Italia Day 4 – Rome The First!

In which we leave before dawn to get to Rome before the Romans.

As I mentioned in my last post, our hotel door dumped us out right by the bus stop for 36:37, whose first holiday-time stop was at 5:34 in the morning and took only 10 minutes to get back to Firenze SMN. Our train for Rome, leaving from SMN, would be at something like 7:35. However, since we’d experienced trouble getting on the train the day before, we decided to be as early as possible to make sure we got tickets.

So we shivered outside for a few minutes (skipping breakfast at the hotel, alas) before jumping on the bus. Like most busses in Italy, these tickets were cheap (1.2euro ea) but had to be purchased in advance. We bought them while wandering Florence the day before.

Unfortunately, Aubri wasn’t much interested in eating (other than one case of the most delicious gelato ever) while we were in Florence, and so while I was buying the train tickets she promptly tossed up water and stomach acid all over the floor. We did our best to clean it up with napkins but couldn’t find an attendant to help clean the mess. Ugh.

Finally we gave up and hit McDonalds (the only thing open this early inside the station) to get some food and cappuccino. It was about what you’d expect from them, but Aubri ate almost one whole pancake. She was feeling a little better, briefly, but it was clear she was coming down with something.

We made it on the train without further incident and found ourselves in Rome Termini at around 8:22. While on the train we realized that Aubri was starting to develop a fever, so we decided to look for a pharmacy (Farmacea) for some baby tylenol before heading out to our first Air B&B stay. With a little extra pantomiming, they got the idea and hooked us up with a dropper liquid style tylenol alternative. They told us “three drops per kilo” and we were on our way.
Needless to say, counting out something like 42 drops for the kid was not going to happen, so I just gave her two droppers full and left it at that for the moment.

Our Air B&B stay had given good directions, so we were staying over near the San Giovanni exit and within a 15 minute walk of the Coliseum.  We were an hour early thanks to catching the better (cheaper) train, but our host G was there and we chatted for a while before leaving our bags in the room and heading out for our first day of exploring Rome.  It was expected to be around 54 degrees F as a high, so we felt prepared to have a good day. G hooked us up with a nice Ancient Rome area map and directions to some of the cooler spots, and we were on our way.

Looking back, I really should have pulled out the full paper directions (which I could read because I know enough Spanish/Latin to get by) and dosed Aubri with a lot more tylenol before we left. It turns out she should’ve been getting 7.5-10ml (a third of the bottle) every 6 hours because of her age and weight. Oops.

Anyway, we headed out for the Coliseum, and on the way we found a handful of pizza shops, one of which had thick handheld pizzas for only 2.50 ea. Jamie got one with olives and I got one with chicory leaves. They were delicious. We had to coerce Aubri into eating about 10 bites. We were amused to find several LGBT bars in the area immediately surrounding the Coliseum, well-denoted by rainbow lights. Lots of attractive people wandering around them at night, too. Good place to mingle probably, if you don’t have a small child tagging along.

The line at the Coliseum was absolutely crazy, and we suddenly remembered that it was Saturday. We settled for some cool pictures of ourselves outside it, and then moved on toward the Forum.
The Forum’s line was lighter, but since I thought we couldn’t actually get close to the ruins I didn’t really want to pay 12 euro each to go in there either. A Roma pass would have been a good choice, but we’d skipped on that. Note for next time.

Just past the Forum is the Piazza Venezia, which is dominated by a large and beautiful marble palace filled with cool statues. And let me add that I am pretty good at reading maps (even horrible tourist maps). But for some reason, I didn’t realize that huge marble structure was right by the Piazza, and we got turned around at this point. But I’m still not sure exactly where or how, because we didn’t realize that we were no longer walking in the same direction until we found the Pyramid, and the Pyramid was not on the map. Anywhere. This was an hour or so into our meandering walk, so we were displaced by a decent distance. Naturally, we kept walking and finally found ourselves at the Pyramid metro station, which was in an awful neighborhood with lots of loitering teenagers leering at people (namely, females, including us) as they walked past. We hopped on the metro to get back to the Circo Massimo stop.

By now Aubri was getting really whiny from walking, so of course she passed out on that short train hop, and we wound up stopping at a little tea shop to have a cup of black tea while Aubri slept on Jamie’s lap.

