Pros and Cons of cons
-Teel James Glenn
Conventions are fun, no one can deny that, but for people who want to make it in the writing world they are also work.
When you think about it, science fiction conventions were started by a group of fans in the 1930s who formed groups like the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society or the Futurians who were fans of Hugo Gernsback’s science fiction and science magazine. He connected fans who wrote in to the letter columns.
Many of those fans went on to become the great writers of the era-Julie Schwartz, Ray Bradbury and others. They always acknowledged their roots in the ‘fan’ world, even before the term was really coined.
I’ve been going to conventions since the 1970s, first as a fan myself, and watched them evolve from small gatherings of a hundred or two of fans of comics or Sci Fi to the mega conventions of today where a hundred and fifty thousand people jam into a convention center.
Why keep going to conventions as a professional writer?Well, to quote the famous safe bank robber Jimmy Valentine when he was asked why he robbed banks, “‘Cause that’s where the money is!”
Mind you, it is not so crass as to be walking around with a sandwich board proclaiming your latest book-(though that is not necessarily a bad thing)-But from the moment you walk into a con till the moment you leave you have to consider that you are ‘on stage’- performing as your writer persona. You are there to be seen!
This can be a hard thing for many writers, who are, after all mostly solitary creatures, yet, the target audience for your work- be it romance writing, mystery stories, fantasy, science fiction, that convention crowd is there because they love the exact type of writing you do.
So what do you do if not wear that sandwich board? You write to the con and try to get on panels so people can see and hear you. You go to the panels of writes/editors you like and ask questions and in an un-creepy-I’m-a -colleague- way chat with them after the panels.
If you can afford it, of course, it is a good thing to get a table at the con- it is a great way to chat people up and push your books. If you don’t have a ‘support staff’ of friends who can relieve you at the table it can be a trap-i.e.- you are stuck behind that table when you want to get to panels to meet other pros or see events you want to see.
Of course, any one of these ways to ‘present’ yourself at a con could make that contact with an editor, agent or even fellow writer that lets you in on a new anthology or market looking for stories. All of them give you a pretty good shot at advancing your career.
The thing to remember is that, while it is a place to have fun for fans it can be a springboard for you as a professional writer so be on your best behavior- people remember if you are a jerk and (I’ve heard) that editors are people.
One side bar to all this is that lots of deals and meetings happen in the hotel bar. If you drink (and I don’t so I don’t have this problem), do so under you limit. Keep your head about you so you can make those deals and retain the details of the business conversations you do hear!