It is possible to have a career in writing and never attend a convention. That said, conventions provide a wealth of opportunities for an author. Conventions are gatherings of like-minded people. Genre conventions, especially science fiction and fantasy conventions, are where you’ll be able to find lots of potential readers in one spot. They’re also excellent places to network, to build relationships with other authors, to pitch ideas to editors, and in general, get your name out there.
So, what’s the key to going to a convention and being a success? Well, there’s two parts of this. Assuming you’re just getting started, I highly recommend going as an attendee just to get your feet wet. Study what other people do, learn what’s acceptable and unacceptable con behavior. This last one is a key part. Nine times out of ten, most of the professionals won’t remember your name or face from one convention. They see too many people, interact with too many people, at too many conventions. But if you’re a jerk, or annoying, they’re probably going to remember that. So, as I said, learn what’s acceptable. Don’t go charging in. Take the time to get a feel for the place.
The next part is selecting an appropriate convention. Small cons are perfect for getting your feet wet, and there’s an important part on this in that you can get some time with authors and editors without having to get pushy.
Also, know what a convention is about. Gaming and anime conventions aren’t the best place to go for trying to network as an author or to pitch your book to potential readers. Read up on what a convention is about before you go. Learn who will be there. If you don’t recognize any of the names of the guests, it probably means you don’t read their stuff and therefore what you write may not be what the readers there will be interested in.
Lastly, panels. Panels are the main content at a lot of conventions. These are discussions by the panelists… so if you aren’t one, don’t interrupt. They’ll have time at the end of the panel for questions. One of the big irritations to panelists is when someone in the audience hijacks the panel. Do some research here, too, and pick topics and panelists you want to learn more about.
Conventions are tons of fun. Take a friend, meet people, and enjoy yourself. Don’t forget to keep receipts because all of this is tax deductible as an author. Next week I’ll talk a bit about strategies on how to participate in conventions rather than attending.