After poring over the map for a while, I finally realized we’d walked right off of it, but in the opposite direction I thought we’d been walking in. So we finished our tea, scooped up the monkey, and spent the next two hours slowly looping around the back side of the large triangle that includes the forum and Coliseum, as well as a bunch of cool old churches and such. We got a few neat pictures of ruins, and Aubri cried. A lot. It was getting a little more cloudy and grey, and she kept complaining about being cold.

Finally we made it back around to where the Coliseum was. We were still struggling to keep Aubri awake. We stopped in at a tasty smelling restaurant and just barely beat their rush. They were delicious and quite popular (though one of our pasta dishes was unexpectedly cold). The matron of the place coddled Aubri and even tucked her in with a tablecloth when she fell asleep. They gave us a to-go tin to make sure Aubri got some to eat because they didn’t want us to wake her up.

For dinner we ordered canneloni, ravioli, and that salmon penne again. Everything was good (especially the ravioli), but the penne was a little overly salty. I also notice that salt and other condiments almost never exist on the table in these restaurants–and maybe you can get your hands on pepper.

After dinner (which took some time because they were so very crowded), we scooped Aubri up and dragged ourselves back to our hosts’ home. Aubri’s fever was feeling much too high. Once we got to the house, we shoveled a few ravioli down her throat and then I resolved to give her two droppers of tylenol every two hours until her fever broke. These were the directions we got from her doctor when she had a high fever in November right after Thanksgiving. So we started watching Legend of Korra and dosing her. She was so hot by this time that her cheeks and hands were flushed totally pink. Yikes! It took like 4 hours, but her fever went down and she broke a heavy sweat. Finally instead of forcing her to drink water, she asked us for it. We were in the clear…and exhausted ourselves.

The bed at this host, hands down the comfiest bed we’ve ever had in a hotel or homestay arrangement. Nice down pillows too,  totally wonderful. Breakfast is a bit of a serve-yourself arrangement, but we’ll make it work.

And tomorrow, we have some choices to make on where to go.

Italy Day 3: In which we escape from Venice to Florence…

I awoke around 4am, which would have been perfect for getting to the station on time for the 5:40am train. Except that, to save my life, I couldn’t get Jamie to get up out of bed. The Autoespresso wasn’t exactly the most comfortable hotel, but getting lost in Venice the day prior was exhausting. So I laid awake in bed for another two hours, and our opportunity to catch the earliest train faded.

We did gorge ourselves (somewhat) on breakfast that morning, to make up for it. However, despite the fact that trains seem to run every 30 minutes or so between Venice and Florence, every train after the 5:40 was packed up until about 2pm. A kind ticket clerk found us a complicated route where we transferred at both Bologna and Prato to arrive, finally, in Florence at about 1:47…approximately 4 hours later than I had planned.

The Florence main train station is loud and cold, because it is enclosed above but open. Many homeless and questionable people wander around, but at least the station is cleaner than some. The station is Firenze S.M.N. (Santa Maria Novella), and the bus station outside is called “Abside S.M.N.” but also by several other names, to complicate things a bit. Within an easy walk we found the tourist information center, and they gave us a local walking map and advised us to try the Ufizzi Gallery, since we only had time for one now that the trains had stolen 4 hours of our day.

We decided to walk with the suitcase and backpack, rather than go all the way to the hotel and back first. It was finally gloriously warm in Florence! I think it was only 54F, but we started shedding coat layers in the sun. The roads are uneven, you must play chicken with the cars, and sidewalks almost don’t exist. But many of the side roads were at least partially pedestrian-only, so we made our way through streets lined with old reliefs and brilliant giant wood doors with huge knockers molded like lions and angels.

The view along the river was glorious, and we were happy that we saw considerably less defacing of old buildings in Florence. People were still difficult–many stared us down rather than go around the women lugging a suitcase and young child. But the air was less thick, some of the time.

The walk from the tourist center to the gallery was straightforward enough. However, when we arrived at the gallery, we saw that they were completely packed and would be inaccessible until the next day. Fortunately, they had many beautiful statues nearby, so we were able to enjoy some of the splendor of Florence even if the holidays had them overrun with tourists. We also discovered the best gelato we’ve had so far, just around the corner from the gallery.

The walk across the Golden Bridge and down that long winding road past the large Piazza was charming enough, though Aubri was getting very tired and whiny. We took note of a book/game shop and a tea shop for perusal later. Our hotel was a converted 14th century convent known as the Convitto della Calza. The bed was dreadful, and the room was understandably small. But the shower was amazing and the location was fabulous (36/37 bus stop immediately outside the door, easy walk to Boboli Gardens). We can’t speak for the breakfast because we had to leave far too early the next morning to catch the train to Rome.

