How To… Make the Most of Conventions

CONVENTIONSConventions are a great way for writers to take a momentary break from the loneliness of the craft, step away from the computer, and mingle with others of our kind. Sure, the writing community on Twitter usually does the job, but sometimes it’s important to get out and meet industry professionals face-to-face. You never know who you’ll meet outside of the roster of expected guests and speakers, and bonus: you usually get all kinds of free goodies!

Conventions are a great opportunity for those looking to network, as well as a fun event for those who just want to geek out over their favorite topic or hobby. But they can get chaotic quick. Whether you’re attending a fandom- or genre-specific con or an official convention for writing professionals, you have to know what to expect and be prepared heading in—otherwise, you won’t get nearly as much out of it as you hope.

I attended BookCon yesterday for the second year in a row and took a much different approach. Last year, I went into it completely unprepared. My only planning consisted of taking a quick peek at the roster, and while I expected to see everyone I’d hoped, my lack of preparation left me disappointed. This year, I geared up beforehand—and while I couldn’t quite catch everyone and everything I wanted to see due to some scheduling conflicts, I had a much more successful haul. Here are some steps I took that you can follow, as well, to make your next (or first!) con a fun and productive event:

  1. Print, and make several copies of, maps and schedules. This may seem like a no-brainer, but I definitely didn’t think much of it last year and regretted that decision. This year, I not only printed these materials but marked off the exact locations of each event, signing, and giveaway I wanted to attend. Being prepared with a game plan ahead of time will make sure you don’t miss anything, and will give you a chance to prioritize in case you have to make some tough decisions. (Example: I had to choose between standing on line for a wrist band to see a panel by Nick Offerman or heading straight to the Macmillan booth for a limited edition of Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl, the first 200 copies of which came with tickets for her signing party. These are the kind of game-time decisions I didn’t prepare for in my first year at the con, and I wound up missing a lot; this year, I knew which event I preferred, and made a bee-line for the Macmillan booth as soon as the doors opened).
  2. Travel light. If the con you’re attending is anything like BookCon, you’re going to be getting LOTS of free stuff. Bring a large, lightweight bag to store any freebies in, and don’t bring anything unnecessary. However, do make sure to bring pens and paper. You never know whose autograph you might get or, if you’re there in a more professional capacity, whose information you may have to write down.
  3. Arrive early. Last year, I showed up a half hour after doors opened, fully expecting to get tickets to special panels that apparently hit capacity well before I even arrived. This year, I showed up 2 hours early—and while the line still wrapped around several blocks, I still managed to get ahead of a lot of people and secure that special edition book and signing ticket I needed. Not all cons may be like this, especially those that are more professional, but events like BookCon that feature major celebrities and bestselling authors are likely to form some pretty hefty lines.

That being said, this was only my second con… and there is definitely room for improvement in my preparation skills. There is one thing I wish I did, and plan to do next year, and that’s:

  1. Bring business cards. There’s a time and place for networking, and being able to discern between when you should self-promote and when you should stick to light conversation can be a tough skill to hone. However, having business cards on you with your personal and professional info is a great move. In a time when we’re so reliant on cell phones, it’s easy to assume that you can easily trade numbers, emails, and social media profiles with anyone you need to, but those who are looking to network professionally will make a much better impression with a tangible business card.

If you follow these tips, you should have a fairly easy time navigating and taking advantage of the next con you attend. Do you have any tips of your own? Is there a convention you’re excited about, or one you’ve always wanted to go to? Let us know!

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