Which means it's time to pluck another idea out of the Call for Questions I did a little while back.
Today I figured I'd try to answer rhondaparrish's question, "Have you been to many writing conventions? Do you have any advice for a convention virgin?"
I'm not as avid a congoer as some, but I usually make 3-5 per year, and have been doing so since at least 2002. Time and budget constraints mean I tend to stick with conventions I can drive to.
I'm also an introvert, so the outgoing, socializing, partying, and networking don't come naturally to me. I've learned to fake it pretty well, for the most part, but it tends to take a lot out of me by the end of a weekend.
So that's where I'm coming from. Other people will have different advice. Take what's useful, and feel free to disregard the rest.
Jim's Advice for SF/F Convention Virgins
1. Go with a Con Buddy Even the small conventions can be pretty big and overwhelming. At my very first con, I knew nobody. It was depressing as hell. For many people, cons are reunions with old friends and colleagues ... which means when you're new, it can feel like everyone else already knows each other, and you're the outsider. The buddy system works well, whether that buddy is another virgin or a more experienced congoer who can show you the ropes. If you're not going with someone, you can also use teh Internets to chat with someone who's going to be there, and maybe plan on meeting up at some point. (However, try not to spend the whole weekend with that one buddy so that you never branch out and socialize/interact with the rest of the con.)
1b. Later On, Be Kind to Newbies One of my first cons was World Fantasy in Minneapolis. Talk about overwhelming. I was sitting in the suite at one point when Jay Lake (jaylake) and Frank Wu (frankwu) wandered in. I said hi, and stammered something about owning a shirt with Frank's artwork on it. (I still have that shirt.) They were kind enough to invite me along to their next stop. I don't know if either of them even remember meeting me, but after feeling lost and out of my league, it was very reassuring to connect with some people who knew what they were doing with this whole convention thing.
2. Know Your Goals What do you want to get out of the con? Me, I go first as a writer. Cons are business, though they're also a lot of fun. Try to keep your goals realistic. Getting an editor to buy your book over the weekend? Not likely to happen. But you can certainly go up to that editor at the bar, introduce yourself, and maybe offer to buy him/her a drink. (Just don't be creepy about it.) Or maybe make sure you say hello to two of the writer guests you know from online after their panels. Setting some concrete goals will help you to focus, as opposed to doing what I did, which is to wander in because you're a Writer, and Writers should do cons, and now that I'm here what the hell am I supposed to be doing???
3. Eat. Sleep. Bathe. Most con advice lists will mention the bathing thing. But remember sleep and food, too. (Caffeine is not food.) I've had times when I really didn't want to leave the folks I was talking to in the bar, but it was midnight and I know that for me, I can't push much past that and still function the next day ... when I'm supposed to be doing panels and being all writerly. Depending on your goals, you might be better off staying up until three a.m. and sleeping in later. Just make sure you get what you need to function and enjoy yourself.
4. Don't Sweat the Small Stuff Most cons, I come away obsessing over something stupid I've done. Last time, I was on a panel with John Scalzi and a few other authors about evolving as a writer. It was Sunday morning, and I was tired. So I made a quip about intelligent design. Not only did I completely flub the joke (sigh), I realized later that it wasn't even my joke. I had read it on a blog. John Freaking Scalzi's blog. I spent the whole car ride home mentally composing an e-mail to Scalzi and feeling like a total idiot. He, of course, was completely cool about it, and said not to worry. Bottom line, when you spend this much time with this many people, sooner or later you're going to put your foot in your mouth. If you can offer a graceful apology, do so, but then let it go. Likewise, if someone swallows their sneakers while talking to you, don't leap to take offense.
5. Don't Abuse the Volunteers Cons are put on by volunteers. Some cons are better organized than others, but no con is perfect. It's frustrating when your personal panel schedule has you in one place at 2:00 on Saturday, but the program book has you in another. Tantrums might get your problem solved. Understanding that people are stressed and overworked and have been planning this thing for months, and asking nicely if someone could clarify the scheduling issue, will also get your problem solved. The latter approach will also make sure you're not blacklisted when you're starting to break in and want to get invited to conventions.
6. Check Whether the Dealer's Room has the Goblin Books Let me know, okay?
7. Have Fun Like many things writing-related, I sometimes feel like cons are something I should be doing for my career. But you know what, there are a lot of authors doing perfectly well without ever attending a single convention. Try a few cons and see if you like them. If you can go and have fun and socialize with cool people who actually read and watch and love the same stuff that you do, great! If you hate it and have a miserable time at every single one, stop going.
You'll notice I didn't mention anything about the room parties. That's because, for the most part, I don't make it to the parties. That sleep thing again, combined with the introverted-and-needing-to-recharge-at-t
What other suggestions do folks have? What do you wish someone had told you before your first convention?
I found two other convention advice links, and am adding more as they come up. So check these out, and let me know what other links I should slap on here:
Teresa Nielsen Hayden
J. T. Glover