So Now What are You Going to Do With It?
OK, so you've won your bid for the Eastercon. Now what are you going to do? Remember, you've just taken on a 2-3 year commitment that could end up costing you thousands of pounds and your reputation among your fellow-fans. Don't go and get plastered and start telling everyone how much your committee hate each other. Do start trying to behave like a bunch of people who are capable of handling an Eastercon. Being nice to the people you want to do your Ops and Tech and Security and everything else is probably a good start. Be prepared to buy a lot of drinks for these folks, you can't afford to alienate them.
The 1999 Australian Worldcon bid was won by a relatively small group of fans who decided (very probably correctly) that if they waited for a consensus among the fractured groups of fans then they would be waiting for ever. They went ahead, won the bid and presented it to their local fandom as a fait accompli. This led to an unbelievable spate of bickering and back-biting but eventually they had to start pulling together and running the con. However, this is a somewhat dangerous strategy and isn't to be recommended, except in really desperate straits. Unfortunately, experience suggests that more than 50% of Worldcons go through spates of bickering and back-biting.
Taking money off peopleEdit
Be prepared to start taking money off people as soon as the bidding session empties out. In fact, you should have pre-arranged with your helpers that they will sneak out of the bidding session as soon as the result is announced. Normally, your chairman will announce membership rates, guests of honour and other essential information at this point. Spin it out a bit so that there's plenty of time to prepare for the hordes of people who are about to descend on you waving their money. You should have prepared a victory flyer in advance. This can be very cheap since if you lose you will have to destroy it somewhere where it won't be found. You also need a cash-box, float, receipt books and so on. If you've set your membership to an odd quantity, like £23.75, then you are going to need a lot of change. Go to the bank beforehand and get the money. You can always take it back or sell it to the winning bid if you lose. Of course, a sensible bid will have set membership rates such that making change is made as simple as possible (see section 3.5).
Expanding the committeeEdit
Unless you started out with masses of people, you're going to have to expand a bit. You should select people who:
- Are generally competent
- Have some experience in the areas that you are lacking in
- Are people you think you can all get along with
- Are not being asked just because they are friends of yours and want to be involved
- Are not people who have squeezed their way onto the committee without ever actually being asked. This has happened to me on 2 different committees and both times we eventually asked that person to leave after a lot of heart-searching
I feel that it is generally a bad idea to bring husbands, wives, lovers and so on onto a committee. The fact you get on with someone does not necessarily mean that you can work with them in a committee. Moreover, to have a couple split up can be terribly damaging to the committee, either you lose one of them totally, or they spend meetings sniping at each other and trying to show the other up. This does not help in the least when what you are trying to do is run a convention. There is a corollary to this which is:
- No affairs with other committee members. Try and keep your emotions under control until after the convention is over. I know it's not easy, but it will make life ever so much simpler for everybody else on the committee.
You should be aiming at a total of around 8 or so committee members. I was on Confabulation, which only had 5 committee members and which worked very well, but then we got on well with each other. If we had run into problems we would have had very little spare resource. On the other hand, committees of 12 or more tend to waste masses of time in arguing.
So what is a committee member? For the purposes of this document, committee members are the people who come to committee meetings and have a say in the running of the convention. If the convention ends up out of pocket, these are the people who have to make up the shortfall.
Sometimes, there may be people who are officially committee members but who do not come to meetings and do not have financial responsibility. Generally these are people who are going to run a major area at the convention, and who may need to be called committee so that they are perceived to have sufficient authority. I don't count these people in my figure of 8 committee members, only those who attend meetings, though you may want to send them minutes of meetings and generally treat them as if they really were on the committee.
With very few exceptions, a concom should by now have set up strict demarcation lines. The head of Programme handles Programme matters, the Treasurer handles finance and so on. If you want to be involved in something outside your area, go and ask the person who has responsibility for it or bring it up at a committee meeting. This is common courtesy but it also stops the convention from over-committing itself or from alienating people who may be asked to work on the convention only to be told two years later "go away, X is doing it and always has been".
