While I was at Penguicon this weekend, I posted a quick Twitter update: “To think I used to come to conventions for the panels…” (I also Twittered about Howard Tayler taking a picture of my crotch, but that’s probably best left for another time. Or never.)
I went to my first con not as a fan, but as a wannabe writer, because that’s what you’re supposed to do, right? You go to sell books (once you have books to sell), and to get your name out there, and to network with editors and other professionals, and do panels, and so on.
I enjoy the panels. I did a half-dozen this weekend, along with a reading and an autographing session. The programming was great — big props to the con staff. Fun topics, fun panelists, and good-sized audiences. And according to Larry Smith in the dealer’s room, I sold a decent number of books, too. (I also note that my Amazon rankings are looking pretty good today — though this may or may not have anything to do with the con.)
But the most fun of the weekend? Hanging out at the bar with friends, arguing whether semicolons are pretentious. Chatting about kids/family with Sandra Tayler. Listening to Tom Smith perform 307 Ale in the middle of the lobby. Listening to Pat Rothfuss go on about Spirographs and masturbation. (I came into that conversation halfway through, so I suspect I may have missed something…)
I’m not the most extroverted or outgoing guy, but I love the social side. I’ve never been one for the parties, but I definitely understand how John Scalzi can spend an entire con just chatting with folks in the bar and have a blast.
The networking and the promotion still happen. I’ve landed story contracts and talked about anthology projects at conventions. I’ve made connections with editors who later bought my work. And I do sell some books. But I’ve learned not to force that. For me, it works better to show up and have fun. If people like what I have to say in panels, or think I’m a fun guy in person, they’ll track down the books. Whereas if I’m coming off as a salesman … well, I might sell books, but it’s also very easy to push too hard and annoy people. Not to mention I won’t have as much fun.
One downside, of course, is that I’m pretty wiped by the end of it all. Especially when my hotel room was on the second floor, in a location where people were apparently compelled to run around shouting and stomping at three in the morning. So as a result, I’ve forgotten all of the brilliant and insightful things I meant to say about conventions.
Instead, I’ll toss it out to you. For those of you who are into conventions, why do you go and what do you do in order to get the most out of the experience?
May 3, 2010 @ 12:02 pm
I go to conventions to socialize. To network. To get more work. I have a distinct dislike of panels, although I feel I should do (i.e., be on, not go to) more of them. While I love World Fantasy for its networking and socializing (and the rare opportunity to get so many pros together) I recently went to a local con and had a blast just hanging out with fans. Met a bunch of new people, too.
May 3, 2010 @ 12:04 pm
Great post, Jim!
I go to conventions for a variety of different reasons.
As an extrovert who works from home and lives in a small rural area, the people contact (meeting new folks, reconnecting with old friends and in general being around large groups) is an energizer for me. I come home from a convention exhausted, but enervated!
As a gamer/geek, I get to learn/see/do new things (and some old ones that I don’t have the right combination of people to do out here). Be it tabletop RPGs, board games, card games, events and activities, panels, parties or LARPs, there’s always new experiences to be had at a convention.
And, finally, as a writer, I use conventions for networking, new job opportunities, solidifying virtual connections, publicity, public relations and making my own “virtual” presence a positive real connection with readers and potential readers. I believe that conventions can be one of the most useful tools that aspiring writers can use for making those connections. I even wrote a small .pdf product about it (Conventions for the Aspiring Game Professional: http://tinyurl.com/ycqe83x) to share with folks who are trying to get into gaming professionally. The same advice and opportunities apply for any other sort of convention or conference, though.
Thanks for this great post – Awesome insight!
May 3, 2010 @ 12:08 pm
I’ve been to two cons now, for two totally different experiences.
The bottom line, for me, is networking, discovering new ideas, theories and resources, engaging in discussion, and immersing myself in the genre world for a while. I have little interaction with literary people outside of the internet, unless I drive 3 hours, so a con gets them all within arms reach!
I’m also a very small part of the surge in Amazon rankings after a con. I’ll browse the dealer room, but seldom buy anything. I DO make a list of authors and books that I want to read, often based on panelists. I got involved in horror primarily because of a panel on which Nutman, Mayberry, Sigler and others were discussing the physical body in horror. I went home and added their names to my to-read list.
All that adds up to: Thank you. Any author, editor, industry professional or moderator, thank you for sitting up there and talking, not just about what worked for you, but what was funny, sad, silly or awesome.
May 3, 2010 @ 12:58 pm
I love the panels at Penguicon, but I go to meet and socialize with amazing new people and people I care about who live far away. I always wander through the parties, but generally I pick up awesome folk and we go somewhere else to talk, laugh, sing, swim, whatever.
