My trusty partner in crime by my side, this weekend past I was cajoled into visiting my first SF/F convention.
Okay, before you close your browser window, point at your monitor, and laugh yourself silly, let me get a few things straight: 1) No, I wasn’t in costume. 2) Neither was anyone else for that matter. 3) Yes, I’m a nerd, but I was definitely the best-dressed nerd there. 4) Even though no one was wearing a costume. Especially because no one was wearing a costume.
The con was readercon, an extremely local convention which prides itself on being more “literary” than other SF/F conventions. What this really means is that instead of attending panels to discuss which pop-culture vampire is the hottest, you go to panels with useful information on being a writer, reading stories, and interacting with books. The con is well-attended by some pretty well-known SF/F authors who participate in panels and also offer readings of their up-and-coming works throughout the weekend. Perhaps the coolest offering of this particular convention is what they call a “Kaffeeklatsche”, an intimate gathering between a designated author and up to 15 conference attendees. You sign up in advance for an hour in a special lounge with a small group of other con denizens and whomever you’ve signed up to klasche with.
I also got to hear some really solid advice on becoming a SF/F writer. And so, since it is my wont as a blogger to blog about my experiences, I’m passing this advice on to you. This is culminated from my weekend of listening, discussing, and observing and is not from any one source (direct or indirect) other than the con as a whole. Suffice to say with the amount of publishers, editors, and authors running around doling out the advice, I feel that it’s pretty solid (though of course, can neither personally confirm nor deny any of it as… well… I’m a blogger, not an author… at least for now).
Thing 1: Don’t quite your day job. Writing does not pay. Even if you get that book contract, it could be a long time before you see any money and chances are it won’t be enough to live off of. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule (Twilight, Harry Potter, 50 Shades of Gray, etc…), but it’s a rule for a reason. You won’t be the exception, so don’t bank on it.
Thing 2: Write the stories you want to read. If they sell, great! If they don’t, at least at the end of the day you won’t be sitting there with a gun to your head (seriously, I heard and re-heard the story of depressed-to-death writer this weekend). Writing is art and in no other profession based upon art do you hear people give up simply because it’s not making money. How many hobbyist painters do you know? Actors? Musicians? Same thing with the written word. And, since you took Thing One under advisement, you won’t even have to move into a cardboard box.
Thing 3: If you want to write, write! If you want to publish, submit! An editor can neither accept nor reject a manuscript if it has not been submitted in the first place. Just do it. What’s the worst that could happen?
Thing 4: Less writing advice and more general tip for courtesy during Q/A sessions/small groups meetings: do your research first. Don’t waste the time of everyone in the room (who, by the way, has done their research) by asking questions which could easily be answered with one google search. Similarly, we know you’re excited about your own work. We know you fancy yourself an artiste. But unless you have a “participant” badge, I did not come here to hear you talk. I don’t care about what you’re writing, how hard you’re trying to get an agent, or your insecurities about your work (and frankly, neither do the panel participants). Don’t waste our time listening to you blather about these items (or, really, yourself at all unless it’s pertinent information and, in that case, keep it concise). If you feel you must talk about this stuff with the participant “on-stage”, catch him/her in the hotel bar/elevator/hallway between panels and don’t inflict your dithering upon the rest of us. (…can you tell how grumpy this made me?)
Thing 5: Especially if you come to make networking connections, dress like you’re headed to an interview. Leave your super hero tee shirts at home. I’m not saying you need to bust out the three-piece, but at least look a bit polished when you’re trying to oh-so-covertly slip your card/manuscript to the editor.
Thing 6: Panel moderators take note! You have fifty minutes to accomplish what your panel description says you are going to accomplish (actually more like thirty-five to forty if you want to have a Q/A at the end). You have between four and six people on your panel. That means that each individual (including yourself) is allotted approximately eight minutes of talk-time spread over the entire session, during which you probably want to make three or four points/present that many rounds of questions. This means that, for each question you present, each individual should be allowed no more than two minutes of talking. Wasting this time with preamble, summation of why we should care about the issue at hand, and/or lengthy introductions is going to make it such that you can’t get to the real meat of your panel (and, by the way, what we came here to listen to). Slim down, think hard about what you really need to say, and be ready with extra (not necessarily vital) material which you should be fairly certain you will never get to.
Thing 7: Plan for all temperature conditions. Though it was well into the 90s outside this weekend, the panel rooms ranged from comfortable, to sauna-hot, to arctic. I made good use of my shawl collection (as blankets sometimes!).
Thing 8: If you, like me, are easily distracted and find it difficult to focus without something
to do, bring knitting or other unobtrusive crafts. I saw embroiderists, seamstresses, fellow knitters, crocheters, and doodlers at this convention all quietly doing their thing while folks were presenting. There’s nothing wrong with needing something for your hands to do, but it is really rude to not be attentive. As a result, I finished an entire sock over the course of the weekend (and could probably have finished its mate if I didn’t refuse to knit during kaffeeklatsches… somehow that feels more intrusive than knitting in the grand ballroom).
Thing 9: Drink water, eat well and at regular intervals, sleep as much as you can. Trust me, you’ll need it.
Well, that’s that! I’m excited about all the things which I was able to see this year, and I’m pretty sure we’ll be back next year (…maybe even with participant badges… stay tuned). Happy conning!