Eight reasons to attend writer’s cons
By L.J. Bothell
firstwriter.com – Saturday January 26, 2008
You’ve heard about them, you’ve seen them announced; perhaps they’ve even invaded your city. "Cons", short for "conventions". WorldCon, Norwescon, NECON, etc. But they’re expensive, require travel, and lots of weird people go to them, right? Why would you (a writer / poet / artist / editor / whatever) want to attend one?
I have eight terrific reasons. Fun, fun, fun, fun, fun – oh, you want eight different reasons? Figures. After all, you are a writer. Okay, here they are (and not necessarily in this order):
Many conventions have hour-long, afternoon-long, or day-long workshops, no matter what your field is. You’ll gain helpful critiques or learn to critique others’ work in a relaxed atmosphere. This is an especially good opportunity if workshops aren’t normally your thing (too time-consuming, too expensive,etc.), since they are one-shot and are included with the price of admission. Even if you are a busy freelance who focuses on nonfiction, you can learn a lot here, particularly if you do the workshop as a pro yourself.
You can visit panels on editing, writing, art techniques, the internet influence on publishing, genres, and roundtables on all sorts of subjects. Usually pros (both professionals and amateurs with experience) conduct the panels, opening subjects to questions and general discussion. You’ll get loads of useful information when you bring a notebook and an open mind. As you become more experienced, you may also participate on panels, sharing tips and ideas with other hungry minds. Also, when you participate in programming, you’ll get into the Green Room / VIP rooms and mingle with others who are accomplished in your field, without fan intervention.
Nothing beats meeting others who are involved in your craft. Editors meet others who have more experience and tips, and offer advice to those just getting started. Writers get together and compare ideas (poets and writers, too). You’ll make contacts in the field or simply meet others within your range of interests. Certainly you already do this through your craft, but face-to-face meetings cement relationships that the US mail may not.
4) Readings / viewings
Pros and amateurs alike have opportunities to read their works in progress and show their creations in Art Shows. You’ll see how an audience responds to your fiction or poetry, or if your artwork generates interest. You’ll also learn a lot just by attending readings and hearing the style and content, and by visiting the Art Show where canvases, sculptures, models, and all manner of creations inspire your own creativity.
Many conventions have a kid-friendly atmosphere; some even have an inner “KidCon”. This means you can network and join folks in the hotel café while your kids can hang out with folks their own age and feel like they’ve escaped the parents. You’ll want to check with upcoming conventions in advance to find out if there is a KidCon, what the rules are, what the price breaks are, and even if there are special panels for younger family members who are exploring writing.
6) Dealers’ Room
Otherwise known as the Huckster’s room, the wallet guzzler, etc. Whether you're a pro or amateur, writer or writer, bookseller or fan, the Dealers’ Room has booths for you to visit. You’ll find rare and signed copies of your favourite author’s books, prints of the art in the Art Show, special Con-theme related crafts, costuming items, and more. Bring lots to spend, because prices range from reasonable to “I have it and you get to pay”, but mostly because you’ll want just about everything there. The great thing is the books – many, many exciting books, including books by attending writers.
7) Meet the fans
This goes hand-in-hand with networking, but meeting fans, wannabe writer / writers, and people who like SF/F/H can be as refreshing as meeting your peers. A lot of fans go in for costuming, gaming, filking (folk singing) and convention planning areas, but you can get an idea of who’s viewing your work and target your audience a little more accurately. If you write nonfiction, you can pick up ideas for articles. Even if not participating in the Masquerade or contests, guests’ children can also dress up in costume.
Don’t isolate yourself! It’s easy to consider work and your writer space as enough to boost your creativity and productivity, but you can pigeonhole yourself if you don’t get out and see something of the industry and genre-related events. Okay, you don’t have to attend every con in your area or affordable range, but one or two a year really offers you a refreshing new perspective. You need to circulate (and have fun, fun, fun...).
Eight great reasons to visit cons. Actually, there are many more (cool costumes, dances, the Hospitality Suite). Cons don’t have to break the bank if you budget well and start close to home. Check one out and see what you get out of it. You’ll have an unforgettable experience and will come away with a wider perspective of your craft, peers, and audience.
About the Author
L.J. Bothell is a graphic designer/writer who lives and freelances in Seattle, Washington. Visit www.studiobast.com.