After dropping off our bags, finally, we headed out for tea and dinner. The tea shop we’d seen before was also a chocolatiare. We spent some time perusing their wares before leaving with several truffles and a cup of delicious green and fruit tea. Aubri charmed them all, of course, including the Korean exchange student learning Italian while we were there.

Afterward we wandered the street looking for dinner. We settled for a place with some pasta dishes that sounded alright. Their food was overly salty and clearly more for tourists. By the time we got out of there only an hour or so later, it was getting to be after 7 and we were exhausted from all the walking. So we returned to our room, watched a few episodes of Legend of Korra, and collapsed with the alarm set for 4am…

And the next morning we are off to Rome!

Italy Day Two: Venice! Again!

There are several conclusions we’ve reached while traveling, even this short period of time:
1. Graffiti is a national pastime, and the older the wall the better. (It’s true, see this link).
2. Every third person in Italy smokes. Maybe not quite, but it sure seems like it when they are all carrying lit cigarettes at the height of Aubri’s face. (Another research point here).
3. All the signs are in both Italian and English but few people actually speak English. For someone who can read Italian decently well but not understand fast speakers, that presents a problem.
4. No one looks down in this city. Ever. So they aren’t looking for a walking little person.
5. No one apologizes for slamming into you either.
6. Clearly we shouldn’t have visited Japan first.
7. Every hotel charges a separate 2euro/person/night tax payable only in person (adults, littles under 4 don’t count). This vaguely complicates super early checkout. This was a “known but forgotten” factor, so just prepare for it.
8. People don’t make eye contact and are really confused if you do.
9. I sometimes can’t be sure if someone is speaking French or Italian and I’m sure that’s insulting to someone. But maybe there are some French tourists around.
10. Conditioner? No one uses or sells conditioner? Only shampoo? My hair weeps.

Those things being said, we started our second day in Venice off with a well stocked (mostly cold) breakfast from Autoespresso. Eggs, various breads and sweet treats, ham and baby swiss (The best swiss we’ve ever had), boiled eggs, tomatoes, cucumbers, and lots of decent strong coffee with steamed milk, Delicious. We ate our fill and headed out to Venice proper.

I realized a little late that our hotel is literally on the wrong side of the tracks. There were lots of broken bottles and trash etc all over the place after the night’s revelry. Also when we tried to find the hotel originally, we noticed the other side of the station was much nicer. Typical. We had a similar experience in Kyoto with the hotel gem we found back in April–great breakfast, horrible beds, nice price, awful location. For two nights in Venice only a 12-15 minute bus ride from Venice Proper, including breakfast, with a spacious room, it was only about $108/night during New Year’s. Other times of year would likely be much less expensive.

So after our bus ride, we took a look at the only free local map (at the waterbus station) and headed off in the general direction of the Doge Palace. And promptly spent the next 6 hours wandering aimlessly through the small alleys of the center of Venice, where we saw lots of random graffiti (Our favorites were unsavory, of course) and ruined houses. We noticed little restoration process, but lots of layered building that was interesting.

We had intended to actually go into San Marco Basilica and the Doge Palace, but the lines were obscene. This was also the first place I felt uncomfortable leaving my tripod standing to get group photos, because we expected someone might just knock into the camera and send it crashing down.

So, given the lines, we resolved to search for reasonably priced Venetian masks and other interesting things. We came across a DaVinci exhibit, likely identical to the one in Denver (similar pricing, 8 euro vs $12/person). We went in to give Aubri something to do, as she was getting mopey about being forced to march all over. We also discovered some Steampunk influence to masks, as some artists had taken to gluing plastic machinations all over mask forms and then painting the whole thing.

And then we had Dulce du Leche gelato and the whole world was made right. Until poor Aubri started shivering from the cold.

Ultimately, we spent the entire day just wandering, and then found ourselves back across the way from our first restaurant experience, ordering food. This whole restaurant was so charmed by Aubri that they were offering to let her keep the Christmas tree she liked (what?? No!). But their ravioli with spinach/Gorgonzola/walnuts were delicious, as was the brie/Gorgonzola/mozzarella cheese pizza. And their service was extremely fast, so I think the other restaurant was just odd. The pizza chef came out to flirt with Aubri because his daughter’s name is Arianna and the staff thought that’s what we were saying.

