Monthly Archives: March 2014

Newbie at the Con

(Term: Con Translation: Convention – gathering of people for a theme or purpose, often with structure, programs or events.)

I’m addressing this blog entry mostly to a) writers and other creative types who haven’t been to conventions and are thinking of going b) anyone else who might be curious.

Oh, wow. Aren’t conventions something?

What I previously knew of conventions amounted to pictures of ComiCon and anime cons. People in costumes, lines of fans waiting for autographs, and so on.

But!!! There are different kinds of cons!

If you’re an artistic type – musician, writer, etc – you probably should be going to conventions (or their equivalent). I’ve learned that there is probably a version of these things for different fields, in some way or another. There’s a big one for musicians, for example, where they can meet people, network, hear music, and possibly launch their careers.

I’ve been to a handful of Science Fiction/ Fantasy cons at this point: Baycon, Westercon66, LoneStarCon3, Con-Volution, and Potlatch23. Unfortunately, I missed FogCon.
Each con has its own focus and draw. Some have tons of people in costumes, some have (literally) none. Some are attended by LOTS of people… some are just over a hundred or so.

For starters, if you are uncomfortable about meeting people in costume, well… you should just get over yourself. If you’re a writer, these are the folks who (hopefully) will be buying your books or reading your short stories. At the very least, put your discomfort on hold and get the most you can out of the event.

Right now you’re probably giving me a funny look, wondering why you should even go…?

Even though you think you know a bunch of stuff about your chosen field, if you haven’t been to a con, you might not know that much. They are great places to learn.
For writers, conventions can be wonderful places to meet other writers at different levels, from starting out to making a living selling fiction. You could develop relationships with editors and agents, as well as other influential or helpful people. At the very least, you might end up having conversations about stuff you’ve read and loved.

Most of the cons I mentioned above have a number of panels with writers in mind.

(Term: Panel Translation: sorta classroom style setting, usually with selected people at a table/ stage, speaking on a pre-determined topic)

So… and I know you already know everything there is to know about the industry (*wink*) but wouldn’t it be great to hear people who are published (or publishers, etc) talk about how to get published, or their struggles with writer’s block, or ways to stay motivated when things get tough?

Now you’re blinking at me, all… surprised… in disbelief. That’s okay. Don’t take my word for it. You’re a noob, a total, complete, utter noob.

Do a few minutes of homework. Go to websites of upcoming gatherings. Look at their lists of guests and see if there’s anyone you’d be interested in meeting. Also, look at their programming and figure out what kind of panels you’d want to attend. Likely, you’ll find topics that interest you, and from which (gasp!) you could even learn something.

My advice for the newbie going in: be prepared to feel out of place to a degree.

That’s okay. Have simple goals in mind… and meet them! For example: introduce yourself to one author who has published a book; or meet someone who is new to writing and hasn’t published yet.
There are also workshops for writers at most of these things. They are basically crit groups that couple inexperienced writers with one or two more seasoned authors.

(Term: Crit group Translation: Critique group – individuals sharing their work and exchanging feedback/ opinions about said work, for the express purpose of improving the piece as well as developing overall skills)

Not all cons are the same, and some are more about the fan side – getting autographs and so on. If you are a writer hoping to gain traction, that is probably not your focus.

Be sure to check out the particular con’s website before you go. Make sure there are things about it that will interest you. Do some planning to maximize your time, but be flexible while there, to allow for spontaneity. My first con, Ann Wilkes ( was kind enough to invite me to dinner, and I ended up having a great time and meeting nice people. At LoneStarCon3, I hung out with J.A.Pitts ( among others, just chatting and sipping coffee.

Day of, before you go, take a deep breath and prepare yourself. No, not for the costumes – that’s on you, I told you! Your issues. People can dress up if they want.

What you’re preparing for is *interaction.* You are preparing to walk up to a panel after they finish, to say “hi”, not to mention to ask questions like an intelligent person. You are preparing to go over to the other person in the audience, the one who had that really interesting question or comment. Compliment them on their thoughts, let them know you were thinking the same thing. You might hit it off, you might even form ties that last.

