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Why Conventions Kick-Ass and How to Do It Right

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Friday, June 1, 2012

Why Conventions Kick-Ass and How to Do It Right

I've been a fan of science fiction and fantasy my entire life. In all those years, I've rarely, if ever, had people around me who shared that passion. From time to time I'd find someone to geek out with, but it's been a relatively solitary experience. When I started blogging eighteen months ago (give or take) it was in many ways a project by which I could engage with like minded people -- fans, readers, authors, etc. In those terms, it's been a great success.

What I didn't realize before writing this blog is that nearly every major community in America has an annual gathering of people like me. They're called conventions. Admittedly, the people who attend these conventions don't all look like me, or act like me, or even approach fandom like me. Some of them give the impression of being more comfortable in a furry sex club. However, it would be a mistake consider fandom monolithic and every convention I've been to thus far has had a gamut of different ways to interact. Want to game? Hit the game room. Want to learn about how authors work? Hit a panel. Want to make friends? Hit the bar. Not to mention the dozens of other ways that don't do it for me (cosplay, film sessions, arts & crafts, filking etc.).

Having attended two cons so far this year (ConFusion and Balticon) and dropped in on another (Nebula Award Weekend), I honestly can't believe I waited so long. Perhaps I'm getting more out of these events due to preexisting relationships built through this blog. I go to cons to meet authors, develop relationships with publishers, and learn more about the business of science fiction and fantasy. I approach professionals as a peer first and a fan second. It's a method that's served me well, but it should be noted that those are the kinds of interactions I'm looking for.

My point being that conventions are what you make of them. I suspect many of the people who read this blog have had a similar experience as my own. In the day to day life of a genre fan, how often do you get to really and truly geek out about your passion? Cons are the place to do that without holding back.

You might be thinking, "It's going to be way too expensive to go to a Con." Think again. The fact is most of the regional genre conventions aren't in the big cities. Balticon purports to be in Baltimore, but it's actually 10 minutes outside the city. ConFusion isn't in Detroit; it's in Troy. CapClave isn't in Washington D.C.; it's in Gaithersburg. This means reasonable hotel rates, usually in the $100 a night range, and plenty of free parking. My average con experience has run me around $400-500 for the weekend, a little more when I fly, a lot less when I drive. I'm not much of a penny pincher either -- I know it can be done cheaper.

Thankfully, Locus On-line keeps a running list of all the cons around the country. I strongly suggest anyone who reads me and enjoys the genre to check out the list and see if one makes sense for you.

I can't recommend the experience enough.

Oh look, I'm lurking behind Myke Cole. Ready to strike!
Photo by Jennie Ivins

Now if I've been convincing about why going to a convention is a good idea, here's some tips on how to make it a great experience:

  • Find a roommate. It's cheaper and you'll have a wingman for weekend.
  • If one of your favorite authors is in attendance act like you've been there before. I don't mean stop being a fan. You can squeal, but don't monopolize their time before or after panels, instead offer to buy them a drink in the bar.
  • Go to lots of panels. They're incredibly interesting most of the time, and can provide you a lot of information about the writing process as well as offer clues on how to be a better reader. Be aware though that you're there to listen to the panel's thoughts, not to offer your own. There's nothing more disruptive than an audience member who keeps tossing their two cents in to the discussion.
  • Cruise the dealer's room. You're going to see a lot of great titles you'd never see in a book store. It's also a great place to strike up a conversation with like minded people about books you've read.
  • The bar is the heart of the convention. Even if you don't drink, it's the best place to chat people up. When I'm between panels, or bored with no one to talk to, I just hit the bar, order a drink, and wait for something interesting to happen. Worst case scenario, read a book by an author at the convention. It's like putting down flypaper.
See, hang in the bar and who do you see? Peter V. Brett,
Brent Weeks, and Joe Abercrombie. YMMV
  • And lastly, USE TWITTER. Before you go to a convention, start tweeting to people who might be there. It's a great way to break the ice and get a list of folks who will recognize your name.

Have you been to a con? Did you have a good experience? What advice would you offer to people thinking about going for the first time? I'd love to hear from people on this.

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At June 1, 2012 at 10:58 AM , Blogger Stefan Fergus said...

I'd LOVE to go to a Con!
I'm going to Book Expo America next week (does that count as a Con?). I wonder if they have a bar...?

At June 1, 2012 at 11:26 AM , Blogger Richard Auffrey said...

I have been attending SFF conventions for about 30 years, and Boston is fortunate to have a few throughout the year, from Arisia to ReaderCon. Plus, there are several local gaming conventions as well such as Total Confusion. Some conventions have themes, catering to smaller niche groups, while others are quite diverse and everyone should find something that appeals to them.

At a convention, you probably won't be able to do everything that you want so you must pick & choose your activities. If you can find a schedule before the con occurs, you can better decide which events to attend. Though note there will be schedule changes once you arrive at the con.

Though it sounds silly, and something which shouldn't have to be said, it actually is a necessity. Bathe & eat! Some try to save money by not buying food, or renting a room, but that will only lose you friends & be bad for your health. Bathe & eat.

Take a camera as there will probably be plenty you want to capture on film, as many attendees wear cool costumes. You might even want to wear your own costume. But before taking someone's picture, you should ask permission, which is highly likely to be granted.

Though the bar can be a big social spot, many conventions also have a slew of evening parties where attendees, authors, and other hang out. Some are public parties while others are private, invite only. Can be a great time to relax and socialize with your favorite authors.

You can sometimes save money by volunteering at conventions. They might waive your registration fee for a few hours of work. Check with the individual con.

I could probably go on and on with suggestions. :)

At June 1, 2012 at 11:28 AM , Blogger Justin said...

Good tip on the bathing, haha. Never occurred to me that might be a thing. ;)

At June 1, 2012 at 12:41 PM , Blogger Richard Auffrey said...

When you have been in close confines in an elevator with several unwashed conventioneers, then you know bathing is a definite necessity. :)

At June 1, 2012 at 1:47 PM , Blogger Paul Weimer said...

Thanks for the advice, Justin.

I go to very few cons because, well, you know.

My next one, though, is going to be 4th Street Fantasy in three weeks. It's a little small for the techniques you describe, but I will keep your ideas in mind.

At June 3, 2012 at 2:05 PM , Blogger Redhead said...

arrghh, had a layover in Baltimore last weekend and KNEW i should have just ditched the connection and gone to Balticon!

and a hearty YES to everything you said. Cons are where it is AT. it's a hotel full of geeks, I mean come on, that's heaven!


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