And then we went back to the hotel and passed out because we really needed to be at the train station early.

Italia! Day 1: Entering Milan and Escaping to Venice…

Sorry for the long silence, but we’re back to adventure blogging with a young child–this time to Italy!

Apparently I’ve absorbed all my WordPress storage space, so I’ll have to put the photos in later.

We’re operating at a much greater handicap this trip because neither of us speaks Italian (though I know enough Spanish and other Latin variants to stab my way through most signs and menus). We had a prediction at the beginning that Aubri would steal the show, as she always does.
We also knew that depending on the system in question, most transportation and museums etc are free to under 4 or under 6. So that was a plus, at least. The exchange rate when we started out was around 1.22 usd : 1 euro.

I’m probably going to use metric and military time throughout the Italy posts so I don’t have to screw my own head back on in the actual travel.

Let me also add that it is much cheaper to buy train tickets 4-6 weeks in advance (potentially up to 30% cheaper), but I opted not to do so because it can be hard to guarantee an exact time for trains with Jamie’s deep love of sleep. As a rule, new readers will note that we pride ourselves in packing only one suitcase for the three of us, plus a backpack for electronics such as the camera and laptop. This means our luggage may be heavy, but we each have an arm free to catch the kid at all times. Said kid is 3.5 as of this trip.

First, let me say that the flight from Denver to Milan (MXP) is totally awful. Not because the individual legs are totally unbearable (3 hours and then 7.5), but because the layover (Newark) was long (4.5 hours) and that airport is dreadful. It’s loud, full 0f people not paying attention to little ones, and it took us half an hour to get from gate C92 to gate C102 because they are on opposite ends of the airport. Someone failed at counting, I’m thinking.
And we had to be at DIA by 6:30am, and it was -4F when we left the house.
But the Newark airport also had staff and employees of various kiosks who were far more polite than the Detroit airport, so that’s something. Though the Starbucks made Jamie’s coffee so hot it melted her cup and burned her hand pretty good. Aubri did befriend someone at dinner though, and Jamie got to chat four hours with a woman from China who was also headed to Milan and had more experience in Italy than we do.

That start aside, we finally made it into Milan and discovered it is also not the best airport–though several hundred dollars cheaper per person than, say, Rome or Venice (Literally about 350/ea cheaper to fly in the 31st and out the 9th). The airport is super long and you have to keep walking for ages to make it anywhere. The customs were quick though, in and out in under 15 minutes. The guy checking our passports flirted with the overly sleepy Aubri, thus already affirming our suspicions of her future as the princess of another country (See all my Japan posts ever).

We discovered our first major issue here in the airport. Apparently, train kiosks, some registers and most automated devices won’t accept a credit card (or debit card) that doesn’t have one of those new chips embedded in it. ATMs will, however, and this is still my preferred method for exchange. I use a bank that charges no exchange fees and refunds ATM fees from other banks, so I get dangerously close to the full bank to bank exchange rate with no painful overhead.

Unfortunately, there seems to be only one actual ATM in the entirety of the MXP airport, so we did a bit of hunting. Once we found cash, it was a $10/ea ticket to catch the 45-minute bus directly to the Milano Central station, where we picked up tickets for a total of 75 euro to get to Venice Mestre, where we were staying for two nights at the Autoespresso Hotel.

The station was cold because it was only about 32 degrees outside (Dec 31st) and the station acts like a giant, beautiful wind tunnel. I also noticed a disturbing number of creepy people looming, staring over other peoples’ shoulders as they bought tickets, or just getting way too close for no apparent reason. There were a lot of people in this station with a wild-eyed look and lots more carrying all their possessions with them.



Finally the train. And then there was much dozing in the next 2.5 hours. The trains are neat because even economy class is arranged around tables, so there’s a surface you can use if you need it. The luggage rack is really high up, though.


We chose to stay in Venice Mestre instead of Venice Proper because it’s considerably less expensive. We did not anticipate it being much harder to find the hotel (which appeared to be right outside the station, if Google Maps was to be believed). So while we got to Venice at about 13:30, we spent another hour and a half ish trying to find the place. If only we’d gone a half block further…

When we finally made it to the hotel, one part facepalming and one part wondering how Google thought it was close (it’s like a half kilometer from the station), check-in was painless. The front lady (she might be the owner?) “forced” Aubri to accept like three pieces of candy. Check two on her list. Unfortunately, their elevator seems to be an outdoor service elevator and we had to cart our heavy luggage up three full flights of stairs. Apparently they start counting floors at number zero here? They don’t do that in Japan.

