Writing Life: The Path of Cons
Now that we have Write-a-Thon squared away, it’s time to return to our weekly look at how to fit writing into life (and life into writing). I touched on conventions very briefly in “Write Together, Die Alone,” but it’s a subject that deserves detailed attention and one that can be difficult to research effectively. For those out there who are not yet initiated into con culture, I present the FAQ I wish someone had handed out at Clarion.
Why do I need to go to Conventions?
Why should I want to go to Conventions, smartypants?
A “feel for the industry” is something hard to define, but whatever it is, it can only be acquired through interaction with industry members. The internet is a great starting place, but there you can only find answers to the questions you already know how to type into a search engine. Convention conversation can be a real eye-opener, exposing you to controversies and opportunities that others will only hear about months or years later when they finally hit official news outlets. Also important: you’ll put faces with names and discover which people you might enjoy working with in the future. SF&F professionals are an extraordinarily collaborative lot, so making friends is not just fun; it’s good business.
Which Convention(s) should I attend?
This is a very difficult answer to find — so much so that I almost worry I may be breaking some unspoken rule of SF&F etiquette by attempting to answer it myself. I encourage savvy readers to correct me in the comments section, because I’m still not entirely confident on this one. I’m going to give it a try, though, if only to get discussion going and shorten the research process for our readers.
1. A convention close to you.
Geography obviously plays a role here. If you live in Chattanooga or Atlanta, you’re going to want to go to DragonCon. If you live near Madison, you’d be crazy not to swing by WisCon. Delaware and Maryland residents should be looking at Balticon, and so on. But in addition to geography, you want to think about the subject matter that is nearest to your heart. Even if Madison’s a significant trek, if your work revolves around issues of gender you need to make WisCon a priority. If you’re heavily into graphic novels, you may wish to brave the exhilarating chaos that is Comic-Con. Unfortunately, until you know a bit more about conventions, you may not know which conventions are most appropriate for you in subject, tone, and attendance. So this is where I stick my neck out and make some general recommendations.
If you can make it to the World Science Fiction Convention, you ought to. Every other year, it takes place somewhere in North America (it’s in Reno in 2011). This is where the Hugo Awards are presented, and membership (supporting or attending) allows you to nominate both for the Hugos and the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. The advantage to this convention? It’s about as close as you can come to “anyone who’s anyone will be there.” Disadvantage? Accessibility, since it hops all over the world (it’s in Australia this year). Still, if you’re serious about SF&F you’ll want to attend WorldCon… eventually. If you can’t attend, consider a supporting membership so you can participate in the related awards.
Samuel R. Delany, the Clarion Blog’s June guest author (look for his post next Tuesday) calls Readercon his favorite convention. What makes Readercon so special? As opposed to conventions that give time to film, comics, television, etc., Readercon focuses exclusively on the written word. It features a full and fascinating schedule of panels, readings, signings, and other events. Despite (or perhaps because of) the intensely intellectual content of many of the discussions, the after-hours social part of the convention is reported to be off-the-charts fun. Readercon is held in the Boston area each year in July. Hope to see you there this year!
4. World Fantasy
The World Fantasy Convention, as the name suggests, is not actually a “science fiction convention,” despite appearing on lists thereof. Its focus is fantasy art and literature, but due to its stellar reputation and the presentation of the World Fantasy Awards, it is attended even by those who lean more toward the science fiction end of the spectrum. If your main focus is fantasy, this convention should probably be higher than #4 on your list. Like WorldCon, it moves around from year to year, but only within North America. It takes place right around Halloween.
How should I prepare for a convention?
Get your membership, plane tickets, and hotel reservations as early as possible (i.e. as soon as you’re sure you want to attend). You would be surprised how quickly these conventions sell out, so if you want to attend a convention in 2011 you should probably start doing the necessary research, saving, and planning right about now. Too early is vastly better than too late.
What else? Get caught up on your sleep before you go. Print up business cards. Get a haircut. Bring a few copies of your best work, published or unpublished, to hand out if anyone is interested (don’t lay money on it). Do research on fellow attendees, if you have time. If anyone you idolize is attending, practice nonchalance in front of a mirror. Get some sharp-looking but comfortable shoes — you’ll thank me later.
What should I do at a convention?
Mary Robinette Kowal, Vice-President of SFWA, has covered the art of schmoozing quite succinctly and helpfully on the SFWA blog. Aside from that, my advice would be to attend panels that directly relate to your work, as well as at least one panel that has nothing to do with you. If anyone says, “Hey, we’re having X, do you want to Y?” say YES. Get as many business cards as you can, and make mnemonic notes on the back, because later on you won’t have the foggiest idea where half of them came from and why. And above all, have fun.