Good Con, Bad Con

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Last month, I attended Worldcon, in Chicago.  I love the city of Chicago, and I have many friends there.  I have favorite restaurants from the days when I worked in that city.  I have fond memories of my first-ever science fiction convention, which was the 2000 Chicon.  I should have had a wonderful time.

Alas, I didn’t.  I felt lost in the crowd.  I never found some friends who were attending and I found a number of my, um, not-friends over and over and over again.  The programming items I attended as an audience member felt “old hat” to me, and I regretted not serving on any panels with any other attendees.  Time after time, I wandered the halls and sat in the lobby alone, feeling like the ugly girl at the party.

Earlier this month, I had a completely different con experience.  I attended Capclave (the local convention in the Washington DC area.)  By all rights, Capclave should have been a mini-disaster — it’s held in a distant suburb, about 45 minutes from my home.  I could only make one day of the convention, so I crammed 2 days of activities into one.  The night before the con, I watched my beloved Nationals fail in their race to the World Series — and I didn’t get home until 1:30 in the morning (and didn’t get to sleep until almost an hour after that.)

But Capclave was a wonderful convention.  I saw old friends almost immediately.  I made new friends even faster.  I sat on a variety of panels where colleagues and I seemed to entertain the audience (at least, judging from laughter and from hall conversations later), and I attended other panels where I was inspired to think about our field in new and different ways.  I made some useful business contacts.  I came home excited and energized and grateful that I’d gone to the con.

So, what made the difference?  Was it solely my “headspace”?  Was it the friendly welcome of the Capclave Concom and their willingness to trust me on multiple-person panels?  Was it mere happenstance, that I saw the right people at the right times?

Note:  I don’t expect you to come up with answers to those questions. 

And further note:  To be fair, Worldcon wasn’t a total loss — I made a couple of new friends-in-person from friends-online.  I actually caught up on some much needed sleep in my hotel room.  And I truly enjoyed my presentation on Rites and Rituals for Coming of Age, where audience participation really helped to carry along the event.

And further, further note:  There *are* tradeoffs.  I came home from Capclave with an Introversion Hangover, that lagging of energy that let me know that my poor introverted self needed to take a day to recharge my batteries before venturing out into the world of extroversion (you know, like going to the grocery store, the post office, that sort of thing…)

World Fantasy Convention is just around the corner.  I want to make it more like Capclave than like Worldcon.  I have the mixed blessing of no programming; therefore, I have plenty of time to build the convention I want to attend. 

What do you do to make conventions successful?  (And if you don’t go to cons, what suggestions do you have, in the abstract, even if you haven’t applied them yourself?)

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20 comments to Good Con, Bad Con

  • I’ve been to two Worldcons now, and had the same experience, especially with the ‘ugly girl at the party’ syndrome. I don’t know if it’s because it’s so big and spread out and hard to find people, or if I’m not in the in-crowd in some fundamental way so I don’t have the code to the secret backroom of fun, or if it’s something else, like I don’t find ways to make it into something better for myself. I’ve always love WFC though. Wish I could be there.

  • Di – ::pout:: If you were going to be at WFC, we could ponder this together, in person. (I’d even bring the peach tea.) I’m glad to know I’m not totally alone with the Worldcon thing — I really think that it *is* something about my approach to con-going, because there are lots of people who clearly have a grand time!

  • Yeah, I have had mixed WorldCon experiences, too. But WFC is always my favorite con of the year, and I will be in Toronto next week. I hope we have time to catch up, Mindy.

    For me, the key is often expectations. Those cons that I think will be great often disappoint; those from which I expect a little sometimes deliver in unexpected ways. It’s probably the same emotional dynamic that made New Year’s Eves and birthdays so disappointing when I was growing up . . .

  • deborahblake

    I haven’t attended any of those cons, so I can’t comment on that. But I will say that my last RWA National con in NYC was a little like that. I had an online friend-turned roommate to hang out with, and a few other ones to meet up with, which made things better. And I did get to meet my agent in person for the first time, and see you (smile), which was why I made the trip at all.

