Earlier this month I ventured the forty-five minutes to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport to attend the ninth annual Texas Frightmare Weekend. This was my third appearance at the convention, invited by publisher Eric Beebe of Post Mortem Press, and in attendance with gang of authors Brad Carter (Saturday Night of the Living Dead), Chris Larsen (Losing Touch), Andrew Nienaber (STZ), Billie Sue Mosiman (The Grey Matter), and C. Bryan Brown (Necromancer). Max Booth III (Toxicity) did a (largely) factual write-up of the whole sordid affair, which you can read here on LitReactor.com, chronicling all of our various adventures behind the table. I’ll let you read his summary rather than write my own, because this isn’t about the convention or promotion. It’s about how I’ve become more comfortable in my own skin.
While I had been to this event before, in 2012 and 2011, this was my first real, honest convention appearance. My first two appearances, by my standards, were abysmal. That’s okay, though, because they were learning experiences. Back then I was a novice who had never worked a convention before, let alone finished a book worth selling. Now I have my first novel under my belt, another in the can, and five more installments on the way. I also have established myself, to some degree, as a comic book reviewer, with several interviews and podcast appearances to give me time to practice how to sell myself. Because, as an author, I’m always selling myself. I know that now. When I was a young and inexperienced writer, I was given some really terrible advice about separating myself from my work. Back then I was told I wasn’t worth promoting, that I had no place in the reader’s mind when buying a book.
Me and a little one from Werepups.com
But if you’re at a table, or answering questions at a panel, speaking to people face-to-face, you’re part of the package. You’re part of the sale, a piece of what’s being bought. Whatever persona you put on, whatever airs you choose to persuade people to purchase your work, the reader is paying for that as well. When I was younger, that idea terrified me, too afraid to put myself out there, to sell my work to people on the floor. I felt like I hadn’t yet earned the right, that I was some kind of pretender waiting to be found out. That I wasn’t smart enough, or talented enough, or engaging enough to be worth their time.
When I walked out onto the convention floor this time around, I was admittedly a little nervous. The crowds at TFW are not quite what I’m used to dealing with over in my corner of the internet these days, as I move away from horror fiction to focus on superhero fiction and cape book reviews. But after a little while, I relaxed. I was joking with people in line to get in on opening night, chatting with other vendors in the smoking area outside. I stood at the head of the table whenever I could squeeze between my fellow countrymen and talked with people as they walked by, sometimes about books and sometimes about nothing at all. I didn’t sell a book to everybody, but I tried to give people a reason to come back, or to look us up online. People came up to me later on the floor, whenever I got away from the table for a little bit to stretch my legs. They all smiled or shook my hand, and told me how nice it was to speak to me at the table. That felt like a victory, albeit a small one.
On Saturday afternoon, me, Brad, and the assorted Chrises were on a writing panel. The topic was why writers tend to be drunks. I think the schedule put it a little nicer than that, but that was basically the gist of the conversation. It was a small conference room, seating around fifty people; not every seat was taken but it was a good crowd. Here they were, listening to our stories and nodding their heads, their hands flying up with questions. As I sat there, I felt wholly at ease. A year or two ago, I probably would have crawled out of my skin, or resorted to just trying to be funny and get a laugh out of people, too nervous to say anything substantive. Instead I jumped right in, answering questions and talking about my book, my personal struggles, and my attempts to try to elevate genre fiction in my own work, be it fiction or reviews. (Sure, we talked a lot about getting drunk and not wearing pants, too, but everybody knows I do that all the time.) And when people came up to the table later, or caught me in the hallway, to shake my hand and thank me for what I said at the panel, that felt like an even bigger victory.
Texas Frightmare Weekend 2014, as I later found out, was a record-breaking weekend for Post Mortem and I was one of the best-selling authors at the table. That’s satisfying enough, but what I took away from that con was a sense of accomplishment. I came to TFW wanting to prove to myself that I could sell my work and myself, and engage with readers in a meaningful way without the safety of a computer screen. Maybe I didn’t sell a hundred copies of my book, and maybe I wasn’t at San Diego Comic Con in Hall H, staring into an eager sea of fans. But I still felt good about what I had accomplished, and about the people that I met along the way. That, to me, is what matters the most.