One more note – remember that whoever you meet, whatever they do, whatever the context, dressed up or not, these are actual people… with feelings and everything! Meet a famous author? Don’t freak out. Meet an editor (and just happen to have your book on hand)? How about “hi, how are you?” rather than “Hey, read my book!” If in doubt, think about how you would interact in a normal situation and follow that model. Watch faces and body language, see if you hit a sour chord, *but don’t let nerves hold you back.* Be nice. Talk about real life things, ask questions, show interest, rather than acting solely on your own needs.

Okay, that’s all I have. If any of you con newbies have more questions just email me. I’ll try to answer any emails I get, though I can’t promise to actually be helpful! haha = D

Below, I’ll list some cons that writers might find interesting/ useful. Please understand, you might not get the same things out of every con, you might not enjoy them all equally or walk away having met people, even.

To a degree, what you get out of it really depends on what you put into it, from checking out the websites before you go to how you spend your time while you are there.

For other creative types, I’m confident a lot of this, more or less, is the same for you. I don’t have links for you at this time. So go find something! It’s the internet! Stuff ain’t hidin’ from ya! They may not even be called “cons” but they will function in similar ways.

To the Convention Pros! I mean YOU, the folks who go all the time, who know people and have become comfortable in your skin at these things. Yeah… YOU.

Be NICE to the newbies!!!

Know what? Why not make it easy on them? Let’s face it, many of us go with friends. It’s like being at the dance, know what I mean? The newb is the person eyeing someone from across the room, but the individual they’re eyeing is in a cluster of people, making it even harder to approach….

So sad. So heartbreaking.

Honestly, I’ve found that many experienced con-goers are pretty friendly. But I want to call out to those con-goers: keep up the friendliness, but not in an overbearing way! Be open to meeting people, while giving space to the nervous or uncomfortable.

This goes for authors, editors, agents and publishers, and so on as well. Us newbies get scared! Our hopes and dreams are pounding in our hearts! It’s not easy to say “hi” to someone who has made an impact in the industry in some way.

That’s it for now. Just check one out and see how it goes. If you can, go with at least one other person – in my opinion, it helps. If you can afford it, stay in the hotel and hang out at the bar; walk around a lot. Chill in the lobby on the chairs and sofas. Sometimes conversations spring up during the in-between times, and you just might make new friends.

Good luck!

— Arley

Cons and “stuff” as of March 2014:

Listings —

Google (or your preferred search engine): use it. type in “science fiction and fantasy convention” and see what you come up with.

Local (ish) cons that might be interesting… or, cons I’ve heard good things about…:

…This list is not exhaustive. Everything is here for a reason, though. I’ve either heard good things, or had a good experience, or… something. LOL Maybe I saw them online and thought they looked good.

CondorCon – March 21-23
(looks cool)

NorWesCon – Apr 17-20
(looks cool)

Nebulas – May 15-18
(heard it’s a great place to meet ppl and get involved)

BayCon – May 23-26
(great “starter” con imo. not too big, lots of opportunities to learn)

WisCon – May 23-26
(heard it’s a wonderful con)

Westercon – July 3-6
(had a good time last one, was similar experience to BayCon for me)

Bubonicon – Aug 1-3
(heard from many ppl this is one to go to if you can)

WorldCon – Aug 14-18
(big. huge. massive. big names, but also opportunities to meet ppl and learn)

Con-Volution – Sep 26-28
(was smaller than BayCon & Westercon66. still growing, imo)

World Fantasy Con – Nov 6-9
(big and more “industry” focused – editors, authors and agents! oh my!)

OryCon – Nov 7-9
(heard it’s really cool, smaller, intimate)

These have already happened – consider them for next year:

(was nice, intimate, very very small, but cozy, informal. good for mtg ppl IF you are somewhat extroverted, imo)

(was SOOO bummed I couldn’t make it, I’ve heard many good things… small, focused, lots of writerly stuff. really want to go next time!)