Dragon*Con, Atlanta’s humongous science fiction and fantasy convention, takes place this coming weekend, and many of us MW-types are planning to attend. I’ll be on several panels and will also be doing a reading and book signings. My (still incomplete) schedule can be found here. Faith, Misty, A.J., and Kalayna are on the program as well, as are big names from the worlds of television, movies, science, and literature. It should be a blast, and we hope to see many of you there.
This struck me as a good time to return once more to the subject of conventions and conferences. Over the next two months I will be attending not only Dragon*Con, but also the annual conference of the South Carolina Writers’ Workshop, and World Fantasy Convention, which takes place this year out in San Diego. Each of these events, as well as other conventions I attend during the course of the year, offers unique benefits to the aspiring writer. Each also has its limitations. So perhaps an overview of the convention and conference types would be helpful.
Small Regional Conventions: There are a ton of these — you can find them in just about every good-sized city in the country. Each has its own charms and traditions, and I couldn’t begin to list all of them. But I can offer some general points about this type of convention.
Benefits: They are convenient; chances are there is at least one regional con occurring annually in your area. They tend to be small, with perhaps 250-500 attendees, including both guests and fans. They usually are located in a single hotel, making them manageable and easy to navigate. They’re fairly inexpensive — $25.00-45.00 gets you a membership for the entire weekend. And because they are small, the attending professionals expect to interact with fans. You will be able to chat with the author guests, maybe even buy them a drink or see them at a room party.
Drawbacks: On the other hand, these conventions tend to have only a few professional guests, so while you will have lots of access to them, they may not be the authors you most want to meet. And there are usually fewer editors and agents attending these conventions, so your networking opportunities will not be as extensive as they would be at some other conventions. Programming tends to be fairly limited; dealers’ rooms are small, and the convention space can be cramped. Hotels, while inexpensive, are not all that great.
MegaConventions: There are far fewer of these, but chances are you’ve heard of most if not all of them: They include Dragon*Con, Comic Con International in San Diego, New York Comic Con, WorldCon (the World Science Fiction Convention), Romantic Times Booklovers Convention, as well as others.
Benefits: The benefits and drawbacks of these mega-conventions are tied to the same thing: Their size. These conventions attract thousands of people — in the case of the Comic Cons and DragonCon, tens of thousands. The biggest names in genre fiction and popular culture attend. If you want to meet your favorite bestselling author, AND your favorite actor from Star Trek or Star Wars, AND your favorite comic book artist, chances are you can. You can also find editors and agents and perhaps make that key professional connection you’ve been hoping for. There are multiple programming tracks, so if you just want to hear interesting people talk about interesting things, chances are you could schedule your whole day and never get bored. The convention facilities will be top-notch, the hotels will be very nice, there will be good restaurants, and chances are you’ll be in a large city, so that if you want to escape the con for a while you’ll be able to make good use of your time. You can also meet lots of other aspiring writers, and perhaps find that far-flung, online community you’ve been looking for.
Drawbacks: They tend to be more expensive — memberships alone can run you anywhere from $125.00 to $400.00 or more. The hotels will be pricier too, as will your meals. Also, because there aren’t that many of them, chances are you’ll have to travel some distance to attend. Even WorldCon and RT, which move from venue to venue each year, probably won’t get much closer to you than the nearest big city. While there are lots and lots of guests, all of them exciting and interesting, you’re competing with thousands of other people for their attention. Your chances of getting more than a brief exchange of pleasantries and an autograph from the person you want to meet are slim. These cons can be overwhelming — it’s easy to feel lost and, ironically, lonely amid of sea of people.
Professional Conventions: Professional conventions, for instance World Fantasy Convention and Romance Writers of America, are smaller than the mega-conventions but larger than your typical regional con. They also tend to be less fan-oriented and more geared toward professionals and aspiring professionals. Programming tends to be less “fun” and more academic or industry-oriented.
Benefits: The size of these cons hits a sort of convention sweet spot. They are large enough to attract a galaxy of professionals — you can find bestsellers, award winners, mid-listers, and beginners. You can find agents and editors, big-name publishing executives and the owners of small-press houses. Yet these conventions are small enough to facilitate the kind of intimate interaction you usually find at the regional cons. More to the point, professionals come to these conventions expecting to talk shop, and they are usually welcoming of those who are still trying to break into the business. In the same way, agents and editors come to these conventions expecting, even hoping, to make connections with new writers. Compared to the cons described above, these cons offer the best chance you might have to make your well-rehearsed pitch to the right person. The possible rewards of attending one of these conventions are significant. The programming tracks are narrower than in the mega-cons, but they tend to be interesting and informative. They are usually held in good-sized cities, in nice facilities.
Drawbacks: Again, the cost is the biggest drawback here. Memberships are similar in price to those of the mega-conventions. There are few of these conventions and so you’ll have to travel to them, and the hotel is probably going to be fairly expensive. These conventions, and their attendees, take the events seriously. There are fewer fun diversions than at a mega-convention. There is less spectacle. Again, the word “academic” comes to mind. I’ve been in academia and have attended my share of scholarly conferences. That’s what these cons feel like at times. Also, because the community of professionals is fairly small, most of the pros who go to these conventions year in and year out tend to know one another. Breaking into conversations as a beginner can be difficult, even intimidating. As you might expect, those rewards I mentioned earlier don’t come easily. You have to be self-assured, poised, polite but also assertive, without being overly aggressive. It’s not easy.
Writer’s Workshops: These may seem like the odd-men-out in this discussion, and in some ways they probably are. But a writers’ conference like the SCWW conference I’ll be teaching at in October, can be the best of all worlds for the writer with a bit of time and some financial resources.
Benefits: For a weekend, you are the focus of attention for industry professionals. You’re not competing with hundreds or thousands of people for the attention of agents, editors and professional writers. You’re not trying to cut in on their private conversations. They are there to teach you and to critique your work. There is almost no other situation in which you can expect so much from professionals. You can attend workshops, get one-on-one critiques of your writing, ask questions to your heart’s content, discuss writing with them over drinks or meals. You WILL make connections with editors and agents. You WILL have that opportunity to pitch your book. You WILL get to talk to successful authors about the business. Workshops and conferences are without a doubt your best networking opportunity. Chances are, even at big workshops, you’ll be one of, at most, a few dozen people wanting to work with these pros. And there’s a strong possibility that you’ll find fun, like-minded people among your fellow students. Conferences tend to be held in nice places with decent food and good conference facilities.
Drawbacks: These make mega-cons and professional conventions look cheap. You can expect to pay between $800.00 and $1,200.00 at least for a weekend, just to attend. Sometimes that will include your lodgings and food, but not always. And then you’ll have to pay to get wherever it is you’re going. They can be competitive, meaning that you might have to apply, and send a writing sample, in order to be accepted into the workshop. (That’s not always the case, but it is fairly common.) You have to do some prep work. You’ll need to submit a piece of writing in order to be critiqued, and, in order to take full advantage of the connections you’re going to make, you ought to be familiar with the professionals who are on the faculty.
There are conventions that don’t fit precisely into any of these categories, though not many. Generally speaking, these are the options you’re going to find. Only you can decide which of these opportunities best suits your needs, your budget, your time constraints, and your ambitions. As a professional, I enjoy all of them, though, of course, in different ways, which is why in the coming year I will attend at least one of each kind. Hope to see you at one or another of them.
Next week: A report on Dragon*Con!David B. Coe http://davidbcoe.livejournal.com http://www.DavidBCoe.com http://magicalwords.net