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Writing Life: The Path of Cons

June 26, 2010

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?

You don’t.

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.

2. WorldCon

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.

3. Readercon

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.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. June 26, 2010 10:24 am

    That’s a good round-up.

    I’d also suggest: Look for a con that has the right atmosphere for you. Wiscon tends to friendly and intimate; part of that is the set-up. It’s in the same hotel each year, and it’s all crowded in there (in a good way). There’s a lot of great stuff within walking distance – bookstores, restaurants, interesting shops, a farmer’s market – and because people keep going back, they get to know it and make recommendations. Worldcon doesn’t have that, because it keeps moving and it’s huge; but it’s iconic. Comic-con’s a huge glorious chaos.

    Second, if you’re not an extrovert, it makes a real difference if you go with friends, or at least arrange to meet up with them at the Con. I’m not suggesting sticking only with your buddies; but it’s nice to have a few people you know well. (It’s also a great way to meet writing friends who live far away: Co-ordinate your Cons.)

    I was a con-skeptic. I went to Comic Con and the first day of World Con, and wasn’t sure why. Wiscon changed my mind, and I’ve been back twice.

    Finally: Cost. Between travel and hotels, attending Cons can be expensive. Therefore, the budgeting part is important.

    • Mishell Baker permalink*
      June 26, 2010 11:25 am

      Ah yes, introverts have their own challenges to overcome, and having friends along can be crucial. Good news for shy writers though: like Kowal says, most people would rather talk about themselves anyway. Just start ’em up and let ’em go!

  2. June 26, 2010 11:25 am

    (1) In years when WorldCon is not in North America, there is a NASFiC (North American Science Fiction Con) — in 2010 it is in Raleigh NC.

    (1A) For fantasy and horror writers there is World Fantasy (in Columbus OH this year) and World Horror cons. Both are smaller affairs than WorldCons, but definitely places to meet people.

    (2) “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.”

    That’s true in the very beginning, but if you start reading authors’ websites and especially their blogs, you will start being exposed to all sorts of things that you didn’t even know you needed to know about. You do have to pace yourself, or you’ll spend all your energy and time surfing all the interesting people out there and forget to give yourself time to write. (grin)

    (3) Please note that my comment in (2) is not a substitute for going to cons or your other information — just that people surf using more than just Google.

    Dr. Phil

    • Mishell Baker permalink*
      June 26, 2010 11:28 am

      I find Twitter very useful (if you can learn to manage the signal-to-noise ratio and occasional info floods wisely), because it approximates the mechanics of party conversation, including the ability to quietly “eavesdrop” on a conversation between two people you’re interested in. I’m on Twitter as @mishellbaker, and Clarion itself is on as @ClarionUCSD.

      • June 26, 2010 3:19 pm

        I go as far as Facebook, because it reads more like real sentences. (evil grin) Half the people I know on Twitter repeat their tweets on FB and LJ anyway. (redundant social media grin)

        Dr. Phil

      • Mishell Baker permalink*
        June 26, 2010 3:37 pm

        {controversy}One benefit to Twitter, though, is that it doesn’t have a founder/owner who refers to its users as “dumb fucks” for trusting him with their personal info and making him wealthy in the process.{/controversy}

  3. June 29, 2010 7:43 am

    I would add about Wiscon that it’s not just about gender. It is a feminist convention, so if you’re not comfortable around feminists, you might want to think long and hard about it. However, there are also people there talking about, and panels on, subjects such as:

    Race
    Disability
    Class
    LGBTI (Some of that is gender, but not all of it)
    Religion
    Body Size/Image

    If any of those things are important to you and your work, then definitely move Wiscon higher up on your list of must-go-to’s.

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