Who does what?Edit
You need to think about filling the following areas of responsibility. These don't all have to be committee posts, or one committee member can do several things, but someone ought to be thinking about these areas.
|Chairman||You don't need a chairman, several cons have run very successfully with no chairman or with a figurehead (WinCon had a teddy bear). However, the chairman's role is to keep order, direct the group in committee meetings, act as arbiter between groups competing for resources and generally hold the con together long enough for it to actually happen. At the con, the chairman generally seems to wander around getting moaned at and trying to find someone to fix problems. If anything goes wrong, it is the chairman who ultimately accepts responsibility. If there are critical decisions to be made, this is where they end up.|
|Secretary||The secretary keeps minutes and chases up the various people on the committee to make sure they are all doing their actions.|
|Treasurer||The treasurer looks after the money side. They bank all the money coming in and they prepare regular budgets to show how much money is available to spend on each area. At the con, they control the money being spent on areas such as parties and they are responsible for paying the con's bills with the hotel.|
|Programme||Programme organise the events at the con, they think up items, put together a timetable, write to participants and allocate people to items. At the con, they try and keep the programme running smoothly, changing things around as necessary.|
|Publications||Publications produce the flyers, progress reports, Read me, programme book and any other con publications (signs, possibly badges etc.). At the con they may have responsibility for the newsletter. They may handle publicity (e.g. approaching publishers for adverts to go in con publications, or sending out flyers to bookshops) or this may be done by a separate person.|
|Ops||Ops ensure that the con runs smoothly. They arrange for non-technical equipment, they handle crises and ensure that the right people are dealing with problems. They manage the gophers, radios and access to function rooms. They also often do logistics\u2014making sure that equipment gets to the convention, is set up correctly and then goes back to where it came from after the con.|
|Tech||Tech arrange for, set up and run all technical equipment used by the convention.|
|Security||Security ensure that only convention members get into the convention. They check that equipment and valuable items belonging to the convention are safely stored when not in use. They also enforce the weapons policy and stop things/people from getting broken.|
|Hotel Liaison||Hotel liaison keeps in touch with the hotel during the run up to the con. They arrange for the contract and they may have responsibility for allocating bedrooms. At the con, they act as a buffer between the con and the hotel, sorting out the 1001 problems that the members may have and trying to get them solved in the most efficient way without upsetting either the members or the hotel staff. It is a bad idea for the hotel liaison to try and double up with any other job, especially Chair.|
|Guest Liaison||Guest Liaison keeps in touch with the guests of honour, checks that they know when they are coming, arranges travel and ensures that they are met on arrival. At the con they make sure that the guests are kept entertained, well-fed and generally happy. This is often best done by someone who is not on the committee since it requires more time than a committee member should be able to spare. You're not on a committee just so you can socialise with the pros.|
|Memberships||Membership keep track of memberships coming in, they supply mailing lists to Publications for sending out PRs, they route volunteer information to Ops and room bookings to Hotel. At the con, this function is largely subsumed by Registration and the same person may well do both jobs.|
|Registration||Registration organise the Registration Desk (naturally enough). Before the con, they prepare badges for all members and they stuff programme packs. At the con, they register members, take money for
new memberships and direct people where they need to go next.
|Office||Acts as a central point for mail and for circulating pre-con information. Is often combined with Memberships or sometimes with Ops.|
|Dealers Room||Organises the Dealers Room, liases with dealers, decides the layout of tables in the room and generally makes sure that the dealers have a successful convention. This doesn't have to be a committee post.|
|Art Show||Organises the Art Show and the Art Auction. Contacts artists before the convention and persuades them to bring their work along. May be involved in organising art-related programming. This doesn't have to be a committee post.|
|Games Room||Organises the Games Room. This doesn't have to be a committee post.|
And then of course, there's everyone else. Make sure that they know what they are doing for you. If someone agrees verbally to do something for you, follow it up with a written confirmation setting out the exact limits of their responsibilities. Too often, I've seen arguments develop over whether someone was asked to run the Masquerade, or to MC it; to be Deputy Head of Ops, or just Ops Manager, and so on. Be explicit.
What are staff?Edit
Staff are anybody working directly under committee members or people with specific area responsibility. A small con doesn't need staff. A con of more than 400 people needs staff or else the committee will get run off their feet. In general, staff is anyone who doesn't need watching to make sure they do the job right.
What is a gopher?Edit
Gophers are people who are doing general fetching and carrying. They may work for a particular person or be in a pool of people that anyone can call on if they need a pair of hands. Gophers also sit by doors checking badges and anything else that needs doing. Good gophers tend to get rapidly promoted unless they say they prefer to stay doing what they're doing.
Just about every conrunner I know started out as a gopher. Just about every good conrunner still works as a gopher at other conventions. Committee members, Worldcon chairs, famous authors, they all do it. You should be volunteering to work as a gopher at any con you happen to find yourself at. Saying you're too good to work as a gopher is social death in SMOF circles.
What is a steward?Edit
Stewards (sometimes called security, but not often) are people with specific responsibility for making sure that only convention members have access to convention areas. They may also watch out for trouble, check for safety violations and do crowd control. These need to be very trustworthy, unexcitable types. It is generally accepted that if someone volunteers to be a steward they will never be allowed to do it.
