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Attending Your First Convention As An Unpublished Writer

So there comes a time early in every writer’s career when you make a very serious decision. You’ve been writing as a hobby for years, you enjoy it and your head is literally bursting with ideas for all the various stories you want to write. You’ve developed as a writer, either you or friends have noticed your progression, and now you think you’re ready to take the next steps, to start taking your writing more seriously and work towards publication.

One of those next steps might be to attend a convention, to meet and mix with other writers as well as agents and editors. It’s a scary prospect, especially if you’ve never been to a convention before. So for those of you working towards publication here are some tips to help you get the most out of a weekend genre convention.

Dress Code

Samus by TylerChampionSometimes we believe we need to dress the part to feel the part. There are some people who turn up to their first convention dressed as if going to a job interview. Your professionalism is to be commended but, especially at a genre convention, you’re going to stick out amid the sea of t-shirts and jeans. Dress for comfort.

Plan Your Panels

Most conventions will have some sort of programming where a range of panellists will sit at the front of a room and discuss a topic with an opportunity for questions and answers from the audience at the end. The panels are usually announced a week or two before the event, giving you time to select the ones you’d like to attend but other than some specific workshops there’s usually no need to sign or commit (If there is it will say in the description that places are limited). There’s usually at least one “How To Get Published” panel that’s always well attended but don’t be afraid to attend panels that sound interesting but maybe don’t match up with your professional aims.

Plan For Being Alone

The genre community is amazingly friendly and welcoming. That said, even the most socially confident of people would have trouble finding the right way to interject themselves into a group of people all sat together chatting. Every convention always seems to have too few seats so the old “is this seat taken?” usually results in the genuine answer that the person they just sent to the bar is sat there.

There are ways you can combat the solitude though. Use forums and social media beforehand to see if anyone you know is going and arrange to meet up and hang out. There are lots of people just like you out there who would welcome a convention buddy.

Also, going up to panellists and complimenting them or asking about their book is a great icebreaker.
But if all else fails, and there’s no panels on, a book convention is about the only place where sitting down and reading a book isn’t considered odd.

Ogre Bully by dangercookStay For The Weekend

Even if the convention hotel is just around the corner from where you live, part of the convention experience is hanging out in the bar in the evening. With the business of the panels for the day out the way most people are more relaxed and there are more opportunities to meet and chat with other writers.

With that said, it brings us to the next point…

Careful With Your Drink

No-one wants to be remembered as the person who vomited over the Guest of Honour. Also, most genre convention have an anti-harassment policy these days, which means that if you are prone to hitting on people when you’ve had a few you’ll probably find yourself in trouble with the convention organisers. Everyone wants to have a great, hassle-free con, so keep that in mind.

Know Your Pitch

Inevitably, at some point someone will ask you what you do. It may not seem so whilst sat in front of your computer reading this, but when confronted by your favourite author in the entire world who you just said hello to this can seem like the most difficult question in the world. Writer is a perfectly legitimate answer, so is aspiring or unpublished writer.

Another question you might be asked, usually as a follow on question, is “what type of things do you write?” Be confident in your answer. If you write elf/unicorn slash fiction say so. However, this is not the moment to launch into a thousand word synopsis; keep it to a single sentence.

Don’t Pitch

Nearly every editor and agent has horror stories about people who try and pitch to them at conventions. This isn’t the time or place to pitch your book. Leave the manuscript at home.

Keep Calm & Fly Casual by PTMilliganSet Reasonable Expectations

You are not going to come home from the convention with a book deal. Your mission isn’t to let the entire convention know about your unpublished novel, nor swap business cards like it’s a trading card game. If people ask, by all means do so, but a successful convention will see you making new friends rather than new business contacts. Instead, set yourself the goal of making one new friend or learning one new thing. But most of all, go and have a good time. The genre community is great and conventions can be so much fun. Relax, be sensible and you’ll do just fine.

Title image by JaxImagery .



  1. Avatar Lorraine Powell says:

    Thank you, this is a perfect post – you can be sure I will find my way back to it when I feel brave/ready enough to nervously head towards my first convention!

