I went to ConFusion in Detroit last weekend and a had a terrific time meeting old friends and making new ones. (It marked the first time a fan recognized my name in the elevator and got all excited. ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED.)
I tend to do the local cons regularly because I can drive to those and can be home quickly if needed. Boskone and Readercon are both in Boston, a 2-hour drive away, I can bring tax-free NH liquor in my own car, and if I had to, I could pack a cooler and a lot of sandwiches, so I can do those cons on the cheap if needed.
Out-of-town cons are a different story, fiscally speaking.
I just totaled up receipts for the ConFusion trip, so I thought I’d take a second to share the numbers. I spent a total of $1,888.00, which breaks down as follows:
Air fare: $319.20 (Manchester–Detroit, basic economy)
Rental car: $267.66
Food and drink: $284.01
Other expenses (gas, luggage fees, etc.): $127.86
Now, I did spend an extra $400 staying at the Clarion in the Detroit airport because I volunteered my seat on Sunday and had to stay an extra night, and the airline’s voucher was for a run-down shithole of a hotel that had dirty walls and smelled like cigarette smoke throughout. Subtract that as a non-essential expense, and chop $100 off the rental car price because I took their insurance coverage instead of just chancing it with my own. I also brought my own bow, which cost me $70 in luggage fees, and if I were a teetotaler, I could have saved roughly $200 in bar tabs I racked up buying drinks for myself and friends. But even when you subtract the frills, I still spent north of $1,000.
For a lot of fans and even new pro writers, that’s an expense they can’t swing for a long weekend of drinking and talking about books.
To be sure, it’s a tax write-off (which doesn’t mean it’s a freebie–it only reduces the tax burden a bit), but in order to even get that little financial break, you have to have writing income to write the con expenses off against. A lot of writers don’t have that, especially ones just breaking into the field or selling mostly short fiction. And fans don’t have it at all.
I came out slightly ahead because I volunteered my seat twice (the snow storm travel mess meant a lot of people were trying to get alternative flights east due to the closures of NYC and all DC area airports), and got to bag more than my expenditures in Delta travel vouchers. But every other con I’ve been to has been a loss leader for me, financially speaking. It’s great to see old friends (and truth be told, that’s why most writers primarily go to cons), and it’s fun to meet fans and sign books, but it’s not nearly enough of a career helper to justify the expense. You pay for the fun and the mini-vacation among like-minded people, not for the networking and the career benefits (although those can be an ancillary bonus if and when the networking does happen.) But the expense involved in attending even a small regional con is why a lot of writers and fans only do cons that are in reasonable driving range, or strictly local stuff. Our field simply doesn’t have a lot of people who can afford to lay out the cash to go to half a dozen or more cons every year.