Jane Austen may have delighted in the idea that a young man with a fortune must be in want of a wife, but if you’re a writer with a book, what you really want is to get into the con game.
I went to my first literary convention about ahem years ago, and then hardly saw the inside of a hotel conference room for another ahem years until I had a book of my own to sell.
Cons come in all shapes and sizes. Some and this includes some of the best, are small fan-run affairs, with a committee made up of lovers of literature and many times those who are authors themselves. There are the mid-sized conventions that have established themselves and grown into a public space like a town hall or library. And there are the bigs, some of them venerable and well-established like BookExpo America, a massive affair with publishers, signings, readings, and industry events.
There is nothing like a con for connecting with the potential audience for a book. I attend some genre-oriented conventions over the year, some with a general theme and others specifically geared to science fiction, fantasy, or horror. I will often buy a table in the vendor’s room to display and sell my books.
The best part of conventioning for me is to be a panelist. Not all conventions have programming, but my favourites do. Topics can range from discussions on current television shows and movie franchises to the business of writing to the truly esoteric: how about a panel on trans-positive messaging in Buffy the Vampire Slayer?
The panels are stocked with authors, publishers and, depending on the convention, celebrity actors, producers, and other industry folk. I’ve been sitting on panels since my first rather nervous appearance on one with Kelley Armstrong half a dozen years back. I’ll take any opportunity to get up in front of an audience: potential readers get to know me and a little about my work, and I get the chance to meet other people doing the same thing I do.
And of course, there’s the networking. It’s not just the panels where you get to interact with amazing people, and sometimes even your heroes. Even the most confident people can be star-struck, but that doesn’t have to stop you. Don’t be intrusive, but there’s also no need to be so shy you never even try. Stand a little away from the person you’d like to speak to and wait for a break in the conversation or for them to acknowledge you. If neither of those work, just suck it up and move on.
It pays to do your research before a convention; check the website for special guests and when they might be sitting on a panel, doing a Q&A (a conversation between them and a host usually) or a signing. Figure out who you just have to meet, and plan your days.
The best advice I ever heard about how to make a positive impression on the people you would like as peers is as simple as it is profound: show up, and ask intelligent questions. So go to a panel and put up your hand! Once someone you’d like to talk to has seen you at a few events, they’re more likely to be open to a chat, especially if you’ve proved you have something interesting to say.
The last bit of advice I can give is to remember self-care! Personally, I don’t usually stay out late at the inevitable parties. I take conventions seriously, although I’m not always serious at them. I make sure I get enough sleep and remember to eat—and not just survive on coffee!
When you’re tired, the best cons have a casual space, the “Con Suite,” where everyone is welcome to go and mingle, to grab a bite (or some coffee!) and to rest up for the next exciting bit of programming. It’s usually in a hotel room or suite, and you should be able to find out where from the program book or signs around the event.
A final word about length… Some cons are only a day, and they feel oh, so short like you’ve barely begun to have fun before it’s all over. Some last two days and those can be the worst if you have a long drive and are faced with the choice of driving and working two days in a row or springing for an extra night in a hotel.
The ones I love most are the long cons—the three or four-day conventions. These have a rhythm all their own, and each has its own quirks. Over the years, you come to know which have the best dealer or vendor’s rooms, which have the most inclusive Con Suites, which have the can’t-miss late-night programming that keep you up far too late, and where you’re most likely to find true intellectual stimulation from the panel topics.
Attending becomes a regular part of the writing life—the most efficient way to connect with groups of readers custom-selected for you by the subject of the con—not to mention an enjoyable one. Writing can be a lonely business, and a con might be the cure!
Jen Frankel is the author of the “Blood & Magic” series about young heroine/magic worker Maggie Stuart, as well as the vegan zombie romance Undead Redhead, YA science fiction Leia of Earth and short fiction collection Feral Tales.
Jen is also an avid screenwriter and an award-winning poet, as well as a great lover of fish, birds, cats, and all other living creatures. She even has a soft spot for human beings, provided they behave at least as well as their pets.
Follow her on Twitter and Instagram, catch her podcast “Jen Frankel Reads Random S#it” on your favourite app, and find out more online at www.jenfrankel.com.
Word Crafting is a blog to help writers strive for excellence. If you would like to be a guest blogger, pitch me an idea.