The room is a bit eccentric, and has a concrete floor rather than wood or carpet.


After we change out of our now-two-days-old clothes, it was time to go find a way to Venice proper. By sheer luck, around the corner from the hotel is a bus stop for Route 6, which goes almost straight to the Venice station and bus hub. This stop doesn’t sell bus tickets, though, so the bus driver grouchily let us on because he was having a hard time explaining what we’d done wrong. Normally each ride is 1.3euro/person, and each adult has to have a swipe card with the charge. The ticket is validated on each ride to deduct the total from the balance on the card. These cards are sold from machines at most, but not all, stops. But we made it to Venizia after a 15 minute bus ride!

Our plan was to see the fireworks at the San Marco Basilica Plaza on the 31st, and enjoy the outdoor concert in the meantime. However, as I mentioned, it was cold. The high was about 32, and around the water it felt much colder. It was about 16:30 by the time we finally made it to Venizia, and we snapped a few pictures and browsed a few kiosks. Aubri was feeling photogenic.


We decided to try some dinner on for size, and a persuasive woman outside a place called Trattoria Bella Venezi (I think) convinced us to come in and try their set plate menus.

Aubri approved of their penne with salmon, and their lasagna with meat sauce was delicious. I’m pretty sure I can replicate the penne easily enough. This is why I come to other countries, to learn their culinary secrets.


The chicken was chewy, but tasty. Ultimately we enjoyed it immensely, but we did discover that water only comes in expensive bottled form here. 3.50 euros for ordering water, 4 euros each for cappuccinos. All told, the meal was 42 euros. I expect other parts of Italy will be a little less expensive for “cheap” menu items. The portions were also not really sufficient for sharing, so it’s fortunate that we had more than one item each. For some reason this restaurant was very slow. We were unsure at the time whether it was their style, or the style around town.
Aubri adored their whole staff and enjoyed tons of chatting with the waiters. Of course.

Also it seems like you don’t tip waiters and the like. Here’s a list of other tips I probably should have known ahead of time (mainly the coffee note).

After dinner we wandered for a while longer and tried some cheap 2 euro hot wine. We also picked up some meringues because seriously. Everyone was saying the fireworks were cancelled because of the cold, and we were exhausted. So we headed back on the same bus (which had to loop all the way around before hitting our stop), and then crashed at about 20:00. After consuming cappuccinos and the delicious meringues.
…And promptly woke up at exactly 10 minutes to midnight, thanks to jetlag and the sound of bombs (fireworks) bursting in air. For two and a half more hours…The inability to get back to sleep might have been partially due to the sugar and caffeine.
We did go down to the lobby to watch a few of the fireworks, but we could only see some of them. They were being set off very low in the sky compared to what we’re used to, and so weren’t really visible over the buildings.

So, Happy New Year! And on to Venice, Day Two…

Running A Convention: Stage 2: Financing Your Adventure

“How do I fund my convention?” This is definitely the most common question I receive from potential con directors. Typically, they are hoping I will give them an easy answer–go get a loan from such and such bank. Make it 15,000, and mortgage your house to get it. If you talk to this particular book vendor they will give you loads of money. Here’s the magic.

Unfortunately for all of you, there isn’t actually an easy button. But there are some very straightforward principles that will keep you out of trouble and out of debt. If you can’t follow these, you might want to reconsider running a convention before it ruins your personal financial life.

First of all, let’s clarify. AnomalyCon was started on $147. That broke down to $50 for an LLC, $25 to start a bank account, and the rest was for web domains (and I think we had to pay a couple bucks for some modules for our website). $147 out of pocket. The rest paid for itself.

To do that, you’re going to need some integrity, a website, a business bank account, a paypal account, a business plan (see previous chapters), and a ticket pricing schedule.

And a return policy. This is the most important. Since this is your first year event, you need the website to have information about your plans, and a way to take money. Have a cart with tickets, but make sure that the disclaimer says the tickets will be refunded in case of event cancellation. This is where your integrity comes in.