  2. Avatar Joey says:

    Great advice! Genre cons are usually very friendly, and if you are nervous or shy it’s an idea to make yourself known to the Con Committee before the event so they can look out for you and introduce you to people. Also, cons always need volunteers, so if you want to help out that’s another really good way of meeting people.

  3. Avatar Steve Miller says:

    If your intent is to go to conventions to both learn and to make contacts let me suggest the following:

    1) Dress for success. If you do wear jeans and tees, make them presentable. You’d rather be remembered for your contributions than your outfit. Casual shirt and slacks (male or female) are generally acceptable and mean that if you end up in a photograph, drafted into an event, or invited to join a bunch of folks going to dinner, you’ll be fine. Always assume you’ll end up in *someone’s* photograph at some point at a con.

    1B) Also, if you have and can use a camera be prepared to take some photos as long as you’re not intrusive. I’ve been at events where my photos were the best available and thus helped me make connections afterwards.

    2) Get and bring a good lanyard in case the ones provided by the event are nonexistent (suppose they use pins?) so that your name tag can be clearly seen. Pay attention that name side is out. Sharon Lee and I just went to BEA — I had a tie-dyed lanyard, hers was faux glitter. Both got compliments at the show, and oddly, the even had run low on lanyards so they were thankful we’d brought ours!

    3) Do visit both the art show and the dealer’s room (or equivalent alley, gallery, huckster room, etc) at least twice. Visit once as if you’ve got unlimited money in your pocket and really look at stuff you like. Next time, visit and see where you think your kind of writing or art would be sold. Are there dealers specializing in Montenegren War Horse fantasy? Are there dealers specializing in local authors, new authors, or etc. Get business cards from those who offer them, and have business cards to trade – low key, with your name, website (if any and if business oriented) and an email address. Avoid gaudy cards — they”re often the first to be tossed when someone gets home.

    4. If the convention has a con suite at least stop by a couple times a day. Some consuites are sad affairs, but others are quite active and can give you an opportunity to talk to people.

    5) Be patient. Lines, delays, and changes in schedules will happen. If you do have time to volunteer, understand that you’re part of a long tradition. I was helping with registration at a BaltiCon and got an unexpected assistant — Guest of Honor Anne McCaffrey presented herself, demanding to be put to work so she could meet people. In fact, she typed name badges for several hours and we were in touch over decades.

  4. […] at Fantasy Faction I’ve recently had an article published regarding attending your first convention as an […]

  5. This is such a nice post!
    I’m attending BuCon in Dreieich (a German town near Frankfurt) in October and yes, I’m really really nervous. So reading this helps me to cool down for the big event in October.
    I’ll take my love with me if he can come and I hope to meet as many people (including my publisher) as possible I know from the web, but again – I’m chatty on the web and absurdly shy in real life.
    So thank you for this post! I’ll share it with other writers so it may benefit as many people as possible.

  6. Avatar L.B. Zumpshon says:

    Interesting how similar this is to attending a scientific conference. I’m guessing that means there’s also a difference depending on how big the conference is, with littler ones giving you much more opportunity to connect and make new friends. I’m a lot less nervous about the idea of going now, anyway, so thank you!

  7. Avatar Cameron Johnston says:

    I’ve found cons very friendly places indeed. If stuck for something to say just talk about the books you love.

    Social media and forums are great places to meet people intending on going (in my case Twitter is great for this), and lots of other people will be there on their own or in twos or threes and very welcoming of meeting new people. Standing at the bar is good for a conversation, waiting for ages to order a drink just like the person next to you.

    Usually there are early morning panels specifically set aside for people going to their first con so that they can meet others in a similar position and get to know each other.

    Some cons have a coloured peg or badge system in place to denote things like ‘I’m shy but open to meeting new people, please come say hello’. Or conversely, ‘not wanting to talk to anybody I don’t already know’.

  8. […] jedem Autor, Rollenspielerfinder und Weltenbauer bevorstehen könnte – der erste Besuch einer Convention. Einige Tipps, damit man kein Nervenbündel ist und sich nix traut, sind immer nett. Durchaus […]

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