Jim C. Hines
May 3, 2010 @ 2:42 pm
The panels do seem to be an effective way to get my name out there, as long as I don’t make too big an idiot of myself. If people remember you as someone who seems nice/funny/intelligent, or some combination thereof, some of them will seek out your stuff.
But the hanging out part is just a blast 🙂
May 3, 2010 @ 2:44 pm
What a coincidence–I was just thinking about a con this morning (though in a slightly different industry: Anime Expo). I started doing some professional manga translation on the side 2 years ago, so I went to last year’s AX to check out the industry-only panel (excellent one on the state/potential of OEL manga (original English-language manga) in the US) and to meet my editors at the various publishing houses for the first time since all my work/communication with them is done via e-mail. I managed to meet and chat up a new editor from a different company as well (and got a nice verbal rec from my existing editor), but felt a little awkward handing my resume to him at the end of our nice chat. I’m not the biggest networking pro, so maybe handing over my resume was not the savviest thing to do, huh? He did e-mail me SEVERAL months later asking for a translation sample, but nothing’s yet come of it (though with the shrinking amount of titles released in this industry, it’s possible there just hasn’t been an opening yet). But I still feel like there must have been a savvier way to “network” that editor.
As a con veteran, your advice is to just relax and have fun (obviously, you wouldn’t be handing out resumes if you were in my shoes, I take it?)/get to know editors as people and then hope the jobs roll in? That would definitely be more comfortable for me too… So maybe this year, I should just go to mingle/meet folks and only carry a few business cards that I can whip out only upon demand?
May 3, 2010 @ 3:59 pm
Cy, if you don’t mind some advice… (Mind you, all of this is just my opinion/experience.
Perhaps next time, rather than giving him a resume (which makes it feel like the whole conversation was just an opportunity for you to hand that over…) hand him a business card at the end of your conversation, ask him for his, and say something like…
“I’ve taken enough of your time, I know conventions are always busy. Would you mind if I dropped you a line after the convention to continue our chat? I’m sure I’ll think of a ton of questions as soon as I walk away…”
Then follow up with an email, a few days after the convention, and ask him some more insightful questions about his company, including “I’m currently looking for opportunities to branch out my translation business in the industry – would you mind if I sent you my resume, so that if you happen to have any opportunities open up with your company, you could keep me in mind?”
Follow up conversations can tell you a lot about a company, and can help you to distinguish yourself from the “face in the crowd”. Resumes given out at cons often get lost/mangled/thrown away, just by virtue of the chaotic nature of the event. Business cards (both given and received) can be much more useful.
The exception to this is graphic arts, where an ash can (disposable portfolio) can really catch someone’s eye and make them remember you after the con. But even artists should do the business card/follow up, in conjunction with the ash can.
(This is one of the things I talked about extensively in Conventions for the Aspiring Game Professional, but it also applies to any industry.)
Jim C. Hines
May 3, 2010 @ 6:09 pm
Everyone’s different — I’m describing what’s worked for me and what I get out of the experience, which may or may not hold true for anyone else 🙂
That said, I’d second Jess’ suggestion below about business cards. Just about everyone has them, and they’re easy to swap and hand out, even for informal things like jotting down my cellphone number so someone can give me a call to set up dinner plans. On the other hand, I don’t know anime/manga cons, so the culture might be different there.
I usually bring about 30-40 business cards, as well as a bunch of bookmarks, most of which I leave out on the freebies table.
May 3, 2010 @ 7:14 pm
I’ve only been to one Sci-fi/Fantasy convention, and that was last year’s Windy Con, where I saw you on a panel or two. I’d never been before, so I went to meet an online friend in meatspace, learn more about writing, inspiration, etc. (since I’m a wannabe at this point), and to try and relax and have a good time. I went mostly to panels, but I also went to a couple readings and walked around the dealer rooms. I’m hoping in the future I’ll be going to cons in a more professional capacity and have an experience like what you’ve described.
Otherwise, I’ve been to a number or comic book conventions, which has usually been about putting a lock on my wallet and not going wild with my spending. The last two comic cons I’ve gone to I’ve attended a couple panels and found them to be interesting, so I’ll probably be doing more of that in the future.
I’ve wanted to go to Penguicon for two years now, and it just hasn’t worked out. Maybe next year it will.
And having more recently discovered your blog and your fiction, I just finished Goblin Quest over the weekend and I was really sad when it was done that I didn’t have the next one to pick up right away. It was a stellar book and I can’t wait to read Goblin Hero.