Now, notice I did NOT say you need a hotel. I didn’t mention location at all, actually. Since this is your first year event, I’m going to advise that your nearest college and cozy up with a member of a student organization. Make friends, then negotiate the use of rooms for the student rate. It might be a weird space, but it will be close to free. In most cases you don’t even have to pay until it’s almost time for the event. AnomalyCon didn’t nail down our space until we’d been taking vendor registrations for a couple of months. Thank goodness, because we needed a bigger space than we had initially scoped.

Now, here’s the key. Go steal vendors from other events.
What I mean by that is–attend other conventions. Find out who’s local. Meet the vendors and talk to them about how they are doing at the show they are at, and whether they’d be interested in a startup show. Charge them maybe $50 for a table, and explain what you’re doing to get attendees. They get the same refund policy in case of cancellation.

If you do it right, the vendors pay for your event space. Your job is to make sure there are enough attendees to make it worth it for them.

Do NOT promise guests that you’ll “pay them if the show does well.” Bad BAD precedent to set, and also without integrity. It’s better to find locals willing to perform/appear for the sake of a first year event than to lie to guests.

Most importantly, budget as though almost no one is going to attend, but plan as though you’ll have great attendance.

The Process of Perception

Welcome to those of you headed this direction via the writing blog tour! Also Happy Memorial Day!

Thanks to Jennifer Kincheloe at for sending folks my way.

I’m working on some cool projects right now, including a series of Business Principles for Geeks (starting with How to Run a Convention), a series about Cole Harris, the super hero psychologist, and a set of short stories retelling fairy tales as LGBT Steampunk fiction.

Speaking of LGBT Steampunk fiction, I do have a lot of Steampunk elements creeping into my writing. My best quality is definitely all the great female characters of impact. Not to brag, but I work (type) hard to develop characters with power over their own destinies, without turning them into the tomboy-man-with-boobs concept so prevalent in modern fiction. If you’re tired of the tropes, dig into one of my stories.

And why wouldn’t I write science fiction with real characters in it? Who doesn’t want to read about real people? I write to give life to the amazing people around me.

Now, let’s talk about process. Some of you may know that I write a lot of female characters–and QUILTBAG characters, and characters from a variety of ethnic backgrounds. My process of character development and writing comes from observation, and from perception. I hope my worlds will reflect the world I live in, if only by the characters that exist within them.

So first a crazy idea comes to me in a dream (maybe), and then I sit down and outline it. A short story under 1500 words will probably not be outlined, but anything longer than that needs to have a solid beginning->middle->climax->resolution->ending sort of pattern. So I write up an outline.

That outline usually looks a little bit like this:

Chapter 1: Kip wakes from a bad dream, realizes her roommate is missing. She leaves without saying goodbye and takes the maps with her.

Chapter 2: Kip runs into trouble with the local gangs while searching a library for clues to the past. She escapes on her bike only to be surrounded.

Chapter 3: Kip gets knocked out and wakes up in a strange place. She meets a man who claims to be part of an underground resistance. He wants her to help him.

…and you get the idea. Each step of my outline gets a little mini two-to-three-sentence rundown of what I expect to happen in that chapter. That way I can connect the dots and push through roadblocks if I get stuck.


Unfortunately, this long blog tour is slightly dead-ended on my side because I got on the train after all the bloggers I know were already on.

But! I hope you check out a few good reads:

There’s Josh Vogt, who has lots to say on writing and publishing process.

And then there’s Quincy Allen, who spends a lot of time honing his craft and writing about Wild West Steampunk.

And Guy Anthony De Marco, who is published all over the place.

Enjoy your travels, friends.

Running a Convention: Stage 1: The Business Plan Cheat Sheet

Some of you may remember from last Wednesday’s post that I am releasing mini-notes from my book project on running conventions.

I frequently get asked lots of questions about this process. In part it’s  because there are lots of people looking to start conventions, and in part it’s because AnomalyCon is one of the most successful startup conventions to ever occur in the Denver-Metro area. But more about that later.

Chapter 3 of this book will be entitled “Stage 1: The Business Plan Cheat Sheet.” It has that title because I like nerdy titles, but the truth is that there isn’t a true short cut to planning out your business. However, in this abridged introduction to the chapter I will summarize some key points I would like to drive home.

First of all–and this is vital to your success–you have to treat the convention like a business. There are some key ground rules. You can’t accept personal gain in exchange for convention property. For example, you shouldn’t be exchanging a table in the vendor’s room for a product that vendor carries if you’re keeping that product (prize exchanges might be OK if you want to build your model that way. I don’t).

