Did you know that if you put your ear to the ground during a convention, you can hear the sound of laughter three blocks away? Whether you’re a reader or an author, a pro or an amateur, there’s a lot of fun to be had at a science fiction, fantasy or horror con. In this article I’m going to discuss conventions from my perspective as an author and game designer. Afterward, I’ll share with you some resources to help you plan your next con.
Probably the best part about going to a convention is being able to thwart the notion that readers, authors and various other literary folk are too stuffy to have a good time. Believe me, if you’ve ever had the pleasure of having dinner with Jason Sizemore, you’d know that is a load of alien dung. The truth is: science fiction, fantasy and horror fans not only put on a good show, but really love genres. Otherwise, why would hundreds of thousands of volunteers put the work into designing these conventions in the first place? There’s a ton of great shows out there that are not only affordable, but right in your backyard. Over the past couple of years, there’s also been a growing movement related to virtual conventions that take place online. To enjoy them, you simply have to point and click.
One of my favorite con stories in recent memory takes place at a nightclub after the stroke of midnight. For that was when I got to witness Apex Publication’s alien overlord — Jason Sizemore — busting a move at a vampire-themed party with Maurice Broaddus. The music, decor and costumes were mostly goth, but that didn’t stop the beers from flowing, the cell phones from taking pictures and the faces from grinning ear-to-ear. Now, I know what you’re thinking. Unfortunately, said pictures have since been confiscated. (Or so I’m told.)
There are two morals to this sordid tale. The first is my obligatory mention of Facebook and Twitter and their impact on conventions and party-going antics. All a reader has to do now is chat up (or read about) their favorite author online before they head to the hall or a party. A reader may recognize an author by their picture, but the reverse isn’t always true, which has been known to cause more than a few deer-in-headlight stares.
The second moral to my story, is that it’s a little daunting to see how a virtual life and a personal life can break the space-time continuum at a show. The strangest experiences I have are those moments when people come up to me and are offended when I don’t know who they are. Mind you, when it comes to social media I don’t instantly make the “Aha! So that’s where I know you from!” connections, especially if the person’s avatar or handle isn’t their real name. Truth be told, I’m more likely to remember someone from an e-mail conversation than through a rapidly moving stream of chatter.
For these reasons, I feel going to conventions is crucial to getting to know someone in either a professional or a personal capacity. In my mind, no amount of Like-ing, replying or IM-ing is a replacement for building relationships in person. Contrary to popular belief, authors, editors, readers and agents are all human. The face we show online typically isn’t the same as what we’re like on a day-to-day basis. If you’ve heard the horror stories about excited authors who pitch agents in a bathroom — they’re absolutely true because I’ve seen it myself. Not only was the agent terrified, but the author wound up feeling embarrassed because she didn’t know what she did until after the agent escaped. On the internet, we may always be ready and willing to talk to people. Offline? Not a chance.
Take me, for example. Not a lot of people know this, but beneath my rather colorful exterior lurks an extraordinarily shy person. Even though I love a good debate and am passionate about everything — it takes a really long time to get to know me. (Onions have layers, people. And they’re smelly.) So for me, removing the “Oh my gods, you mean I have to meet new people. Are you crazy?” element online is more comfortable than entering a physical room filled with strangers. On Twitter, I can speak to a sea of invisible faces and not care who reacts and who doesn’t. In person? Well, at a dinner once I filled a pregnant pause by telling a rather inappropriate joke to a reputable editor. Fortunately, he said something to the effect of: “The way you mix up your words, you must be a writer. Aren’t you?” Yes, yes I am. Of course, telling awful jokes to break the ice isn’t something I’d recommend. Like, ever. But that would involve telling you more embarrassing stories best served over a tall glass of beer.
In all seriousness, though, my personal beliefs about relationships directly translate into what I do at a con. I don’t really feel I’m qualified to have an opinion about somebody until I’ve sat down at a table to game, drink or break bread with them. Like my revisions, I find the best friendships and business relationships I have are the ones that developed slowly. The publishing side of things is crazy because it’s always in flux and there are so many unknown variables. As a result, the “unknown” side of things causes people to say and do really stupid things to be successful: both online and in person. Knowing that, I try to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. Sometimes, there’s a really good reason why an author might have a bad reputation. Other times? Not so much. However, I’d much rather figure that out for myself than believe what I read online or hear from someone else.
It’s no secret I typically frequent a bar when I go to a con. Conventions often require pros to perform, so many times people look for places to relax and interact with like-minded individuals. One of my friends refers to this phenomenon as the difference between being turned “on” or “off.” With a drink in hand, it can be easier to unwind. For those of you who don’t imbibe, there’s nothing wrong with having a soda or a cup of coffee. Mind you, this type of environment can be intimidating, too, because everyone who’s there is doing the same exact thing you are: visiting old friends, being introduced to new people, resting after a long day. If you’re not a social butterfly, there are other ways to meet people that are less taxing. The trick, though, is to be yourself and do what you feel comfortable with — not what you think is expected of you.
In the past year or so, I’ve changed my attitude toward conventions considerably. I used to get out there and beat that self-promotion drum into oblivion because I’d been suckered in to believing how important it was. For a couple years, conventions exhausted me and I couldn’t figure out why. Then I watched a post-con video where a robot me was pretending to be me by dumping my brain into a plastic me during a brief span of two minutes. Here’s the problem I have with that last sentence: too many me‘s. I realized I didn’t want to go to a convention just to hear myself speak. That I can do at any time. What I want out of a con is to listen to other people’s stories. In other words, by putting the emphasis on what I was doing, rather than whom and/or what I wanted to see at the con, I wasn’t attending a con. Instead, I was using it, and not in a good way.
That video was one of my “Come to Edgar Allen Poe” moments. Since then, I’ve realized not everything I do at a con should revolve around self-promotion because it isn’t an effective tool to get someone interested in me or my work. Like telling jokes, there’s a time and a place for it. What’s that saying? If you have to tell someone how awesome you are, then you probably weren’t that awesome to begin with?
Many of you who are reading this article probably go to conventions for a specific reason. Maybe you’re an author trying to find an agent or connect with other writers. Maybe you’re an editor selling an anthology. Maybe you’re a reader hoping to get your book signed. Whatever the reason, take a moment and ask yourself if you enjoy going to conventions or if you feel like they’re a chore. If you aren’t happy at a con, ask yourself the same question I did: Why? Then, see if you can’t figure out a way to change how you feel. Conventions are a vital part of this community, and I’d hate to hear you got so burnt out you wound up avoiding them altogether.
I hope that by sharing a few of my personal stories, you’ll be inspired to take a long, hard look at what conventions you’re attending and what you’re getting out of them. After all, the beauty of going to a convention is that your experience will often be different from mine. That’s part of what makes a con fun!
Convention Links and Resources
If you haven’t checked out what conventions you’re going to yet, you may want to consider dropping by the Apex Publications booth at one of these upcoming events in 2011:
I’d also like to mention that I’ve been to several anime and comic book conventions, and while they may not interest you, I wouldn’t write them off entirely. You’d be surprised how similar these worlds can be, especially as more and more authors branch out into new areas to share their stories.
In the list below, you’ll find a slew of links you can check out for more convention ideas. There will be some information overlap, but each of these sites is distinct in some way.