overall, I got the best reaction from them when they forgot I was a girl. Or, at least, I thought that's what I got. In fairness to them, I never did anything else that would give me data to judge otherwise.

All I knew was, at the time, being more "masculine," or at least more "gender neutral," got me by. I didn't want to end up like the girly-girls who were mean to me in school. I didn't want to share any traits with them. Occasionally I'd do magical girl cosplay (because it was cosplay, so it was okay). Sometimes I'd stare at my friend Yunmao in her adorable outfits, or look at fluffy dresses at shops, and wish I could indulge. But I couldn't. Not as far as I was concerned.

And then, Fran Scott happened.

I was in London, attending Brian Cox and Robin Ince's annual "Christmas Compendium of Reason" with my friend Nette. It's a sort of rock concert slash science lecture slash comedy hour, and if you can go, I recommend it. I'd never heard of this lady before -- she was one of a string of unannounced guests, as part of the show is not knowing who you're going to see.

She came onstage in a cute little black dress and heels, all done up as though she was going out for a posh dinner. And then she started launching hydrogen bottle rockets into the audience with her fingers.

I was amazed. In retrospect, I feel utterly ridiculous that I was amazed. But I was. Here was a woman wearing something I quite honestly would kill to go out and wear, up onstage doing crazy science in heels and just generally being awesome. And in that moment it hit me.

I can have both, too.

When I started working more with conventions as a host, I knew I needed nicer clothes. So I got dresses. I got my friend Emily to teach me to do my own makeup. I got more adventurous with my hair. Eventually I somehow developed my "frilly dress and Docs" style that people are used to seeing on me at cons. And, best of all... no one batted an eyelid. My best friends of years, regardless of gender, gave me nothing beyond compliments. No one was upset or weirded or wanted to know why Kara wasn't "one of the boys" anymore.

Granted, on my days off I'm still a slug in sweatpants and tee shirts. The dresses are my "on" outfit, almost my indication that I'm okay with being seen. But the revelation (long overdue) that hobbies and wardrobes are unconnected by any standards was one of the best days of my life.

Beyond that, I'm happy, so happy, to hear that I'm doing for little girls at cons what Ms. Scott did for me. I'll probably never meet her, but she did me an amazing service. And I am grateful for that.

My wallet isn't, but I sure am.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

BOOKS: Owl's Flower 2 Is Freaking Here

I'm still getting used to the idea of having written books. Like, books that are out there. I wrote a ton of books when I was a kid, and they weren't that great if I'm honest. I'm recycling a few for comics of NaNoWriMo, but overall my youth output was not ready for prime time.

Now I'm coming to a time in my life where I'm, like, getting published honestly. I'm getting a few very cool short stories out there into big anthologies (more on those soon), I'm writing day and night for multiple websites, and I'm working with some amazing collaborators on some amazing projects. I love working with Rob on Kalibourne still, and I'm digging working with Ginger on Owl's Flower. Honestly, I'm very fortunate to have friends I love working with who are also extremely talented.

Ghost Fall is the second in the Owl's Flower light novel series. For those who somehow haven't heard about this from me yet, it's our take on paranormal romance: a relationship that isn't perfect but also doesn't draw drama from angst and unhealthy behaviour. A heroine who isn't an "unspecial teenager who becomes special." A hero who's an immortal but not a sparkling infallible Adonis. Secondary characters with interesting stories. Mythology and religion pulled from cultures all over the world. And tasty recipes.

The first book was an "origin story," and starting now we can start going crazy. Ghost Fall is a Halloween story, so there's some horror aspects. We don't go full terrifying because that doesn't fit this series, but we do play around with some ghastly ghosts and some serious psychological implications. Our B story is a fairly simple-seeming one: a committed couple moving in together, and what that means for both daily life and building trust.

Ginger's 13 pieces for this book include one of my absolute favourite things she's ever drawn, Owl's Flower or otherwise. You'll know it when you see it.

Incidentally, Ghost Fall is frickin' cheap -- the price of a Ko-fi (or more if you feel inclined). You can pick it up here as an ebook, as well as the first book (which is always free). Print copies will be forthcoming as we price some printers.

Also, we're looking into doing some collab events at cons and the like. So keep your ears open!

