Thursday, July 5, 2018

LibertyCon is outdoing - and outgrowing - itself


As you know, Miss D. and I just returned from LibertyCon in Chattanooga, TN last weekend.  We're tired, but getting over it, and picking up the threads of normal life once again.  (Miss D.'s after-action report is here.  We came home with a couple of lovely paintings by Melissa Gay from the Con's art exhibition.  My wife picked out this one for the lounge, and I bought this one to go over our fireplace.)

It was a great weekend.  We enjoyed the company of old friends, made some new ones, gave seminars, took in others, learned a lot, and hopefully helped others learn.  The highlight of my weekend was meeting a couple who told me they'd attended our seminar on the state of the self-publishing market, three years ago, and that I'd encouraged them to step out and try it for themselves.  They did - and they've now sold 17,000 books, and are steadily doing better and better.  That made my day!  There's room in the market for anyone and everyone with the gumption to try, and a modicum of talent, and who's willing to work hard to succeed.

(Fellow author Jon del Arroz also seems to have enjoyed LibertyCon.  He calls it "the undisputed best convention in the world".  You can read his report here.  It was good to see him again there.  He'll be coming out with some more books in a short while - keep your eyes peeled for them.)

However, LibertyCon's popularity has become so great that it's a problem in itself.  You see, the Con is run by a 501(c)(3) organization, with all profits going to charity.  Its constitution limits attendance to a maximum of 750 people.  When tickets for next year's convention went on sale yesterday, they sold out in six hours!




I know a number of people who weren't able to secure their tickets in time, and who are very disappointed and upset.  There's a waiting list, and I'm sure some places will open up, but it's unsettling to find that level of competition for a limited number of places.  (Yes, Miss D. and I bought our tickets in time!)

I don't know what the answer might be.  One suggestion is that fans consider starting "sister conventions" in other cities, so that the LibertyCon ethos and spirit can be carried further afield.  That's an interesting thought, but it'd be a huge amount of work - and we'd have to form an organizing committee from scratch.  We'd need a lot of volunteers, willing to put in the endless (and often thankless) hours of work needed to make something like LibertyCon a success.

What do you think?  Would readers be interested in, say, a Panhandle LibertyCon, based in Amarillo?  That'd be within driving distance for many readers.  Other regional possibilities are Colorado or Kansas.  We'd have to schedule it so as not to conflict with other major events, of course, but it's a thought.  If any of those is of interest to you, please let us know in Comments, and we'll toss the idea around for a while.

Peter

16 comments:

Bibliotheca Servare said...

Six...hours? And I thought I had at least a few days/weeks to order, lol. Whelp, that's my lesson learned. I'll have to be quicker on the draw for 2020! Goodness gracious. God bless them (the concom, and all the wonderful staff) and may their success only continue to multiply and overflow! (And may they be granted the energy and strength to manage the challenges accompanying that success) :-D

MrGarabaldi said...

Hey Peter;

Old NFO has been telling me for a couple of years to go to LibertyCon and I bought my ticket, I didn't expect them to go in 6 hours. I was surprised., but I am looking forward to seeing everything if I can next year.

Andrew Smith said...

Suggest they amend their constitution to raise the debt ... uh attendance ceiling. Problem solved!

Feather Blade said...

That;s what the game convention PAX did. They started in Seattle, and when that one got big enough they branched off into other cities.

Last I knew there were three or four across the country.

Dave said...

Seven hundred and fifty? My God, that is a SMALL convention.

Uncle Lar said...

The Libertycon charter puts a hard cap on attendance at 750. It was done purposely to prevent it from losing the small con family feel that is one of its endearing qualities. It is my understanding that due to Tennessee laws any attempt to change the charter could cost them their tax exempt status, so they have two compelling reasons to leave the cap in place.
I did hear a disturbing report that folks were buying large blocks of tickets as soon as the web site went live. Don't know if that was friends helping friends or scalpers looking to make a profit. If the latter I expect the concom will figure out a way to stop that practice.

ÆtherCzar said...

The "scalpers" are going to be disappointed. Any tickets not used by the original purchaser can be rolled over to the next year; not sold or transferred.

The Haggard said...

Small is good. Several smalls is better. Kansas is a good choice.

D.J. said...

Calling in from Austin.

Amarillo is a bit of a drive, but doable. And if ADB is still a going concern, would be interesting to see them.

Billll said...

I'm up at Westercon in Denver right now. The program book has a page or two in it about being PC and providing "safe spaces". The celebrety list is missing some big names as a result so there's room for an old-fashoned free-for-all type con here.