    But I didn’t enjoy any of the presentations I went to, and ended up leaving most of them before they were over (in direct contrast to the first Nationals I attended in DC, which had a couple of workshops that were literally life-changing). Many of my friends were so busy, we never did manage to get together, or so fried, that if we did, it wasn’t all that much fun.

    I’ve actually decided that I probably am better suited to smaller cons, although that doesn’t mean I’ll never attend a bigger one. I hope you have a good con for the next one!

  • MelindaVan

    I wanted to go to that convention, but the timing wasn’t right. And now you’ve just reminded me that I need to check out World Fantasy Convention. It’ll be the first one, other than DragonCon, that I’ve gone to that’s solidly in my genre. I won’t know anyone! But I’ll try my best not to be the wallflower. Actually talking to people makes a huge difference in whether it’s an enjoyable experience. At least for me.

  • David – I look forward to seeing you at WFC! (And yes, I *do* think that a lot of it is expectations…)

    Deborah – That “friends” so busy thing is a key part of it. From here on out, I’m consciously scheduling more in advance. I just have to, um, get around to doing the scheduling :-)

  • Melinda – World Fantasy has a *very* different feel from the other conventions that I go to. Programming takes a distant back seat (and each guest is *lucky* to get either a panel slot *or* a reading…) World Fantasy is sold out for this year, but I know a few people with memberships to sell, so if you’re interested and not otherwise able to find a membership, let me know!

  • Hi Mindy,

    I’ve been going to Comic Con (San Diego) for 20 years- (ummm, yeah, started when I was five years old…sure, that’s the ticket ;)). Anyway- I’d say for me the most important things are preparation, expectations, and a willingness to let go. For anyone who has never attempted Comic Con- it’s you and 130,000 of your nearest and dearest friends. There are lines for everything- like mile or more long lines that you need to be in for five hours type of lines. So years ago I adapted a more relaxed mind set, I look for smaller panels, spend time roaming by myself, and pre-set times to met friends for meals. I don’t see all of the big events- but I usually have a great time :). Plus, I get some GREAT people watching time which really stirs the creative juices!

    Hope you have fun at World of Fantasy!

    Marie

  • I also can’t speak to either of those cons, but I can speak to my own congoing experiences. Right now I go to three – two conventions and one conference. SIWC is the writer’s conference in late October (last weekend), PAX is the gaming/geek culture convention held over the Labour Day weekend, and ConCarolinas is the SFF convention I go to, partly for the SFF-specific writing panels, and partly to see people I only otherwise get to see online. :)

    This year at PAX I didn’t go to any panels, and in retrospect, I sort of regret that. I mostly just futzed around, cruising for swag. On one hand, I came away with six plushie pocket-sized zombie heads. (Great as cat toys, decorating my desk, and the occasional gift.) On the other, I feel like I didn’t get as much out of the experience. Sure, I got to go to some amazing parties, and I had a fantastic time hanging out with friends, but there were some interesting things I missed. I guess you could say my heart wasn’t in it this year.

    However … one of the things I take away from cons is my notes, which I share on my blog (kind of a thing I’m getting known for these days). I may take awhile to post them all, but they’re still valid and it brings back great memories. But this past weekend at SIWC, I decided to skip an entire day’s worth of classes so I could get a second agent pitching appointment. And I’m glad I did, because I got to use the rest of the time to defrag in the middle of an otherwise busy and stressful weekend. (And I left the conference with multiple partial requests, which matters a bit more than notes, honestly.)

    So maybe it’s a combination of what you want out of the con, what you’re expecting from it, and your actual feelings and energy levels when you get there? Just a thought.

  • Marie – I can’t imagine going to anything as large as Comic Con (and yet I here from many people who love it as much as you do!) More relaxed is definitely important — and I need to make sure that includes relaxing my expectations for *myself*!

    Laura – Hearing all of you talk about ConCarolinas makes me long to join you some day! (And I often find that I forget to consider panels these days — they’re almost an afterthought!)

  • sagablessed

    I have only attended one con in my life: MarCon. I enjoyed it. So I think my lack of experience, no matter your request for perspectives, leaves me without real comment. Other than…..you iz awesome. So there.