Monday, June 19, 2017

FANDOM: On Hater Culture

I work a lot of conventions, and I also wear my fandom on my sleeve. So whenever I'm out in public in any sort of visible way, I am going to be actively demonstrating what I like -- be it through an event I'm working for or a piece of merch on my person.

In recent years, I've noticed a decisive shift in how I'm engaged with in public in a fan setting. Some have said it's because I'm a woman, but I get this behaviour fairly evenly regardless of the gender of the person engaging. And what I notice is that, when I'm engaged on a fannish level, there is an equal likelihood of the opening line being about what the person likes or what the person hates.

To me, this is a little bewildering. I mean yes, I do have gripe sessions with friends, but seeing a like-minded individual in a crowd does not generally make me want to go "Yes! Another fan of this thing! Let's open with my problems with the thing!" Genuinely, the only time I've ever found friendship via leading with something bad was commiserating with fellow chronically ill people.

And overall, I've generally just noticed that there is a weird sort of wide swing to fandom's criticism. Is there a thing? Does a person like it? Time to talk about why it's bad. I've always taken notice of it, but it's at a new level now that I'm an industry person whose name is known by, I don't know, two or three strangers. When it becomes personal, you see even more readily people will fight, accuse, and insult. And while I've nothing against taking people to task for things poorly done (God, how else would entertainment evolve?), I think there's been a tonal shift in genre fandom as a whole that, if it continues down this route, will make talking to each other impossible in a few years' time.

In short -- a terrible thing to say on a blog post that's about to get long -- there are a lot of things we have forgotten about how we engage in entertainment.

Disliking something doesn't make you a hater.

So, there are really three general ways I've found to categorize "why" you dislike something: ethical, subjective, and subliminal.

An ethical dislike means that what you're engaging in actively seems to promote a morality or worldview that you see as harmful. This isn't the same as depicting it, because simply depicting a Nazi in a movie, even in a humorous light, doesn't mean the filmmaker is okay with Nazis (see: The Producers). For me, Fifty Shades of Grey.

A subjective dislike means that there's no great overarching reason why it's bad, but in your life there is a negative connotation. The lead looks like your ex. You personally don't enjoy this director's work. You're not a fan of rom-coms. Basically anything that is a deal-breaker for you but might not be for anyone else. For me, anything with Jim Carrey.

And a subliminal dislike is when you just genuinely have no idea why you aren't a fan of something. You gave it a try. It just didn't click. If someone asked you to explain what didn't work for you, you really couldn't. You just can't get into it. For me, card games like Munchkin.

Those feelings are all valid. And disliking something based on any of those doesn't make you bad. The situation of not connecting emotionally with a piece of art or entertainment is not inherently a crime. Not engaging for a reason not shared by someone else? Also not a crime. Put a pin in this. We'll be coming back to it.

Going to bat for something doesn't make you a nice person.

I heavily, heavily encourage every single one of you to go out and get James Goss's book Haterz. It's like $3 on Kindle, you have nothing to lose. Without spoiling too much, it's a dark little fiction about a guy who is given the job of killing off various Types who make the Internet -- and the world at large -- a lousy place to be. The book presents a two-pronged lesson about nature of various personalities and how to deal with them, and the final chapter is something of a gut-punch for you if you engaged fully up until then.

Specifically, I want to go back to my absolute favourite chapter (the only one I'll spoil), in which our protagonist is given the job of murdering a pop idol fangirl. Why? She's one of those that goes to the mat, taking down "haters," building a community and turning people against each other. The protagonist is bloodthirsty, but even he can't kill a teenager. So he kidnaps the pop idol, straps him to an electric chair, rigs up a Twitter setup so a small, non-lethal shock is delivered anytime someone sends a tweet registering as hate on his behalf, and has him put out a video saying that if his fans can be nice for one hour, he will be released.

Unsurprisingly, he dies in a matter of seconds.

There are two truths of entertainers. One is that criticism does hurt them because they are human. The other is that they don't need you to fight their battles. I spent a goodly amount of time wanting to pile-drive people who insulted friends of mine who are writers, actors, directors... before realizing that you know? They're adults. They don't need me out there kicking ass and making people shut up. In fact, that is probably the last thing they want.

