Awesome Con Things

John G. Hartness
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Here on the fabulous inter webs we spend a lot of time griping. And pointing out when people are wrong. And proving to people that we are right. And looking at boobies

Ignore that last part. Move along. Nothing to see there. 

But we do gripe a lot. And in the past couple of years there’s been a lot of noise on the web made about bad things that have happened at cons and bad things people have done. Well, since I just got back from JordanCon and had a great time down there, I wanted to point out some great things that conventions have done over the past year for writers, for guests, and just in general. Feel free to add in comments something awesome that you’ve seen a convention do that you’d like to see others emulate. 

I’m going to try and hit all the cons I’ve been to this year with at least one thing they did really well, but if I miss one, it’s not because that con sucked, it’s because I drink a lot and am sometimes forgetful. Not to mention that I do a bunch of cons. 

Yes, I am enjoying the strikethrough feature in WordPress quite a lot, thank you. 

Let’s start at the top of the year, shall we? My first con this year was a return to Illogicon. I attended Illogicon last year as a patron, and went back this year as a guest, along with the lovely Misty Massey. This con is only two years old, but it has a lot going for it. The staff has a lot of experience in conventions and fandom, it takes place in January, when nothing else is happening, and it’s close, in Raleigh. The best thing about this con is the organization. It’s a smaller con, so there aren’t as many kittens to herd, but the panels were well-attended and well-stocked with guests. I like it quite a lot when I’m not the most experienced person on the panel, and I didn’t have to worry about that here. I shared panels with Misty, Jim Mintz from Baen Books and other equally awesome folks. I like a con with fewer guests and fewer panels, it might limit options a bit, but it also makes for a better panel experience when there are twenty people in the audience as opposed to five. Just sayin’. I believe Illogicon did two tracks for writing, and that kept the rooms full. They also had hall monitors to let folks know when the panel time was almost up, which was very helpful. 

Next I went to Mysticon in February, again with travel buddy Misty. This time we carpooled with Gail Martin, which certainly made the ride go by faster and cut down on expenses. This was my first Mysticon, and I was surprised with the number of sales I did. This was a con that I didn’t take a table at, because I heard there were only about 400 people there in 2012. Well, this year’s addition of Peter Davidson as Guest of Honor helped attendance triple, so I certainly could have sold more books than I brought. But I sold most of what I had with me, and that always makes for a weekend you can’t complain about. The hotel left a little to be desired for a con of over 1,000 attendees, but I chalked that up to growing pains, and we had an amazing time with Davey Beauchamp’s hair band karaoke. This was definitely a con that was made awesome by the company I kept all weekend, which is half of what we go to cons for in the first place. 

My first March con was Connooga, and that was also the first con that I had a table at to sell books the whole weekend. Now some of you may have seen me in action at a book table, and you know that I can sell some books. This was no different, and the Chattanooga crowd was there to buy, so I covered most of my expenses by slinging books. The exhibit hall was pretty awesome, especially for such a young con, and it definitely joined my rotation of cons I’ll be back to. 

Mid-South Con was next, and that was another dealer room con for me. I shared a table (and a room, and a car) with James Tuck, keeping expenses in the “reasonable” category. It’s also a little safer for me to sit behind a dealer’s table all day instead of being let loose to wander through the dealer’s room all by my lonesome. One thing they do at MSC that’s awesome is the con suite. It’s open 24 hours from Friday – Sunday, and there’s real food there. Hot dogs, chips, fruit for breakfast, free beer (which does have its drawbacks) and sodas, all conveniently located near the panel rooms and the exhibit hall. This con also had something I’d never seen before – runners for the dealers’ hall. There were volunteers that all they did for their shift was run refreshments, including food orders, from the con suite to the dealers’ room. It was awesome! They kept me fed and made sure that we didn’t have to leave our tables unattended. And it still didn’t save James from buying a buttload of signed Glenn Cook anthologies. 

I took almost a month off between cons, until last weekend’s JordanCon. JordanCon was pretty awesome, and they, like Illogicon, kept the programming down to a number of panels that would ensure that the panels were well-attended. Even the 10AM panels were pretty well-attended. And any reports of me napping by the pool Sunday late morning are pure exaggerations. They also gave thrirty minutes between each panel, which meant you could run a couple minutes long without screwing the next guy, and left fans a few minutes to chat after panels. JordanCon also provided table tents for each panelist – for each panel, which is awesome because I’m the world’s best at destroying table tents (or name cards if you prefer) and I ripped my Mid South Con name card in half accidentally after my first panel, so I ended up not using it much all weekend.

So that’s my brief con report with a few things that made them all awesome. Ive enjoyed every con I’ve done so far this year, and while none are locked into my “must-do-every-year” list, they are all in my “every-other-or-couple-of-years” rotation. So con organizers, here are the little things that guests love – time to pee between panels, accessible con suites, spare table tents, our schedules on the back of our con badges (or our table tents), and either food runners or booth sitters for the dealers’ room. 

What makes a con awesome to you, either as a panelist or as an attendee?

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10 comments to Awesome Con Things

  • My very first con was ConCarolinas in 2008. I was a brand-new writer, and with the exception of a one-day Star Trek con I’d visited once, also a brand-new con-goer. At registration, I was amazed to be handed a bottle of wine along with my guest badge! They haven’t done it since (I imagine it’s terribly expensive) but I still have that bottle.