  • Razziecat

    I’ve been to big cons ( like World SF Con in Boston back in, I think, 1998) and I’ve been to small cons (one was EerieCon in Niagara Falls). One of the best cons was the time EerieCon had to move to downtown Buffalo. The Klingon Poetry contest was one of the most hilarious things I’ve ever seen, and the bonus was I could go home & sleep in my own bed. I’m very much an introvert, so large cons can be intimidating, but I just try to keep an open mind, look for a few new experiences, and also concentrate on doing the things I love best about cons: Meet my favorite authors, buy goodies (yay books!) and attend awesome panels. I’m extremely frustrated about not being able to get to WFC this year as it’s so close to home, but alas, it’s not to be! Maybe next time! Hope you all have fun there! I’ll be looking enviously over the border, wave at me!! :)

  • Mindy, I wish you would join us at ConCarolinas!!

    I went to WorldCon once, and while I met a few people there (a couple of whom I’ve kept in contact with ever since), I’m not in a huge rush to go back. It wasn’t the size, because I go to DragonCon and have a ball. I was there with friends, but getting past the clique barrier was tough. On the first night, I was introduced to a writer I’d admired for years, and when I told her how much I’d enjoyed one of her early books, she rolled her eyes toward her companion and said, ‘They always want to talk about THAT book,’ then walked away. Made me feel like the geek kid trying to talk to the cheerleader back in junior high.

  • I think a lot of it is expectations, which probably led to some of my disappointment with NY Comic Con. That show was just TOO big, and this from a guy who handles Dragon with ease. But I enjoy cons for the chance to meet fans (of whom I have a small but loyal number) and make new friends (which is almost impossible at a Comic Con sized show. I don’t go to cosplay, or just gawk at the pretty girls, or meet famous people for ten seconds, so those shows aren’t going to be awesome for me. I love the little shows, where I can make a real difference in someone’s enjoyment of the con by being on a panel, or hanging with them after a panel, stuff like that. And I’ll second the invite down for ConCarolinas!

  • I love the smaller cons! I found I was spending most of my time at Dragon*Con with the filkers and the smaller panels.

    I won’t stop going to the big guys because it’s a fun party, but I think I get a lot more life-experience wise out of the smaller events.

  • Sagablessed – I’ll take the declaration of “awesome” whenever it’s offered! :-)

    Razziecat – Sorry that you can’t make it to WFC. I *do* think it’s important to know what it is that we enjoy. To that end, I got motivated yesterday to start sending out emails to friends who will be at WFC, to set up meetings/meals/etc.

    Misty – We *never* get very far from junior high, do we? My story to parallel yours was the Big Name Author to whom I was introduced by a friend: “This is Mindy; she just joined our merry little band by selling her first fantasy novel.” He looked over his eyeglasses and down his nose and said, “I hope to God it isn’t the first in some appalling series.” Um. Yeah. First of five. Thank you very much. (I, too, felt like I was about two inches tall.)

    John – You’re swaying me toward ConCarolinas. You really are…

    Metricula – First, I *love* your icon! Second, I think I just need to embrace that I’m a small-con girl :-)

  • Ugh. I hope you said to Big Name “Nope. It’s an amazing series. People will be reading it for centuries.” At least in your head.

    I too get the Introvert’s Hangover – I’ve got it right now actually since I went to a conference over last weekend and chattered like an extrovert the whole time. Now I don’t want to talk to people and I keep having to remind myself that it will even out over time. Hopefully your bad con experience will be the anomaly in a long line of fun, if exhausting, cons.

  • I’m really, Really, REALLY late to this party, but…
    I’ve been to two WorldCons and two WFCs. I did have fun at both WorldCons (mostly because I had met up with several friends/con-veterans who guided the experience), but it was a bit overwhelming and, for me, a bit too media-oriented. WFC, on the other hand, was a total blast, and a lot more relaxed and comfortable. I felt at home there. To me, WFC has always seems to be more of writer’s convention, celebrating the written word and the insanity that compels us to keep pounding keyboards.

  • Sarah – Alas, at the time, I was too astonished to say anything. Sigh…

    Lyn – Thanks for chiming in! I agree that WFC is much more of a writers’ convention, rather than media, etc.

    (Sorry for the late replies – Sandy kept me offline for a couple of days, and life was nuts before that!)