And that sort of behaviour, if unchecked, becomes abusive quickly, especially when you start bringing subjective and subliminal dislike into the equation.

It's okay to disagree on entertainment.

The majority of my family loves The Big Bang Theory. I have a subjective dislike of it (all the female characters like me I've seen turn out to be objectively bad people, and it's uncomfortable). Shockingly, that's okay.

I love Mystery Science Theater 3000 and have friends who work on the new series. A co-worker has an ethical dislike of it (he believes the money should be put into restoration and preservation of the films being riffed). That can be uncomfortable when someone has an ethical dislike of how your friend makes their money. But it's also okay.

And I have no idea why I Just Can't with things like Mad Men and Spongebob and other things that are popular. I tried them and it didn't fly. I can't give you a good reason. I probably don't have one.

What happens across the board is generally respect. We don't make each other watch the things. We don't talk about the things at or with each other. We don't harass each other for liking the things or try to force each other into liking the things, any more than we'd shove guacamole in front of someone who genuinely doesn't like avocado and demand they try it one more time, they just didn't have the right bowl last time.

Disagreements on entertainment help it evolve. 

Going back to my Fandom Prime, Doctor Who. If you want to talk about a place with disagreements, oh boy. Wade into social media for a few minutes and you'll see fans calling for the deaths of people they don't like working on the show. Actual humans with spouses and children. Actual humans who can see what's being said about them.

Here's the thing, though. Handled properly, complaints about the nature of a piece of entertainment can help it improve. The Talons of Weng-Chiang was an amazing serial, but it had some serious problems. Mostly in that it was really really freaking racist. The new series is not perfect, because asking anyone to be flawless and "unproblematic" in all things is a tall order. But if young fans in the 70s and 80s hadn't noticed that white people were playing Chinese people in really horrible makeup, or women were getting unfulfilling roles, we wouldn't have the show as it is now. Which may not be perfect, but is evolving.

Ginger Hoesly and I were disappointed at the state of the paranormal romance genre. Instead of posting long Tumblr diatribes, we made our own in the way we wanted to see it -- discovering in the process that we'd made something lots of people really wanted, too. Which isn't to say "If you don't like it, make your own" (though totally consider it because it's fun and a learning process). But it is to say if you don't like something in a very deep way and you can't not let the world know... find a way to do so in a way that helps the genre.

Could be a letter to the creators. Could be a new product. Could be a thought-out and researched blog post. But what it never is, is yelling at fans who do like it as it is.

The timing is often more important than the message.

People who like to fight me on this point tend to ask me the same question: "If someone came up to you wanting to talk eagerly about a show you absolutely hate, would you just pretend for their sake?" The answer? Yes. Yes I bloody well would. And I have.

There are arcs of Doctor Who I would happily leave buried that are quite popular. But if a con attendee wants to come up and tell me those characters were the best and that season was the best, then by God, I am going to summon up whatever I happened to like about that arc and be happy with them. Because this is a fan who found another fan in public and wants to connect.

I will never say that a person who dislikes something shouldn't speak their mind, because taste is subjective and it's allowed to be. And because sometimes that dislike can help creators get to the root of something that should change or evolve. But when in a social setting, unless that is the agreed-upon topic, launching in with hate is... why? Why would you do that to someone?

I'll never forget the fella who went to town on me at a con simply because I said I was looking forward to the next Guardians of the Galaxy. It was a five-minute diatribe brought about simply because I was happy about a thing he disliked. It was out of nowhere, and I was more shocked than hurt.

If someone is happy and wants to share that happiness with you, let them be happy. There are times and places for you to air your grievances in more productive ways.

And finally, just honestly... I know there are people out there who enjoy a good brisk fight. Not everyone is one of those people. I'm not one of those people. If you're looking to get the blood pumping, take it to Reddit. You can't just launch into a conversation and decide everyone there will enjoy engaging you in Healthy Debate™.

I know most of my blog posts tend to boil down to "be excellent to each other," but sometimes I feel that's the message we all need most.

Friday, June 16, 2017

APPEARANCES: See Me at Anime Mid-Atlantic!