May 3, 2010 @ 8:00 pm
Hi, Jess–thanks a ton for the advice. The “don’t want to take up your time since cons are so busy” line is a very good idea, because I definitely started feeling bad hogging some of the editors for so long but unable to think of a good way to break it off/being totally abrupt handing over a resume, etc. Lol. I will definitely bring along some business cards and try your strategy this year. Thanks for taking the time to advise a newbie like me. ^^
May 3, 2010 @ 8:04 pm
Lol, wish I were far enough along to do the bookmark thing (in my *writing* non-career, that is). 😀 But since my target clients for translation are industry people as opposed to consumers, I guess distributing bookmarks to all of them would be a little strange, huh? ^^;
And you should definitely check out an anime con some time–there’s a lot of cross-over potential between anime fans and SFF readers, so you may find a whole new reader-base of fantasy-anime fans or something. 😀
May 3, 2010 @ 10:14 pm
I love cons, but they take a lot out of me.
I go to do panels. If I’m not a guest, I often wind up Huckster In Chief for the Literary Underworld. I like hanging out, talking to people, not just pros but fans as well.
I’m starting to get into the gaming a little. A friend of mine incorporated some characters from one of my books into her Vampyre LARP and invited me to come play. I had a good time. And it sold me half a dozen books afterward. I am studying how to run a new system so I can run a game at Hypericon, one our fearless leader just happens to have written a tie-in novel for…
May 3, 2010 @ 10:19 pm
I prefer to go to cons for the panels, primarily. Especially those that touch on narrative theory and media theory. It appeals to my inner academic. 🙂
I went once to try networking, realized that I was really terrible at it for the most part and decided against doing that sort of thing ever again at a con.
Cons are places where I plan how much I’m going to spend on books… although, recently I’ve been spending less and picking up more free books the last few cons I’ve been to. Found some interesting books that way, actually. Strangely enough, being interested in those free books lead to more memorable conversations than when I was trying to network. Certainly it improved my enjoyment of a convention.
May 4, 2010 @ 5:48 pm
The first time I went to a con, I was just shy of 18. My reaction was basically, “OH! This where all my kind have been hiding!”. Socializing, dressing up, going to panels, meeting TOM BAKER, being in the same room as other cool sf peeps, collecting autographed books by people I actually know (hi, Jim!). Now, since the Kid, my cons have been different, and I am now real close with the kid’s tracks. It’s still a super-fun place to be, although many of the people I used to see at cons have given it up. And the kid thinks it’s just what people do, right? Go to hotels and dress up like unicorns – doesn’t everyone? 🙂
Jim C. Hines
May 4, 2010 @ 6:43 pm
You would have liked the Fantasy Matters conference they did a few years back. It was a fun crossbreed of an academic conference and a convention. Smaller than most cons, but it still drew a number of cool people.
With networking, I’ve found that for me, it often works better when I’m not trying to network. When I’m just chatting and hanging out. Though I’m still not as good at it as many.
Jim C. Hines
May 4, 2010 @ 6:44 pm
I’ve never done gaming at cons. I’m not sure how I’d make the time, but it’s something I’d like to try one of these days. My regular group only meets every 2-3 weeks these days, so it would be nice to get an extra fix 🙂
Jim C. Hines
May 4, 2010 @ 6:46 pm
Thanks! Very happy you enjoyed Goblin Quest!
I know what you mean about the wallet lock. Every time I roam the dealer’s room, it would be so easy to blow a month’s worth of paychecks or more…
Have you found the panels to be helpful, for where you’re at and what you’re trying to do?
Jim C. Hines
May 4, 2010 @ 6:54 pm
Out of curiosity, why Amazon instead of the dealer’s room?
It’s definitely nice to escape the real world and connect with writers and geeks. There are a few people around here who won’t look at me like I’m nuts if I quote Firefly or Star Trek, but it’s awfully nice to go somewhere and feel like I’m really in the midst of *my* tribe 🙂
Jim C. Hines
May 4, 2010 @ 6:55 pm
Tom Baker … I’ve heard that name somewhere. Wasn’t he in some British SF show? Doctor Whom or something?
May 4, 2010 @ 8:42 pm
Tom Baker played the 4th regeneration of the Doctor in Doctor Who. 🙂
Jim C. Hines
May 4, 2010 @ 8:56 pm
I know. I’m just being a smart-ass 😉
May 5, 2010 @ 11:26 am
In general I’ve found the panels to be helpful when talking about writing advice. I know a lot of it boils down to finding time to write, which is hard to do right now, because what little sleep I do get (two little ones at home and a full-time job) I don’t want to give up.
Jim C. Hines
May 5, 2010 @ 3:09 pm
“two little ones at home and a full-time job…”
I feel your pain! If I wasn’t able to write during my lunch break at work, I suspect it would take at least two years for me to finish a book.
May 8, 2010 @ 1:29 pm
Cons, used to go for the panels. Then I discovered “the bar” and “parties.” Now it’s a rare topic that I make it a point to go see “the panel.” Some are just hilarious (such as “juvenalia”) or there’s someone I want to meet and the panel is kind of a “warm up” exercise. I remember the first con I went to that I didn’t make a single panel. For some reason I didn’t feel that I didn’t get my money’s worth.