THE PLEASURE OF ORGANISING YOUR VERY FIRST CON
(a voice from the wilderness of a small con from secretary-treasurer Armadacon I - II)
I can't remember the exact date of when it all began, but how it began. Several members of our Plymouth Science Fiction Club had just come back from various conventions and kept going on about how much fun it is to go to a convention. At some stage someone must have uttered something like: why don't WE have a con as well? So, one point on the agenda of the following club committee meeting was "a convention". At the next club meeting during the business part thereof the club was asked: "do you want a convention and will you support it?" to which the thundering reply was YES!!! I should add that that our club had about 25 to 30 members at that time - so we must have been mad to start with.
So, duly a convention committee was formed of anyone who was mad enough to volunteer and off we went. The first committee meeting consisted of a discussion: what do we need, how can we get it and who does what - anything from the guests, venue, advertising, money, printing costs, badges, progress reports, con book, shirts, equipment, video room and organisation of films etc, etc etc etc. At this point one word of advice to anyone thinking about their first con: be realistic and discard mad ideas straight away. This saves a lot of time and hassle.
Our problems started with the venue: the members of the committee pounded the streets of Plymouth, but no hotel no nothing was interested in us. (A Science Fiction what???) Hotels were quite willing to let us rent their congress rooms, but at astronomical prices. We were desperately short of money, as for the first 3 months only the committee members and perhaps three other people had registered, and any appeals to the club fell on deaf ears. We finally managed to find a venue that we could afford: the Ballard Centre, but there were two disadvantages: the premises were not licensed and we had to be out at 6, but by then we were somewhat desperate and thought a venue was better than none, and accepted their offer.
The guests turned out to be less of a problem and were reasonably quickly found. By then we also had a few more registrations and the club supported us at a couple of fund-raising events like a raffle or an auction, but generally it was felt that there could have been more support for the committee and we were a bit disappointed. We made sure to inform the club of any new developments along with appealing for support, and our disappointment reached a peak when some members of the club not at the committee saying they should have had more of an influence when it came to the choosing of the Venue and above all of the Guest of Honour. I think that was the lowest point, and some of the committee members felt like throwing in the towel and saying to those - OK, YOU do it!
But no, the mad dozen or so plodded on, even though the chairman of the club at that time voiced his doubts about Armadacon and whether the con stood a chance. These doubts were shared by the whole committee, and about 6 months before the con we had a soul-searching session to decide one of three things: abandon, change it into a one-day event, or plunge ahead regardless. Guess which one took the vote? Slowly we reached a sort of turning point, as all the other things got sorted out, the advertising campaign went reasonably well, except for Plymouth shops who didn't even put our poster in their windows, save two book shops and the local Hobbies & Games Shop (thanks, John Orange!)
As the con drew nearer and we were still advertising and going ahead and the con seemed to be more and more probable, the club started to support us a lot more and most of the club members made it to Armadacon I. Over the weekend we had almost double the number of registrations - even though we did not make it on local TV or the local paper in spite of Katherine Kurtz and Brian Croucher The guests were great, and the con was a success. Some of the committee members had a more worrying time as they had advanced the money for the author's plane ticket from Ireland, but no one suffered a loss, the auction raised money for a local charity, everyone was happy, including someone from Matrix. (Thanks to whoever it was that wrote the nice review about the con!!)
At this point I should add that we are in the planning stages for Armadacon II, well supported by the club from the start and quite a number of people from as far away as Aberdeen and France. We learnt a lot from past mistakes and negligence, e.g. lack of communication within the committee itself, as it almost cost us one of our guests, and we find that the second time around things are a lot smoother, everyone knows what to do, so we just carry on.
Hopefully the second con will be a success, then we will think about making it a regular event if we can. Wish us luck, we need it.
One more word of advice: make sure you have financial support from the start, not just shouts of YES, and you will save yourself a lot of grey hairs and wrinkles of worry. The first six months are the worst, if you survive those, you will be OK. Also, assume that you as committee members are in the thick of it, you are doing the work, you know at what stage of development you are and what remains to be done, give anybody who volunteers a chance to contribute, but try to ignore those who just mumble and grumble and do nothing. In the end if your event goes ahead and does well, that is what counts in the long run. The secret is to find the balance between keeping everybody happy, though, without your convention goers, a committee is nothing. I think this part of it is the most difficult of all at the beginning. WE made a few mistakes there, but I think we learnt from them and the support we get now is very reassuring.