Defining the programmeEdit
Ian Sorensen says
Don't do fancy fliers that need folds, special print facilities, colour etc. You want to be able to dash round the corner and get another 1000 run off at a minute's notice. Guillotining to A5 is about the most you should be thinking of doing. Get these fliers out to every convention, SF bookshop, library, whatever.
Other points on flyer design:
- Use both sides of the flyer. Don't waste the back by putting a pretty picture on it. Put the name of the convention in BIG letters.
- Put a membership slip on the flyer but make sure your address is on the bit that they keep.
- Use different flyers for fans and for people who don't know what a convention is.
- Include the essential convention details
Nailing Down the HotelEdit
Get the hotel to sign the contract. It's a cute idea to try and get the contract signed as part of the bidding session, but this is rarely possible as it usually isn't finalised at this point.
Since I wrote that previous paragraph, I've been on a committee which failed to finalise its contract until a few months out. The experience of a committee meeting at which we had to decide whether or not to cancel the convention because we couldn't afford the function space hire is not one that I ever wish to repeat. Get that contract signed and get it signed early.
Keeping in touchEdit
During the two-year run-up to the convention, you need to reassure your members that you're still there. If nobody hears anything from you they might assume that you've folded and start hunting around for an emergency committee to put the con on. So you produce Progress Reports which you send to people to try and whet their appetites for the con. Also, it means that you have a way of communicating with your members in case of something they really have to know \u2014 like changing hotels, for instance. You also need to have a website which gives all the useful information in your PRs and also how to contact the committee. It's better to have a plain informative website than a pretty, uninformative one. Especially if it takes you weeks to get a pretty website up and running. Get that information up fast, then you can wait a few months while everyone argues over the logo.
Remember though, you can't force people to come and read your website regularly. If you have a major change of plan, it has to go in a PR or even in a special mailing.
The normal contents of PRs are things like biographies of the guests, descriptions of the town/city where con is going to be held and lists of members.
Speculation, the 1991 Eastercon, took an unusual tack with its Progress Reports. They produced them in a very mannered, pseudo-Victorian style (one of them was called 'Lady Bicyclist and Aviatrix') and tried to be fanzines rather than traditional PRs. Unfortunately, they were a little too successful in that some of the readers were not aware that these actually contained essential information about the con, buried in among the articles. This can easily lead to people arriving at the con, denying that they have ever received any progress reports and getting quite irate about it.
Obviously, mailing out up to 1000 envelopes, every time you issue a PR is going to be neither easy nor cheap. The usual solution is to do the enveloping at a committee meeting just before a major convention. You then take the PRs to the con and hand out as many as you can\u2014keeping careful track of who you have given them to. This way you can save on postage to maybe half of your members, and you can use the PR as publicity material to encourage new members to join up. The usual schedule followed by Eastercons is roughly:
|PR 0||Eastercon N-2||You have this flyer ready at the con where you are bidding and hand it out if you win. It gives little more than your guests' names, your hotel and your membership rates. However, it is a reminder to everyone that you won.|
|PR 1||Novacon N-2||It's 6 months since your members heard from you. Probably not much has happened, but remind them you're here. Traditionally, this PR also goes to members of the previous Eastercon since they are the people most likely to join your con.|
|PR 2||Eastercon N-1||There's 1 year to the con. A lot of people will join at this Eastercon since you are the next one.|
|PR 3||Novacon N-1||Issue hotel booking forms. You can do so earlier, but it's not really worth it \u2014 in the mean time a lot of your members will be sleeping with different people, may have acquired kids, pets, allergies etc. and will need to change their arrangements.|
|PR 4||Easter minus 6-8 weeks||Last minute information. Include travel details and maps of how to get to the hotel, the hotel's phone number, the convention's phone number (usually the hotel liaison person or registration) and anything else that they need to know at this point.|
Some cons have issued a post-con report as a sort of PR 5. This is a nice touch and can help to use up unwanted surpluses of money. Failing that, just update your website.
There are some things which should go in every progress report and they are:
- The name of the convention
- The date of the convention (the thing that gets left out most often)
- The current membership rates, the date that these rates are valid to and (if known) what the rate will be going up to on that date
- The correspondence address of the convention (also email and phone if possible)
- Where the convention is going to be held (town and name of hotel)
- The names of the guests
- What sort of convention it is
If anyone is running a con, and plans to take this advice, can I advise them to print the mailing address on both the coupon and the bit the coupon is cut off from. This is after numerous experiences of 'fill in the form, put the form in the envelope, stick down the envelope, now, what address was it?... rip open the envelope...' (Alison Scott)
Other things that it's useful to include at one time or other are:
- A list of members with their membership numbers and current status
- Weapons policy and other restrictions
- A warning against crashing in other people's rooms, together with a plea for members to please keep their sleeping bags out of sight of hotel staff.
