Every month or so, I see a question on a mystery listserv that goes something like this: “Are mystery conventions worth it?”
It’s an important question. Going to a convention costs a lot –transportation, food, hotel, time, effort – and often we don’t see the kind of return we’d expect from any other business venture.
I long ago abandoned the idea that conventions were tit for tat, that I’d somehow make up the cost by selling enough books or making strong enough business contacts to justify the expense. I’ve learned that conventions are really about seeing friends, meeting new potential readers, building relationships, and opening doors I can’t even begin to anticipate.
All of that happens every time I attend one. If I hit the lottery tomorrow, I’d jump back on the road without hesitation.
But . . .
Right now I’m on the other side of that question. Rather than asking what a convention can do for me, my concerns are: What do I wish I could give our LCC 2011 attendees? What can we really afford? Where can we cut, if we need to? And . . . well . . . How the hell am I going to do this?
Two years ago, when I agreed to do take on this volunteer job, one of the first decisions I had to make was the basic convention registration fee. Talk about feeling unequipped for the job! How can anyone predict expenses two years out when expenses are mostly contingent on how many people attend?
And yet that was what I had to do.
I knew I wanted the event to be at La Fonda – one of the more expensive hotels in one of the more expensive cities around – because it would give attendees a New Mexican experience they just couldn’t get anywhere else. I also knew I had to keep the fee reasonable so that we could attract enough attendees to avoid a financial disaster.
On faith, I set the early bird fee at $195; this was in keeping with other recent LCCs. As of January 1, the fee has gone up to $225.
The more I think about the money side of this animal, the more I’m convinced that all not-for-profit convention-goers should get a glimpse into where their registration fees go.
So, bear with me. I’m going to give you a sense of what goes on financially behind the scenes.
First of all, NONE of your committee is being paid a penny. We all registered for the convention and paid the regular price. I get a “free” room at La Fonda because I’m going to have to live there for a week to put this convention on. That’s the only freebie. Period. And it comes with a high price.
As of this moment, we have a round 380 full-pay attendees. The number will fluctuate but I suspect we’ll end up with around 400+ people in the long run.
This is biggest single cost of most conventions.
2 Continental breakfasts: $18/person + $5.43/person for taxes and service charges =
$23.43 x 2 = 46.86/person
Hors d’oeuvres on Friday night: $15 + $4.53/per person =$19.53.
Banquet: $30 + 9.09 = 39.09/person
Plus at least 4 no-host bars @ approx. $216/each ($864/380 = $2.28/person)
Maybe – snacks, coffee or other beverages in the hospitality room ($1200/380 = 3.16/person)
Add a few bucks in there for unforeseen expenses and we’ve got about: $115/person for food alone
We had far more early bird registrations than any other, so: $195-115 = $80/person
Multiply that by 380 = $30,400.
It sounds like we’ve got a lot left, right? Below are just a few of the expenses for which we’ll be responsible. They don’t include unforeseen costs such as if we don’t make our contracted quota of room nights at La Fonda or if we don’t spend enough on food/drink:
ADDITIONAL EXPENSES (KNOWN)
In order not to flood you with too much info, I’m only going to name the items.
*Pay back seed money
*Percentage payments to PayPal and Event Brite for every single online registration
*Hotel labor to move boxes of books (those books in your convention bags have to be delivered somewhere and then moved somewhere else for packing into your bags)
*Additional tables/electrical set up for registration and book room (cost not yet known)
*Logo design/custom artwork
*Promotional materials & shipping to other conventions, mailing
*Transport, board and daily food for our Guests of Honor:
round trip plane tickets – amount unknown
*Book tote bags
*Program books & mini-program books
*Audio Visual equipment (every mic, every room, 4 days + speakers, sound boards, + special equipment)
*Contracting with Shipper for goers to send books home (I hope this doesn’t cost anything)
*Lanyards and name badge holders
* The actual name badges/ card stock for ID tents (for panels and signings)
*Native American Dancers for our welcoming ceremony on Friday night
*Additional signage in the hotel
*Possible framed momentos for nominees
My rough estimate right now of what we’ll spend on what I do know about runs to $22,755 of that $30400 I mentioned before . . . So I’ve got about $7600 to cover expenses such as getting our GoHs to Santa Fe, providing a little something/treat in the book bags for all LCC attendees . . . on and on and on.
AND IN CONCLUSION . . .
Left Coast Crime isn’t about making money; it’s a not-for-profit. But that doesn’t make me worry any less; I’ve put on enough events to know there are going to be last-minute expenses I couldn’t predict if I tried.
Still, I thought it would be instructive for you to get a small idea of what it takes just to manage the money part of a convention. And that’s only a tiny piece of what goes into the whole.
Serving as chair of this convention has been fascinating so far. We’ve got just a little more than two months before all of our work comes to fruition. Some days I want to throw in the towel. Other days I’m extraordinarily aware of how lucky I am to have my fabulous convention committee. Overall I’m excited and happy to be doing this for a community I hold so dear.
But let me tell you this:
I’ve got my seatbelt on . . .
From here on out, I know it’s going to be one hell of a ride!
1. Does anyone have a great source for name-badge holders/lanyards?
2. Have you ever put on a convention or large event like this? What did you like about it? What didn’t you like?
3. After reading this, do you have a new understanding about where your fee goes? Does it matter to you?