GUEST Expectations: Cosplay Guests and Conventions (and congoers)

Yesterday, Cosplayer Ani Mia posted a short essay (PSA? Still deciding social media nomenclature…) on her facebook page about the nature of being a Cosplay guest at a convention. The post/essay/thing was prompted when Ani Mia received an email from a convention she will be attending that reminded cosplay guests of their responsibilities.

“I am so disappointed that cosplay guests have begun acting so badly at cons that a convention felt the need to send an email to cosplay guests to remind them to: be at their booths on time, be in costume, don’t ignore attendees that come up to the booth and not to get drunk at booths.”

In the first comment on Ani Mia’s post you can read the email she received, which has been edited to protect the convention and sensitive information, if you’re interested in reading more about the convention’s take. It was a very reasoned, gentle but firm reminder that the convention in question is providing lodgings, meal reimbursement and a booth for cosplayers to sell prints or other merchandise from.

This is all very timely and relevant to me since I just had my first Guesting experience at Con!Bravo last weekend and spent a chunk of the drive down (and back) discussing the nature of being a cosplay guest with fellow guest and roommate Miss Messy Mia and our wonderful ride/Masq Organizer Evabee. Mia’s been a guest at a number of conventions from large ones like Anime North to smaller events and often gets asked how to become a guest at conventions, or sometimes stuck listening to a cosplayer complaining that they’ve never been asked to be a guest.

So! *claps hands once, loudly* Let’s clear some stuff up okay? Okay!

Being a Cosplay Guest is a Job

A quote from Ani Mia’s post that really stood out to me before I dig into the meat of the issue:

“Being a guest at a con isn’t a free travel pass, it’s a job, your job. And your job is easy, be a professional and go see your fans that spend their time and money to come see you and show you their support.”

Bang on. Even conventions that are non-profit and fan-run have to make sure they don’t lose money. Con organizers need to ensure that the gamble they’re taking by inviting a cosplayer to be a guest will pay off in either drawing in attendees or providing content that will enrich an attendee’s experience. As a result, cosplay guests generally fit into one of two categories:

Famous cosplayers have a loyal fanbase that is willing to spend time and money to interact with the cosplayer in person. These cosplayers like Yaya Han, Jessica Nigri and Maul Cosplay. While they obviously have expertise in costuming and cosplay in general, their primary draw is personality, social interactions, and fame.

Expertise cosplayers are the ones more like myself, who don’t have a significant online presence, and the majority of con-goers might not recognize their name. HOWEVER, these cosplayers offer content and knowledge that con-goers can consume through panels or other con programming.

Job Requirements

As with any job, there’s going to be required duties/responsibilities that go along with the title of ‘guest’. While they vary slightly from convention to convention and depending on what you’re offering the con as a cosplayer, the core values are the same.

  • Interact with Fans/Con-goers
  • Attend scheduled events you have committed to
  • Be friendly and professional in general
  • Not… be… drunk/high while on the con floor/panel/whatever?
    • I hadn’t realised this was a problem, then again I think back to that drunk MC that hosted a Masquerade…
    • Related: apologies to Con Bravo for any Cold Medication loopiness on Saturday night/Sunday

Why’s all this so important anyways? Some Guests don’t even get paid, or have the opportunity to make money. They’re doing it because they want to, or because of …exposure. (We’ll get to that in the next section, because I have THOUGHTS about ‘exposure’.)


If you’re not familiar with the Oatmeal’s wonderful comic on the topic of exposure, please fix that. Image (c) to Matthew Inman

It’s important because these are the services that you are providing the convention in exchange for the money they are paying to have you there. If you don’t want to attend, then… don’t accept the contract or the offer to be a Guest.

That’s not to say that sometimes small interactions can get blown out of proportion. A guest isn’t feeling well and a fan may feel like they didn’t get the depth of experience they wanted from speaking with the guest, that’s just life. And sometimes life Sucks. But it’s a different thing entirely to be a guest who sits at their booth, on their phone all day every day, barely speaking with anyone who stops by, and missing events they were scheduled to attend.

Hosting a Cosplay Guest is Also a Job

Okay. So we’re clear now that being a guest actually takes effort and you have to work and blah blah blah responsibilities. Cool. Moving on to the other side of the equation.

Convention organizers, if you expect cosplay guests to act professional, you need to do the same. I’ve listed some things below that I’ve experienced first hand or through a friend that conventions need to avoid:

  • Failing to honour a signed contract
    • downsizing the booth space with no advance notice
    • adding events that the cosplayer has not agreed to without first discussing the schedule with them
    • not providing agreed upon compensation (whether it’s funds, meal compensation, etc.)
  • Treating cosplay guests as ‘second-class’ guests compared to other industry guests. (note: not guests of honour, usually that’s a different situation) this includes:
    • diverting promised compensation from the cosplayer to other guests
    • prioritization of the needs of other guests over any requests or needs of a cosplayer
  • Requesting that the cosplayer Guest for your event without covering the following costs at the bare minimum:
    • Transportation, whether it’s gas, or bus/train/plane tickets
    • Lodgings if the guest is from out of town
    • Meals
  • Overbooking a cosplayer without consideration of the fact that unlike other industry guests, cosplayers require time to get prepared for their appearances, makeup, putting on the costume itself can add up to an hour or more of preparation time each day.
  • inaccessible/unavailable guest liasons
  • If travel is required, failing to provide a +1. This is a safety issue and makes cosplayers feel more comfortable with attending an out-of-town con. Also having a handler/whatever can really help reduce issues like dehydration, getting from point A to B through crowds, and just general assistance.

The TL;DR here is that both sides need to hold up their end of the agreed upon contract. If there’s no contract… don’t bother with the event. End of story. A verbal contract is worth the paper it’s signed on.

Getting a Job Requires a Resume

So why do some people get brought to conventions as guests while others don’t? It comes down to two things: what the cosplayers bring to the convention in terms of experience for the con-goers or ticket sales, and luck.

A Brief Guide to Being Guest-Requestable

  • Significant social media presence and fanbase
  • Expertise in a topic related to the convention’s chosen themes
  • Personable and friendly, able to speak with strangers and public speaking
  • Multiple talking points and panel topics available, panel experience always a plus
  • Not overtly controversial: you don’t post hate speech, use an offensive stage name or insist on wearing blackface.
  • The convention needs to know you exist
  • You need to be able to provide something to the convention beyond what a regular panelist or staff member can.
  • You haven’t fucked up your previous guesting experience by any of the issues referred to in the email Ani Mia received.

Unfortunately convention organizers vary on how best to approach them in terms of being a guest. Some conventions welcome applications while others will shadowlist* a cosplayer who submits a resume or offers to be a guest.

* shadowlist: blacklisting or otherwise refuse to consider a specific guest without that potential guest being aware of the situation or reasons behind such a decision. A mix of shadow-ban and blacklist.

So, you want to be a guest, but you’re not getting asked. It sucks. But take a look at what you offer a convention. If you’re sure that there is legitimately something worthwhile, start hosting panels at conventions you’re already attending. Network. Get to know Con Organizers, or mention on social media that you’re open to being a guest at conventions. If all you can come up with is that you’ve been cosplaying for a while and you have costumes… that’s okay. Instead of giving up, try to develop the skills needed to be a good guest.

I hope people find this helpful, or at least thought-provoking. I really doubt it’ll get rid of all issues relating to guests and conventions forever, but I’m the points above help to smooth out a few wrinkles or prevent them entirely.

Hope to see you at a Con soon,