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Going to a Writer’s Convention: What You Need to Know

Conference for Writers & IllustratorsWhen thinking about science fiction and fantasy conventions—sometimes referred to as cons—the mind automatically dashes off to PAX or New York Comic Con or any one of the conventions in and around your town. You know the ones I’m talking about. The events where you cosplay your favorite characters and sit at panels listening to voice actors, gush over artists and geek out over game releases. It’s a fun time for all!

But there’s another kind of convention, one tailored to the bards and scribes of our geeky fellowship: writing conventions. More commonly called conferences or bookfests, writing conventions are prime events for writers near and far. Much like comic cons, these writing events pull together the professionals of the publishing world—editors, publishers, agents, authors, designers, etc.—and allow budding authors to rub shoulders with the masters in their field.

So what really happens at writing conventions? Do scribes go wild, ink gushing everywhere and paper spread out on the floor? Well, no. Not usually anyway. The basics include a keynote speaker—a well-known author or publisher or agent, etc.—and a selection of panels and workshops the attendees can choose from. The topics can range from more general marketing tips or developing a secondary character to a detailed analysis of how setting can be used more effectively. Workshops are usually centered on perfecting pitches…mostly because there are agents to lead the discussion and help writers practice. There are normally vendors at the events, too, so the attendees can see the local publishing/writing/creative businesses. There’s coffee or tea and snacks provided (because all creative types need their fuel), and if the convention is the whole day, it’s pretty standard that lunch is included, too!

Sign by Phil PlaitMore in-depth or longer writing events can include opportunities like formally pitching to an agent (different than the workshop because of the one-on-one factor and sometimes work actually gets requested because of it), getting a manuscript reviewed by an editor (this allows the writers to get professional feedback about how their first chapter reads), or a mix-and-mingle opportunity after the conference is over.

Book fairs are also a thing during these events, and sometimes local authors have the chance to sell their work! I’ve also seen art contests—cover art or children’s book illustrations—and silent auctions, too.

So it’s obvious that writing conventions are really amazing opportunities…but it can also be a little intimidating for new writers. (Especially if you decide to go to one of the bigger writing cons, like AWP Conference & Bookfair or the Writers Digest Conference. Hint: Go to a smaller writing event first, just to try it out.)

Here are some tips to get pumped for your next event:

– Gather your writing materials—most notably a notebook and a couple of pens. I like bringing a padfolio since they look a bit nicer and I can stuff a bunch of things in it.

– Make some business cards or bookmarks or some kind of handout—these can be super simple, too, no need to go overboard if you’re just starting out. You just want something to exchange while you’re mingling.

– Pack some snacks and bring water—usually writing events have these, but you’re not always going to have time between panels to grab something and it’s always good to be prepared. I usually pack some nuts or dried fruit, and I carry my water bottle everywhere.

– Prep your elevator pitch—this is a super short explanation of your work, a snippet to showcase what your story is about. Something that speaks to its genre, the main character, and an inciting incident. For example: “I’m writing a fantasy story about a woman who gets this mysterious pendant attached to her skin and she has to deal with the deadly consequences.” It’s good to have this pitch on hand in case anyone asks you what you’re working on—and trust me, at a writing event everyone will want to know.

– Bonus Introvert Tip: Introverts, I feel you. I am one of you. These types of events can be hard, surrounded by people, rushing from one crowded thing to another, lots of conversations, sometimes multiple days! It can get overwhelming. My bonus tip to you, friends, is to take it one step at a time: focus on the panel you’re at or the next workshop you get to go to or that one cool writer you want to connect with. If it does get too overwhelming, try taking a quick break outside (if you’re in a nice location) or hang out by the vendors since that’s normally a one-on-one conversation and a bit less stressful than the masses of people. You could also go to the book fair, if there’s one available, and pick your next favorite read!

PhilCon 2011 - Show FloorBut the cool thing about writing conventions is that while there are a lot of general ones marketed to all kinds of writers there are also more specific ones dealing with different types of literature, too. There are even some science fiction and fantasy–specific writing events!

Here are some you should check out:

New Worlds, New Voices at Morro Bay, California
Coastal Magic at Daytona Beach, Florida
Sirens at Beaver Creek, Colorado
World Fantasy Convention at Baltimore, Maryland

More often than not, though, you’ll find combo cons—meshing the usual geeky con and a writing con, like this one: RavenCon

If you can’t go to a science fiction and fantasy–specific writing convention, worry not! There’s usually a panel or two about our genre at the general writing cons and if not, you’ll still be able to find your fellow genre writers…just ask what the person next to you is working on. You’d be surprised by how many science fiction and fantasy writers are out there!

So be bold, and head out to your next writing convention today. It’ll be a fun time, I promise! (And if not, feel free to hex me the next time we chat.)

Title image by Fabio.

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