Whew! Today's the day! I'm heading out to Anime Mid-Atlantic in Norfolk, VA for the... I don't know how manyth time. I think I've been to all of them, actually. So the 17th time.

Oh my God.

Anyway, it'll be the usual for me. Running karaoke, mainly. We have a full house this year, with all sorts of awesome people lined up to sing awesome songs. It's great to see regulars coming back, and I always love seeing new faces in the crowd. I can't wait to work with my crew again!

Also, I'll be promoting for (Re)Generation Who and PotterVerse throughout the weekend, so be sure to stop by if you see our table!

... now pardon me for keeping this short, but I'm not even remotely done with everything that needs doing. See you there!

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

CONVENTIONS: Where Does Your Money Go?

It would be an understatement to say that my post on lobbyconning went viral -- I was not expecting the reaction it got. I was happy to see that it was getting con chairs to speak up, prompting people to have conversations, and making people reconsider previous behaviors. I was also not at all surprised to see people trying to drag me on social media for being "classist" or saying that cons need to "stay on the good side" of the fan base.

I also got some genuinely wild comments informing me -- an assistant to a con chair, a friend to many other con chairs, and someone who's been behind the curtain for 18 years -- how conventions work. At the time, my only interest was in getting some work done and maybe having dinner, so I didn't have time to argue every single person who told me a ridiculous factoid.

But, I did have multiple requests to do a post explaining con budgeting and how money works within the event. Now, I can only speak for fan-run or small-business fan cons. I can't speak for big box cons, expos, or the like. I also cannot say with any degree of certainty that every single indie-run con works like this, any more than I can say every single person opens their mail on the same end. I can offer you what I've seen and experienced most often, and the things that are most misunderstood. So.

"$12 hot dogs and $5 water" - The con vs. the venue.

One of the biggest naysays I saw on my article was that con chairs are "in it for the money," with one person stating that the high price of refreshments in the venue is proof that they're only there to tap the congoers for every penny they're worth.

Is it true that some cons will try to nickel-and-dime you? Yes. This is true in any business. Unscrupulous businesspeople are everywhere, and will look for ways to hide charges: charging you extra to get into the one panel everyone wants to go to, putting basic con events beyond a paywall, etc. This is why cons that offer VIP tiers tend to make the VIP rewards things like extra merch, a lounge, or early seating -- so that core events aren't roped off from the general public.

But when it comes to food, that's not the con -- that is the venue.

The important thing to understand about cons is that before there is ever a business transaction between you and the event, there is first a business transaction between the event and the venue. While some cons are settled firmly into a hotel and deals will be cut here and there based on mutual trust and previous performance, overall the fact remains that these are two business entities who both want to gain something.

The convention wants a space where they can fit their projected number of attendees, house them, host their events, have decent set-up/tear-down time, and generally offer a decent experience. The venue wants to fill up and sell things they already sell.

For a hotel, it goes something like this: the con comes to them and says "We want to use your space for this span of time for our event, including these function rooms. In return, we will pay X amount and can promise that you will sell at least X number of rooms, and that you will have people at your restaurant and bar over the course of the weekend." Basically, the convention is promising booming business for three days. (And, if there are geeks on staff, the promise of maybe taking an hour off to grab a day pass and get an autograph.)

But what can you promise for, say, a convention center? If they have an associated hotel, it's a little easier. But convention centers sell food. Hotels also sell food. When you're bringing in hundreds, maybe thousands of attendees, this is a way the venue makes bank, thus not charging the con an arm and a leg.

Still not convinced? Then think about this: if the con wanted to bring in food to sell you, they would have to pay the hotel. It's a thing called "corkage," and it comes from restaurants wanting to avoid people sneaking their own wine in. (Did you ever see that old cartoon of Donald Duck bringing his brown bag lunch into a fancy restaurant and the maitre d' writing him up an exorbitant bill? That's corkage fee for dummies.) In order to feed guests and staff, the con is already likely having to pay an extra fee. But serving you food right out in front? When there are restaurants in the hotel? They'd get their asses kicked.

A Working Vacation

Guests gotta be paid.

Also, guests deserve to be paid.