    There is one small thing many cons do that makes me ridiculously happy. They print my schedule on the back of my badge. It may not seem like a big deal until you’re fighting through a crowded hotel hallway, dragging a box of books and holding a backpack on your other shoulder, two minutes to get to your next panel and suddenly you can’t remember the room number. Being able to glance at your badge instead of digging for your program book is a godsend!

  • Fireheart1974

    John,

    Thanks for these! Even after all the years of Programming I’ve done, extra table tents has never crossed my mind! And I’ll pass along the booth runners/table sitters to our dealer rep as well! :)

    For me both as a con-goer, con-runner, and guest, my biggest thing is a variety of panels…I know paranormal and Dr. Who are hot right now, but I want to see panels on TV like Warehouse 13, Defiance, or on books like the Temeraire series or the end of Wheel of Time. I don’t want it to seem like all the panels are focused on 1-2 topics (unless you are focused con like TrekTrak.)

    @Misty – I think schedules on the back of badges is huge and well worth the extra time for concoms to do. It really does help out the guests.

    ~Fireheart (aka Tera Fulbright w/ ConGregate!)

  • ConCarolinas. I’d been a member of Magical Words for several months when I first heard about all the MW fun that happens at that con. This was 2010. So I declared then that I would go the next year (2011), no matter what it took. Even though I’d never traveled that far from Vancouver before. So I did.

    And it was awesome. I roomed with another MW-er. That year, there was a MW panel. Emily and Sarah threw a MW party in their hotel room. And of course, there was the MW lunch at Boardwalk Billy’s, where we took over half the restaurant. :) I had so much fun I came back for last year, and I’ll be there this year, too.

    (Speaking of the MW party, which Mud and I inherited last year: we’re hosting it again on the Saturday night! :D Hope to see some of you there.)

  • sagablessed

    For me it is meeting the real people behind the names here. At MarCon I got to meet Faith, David, Lucienne, and one of my childhood heroes: Tamora Pierce. Meeting and knowing the real people behind the posts here connects with me more than just the site alone. Besides, they are awesome people.

    btw, as a member of the gay community I have to ask: what are ‘boobies’?
    :D

  • The first Con I ever went to was Con Carolinas and it must have been 2008 because I met Misty and Faith and David there. A couple years later, at that con, I met John Hartness. Those cons helped so much because I learned a ton about writing that I didn’t know. I also met Ed Schubert and I think AJ that first year, too. The workshops and writing track were great. It was right as Magical Words was getting started, I think. I’ve been back every year since because it is a great con and it is local to me (or local enough).

    Now that I’ve started (very slowly) being on panels, I like seeing a variety of folks on the panels. Though that can be tough , when there are really, really disparate views. I also love a really good moderator. Especially on the late-night sex panels (that’s how to WRITE it, people). Those can get crazy. The past two at Con Carolinas have had people spilling out of the room.

    As an audience member, I appreciate good moderators and panelists who can–how to put this delicately–stop some folks from taking over. I haven’t seen many inappropriate moments (aside from the sex panel, which was pretty much inappropriate from the get-go), but when they do happen, it’s good to see people stop them. Best shut down was definitely by David Coe one year at CC. He schooled a guy (another panelist) that needed it.

    To clarify: I’ve never seen the folks from MW be anything but gracious and kind of fans, and that’s part of what makes CC so cool!

  • Great! Boob jokes on MW! Just what I was thinking this community needed more of!

  • Boobies! Boobies! Boobies! Boobies!
    Oh, wait. Sorry. I’m on deadline and I got sidetracked. Or boob-tracked. Whatever.

    Boobies are a big deal (koff-koff) but not what this post was about. I am doing a total of 2 Cons this year, none so far, but I have accepted the possibilities of 4 next year. Sigh…

    For some of us, boobies are easier. Just sayin’.

  • I don’t know about everyone else, but I’ve seen quite a number of sets of barely-clothed boobies at every con I’ve ever attended. Whether or not I had access to the internet.

    *grin*

  • Razziecat

    If I stretch my memory waaaaay back I can recall some lovely cons I went to (the most awesome being WorldCon in 1989…ah, youth). Something the best cons have in common is really, really good organization: Printed schedules, a central place to find out about schedule changes, a well-stocked and friendly consuite, close walking proximity to restaurants and ATMs…and of course a list of impressive guests. One of the most fun cons I attended was an EerieCon that took place in my home town (yay for not needing to rent a hotel room!) at a hotel that was also hosting a Shriners convention. There’s nothing like seeing con-goers in full Klingon costume walking down the same halls as Shriners. Best part of the con was the Klingon love poetry contest. I wish I had it on tape :)

  • I was at JordanCon this year, and though it was only my second convention ever, I thought it was very well run, efficient, and fun. I was constrained in how much time I could spend there because of the new baby I’ve got back home (so I had to go home early every day I attended). Sunday I brought the baby with me.

    I basically lived on the Writing Track, so I saw Hartness, Tuck and Jaffe several times over the weekend, plus others including Seanan McGuire, Eugie Foster and Brandon Sanderson for some very interesting panels. A lot of it was, of course, stuff I already knew, but there was a lot of really interesting and new stuff, too.

    I didn’t participate this year, but one of the best parts of JordanCon, for writers, is their 30-Second Pitch Critique session. This year there were two agents and one editor (and a fourth person, can’t recall if was an editor or an author) on the Critique Panel. Hearing what the panelists had to say (and also how they said it in most cases) was certainly insightful.