The very first step you should take is to get out some scratch paper and figure out a few things, like what you’re going to call it. I advise you google any cool names that come to mind and MAKE SURE that they aren’t already in use. If there’s another convention with the same name, find something else. It doesn’t matter if that convention no longer exists (bad juju there) or if it’s in another country (bad SEO for you). Name it something unique. And then think about that name and make sure it doesn’t have an easily-negative connotation. I have a friend who I tease about her con name because it’s easily misconstrued.

Granted, no one can spell AnomalyCon apparently, so we have to put “anomoly” in our metatags too. But these are important things to watch out for.

While you’re at it, figure out about what date you’d like to be on–and make sure it doesn’t conflict with any major events in your area. Don’t just look at other conventions–geeks like to go to renaissance festivals, outdoor rock concerts, etc. Don’t kill your own audience by scheduling the same weekend as an established event.

Now that you’ve named your business (which will be the name of the convention unless you are planning to do other products as well), you need to nail it down. So go get an EIN (so that you have a legal registration with the federal government) and apply for an LLC in your state. It doesn’t matter if you are planning to apply for a not-for-profit status, an LLC will protect you until that paperwork goes through. It’s usually about $50 to get an LLC. So these are the things you can do online, and before you even present your convention ideas to someone else. The other thing you need to do (as soon as you have an LLC and EIN) is go open a business bank account. I advise finding a bank with no minimums, free checking etc. Avoid banks that charge fees just to have an account. A credit union may be a good choice. More on this in the chapter on financing your convention.

So you have an EIN, a bank account and an LLC. Congratulations, the government considers you a business.

Now, your business plan is the next vital step. This is only a sneak peak so I won’t give you the full cheat sheet, but here are some starters.

To succeed, you need to have low expectations but big plans. What I mean is that you need to budget to have little-to-no-income, but plan to have the kind of entertainment and growth that occurs with an influx of attendees. This will keep you out of trouble financially, if you’re careful.

Your business plan needs to cover a minimum five year plan. The first part of this plan should contain your WHY statement, your mission statement in a paragraph or so. This is your driving force. Your next paragraph or so should cover what you want to do differently to set you apart from other conventions.

Now you need to write out how you will make that happen. Your business plan needs to contain your growth goals per year–be realistic. Don’t expect 3,000 people the first year. Don’t expect your entire Facebook friends list to show up either. *Most* first year cons are happy to hit 150-300 people (unless they are backed by major sponsorship, IE a major comic convention). AnomalyCon hit 600, but we were the first Steampunk-related event in a huge radius, and one of the first Steampunk conventions in the U.S.

So let’s say you want to have 150 people year 1 and 600 year 2. If that’s your plan you will need to find a space that will fit the 600, but won’t seem too large with 150. Colleges, student unions, and other event centers are good choices to examine. More on that later.

Write down how you’re going to get an audience. Are you going to hand out fliers? Attend other conventions to garner interest? Hit the forums? How will you pull in new audience? This is the place to brainstorm about things that cost time but not money (or minimal money, such as printing lots of fliers personally).

A lot of this business plan will be about the finances. How much out of pocket will you spend? What is the payback schedule for the convention paying those expenses? The answer to the former should be a small number and the payback schedule should be “after the first event.” Many conventions die the first few years by virtue of bankrupting their proprietors.

Now move from the financing segment to programming. What kinds of programming do you hope to have? Who do you need to talk to to make that happen? Schools? Authors? Artists? Bands? Write out a five-step where each year you are increasing your guest impact.

Now move on to staffing. You’re on your own right now maybe. What does your staff need to look like? Answer: You need at least two leftenants and a number of volunteers that is about 1:10 ratio volunteers to attendees for the first 200 attendees and then about 1:20 after that point. That may seem like a lot of volunteers, but it gives you flexibility if someone is sick for example. As you expand beyond that ~1000 attendee mark you need to expand your leftenants, or you will go crazy. This is where you will write down your plan for recruiting.

Finally, you need to address income intake. Namely, vendors (how many, what kind, what growth rate), and merchandising (what kind and when).

Ultimately, your business plan is a road map to your next five years. It’s important not just for you, but so that you can show people this plan to gain support before you have an event under your belt. If you’re not already notoriously awesome, this is your key to getting that interest.

Next week I’ll touch on the most popular question–financing your adventure.