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How To Start An Anime Convention

1. Brainstorm and Plan
2. Collect Information. Get Hotel.

First: Brainstorm and Plan

In a nutshell: Start writing down your ideas, and get friends to help you. Think about the big picture too... money, taxes, guests, attendees, locations.
  • Find Friends
  • Brainstorm
  • Organize
  • Research
  • Make The Plan

Your first goal when planning an anime con is finding friends who can help. All the effort in the world won't get you terribly far on your own, even if you're a fantastic organizer. Having other people to bounce ideas around with makes the planning and brainstorming process a lot easier. Be careful in who you enlist to help right away though. Pick drama-free people who are willing and able to sit down and have a discussion. Hundreds of conventions were announced and then failed within a week due to poor interpersonal relationships on staff. They don't even have to be anime fans. They just have to be able to communicate clearly.

After you have 3 to 4 of the best people, gather together somewhere, and take a notebook. This second step is all about brainstorming. It really doesn't matter that you're still unfocused. You don't need to be focused yet. This is the fun part, and perhaps the scary part, where you start talking about what's involved in making a con. Discuss guests. Discuss feeding guests. Bounce around names of good hotels. Bounce around con theme ideas. List possible con names. Here's a good brainstorming list:

  • Hotels, universities, and convention centers that could be good for a con.
  • Some awesome possible convention guests.
  • Possible con names.
  • Departments you might need.
  • Problems you could run into.
  • Getting attendees.
  • People who might want to join staff.
  • Who's going to pay the hotel deposit?
  • Should you form an LLC or corporation?
  • Taxes like sales tax you'd have to pay.
  • List of possible con expenses.
  • List of events

After your brainstorming session, you should have 3-4 pages of notes, which would be a pretty fair amount. Next spend some time organizing these notes. Make lists for each section: Guests, Hotels, Expenses, Incomes, Events, etc. Make it look pretty and easy to skim, and share it (email) with your friends.

Important! - Have you yet looked at the list of anime conventions to see how many cons are nearby? Don't hold a con too close timewise to another con within a couple hours drive.

Now that you have some organized lists, take some time yourself to research. Use Google and add new possible hotels, more guests, more event ideas, etc. Flesh out your lists completely.

After you've got your lists, it's time to make a plan. This is essentially another list - a to-do list. Organize the order you're going to go about things. For example: First, contact some hotels. Second, look for guest's email addresses. Third: Wait for hotel replies. Fourth: Negotiate with hotels. Five: Get a hotel contract. Six: Email the guests. And so on.

2. Collect Information. Get Hotel.

Your next important stuff is to build onto your plan. You still don't have a location, dates, events, enough staff or guests. But there's a lot to worry about, so planning is key.

This next step involves getting the data and information you need to decide everything else. Consider asking other convention organizers for advice on locations, dates, events, staff, guests, etc. Joining staff for other cons can be great for making friends who can help.

You should have a list of hotels that could hold a con. Reach out to them, call them, ask for sales, and talk to them about the con and the costs it would involve. If you're really gung-ho (you should be), search the internet for a guide to a "Request for Proposal". That's the professional looking document you can give to hotels - it's basically an outline of your event, your needs, and it tells them "We would like you to propose dates and prices for this event."

Don't leap at your first offer. Don't sound too excited about any particular venue. Hotels and conference centers make money from events - they don't always immediately understand what you're trying to do, and may ask for way more than you can afford. If you're only expecting 100 attendees, you don't want to pay more than a couple hundred dollars on space (ideally free at that size). For five hundred attendees, a nice space should be $2000 in the Midwest. Don't be afraid to say "This is our first year, and I think we can only afford $X,XXX. Maybe we can find dates that another event won't be using, and help fill that space?" If they don't agree, they don't want nor deserve your business. Always be friendly though - next year they might be sorry for missing out.

You should get proposals from at least five places before making any firm decisions. Now spend some time researching hotel contracts. Google everything. Search for things like hotel contract negotiation tips. Ask the best places for contracts, and let them know you're looking at a few different options.

Don't be afraid to take the contract to a lawyer. They can point out things that you wouldn't understand. Here's some quick guidance, but it's not everything and you shouldn't rely entirely on this article.
  • Attrition means that if your attendees don't book every room at the hotel that you reserve, you have to pay for them. So if you save 100 rooms for attendees, and only 50 are taken, you have to pay 50 * room rate (over $5000!!). You can't afford this. Always require that your contract says "Group is not responsible for any attrition charges."
  • Everything you are promised must be in the contract. Don't accept the salesperson's word. They could say "oh, there's no attrition" - but your contract says that you're liable for unsold rooms? Get everything in the contract.
  • If the hotel contract says "nominal fee" or anything about some hidden charge, ask about it and don't be afraid to argue against it. Maybe there's a $200 charge every time you ask for extra chairs, or if you bring your own TVs for the game room. Ask for that section to be removed.
  • The hotel won't hold rooms for your group if any are left 30 days before the con. Make the contract say that attendees still can get those rooms at your discounted rate.
  • Don't be afraid to cross stuff out that you don't agree with. Some statements can't be changed - mostly for insurance reasons, but many things can.
  • Many hotels will not let you bring food into the hotel except for sleeping rooms (hospitality suites) because of their contract with the union. They can't do anything about this in some cases, but ask for exception for Japanese snacks that can't be found in America.
  • If you can't clearly understand the contract, or if it's contradictory, ask to change it, and ask a professional what it really means.
This guide is still a work in progress. Check back for part two. In the meantime, read the old guide below:

