Boskone:Doing it Right–Plus Pointers For Those Doing it Wrong

Geez, Boston. Got enough snow?

Boskone, or Snowkone, if you prefer, was everything I hope for in a convention.   I don’t like mentioning people, because I’ll leave someone out and feel bad, but the whole thing was a joy. I was very well taken care of by the convention, the panels were fun, and the weather wasn’t all that much of a problem except that too many people I wanted to hang out with couldn’t make it or could only make it for a while (I’m looking at YOU, @rnmelton). I missed saying hello to my old friend Vicki, and would have liked to have spent more time with Charlie Stross, but I can’t really complain. The VP dinner was a delight. Great good times. Thanks to everyone who made it so much fun.

I need to specifically mention the bio that Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden wrote for me.  Some conventions seem to have abandoned the old tradition of finding someone to say nice things about you in the program book, and then laughing at you when you get flustered.  And since I’m on the subject of conventions, here are a few things that Certain Other Conventions can learn from Boskone (and Minicon, and Loscon, and many others who do it right). Some of these are from my experience, others from friends.

1. If you can’t afford to give your guest’s “+1” a free membership, you can’t afford the guest. This applies to GOHs, and to those invited to participate in programming in exchange for a membership. When you say, “We will give you a free membership, and give your friend a special reduced rate,” you look like you’re in over your heads, and many of us worry about being trapped at a convention that is going to fall apart. (Some of us have been to those, and failed to enjoy them.)

2. If someone in your department, or in another department, is screwing up, do not try to enlist the guest on your side of the political infight this has produced within your convention committee. If you aren’t all working together in perfect harmony, fake it.

3. The thing of offering the GOH a choice between giving a speech and being interviewed is relatively new, and awfully nice. (Thanks, Jo–that interview was a high point of a great weekend.) But if the GOH must give a speech, let him or her know about it. Preferably before the convention.

3.1. Heads-up: A panel with one person on it is called a “speech.” See above.

4. Do not ask the guest to write a free story or draw a free picture or whatever, even for charity. (I’m a little embarrassed to mention this one, because after feeling all put-upon by one convention that asked me to do that, I developed some major health problems, and the next year I was the charity. It was extraordinarily kind, and I still have warm thoughts about them. But still. You ought not to do it. Or at least, make sure the guest knows about it before accepting.)

5. Checking the guest into the hotel before he or she even arrives is not required, but, oh my god, it is wonderful when it happens. I mean, Cesare H. Tapdancing Borgia, is it nice! You get to the hotel, exhausted, stressed, worried that you’re going to suck as a GOH, and someone walks up to you and says, “Here’s your key. Go to your room and chill out. Want help with your bags?” Until you’ve been in that situation, you have no idea just how big a deal that is.

6. First thing, even before the room, make sure the guest knows where meals and such are coming from–ie, if you’re supplying a per diem, put it in the guest’s hand before he or she has to ask; if the charges can go to the room, say so. This is to save embarrassment. Some of us feel really weird saying, “So, um, I’m hungry. Can you, er, buy me a meal?”

6.1 ETA: This is more of a note-to-self to check on it before accepting an invitation, but, if you’re offering a per diem, make sure it is actually enough to feed the GOH and any guest for the time you’ve asked them to be there.

7. Having a programming questionnaire that includes things like, “what events do you not want to be against,” and, “who do you want to do panels with,” and, “who do you not want to be panels with” is also relatively new, and a very fine thing that saves a lot of irritation. For the record, there was no one at Boskone that I asked not to do a panel with, but I very much appreciated being asked.

8. After the convention, if the guest didn’t suck, say so. I mean, give us a bit of reassurance. You would be amazed at how insecure we can be. “They hated me,” we say to ourselves. “I was stupid on panels, and didn’t talk to enough people, and they really wish they’d invited Jerry Pournelle instead.” (To be fair, as a guest, you should do the same–if they ran a good convention, like Boskone did, tell them so. Hey, Boskone, you rock!)


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12 thoughts on “Boskone:Doing it Right–Plus Pointers For Those Doing it Wrong”

  1. I’m pretty sure your talks were the high point of the con for quite a number of the attendees. It was great having dinner with you. Next year, though, I wonder if Minneapolis would be so kind as to get more snow than us.

  2. Why wait for next year? There’s plenty of winter left in Minneapolis.

    For #6, I’ve always included that in my invitation letter (“We’d like you to be GoH. We’ll provide this, that, and the other thing, and we expect you to speechify, panelize, and chat.”)

  3. Point 1: First and second year cons deserve an exception, IMO – it can take a few times around to build up the necessary cushion for this. Somewhere between year 3 and year 5, this should become standard.

    Point 4: I am not an author / artist, but it seems to to to me that asking politely should generally be OK – “We’re having a charity auction for [CAUSE]; would you like to donate something to be auctioned?”. Demanding or requiring the guest to do do, or asking in any way hat implies obligation, is right out.

    See you at Minicon and WesterConjectureChord!

  4. So…it sounds like Boskone wants their GoHs to have actually enjoyed their experience, and want to be asked back in the future, rather than regretting saying yes. (:

  5. I’m delighted, though not in the least surprised, that one of my old homeland conventions (i.e., before I moved to Philly) worked out so well for you, and only regret that I couldn’t be there for it myself.

  6. I was really, really hoping that the MN contingent was going to be all “You call this snow, pfft!”; but apparently the Boston Mega-Winter of ’15 is truly impressive even to old pros. Nutz.

  7. 5. Amazing how wonderful that is. Major points to Congenial who now only checked me into my room, but in my room was rum, coke, my badge and schedule.

  8. Steve, it was such a pleasure to have you and Jen at Boskone. OMG. You were both awesome to work with and Jen just made everything easy breezy! I am so sorry for the snow. I don’t think I have ever seen anything like that in Boston before and being hit with blizzard after blizzard after blizzard was pretty difficult on logistics and morale. But everyone from you to our other guests, program participants, volunteer staff, and attending members made the whole experience fantastic. It really is people like you that make volunteering so much time to put on an event like Boskone worthwhile. Thank you so much and thank you for the very thoughtful post! I’m printing it out and keeping it on file for “best practices” so that we don’t forget what we did well in the future! :-)

  9. I have to agree that Boskone was a really pleasant con at which to be a +1. Everyone we worked with was helpful and nice, and I really enjoyed myself.

    As far as the snow… on the drive out I said, “I don’t know, but I been told, a Minnesota woman, don’t never get cold.” Sometime on Saturday I stopped saying that. Boston, your fimbulwinter is impressive and my winter clothes were inadequate. Congratulations.

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