Different guests have different requirements. Someone like me -- not very known, low-level writer -- can generally be paid with a room, food, badge, and a pat on the head. A top-tier actor might require room, food, badge, first-class flight, per diem (basically a daily stipend in case they want to go out somewhere for dinner), and anywhere from 4-6 figures of pay. In very rare cases a guest will go to an event Just Because, but usually there is a contract.

For smaller cons, that contract involves a guarantee. Say a guest costs $10k for three days. I don't have $10k right now. But we do a contract saying that, if they come to the con and we give them a table to sell autographs or books or whatever, between that and photo ops they will walk away with at least that. If they happen to make $13k over the weekend, they take it all. If they make $9k, the con makes up the difference.

Generally if you come to a convention and the autographs cost money, that means the guest is there on a guarantee. That means, when you pay for the autograph, you are helping the con pay to have them there. If autographs are free, that means the guest was paid up front in full -- which either means the con chair has that kind of money already, or the price of bringing the guest is reflected in what you are paying to be able to get near them.

That's why you have an assistant sitting there collecting the money next to the guest: you're handing the money directly to them, not via the convention. Yes, it can be annoying to see a guest and see that their autographs cost... but that money stays with them.

Additionally, the more times an event helps a guest make at least or above their guarantee, the more likely it is for agents (or potential guests themselves) to tweak their costs to make them easier to afford. So supporting cons for properties you like, even if they don't have your fave that year, makes it more likely that they will have the clout to get your fave next year.

The Alley

Artists and vendors, this is for you. This is a whole other concept of paying for cons.

I've worked both as a seller in Artist Alley and an AA head, so I've seen a lot of sides of this. Tables at events can go for anywhere from $40 to (apparently now) $300, all for a six-foot table with a hotel tablecloth and two chairs. And seriously what the heck.

Here's what the heck.

For starters, renting those tables actually costs the cons money. Yeah. To take them out of storage and use them for three days, the con has to pay the hotel. That's a part of the contract. Each hotel chain will have their own version of pricing for that, but that fits into your fee.

Beyond that, the price is reflective of the fee to rent the space the Alley is in, as well as the sort of business the con believes you can expect to do. Not a guarantee, but an estimate. If you shell out $100 for a table, that's in essence the con saying "A good vendor doing their part can expect to take home at least $100 this weekend."

To be fair, some cons out there really overestimate themselves. The best way to make sure a price is fair is to talk to regular vendors at the event (in your medium, if possible) and see if it evens out. I'm describing to you how a scrupulous Artist Alley works -- if something seems off, do your homework.

That said, there are some cons that know they are too small to bring the goods and will actually cut their prices or waive the table rental fee. If a table is extremely low-priced at an event, it's not because all tables should be that cheap -- it's because the staff is aware of their attendance size and trying to be fair to artists. Artist Alley fees should be judged against their con, not against each other.

And Finally

On average, con organizers aren't rich. The opposite, in fact.

Yes, there are some out there who are. Yes, there are corporations that ride the comic-con trend. But on average, con runners are middle class or lower. In fact, most staffers I know are middle class or lower. That includes me.

There seems to be this modern mentality that the amount of money that passes through your hands is indicative of the amount of money you possess, and that Just Ain't So. The majority of fan-run and small-business-run cons are not "moneymakers"... and if they are, the money is made so it can go straight back into funding next year's event. That's assuming the con breaks even. A lot of cons do not. But they don't talk about it. They just do some hardcore bootstrapping and keep going.

Wanting cons to be cheap or free is unsustainable. I've been part of cons that were essentially run out-of-pocket on the good will of the organizers, and they fold a lot sooner than cons that don't allow lobbyconning. And it's a shame. Because God knows if I were independently wealthy I'd probably throw giant open parties and invite rock stars and actors. But we're not.

Cons, despite being fun, are a business. That business is kept behind the curtain because you're there to have fun, not to watch a department lose its shit when a shipment goes missing or a guest's luggage gets left in Florida. Conventions cannot happen without money exchanging hands. It's the way of things. And it isn't a crime.

There is plenty of room in this world for fans to host free cosplay meet-ups, reading groups, lunch groups, whatever. The world would absolutely benefit from more of those. But conventions are a different experience. And they need your help to grow. If you resent the involvement of money, then step up and make something free for your fellow local fans.