Phase One: Who, When, and Where

  1. Brainstorm - Start out by thinking about what you want to do. Write down everything you're thinking about. You won't get very far into things in this initial brainstorming session, but you will get a lot out of your system. This is one of the most healthy steps to planning a good con, so get it out of the way. You'll come back to brainstorming again later.
  2. Find Friends - You won't be able to run an anime convention alone, so find some friends to help you. To start with, you only need 3 or 4 people. Preferably people who can sit down in a room and just talk in a calm, straightforward, organized manner.
  3. Organize Your Ideas - Start talking with those friends, and writing down ideas. Give them some semblance of organization. "Ideas for Cosplay", "Ideas for Registration", etc. You should probably have 10 pages of ideas by now, if you are writing sentences about each idea.
  4. Build A Plan - Start putting your ideas in order of most-important subjects to least-important subjects. You should start with the location and budget. Specific individual events would go last.
  5. Find More Staff Members - Now that you have some idea of what you're doing, get a few more people involved. Talk to local anime clubs and even youth librarians. Get 15 to 20 people together. Start a Google Group for talking amongst yourselves.
  6. Build A List Of Locations - Another brainstorming session. List every hotel with more than 3 meeting rooms in your area. In a city of 20,000 people, you might have 2 or 3. In a city of 50,000 people or more, you should have at least 5 or 6 ideas down. Then add in some more unusual places, like colleges, libraries, etc. It's very very very important that you don't decide on your location first. Why? Because you never know what could happen! Colleges are cheap and easy, but you might not have much space. They also hesitate to let 100 "Otaku" roam around freely.
  7. Analyze Possible Locations - Write down several pros and cons for each location. Pros might be: "Free Parking, Cheap Hotel Rooms, Near The Beach, Friendly Staff". Cons might be: "Probably Expensive, Shady Part Of Town, Hotel Smells Bad".
  8. Build A List Of Dates - Brainstorm what sort of time you might want to have your con. School may be out in June, but you will compete with weddings for space, so you won't get as many great deals. Make pros and cons for every month or weekend that you want. Narrow it down to one or two timeframes if you can: "Late May" or "Early September" for example.
  9. Analyze Possible Dates - Contact each hotel saying "Hi, we're looking into an event at your hotel sometime during _TIME_, and are wondering if you can give us a list of available dates. Please don't send us a proposal at this time, we are just looking at dates at the moment." Cross reference these with your ideal times. You may need to go back to the last step if it sounds like everyone is going to be full already.
  10. Request Information - Next is a very critical step. Doing it right is the difference between getting what you want and getting a horrible deal. You will be asking your locations for information. The most professional way to do it is through a "Request for Proposal" (RFP). Many conventions don't use them, but you look like you know what you're doing when you do. What an RFP is is basically a two-page letter clarifying what you are planning and the kind of space you need. Don't go into stuff the hotel doesn't understand, or stuff that might weaken your position. A sample RFP can be found here.
  11. Learn - Perform a google search for concepts such as "hotel contracts" and "hotel contract negotiation. Read several articles. There are some really good documents out there that explain a lot, and you can learn about what to watch out for.
  12. Review - Most of your hotels will respond in the next few days. They'll provide you with a "proposal", and some will send you their contract directly. You need to review each one and take notes of key points:
    • How much do you pay for the space if you get zero hotel rooms and zero dollars in catering? This is your "base price".
    • How many hotel rooms are they offering you? This is your "base room block".
    • Multiply the number of rooms by number of nights to get your "base room nights". 50 rooms at 2 nights each is 100 room nights.
    • What is the price you pay if your attendees fill all the hotel rooms? This is your "discount rate".
    • How much will attendees pay per night for a hotel room? This is your "room night price".
  13. Negotiate - Now you have to talk with the hotel and negotiate the details, ask for what you want and hope you get it.
  14. Relax A Bit - You've done the hardest parts, now take a moment to reflect on what you're building.
  15. Finalize A Contract - Sign the contract!

How To Start A Convention

Fill out our Anime Convention Plan to see if you're ready!

So you've come here hoping to start your own fan convention? You probably enjoy watching anime or sci-fi films, or maybe you enjoy playing board games or collecting comics. Its also very likely that you have attended a convention already, and you enjoyed hanging out with a ton of people just like you. Now you want to start your own convention either because the other convention is too far away or you want to do something a little differently. Maybe the staff told you to put away your sword and you wanted to finish your epic battle on the foyer. Well, this guide should help you learn how to start your own con, but first check out how NOT to run a convention.

When looking to start a convention the general mantra among convention organizers is going to be "don't". They say this based on the large number of hours involved, tons of time spent organizing, many headaches, and all the tough parts of running a convention. This is why the most important part of your convention, and rule number one is start with a plan. If you can make a reasonable plan, it should help you understand the work involved. Your 'convention plan' is going to be a lot like a business plan - and trust me, you'll need it. A business plan is the way for people starting a business to try to guess all the bad things that could happen before they happen, and then try to prevent them, which is what you'll need to do. Although it's fine to plan for all the good things you want "We're going to have a rave party", you must also predict the bad "What if someone collapses of exhaustion in our rave?" These kinds of things need a plan - don't even think of starting a convention without a very detailed plan.

Your Convention Plan

You're going to start planning your convention by writing down your plan - it can't be all in your head. What you'll need to consider will be:
  • Money to spend on running the convention
  • How you make the money back
  • What events will you have
  • Who will run various parts of the convention
  • Where and when will the convention be held
  • How many people will you plan for
  • How will you handle 'people'
  • What happens in an emergency
Now that list may sound generally positive, but I will go through each item and help you plan for the unseen pitfalls of each. The first two are probably the biggest categories by far. Then I'll cover just about every little detail possible, so you can have a thorough plan made.

Let's Continue

NatsuCon 2009
A very successful first year convention.
NatsuCon 2009

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  • Provide us your expected guest list
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