How to Organize a Con…in 5 Easy Steps!

In all actuality, this post should be titled something more along the lines of “How to Organize a Con: Or, How I Dedicated 80% of My Life/Free Time to the Song of Ice & Fire/Game of Thrones Fandom”.

But of course…that’s just a bit too wordy, isn’t it?

Anyway, in about mid September of last year two friends and I, who had been trying to get a George R.R. Martin track at Dragon Con, were essentially told that this wasn’t going to happen. Nothing against Martin, of course – it just so happened that Dragon Con was in the process of streamlining their fan tracks because there were getting to be too many. Now, as soon as we knew that we wouldn’t be getting that track, it was brought up that we should just gather our other friends who were into the series, meet in a central location, and have a weekend of hanging out with other Song of Ice & Fire/Game of Thrones fans. The crazy thing is that this idea literally¬†immediately led into the suggestion that we simply organize our own convention…and so Ice & Fire Con was created!

Therefore, in honor of the fact that Ice & Fire Con 2014 tickets go on sale to the public in just a few days (9 AM EST on August 1st, to be exact), I thought that it would be fun to write this “How to Organize a Con” post. But warning: the information contained herein may not be quite as helpful as you’d think. Surely you’ll see why…

The first step in organizing a convention is to decide to have one at all. If you’re anything like myself, Matt, and Valerie (the other two Ice & Fire Con organizers), you’ll know what the focus of your convention will be (specific fandom[s], I mean) before you even decide to put the thing together. In this case we had it easy, because we knew from the start that we wanted Ice & Fire Con to be about Song of Ice & Fire and Game of Thrones…and nothing else.

Step two is actually three-dimensional, because it involves picking a date – but really, you also have to choose a place to have the convention at the same time, and be willing to work with them based on what dates they have available. In our case, we knew that we wanted a central location for the three of us, and the best option was clearly going to be in the Ohio area. That narrowed down the time frame in and of itself, because we didn’t want to be shivering our butts off in Ohio in the winter, but we also didn’t want to be sweating our butts off in Ohio in the summer (we get enough of that at Dragon Con, thankyouverymuch). Due to other, personal commitments on our parts, this literally gave us one month to work with – that being April. Thankfully, the location that we found – Ravenwood Castle in New Plymouth, Ohio – had the last weekend of April open, and as soon as we all agreed that weekend would work, we started hashing out a contract with Ravenwood.

Step three, though, is probably one of the hardest parts – if not outright the hardest part. Because this is when you have decided that you really want to do this, you’ve found your location and worked out a date…and then you get a contract that tells you how much money you need to fork over if you want to make your convention a reality. And when you see that amount in print…well, that makes step three: PANIC!

Nah, I’m kidding. (Sort of.) Really, once you’ve taken a few deep breaths and signed that contract, the only thing you can do to move things along in step three is INTERNET. And yes, I mean that as a verb. Having a website is definitely the most important aspect of your convention internetting, and we were actually building ours as we were negotiating with Ravenwood. We put up a skeleton version of it so that we would have something to promote, along with – of course – creating a Facebook group and page. And then we hit up Twitter, Tumblr, Reddit, and as many ASOIAF/GoT Facebook pages and groups that we could find. Since Ice & Fire Con is a single-fandom convention, this also meant contacting the big fan sites – Winter is Coming, Westeros, Inn at the Crossroads, Tower of the Hand, Podcast of Ice & Fire, etc. etc. etc. Some responded…more didn’t. In the end it was definitely Reddit and word of mouth that seemed to work the best for us, and as we started selling tickets (and breathing a bit easier about the money we needed to cover that venue deposit) it was on to the next step…gather donations!

Because we were just starting out, we at Ice & Fire Con were happy with just about anything we could get. Some donations were in the form of time – from our handful of volunteers, of course – or even artwork, as a friend and fellow fan helped us design the several logos that we tested for our first year. Other donations we, err, solicited – for lack of a better term. Luckily there are some amazing artists out there who not only create awesome Song of Ice & Fire/Game of Thrones themed items, but who were willing to help us out and donate some of those items as prizes and for us to sell in our silent auction.

Cersei photo with Game of Thrones script excerpt, courtesy of Andy Cs Photography on Etsy

Fully Painted Resin Drogon, courtesy of Ravendark Creations on Etsy

So as the donations started rolling in and tickets continued to sell, things actually wound down for us organizers for a little while. Sure, there were still a few minor fires that we had to put out, but generally those last couple of months before Ice & Fire Con (and really probably any convention, no matter how big or small) can be contained in one final step – plan. Yes, I know, how very vague…but there’s really no other way to describe it. You plan for good weather, you plan for bad weather, you plan for every situation you can possibly think of (and to be completely honest, something will still happen that you didn’t plan for). You plan the convention schedule, and then you modify it. You cut back on certain things and add certain things and try to remind yourself that once you’re there and going through the motions, something is bound to throw your schedule off at least once, but more likely several times, throughout the con.

I long ago lost track of the number of hours per week I’ve spent working on all things Ice & Fire Con, but I can definitely say that I lived, slept, ate, breathed it those last few weeks before our inaugural weekend at the end of April. But you know, as cliche as it sounds – organizing this convention it was worth every moment of the time and every bit of the hard work that I put into it. When it was all said and done, I had this feeling of accomplishment that I hadn’t experienced in a very long time, and I wouldn’t trade that feeling or the fun times I had or the people I met for anything…which is why we were already planning Ice & Fire Con 2014 as we drove home from this year’s convention, and why we are already looking forward to 2015…and even beyond.

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