Attending Your First Convention As An Unpublished Writer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.
Sometimes 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.
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.
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.
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.