- Reminders about awards etc. which require people to bring things to the convention(e.g. the Ken MacIntyre award for fanzine art requires that the original artwork be on display at the con).
- Hotel rules on corkage and any waivers that the con may have squeezed out of the management.
- Unusual hotel restrictions e.g. Evolution in 1996 was held at the Heathrow Radisson Edwardian, a hotel with a policy of not supplying tea and coffee-making equipment in the hotel rooms. This wasn't discovered until quite late on, and
caused a certain amount of last minute panic.
Party! party! party!Edit
One of the things that conventions often do for publicity and to increase goodwill, is to hold parties. This is something that happens a lot more in the US than in England, but it's fairly traditional over here too.
Firstly, there is no obligation to hold parties at any stage in the process. It's up to you. However, remember that the point of holding the party is to gain members for the bid/convention (depending on what stage in the process we're at). If your committee is full of party animals and you think you can produce an atmosphere of fun and wallet-loosening, great, go ahead and do it. If you don't want to do it, don't. There is nothing more deadly than a contractual obligation room party which is being run by a bunch of people gritting their teeth and trying not to think about how much all this is costing. Spend your money doing what you're best at.
Let's assume that you are holding a party. UK conventions are not as bad as US ones, where in many cases the parties have taken over as the main reason for the convention, still there's likely to be some competition. Make the party interesting. Remember the operative word is party. You're not there just to offer free booze as a bribe for buying a membership. You're doing this so that people will have fun and will think "these guys have done a really good job organising this party, if they run a con then that should be good too, I'll buy a membership".
Party holders' checklist:Edit
- Are you on a party/noisy floor? If not, then stop now. There's nothing puts a damper on a party quite like being closed down early by the hotel because the mundane next door is trying to get to sleep. Talk to the committee and see about an alternative location if you have to. They'll be even more anxious than you to avoid complaints from other hotel residents
- Alcoholic drinks. Should be varied and clearly labelled. Don't rely on people bringing booze to the party. If the hotel has a corkage policy, you should be paying corkage on at least some of the drinks. Do not bring in illicit drink and wave it about in front of hotel staff so they are forced to take notice of it. Be discrete
- Soft drinks. Should be varied and clearly labelled. Remember that some people are actually violently allergic to alcohol. Confusing e.g. alcoholic and non-alcoholic punch can be more serious than you might imagine.
- Food. Try and provide something more interesting than crisps/chips. Vegetables and sour cream dip are a good (if common) idea, small sweets are another. I've seen chilli, sushi, pancakes - use your imagination.
- Disposable cups, plates etc.
- Rolls of paper towels for mopping up spillages
- Black rubbish bags for clearing up afterwards
- Carrier bags for removing empty bottles, cans etc.
- If you want to follow the American tradition of putting ice in the bath with cans of beer or soft drinks, remember to put a towel on the bottom before putting the ice in. Aluminium cans can mark bathtubs badly and it's very difficult to explain away. Don't forget to organise a supply of ice - those rare hotels which provide ice machines generally didn't expect them to be used for filling bathtubs and there won't be enough.
- Receipt book for taking memberships - remember why you're holding this party!
- Publicity. Don't forget to tell people well in advance that you're holding the party, what room it's in and what it's for. Make sure you don't just invite your friends. Remember, you're holding the party to sell memberships.
- Where are you holding the party? If you're using a function room, then you've got a different set of things to worry about. If you're going to use a bedroom, then you need to decide whose room. Is it a large room? Not in a quiet area? Near the lifts/stairs?
- Decide in advance what your policy is on smoking, under-age drinkers, abusive drunks etc. Get the phone number of Ops/Security so you can organise some damage limitation without involving the hotel.
- Make sure that the Ops Room/Gopher Hole etc. know about the party and know that they're invited. Why? Because these are people that you need a good relationship with for your convention, and they're more likely than the average con attendee to be buying a membership. What's more, if there are complaints about the party, it's less likely to be suddenly closed down if the DCM/whoever is drinking there. Also, they're a hard-working bunch of people and they need some consideration.
- Clear up afterwards. Leaving a good tip, in a prominent place, for the maid is the best way of avoiding unwelcome attention from the hotel about the appalling state of your room.
- Why are you holding this party? Good.