L. Jagi Lamplighter Wright said...

It was wonderful to see you and your wife, Peter! One of the highlights of the trip!

Normally, I would never buy con tickets far in advance, but I saw that Liberty Con tickets were selling out, so I went downstairs to buy some. With movie tickets, if you start to buy them and have them in your cart, you have them unless you decide not to pay.

Not so, Liberty Con. The four tickets disappeared out of our cart (even though they were still listed, the cart suddenly said EMPTY( while I was filling in the info about who the tickets were for. A rather disconcerting experience!

Still, it was a lovely con! Really had a good time.

L. Jagi Lamplighter Wright said...

I love the idea of LibertyCon West, LibertyCon Downunder, etc. Hope someone goes for it!

Keith Glass said...

I suggest they schedule the Alternate Libertycons for Worldcon Weekend.

After all, it's not like the TrüFen attend Liberty anyway. . .
(evil grin)

Ben Yalow said...

Starting a new con is always a tricky thing, and far more risky than it used to be. Cons used to have relatively low fixed costs -- mostly the Guest(s) of Honor transportation and hotel rooms -- but that's been changing, particularly for smaller cons, as hotels have been increasing their charges for function space (depending, in part, to the bedrooms the con fills). As long as most of the costs are variable costs, you can scale a con up/down for any size, which keeps the risks lower -- but fixed costs are dangerous for any startup.

It's clear, of course, that Libertycon has shown that there is an unfilled market demand for a similar convention. But it wasn't necessarily true when it first got started. It helped, massively, to have someone like Uncle Timmy, who was well known and liked, to help bring people to a startup. And having Tucker as a headliner was also a great attraction -- he was (rightfully) a legend within fandom, and one of the most interesting people around (as well as being a professional with a small, but brilliant output).

So getting a startup right is always hard. The keys are to talk to others who have run cons about what it's like, and where the risks are.

And decide how much risk (mostly financial, since the reputational risk of starting a new con that fails are small, if it's handled properly) you're prepared to take. When I signed my first hotel contract for a startup con, the rest of the founders and I first sat down, did a preliminary budget based on the contract, and didn't sign it until we knew how much we would be willing and able to pay out of our own pockets if it failed. And that's what I recommend to anyone starting a new con.

I'd also suggest looking around for what are the other cons in the area, and see what effects they would have on your prospective attendance. And, if you can, try to go to them and see what they're like, since they may compete with you for attendees. It's too late to look at this past year's ConQuest in Kansas City (Memorial Day weekend), or Soonercon in Oklahoma City (two weeks ago) -- but you might well want to look at going to Fencon (at DFW, Sept 21-3) (a con I always enjoy, and I'm going to again this year), or Armadillocon (a bit further away, in Austin, Aug 3-5, where I've been going for years), or ConDFW (not until mid-Feb, in Fort Worth).

A lot of the literary cons in your area have a significant amount of overlap in the people who attend, and certainly all their conrunners talk to each other and know each other. Each has a different flavor, so that, in that sense, they're not competitors -- but similar products with somewhat different feels.

So a new startup can work -- there's more than enough people to make a new con in that area a successful event -- but it would take a bunch of planning, and a willingness/ability to take on some risk. But it's important to understand the risks, and talk to people with conrunning experience. And lots of them will be glad to talk and help.

It's clear there's a demand. The question is exactly what the demand is for, and how to fill it. And how much risk to assume in starting up a new con, and how to minimize that risk. Libertycon took time to become what it is (and having inspirational leadership, and connections within the fan communities, really helped in the early years) -- but I clearly believe that there's room for more cons like it. Each different voice adds more to the conversation -- and, from a long term perspective, we can always use more different voices.

Jon D. said...

Thanks for the shoutout, Peter! As I've been saying I think we need a few libertycons. A west coast one. A Texas one at the very least. I can't run one of these with my writing schedule but I keep putting this out here in hopes someone sees it and runs with it :)

Ben Yalow said...

One other thing I didn't mention before is that if you're starting a new convention, you'll probably want to set up a new corporation to run it. And most conventions are run as 501(c)(3) literary and educational corporations, which means you'll need to incorporate as a non-profit corporation in whatever state is convenient, and, after you get it incorporated, then apply for your IRS status.

It can take anything from a few months to years, depending on how the IRS views your application -- but literary conventions like a Libertycon-like organization can usually get it relatively quickly. There is a filing fee, of course.

After that, you'll still need to file an annual form with the IRS -- but, if the annual gross is under $50K, it's a few minutes to file. And the gross for a convention of a few hundred people is well under $50K.

Note that I'm not an attorney, and this isn't tax or legal advice.