Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Volunteering at a Con

As you may have heard (or more likely read), I spent last weekend at the FF&P's Fantasy on the Bayou conference. This was the first year the FF&P (the Fantasy, Futuristic, and Paranormal chapter of the Romance Writers of America organization) has put on a conference, and I was eager to see what we would do with it.

So I volunteered to help out.

As a scholarship attendee, I couldn't tell you right off the total cost of the hotel and ticket and such, and because I volunteered, I saw a different side of the conference than a regular attendee would. So I'm going to focus on my experience volunteering instead of a review of the conference itself - I'll try to get someone else to do that for me.

Since I roomed with one of the conference organizers, and let her know ahead of time that I was more than happy to volunteer as much as I could, she took me up on the offer. I stuffed bags and worked on the gift-basket assembly team on Thursday, helped out with registration on Friday, and checked in and helped monitor editor/agent pitches on Saturday.

Most volunteers, by the way, don't work for such a large portion of the conference, but I kept asking to help out.

Why? I really wanted the conference to be a success, and more importantly, I enjoyed the experience thoroughly.

Stuffing bags gave me a good look at how much effort goes into recruiting materials for a con. Our hardworking conference committee had convinced publishers and authors to generously donate a large assortment of books and materials. Can you imagine how hyped I was to hold not one but three different ARCs of books I was dying to read? (Don't worry; I restrained my pirating instincts and didn't haul away all the booty for myself!) We were able to offer these as door prizes, and every attendee got an assortment of books to take home. Plus, I learned that a couple of our members made giftbaskets as a side job. How cool is that? It took a while to stuff all the bags, so we all had plenty of time to chat.

I got to meet most of the attendees while I worked registration, Since the FF&P is an online chapter, I finally got the chance to meet our president and the other chapter members in person. It's not quite the same to see someone on the Yahoo!Loop as it is to meet them in person.

Volunteering for the pitches allowed me to put agent/editor faces with their names (the handy-dandy "who's sitting where" list helped!). Agents like to see a writer putting in the effort to help out. As one of the conference committee members said, "Just putting yourself together and attending a conference shows a certain degree of professionalism and commitment that agents are looking for," which is one reason most agents request a higher percentage of partial manuscripts from in-person pitches than from unsolicited queries. Helping out is another way to show you're serious.

Of course, all the volunteering means I missed out on all but a couple of workshops. That's okay - I really enjoyed those I went to, and I took away a different set of valuable lessons in exchange.

Con Stories
Wait, you want more than just the run-down? You want Con stories? Fantasy in the Bayou is held in New Orleans.You better believe it was wild. We stayed just a few blocks away from the French Quarter, and of course, Friday morning had me eating beignets at Cafe du Monde!

Friday night we all went on a vampire/ghost tour. Was it creepy? Yes. Was it hilarious? Even more so; our guide was terrific! I got to be the vampire's snack. Our guide needed an example of what had happened to a poor woman who had been lured upstairs by a handsome European some two hundred years ago, and I just happened to be standing within arm's reach... Chomp! Interestingly enough, the house we were learning about was the inspiration for Sherrilyn Kenyon's Haven.

And then there was the poor drunk who chased me around on Saturday night. Never to to New Orleans alone - you never know when a horny drunken kid is going to chase you in circles around one of your friends, which doesn't work so well if you don't have a friend to do-si-do around. His poor date. She kept trying to hold him back and apologizing to us. She eventually managed to drag him away. Would have loved to overhear that conversation the next day!

We worked in a decent amount of touring. A couple of the ladies got their fortunes told by a mysteriously disappearing fortune teller. We're talking about the lady who ignores everyone else, waves you over, and is gone when you walk by two hours later while the rest of Jackson Square's 'psychic circle' is still going strong. Interesting, eh?

It was, all in all, a fantastic trip, and I really look forward to attending next year's version. I'll definitely volunteer again, although I wouldn't volunteer at every conference. Half and half would be a good mix, where half I would volunteer at, and the other half I'd just attend. Getting to meet everyone was a reward in and of itself, and I learned so very much about conventions, our chapter, and even new things on publishing from the experience.

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