I recently bit the eighteen hours of travel and enormous cost bullet of travelling to the USA to attend MidAmericon2 (WorldCon) in Kansas City, Missouri. The convention went really, really well. I was happy, but some people there didn’t get to have nearly as good a con as I did.
The forthcoming list of ten things are all from the perspective of being a professional writer, or at the very least aspiring to be one, however I want to make another point to stand out on its own before I get into the rest:
If you harass, attack, grope or otherwise interfere with someone else at the con, for any reason, you are wrecking their experience.
This makes you a bad person.
Don’t be a bad person.
WorldCon had an excellent and, as far as I’m aware, enforced harassment policy but people still crossed lines there. Those aren’t my stories to tell, but even if you don’t see bad things happening it doesn’t mean they aren’t.
Don’t be a raging dickweasel. If you have any doubt what constitutes harassment at a con, read the harassment policy and then abide by it.
The rest of this list is about professional mistakes, some of which I made, some of which I observed in others.
1. Go in without a plan
If you’re attending a con for the purposes of furthering your career as a writer, then make a plan to actually do that. Listen to advice about attending and getting the most out of conventions (Writing Excuses does a good series on how to do this). Cons are huge events and they can be overwhelming, having a plan, even a loose one, can help you figure out what to do when you’re running on too little sleep and way too many coffees.
Plan to be social. Plan to pitch your stuff. Plan to have fun.
2. Not going to BarCon
For all the awesome stuff that I saw and did at WorldCon, in terms of career stuff (read: talking to writers, agents and editors and hopefully coming off as a semi-functional human being) going to BarCon was by far the most valuable. After the day’s events are over almost everyone will end up congregating at one bar and getting a drink or two. This is where you can actually meet and talk to people. This is where hopefully hear the words ‘yeah, totally send that to me, I want to read it’ but that’ll only happen if you actually go.
Change clothes and have a shower in between the con and BarCon if you can, you’ll feel better, look better and most importantly you’ll smell better.
3. BarCon a little too hard
Getting a drink or two at BarCon means just that. They don’t have to be alcoholic beverages, soda water or Coke are just fine. If you overdo it at BarCon you may end up being remembered as the drunk mess from last night and that’s not how you want to be remembered.
If for whatever reason you do end up overdoing it, go back to your hotel as soon as you politely can and make absolutely certain you don’t put on a repeat performance on the next night. MidAmericon2 was mostly free of obnoxious drunk writers but that’s not always the way it goes.
4. Interrupt a panel
Don’t do it. Your question can wait until question time. Interrupting in the middle of panel guests talking is incredibly obnoxious and pretty much everyone there will hate you for it.
And if the words ‘I have more of a comment than a question’ cross your lips you’d better have an amazingly good reason. I was going to say you can’t ever say this but a couple of people proved me wrong by waiting until the end of question time to make their comment and then saying something really nice about the panelists.
If your comment is designed to show how much you know, even if you’re right, you’re probably better off not saying it at all.
5. Not bringing business cards
This is a small thing, but I didn’t bring business cards and I regretted it almost immediately. They’re a great way to connect with other writers, a good place to jot down notes in a pinch and in general a good business card will make you look good.
6. Not being social
I know it can be rough. I’m an introvert by nature, and I get wound up around large groups of people I don’t know, but I promised myself I was going to try flying on fake extrovert miles at WorldCon and for me it made all the difference. I made more friends in one week than I have in the last five years.
If you’re introverted you’re going to be tempted to hide, and your inner voice is going to tell you not to bother people by talking to them. Mine certainly did, but as long as you’re polite and not pushy, try to say hi to people and make friends even if it stresses you out.
At one point I had a prime opportunity to pitch an agent my book and I missed it because I didn’t want to be the pushy wannabe author. Normally that’s a good instinct to obey, but the agents and editors are at the con to find new talent, it’s OK to pitch your work…as long as you keep it short (see point number 10).
7. Not taking time for yourself
This is surprisingly tough to do, but you’ll be making a huge mistake if you don’t take a little you time every day. You’ll be talking to a lot of people (hopefully) and exciting things will happen (hopefully). Going full blast for a long time means you’ll eventually end up running on adrenaline and people running on adrenaline make poor life decisions.
Go back to your room. Chill out. Read a book. Nap. Watch some YouTube. Whatever, just make sure you take that time.
You’ll be better for it, I promise.
I did this every day except on the Saturday and by Sunday I was toast. Don’t be toast.
8. Not taking enough changes of clothes
I hope this one is self-evident. It’s probably going to be hot. You’ll sweat. A fresh change of clothes can make you feel like you’re you again.
9. Making it all about the business
It’s a con full of nerdy Sci Fi and Fantasy people. Have fun! If you go just for the sole purpose of selling your book you’ll come off as sweaty and desperate. It’s fine to have that be the main reason you’re going but make sure you also make time to do cool things and hang out with cool people just because they make you smile. I got to meet and talk to a couple of my favorite authors and one of the best web cartoonists in the business, who very kindly did a sketch for me in the hotel bar.
10. Not having your elevator pitch ready
This ended up being a surprisingly bad problem for a lot of writers, and even though I thought I had it down I still mucked it up a couple of times.
Figure out how to excite someone about your story in a maximum of two sentences. One is better. You will have incredibly short windows of time to talk to someone about your book and having a good elevator pitch means you can make the most of those opportunities.
This was a roundabout way of doing an advice piece on conventions, and you probably know all this stuff already, but when you’re there it’s easy to miss out on good things because so much is happening at once. I thought I’d have it down cold but I still made mistakes. If you’re planning on going to a con anytime soon, I hope this helps.