Con season is nearly upon us. In fact, on my next posting date, I will be neck deep in the madness that is the Romantic Times Booklovers’ Convention (RT for short). Having done this and numerous other conventions over the past several years, it’s probably a good time to pass on what wisdom I have.
Some conventions have their schedules posted online in advance. Especially for larger cons, it’s a good idea to take a look through this if you can. RT has this nifty app that allows attendees to plan out a “personal agenda” for the convention, which is awesome. If you’re looking to attend panels, I always suggest having a plan and a back-up plan. Sometimes panels will be packed to the point where you can’t see or hear anything. That’s beyond useless, so have something else to do. (Or, let’s face it, there’s always a chance the panel sounded more interesting than it is. You can leave. It’s okay.)
Leave time for food and rest. Seriously, a big convention is exhausting and the urge to see and do ALL THE THINGS is fierce, especially as a first timer. Most conventions schedule breaks for lunch and dinners, but they still tend to be tight–especially for anyone eating on-site. So give yourself a window. Also, use meals as meet-ups with people. It’ll force you to slow down and remember to eat. (Also, naps are totally acceptable. If you need one, take one. It’s really okay. You’re going to miss something if you’re too exhausted to pay attention, too.)
Most important of all is do NOT forget any must dos. If you have a meeting (to pitch or otherwise) with an agent or editor, make sure you are there. If you are speaking on a panel, check and double check time and location, and get there early. Ditto with book signings. While I’m a huge proponent of having fun at conventions, remember that you’re also there as a professional, so make sure you act like one when it counts. (Having said that, some people will be watching you all the time. Decide just how wild and crazy you’re willing to let an agent or editor see you act BEFORE you act. And I say that as the girl who is largely of the opinion that I want to work with people who embrace the crazy that is me.)
You know how I just mentioned making sure you eat? Well, I’m also going to tell you it’s a good idea to have on-the-go food available. I always pack a box of protein bars. That way if I’m feeling a major energy dip and I don’t have time to stop for food, I can eat that between panels/meetings. Fresh fruit is another good choice (though harder to carry around all day–and likely something you’d buy there as opposed to packing), as are nuts (though remember people have severe allergies these days.)
WEAR COMFORTABLE SHOES! Seriously, bring the cute shoes for some events, but during the day when you are running from one thing to another, treat your feet nicely so you can still walk by the end of the convention. Also, plan for potential swelling, especially if you fly. A friend at RT a couple years ago was swollen for half the week and couldn’t wear her cute shoes.
As for clothes, plan to dress in layers. Convention hotels are notoriously cold, but packed rooms get notoriously warm. Sweaters, jackets, etc are great for this. As for style…some people say nothing less than business casual at any time. Others take a less stringent approach. It took a long time for me to realize that I was my brand, and my personal style is a reflection of that. It’s casual. It’s a little on the edgy side, and often a lot on the playful side. You want to be comfortable in your own skin (and comfortable to move around) but don’t wear your pajamas. Look like you put thought into your clothes and you can get away with being yourself.
PACK BUSINESS CARDS. Seriously. A lot of them. If you have a website, make sure it’s on there. Definitely include your email. Generally speaking, do not include your phone number. Social media links are great but mainly email and website. I recommend glossy front and non-glossy back (so people can write on it–book titles, your phone number if you feel like giving it, anything else that will remind them who you are.)
Take cash, but also take a credit card…and a theft protected (RFID) wallet. A couple years ago at a con, someone stole several people’s credit card numbers by walking around the hotel with some sort of scanner. Needless to say, that was an epic mess. If you don’t have an RFID wallet, they do sell blocking cards to insert in your wallet, and I’ve also heard (though this could be wrong) that if you line your wallet with aluminum foil it will serve the same purpose.
Day to Day
Hydrate, hydrate, HYDRATE! I can’t emphasize this enough. Drink as much water (not coffee, not soda…water) as you can. It’s very easy to get dehydrated at a con, and that will zap your energy like nothing else.
Pace yourself. As I mentioned above, take naps, take breaks, make sure you have the energy to do the things you’re most interested in.
Remember that a lot of authors and readers are introverts/ambiverts. Many of us feel shy and lame (even when we’ve done this for years). Try, at least once a day, to meet someone new. Say hi while waiting in line or waiting for a panel to start. Compliment someone on their costume or ask if they’ve read any of the authors speaking. There are tons of things to talk about at a con, so try not to wallflower your way through it.
Having said that… Do not pitch your book to people unless they ask. This goes for editors, agents, other authors, and readers. If/when they ask, go for it, but not every interaction is (or should be) about you and your work. Don’t be that person.
Collect business cards. These are your new contacts in the industry. Make notes on the back so you remember who is who. I’ve even seen people take pictures of new friends holding their own business card so that they have a visual reminder as well. (I’m not super comfortable asking people to do that, but if you are, go for it!)
A Couple Final Reminders
If you see someone in trouble (medical issues, obviously intoxicated, being harassed, etc), step up and help. Or get someone in charge who can help. All conventions have staff members running around, make sure to utilize their assistance as needed.
Lastly, conventions can be crazy places filled with all sorts of people. Some are wild and carefree. Others are reserved. Most fall somewhere in the middle. Do you and remember that everyone else is doing them. If you don’t want others to judge you, it’s best if you aren’t judging either.
And if you happen to be attending RT in Vegas, make sure to look me up and say hi! I’m on a couple panels, hosting one party, and I’ll be signing at the book fair on Saturday.