Putting Yourself Out There: Conventions

Today I thought I would write a little bit about conventions, and how they can help or hurt your writing career.

For the most part, conventions are great. They are a wonderful opportunity to meet other people who share your interests and struggles. As you might expect, writing conventions will have a lot of panels that revolve around writing. And even those conventions not specifically created for authors may still have activities that can either help you with your craft, or at least be a source of inspiration and ideas.

The local conventions that I have gotten hooked on here in Madison, Wisconsin, are Oddysey Con (OddCon), WisCon, and Geek Kon. All of them have panels for writers about the craft and the industry. Some more than others, but I think that all of them are worth my money.

OddCon starts the ball rolling in late April. It is a small science fiction/fantasy/gaming convention and costs $35 for three days. And when I say small, I mean less than 500 people. A lot of the panels are on writing, but there are also several on gaming and movies/television. They even have a video room where they are constantly playing movies and episodes of science fiction television shows.

WisCon is next, held on Memorial Day weekend. They proclaim themselves as the world’s leading feminist science fiction convention and have an upper limit to their registration of 1,000 people. Even though the convention has a strong female focus, they also welcome open-minded men into their ranks. The convention is also very friendly towards the LGBT community, so you can find all sorts of people walking the halls. This year was my second year attending. As a writer, I seem to be drawn to writing female characters, and the panels at this convention help me to tap into my feminine side and more fully understand the female perspective. WisCon is the most expensive of the conventions I attend, being $50 for four days, but it is worth every penny.

Geek Kon is the last hoorah of the summer for me. It is held in early September, and the cost is $25 for three days. While this large convention is mainly focused on movies, manga, and video games, they do have several writing panels to keep me connected to other authors. And sometimes it’s good to be reminded of the importance of play. Besides, a lot of the attendees come in costume, and just walking down the hall can be like stepping into another world. And the huge dealer’s room has everything a geek like me could want to celebrate all sorts of fandom. Definitely worth the price of admission.

So those are the conventions that I have experience with. As I said, they are all local for me, which makes it easy and cheap for me to attend. I don’t need to worry about a hotel room, as I can easily drive, bike, or bus to the hotels where they are held. And I can touch base with a lot of other local writers and editors, as well as authors from a little farther away.

This interaction with others is where things get a little dicey. As is true in all facets of life, no matter how friendly you are, there are certain people who will never be your friend. The way you interact with these people can either help your career, or hurt it. If you are trying to sell your novel or short story, a lot of times the deciding factor is who you know.

I have met a few editors and several authors over the last two years, and all of them have seemed very nice. A lot of them have been on the panels I attended, but some of them were simply enjoying the convention along with me. Either way, I tried my best to be polite and not intrude on their conversations with other people. Those are the most important things to remember when meeting someone who may be one of your heroes, like Larry Niven, who was the guest of honor at OddCon this year. Steven Barnes was the other guest of honor, and both of them turned out to be wonderful, really nice guys. Steven Barnes even led me (along with several others) through a short Tai Chi class on Saturday morning.

At WisCon last year I had the privilege of meeting Cassie Alexander, a newly published author who was leading a writer’s workshop, and helped me identify some problems with my first Valkyrie book. This year I met Kater Cheek, an independent author who did a tarot reading for me. Neither of them are local, but they are really cool women and I am happy to have had a chance to meet them. Two of the local authors I have met are Alex Bledsoe and Lori Devoti. Both of them are wonderful authors and have not only signed my copies of their books, but have become my friends on Twitter and Facebook. Lori in particular has taught me a lot about the current state of the publishing industry and has influenced my choice to self-publish once I finish a final draft of my books.

So, like I said at the start of this post, conventions can be a wonderful help to your writing career. Just remember to be polite and you should be all right. Tips I have heard for introducing yourself to someone are:

  • Don’t interrupt someone who is in the middle of a conversation with someone else. A better way would be to say hello if you pass them in the hall, or introduce yourself immediately before or after a panel, or at one of the parties.
  • Don’t immediately ask them if they would read your manuscript. Make a friend before you ask a favor.
  • Talk to them as people, not as superheroes. Believe it or not, most of them are not from Krypton, and have had some of the same life experiences you have had. Share something interesting about yourself, and maybe they will share something with you.

The last thing I wanted to say about conventions is about the inherent contradictions of being a writer. Writing is essentially a solitary undertaking, and yet the end result is a study of people and society, and is intended to be shared with others. So authors almost have to have a split personality to be good, being antisocial in order to work, but also being very perceptive of how other people both think and feel. Also, like actors, they have to be able to put themselves into the heads of their characters in order to allow their readers to share more fully in their world.

This is another of the things about attending a convention that may make things a little more difficult for you. Depending on your personality, you may find it difficult to make new friends at the conventions. Luckily, some of them have mixers or parties scheduled where you can introduce yourself in a more relaxed setting. For example, WisCon has an opening night dinner, where you can go out for a meal with a random selection of other attendees. The dinner conversation is always interesting, and you get to share some time with some potential new friends.

Writer’s workshops are also good opportunities to meet other writers. As I mentioned, Cassie Alexander led a workshop for me last year, and not only did she give me some excellent advice about improving my book, but we developed a friendship that I treasure. I look forward to seeing her at future WisCon events.

I hope this information has been helpful. My advice to you is to find out what kinds of conventions are in your area and see if you can work at least one into your budget. Despite my warnings, you shouldn’t be scared. Most of the people who go to conventions are looking for the same things you are. Namely friends that share your interest and the chance to meet others who have made the jump from aspiring writer to published author.

Good luck and have fun!

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