Con Tips

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I just got home from a weekend as a guest at Balticon, the Maryland Regional Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention. It’s small enough to let you run into everyone at some point, but big enough to offer plenty of activities and panels. While I was there, I met a number of congoers who hope to be published one day, and who’d come to meet authors and editors and get a little help in that direction. The vast majority of these hopefuls were great people, full of interesting questions and just as pleasant as they could be, and they were definitely in the right place. Publishing professionals attend cons because we want to share, and we love meeting not-yet-published writers with their goals firmly envisioned. But every now and then someone pops up that makes a con guest want to run screaming to the safety of her room. One very nice young lady asked me how she’d know if she was being overbearing or obnoxious, and I told her that if she was concerned enough to ask, she was probably neither one. So how do you know if you’re being fabulous or freakazoid?

1. Ask questions and listen to the answers.
I sat in on a few panels and served on others, and I noticed that people would occasionally ask questions, then start chatting with a neighbor during the ensuing answer. Maybe there’s only one author on the panel whose opinion you are initially interested in hearing, but that doesn’t mean the other three or four authors don’t have something to say that you ought to hear. As we say often here on MW, there is no one right way to do anything. One of those authors might have just the answer you need.

2. Pay attention to what others ask, and listen to the answers.
Nothing gets under my skin like audience members who ask the same question someone else just asked and received the answer to. It means that he was so busy composing his question in his head he wasn’t really listening to the panel. If all he wanted to achieve was ten seconds of speaking directly to the authors, he might as well have waited until the signings. Participate fully in what the whole audience is doing, so the short time isn’t wasted on a repeat.

3. Remember that you’re not the only person in the audience.
This happens at least once at every con I’ve ever attended. Someone in the audience decides she’s having a personal conversation with the panelists, and chimes in every few minutes with some lengthy comment or other. The panelists know that sometimes audience members may have more knowledge than they do about a subject, and appreciate hearing the occasional comment. But when one audience member acts as if she is a secondary panelist, it irritates the rest of the audience who came to hear the panelists speak. Not to mention adding work for the poor moderator, who has enough trouble wrangling the panelists. Share if it’s important, but don’t monopolize the hour.

4. Don’t diss anyone.
Maybe it’s because I was raised by a strict Southern mother who insisted that I say nothing at all if I had nothing nice to say, but I don’t think it’s right to trash other authors in panels. Even if they’re multimillionaires who probably don’t care what a few folks in a panel think, don’t go there. But it’s not just authors you should spare. Don’t diss agents or editors either. I’m aware of an incident in which a writer was trying to convince an editor to ask for her manuscript. In the course of conversation, the writer said some unkind things about an agent who’d offered her representation. The writer didn’t realize the agent was a good friend of the editor. Oops.

5. Easy on the alcohol and remember that people are watching what you do.
In the evenings the parties start. Publishers host parties to promote their authors, authors host parties to celebrate book launches, fan groups host parties to attract more members….there is never a dearth of partying at a con. Go, dance, sing, drink and have a wonderful time, but know your limits. If two glasses of wine are enough to start you dancing on tables, control yourself and drink only one. Publishing is a tightly-knit business. Everyone knows everyone else, and people remember if you act outrageously. Blaming it on the alcohol is just an excuse. The wine didn’t force itself down your throat, you know.
And a codicil to this…sometimes folks go to cons in the hope of a little freaky-deaky. Be aware that if you stagger down a hallway trading sloppy kisses with your chosen hook up, people notice. If you don’t want to face those knowing snickers in the consuite the next morning (or an angry spouse), for God’s sake be discreet.

6. Embrace personal hygiene.
Antiperspirant. Toothpaste. Shampoo and soap. I hate that this always needs to be said, but I always run into at least one or two people who don’t take the time to properly prepare themselves. Maybe you live in a naturalist commune in which everyone bathes with water only and appreciates the odors of the body, but when you’re coming to a con, don’t ever assume the other congoers think the same way. If you habitually wear perfume or cologne, tone it way, way down. Some people are allergic, and you don’t want to be responsible for their misery.

Cons are a marvelous place to meet like-minded souls as well as your favorite authors, and we sure do want to see you! Just remember these tips so that all of us will enjoy ourselves! For those of you who are coming to ConCarolinas next week, we’re all looking forward to seeing you! Don’t forget the drop-in, informal lunch at Boardwalk Billy’s restaurant from 12:15 p.m. Saturday, June 5, until just after 3. There will be giveaways and free stuff from some of the writers.

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20 comments to Con Tips

  • On number 6, I’ve known a few people at gamer cons who have threatened to make and give out Conventioneer Survival Packs of shampoo, soap, deodorant, mouth wash, toothpaste and toothbrush, etc. I always carry around either Altoids or a Listerine Pocket Pack, just in case. Never know who you’re going to meet. When I was running games for Eden Studios I also carried a deodorant/antiperspirant stick in my bag because nervousness would have me perspiring before the start of the game.

    My problem has always been going to a panel discussion and not saying anything and then kicking myself in the butt that I didn’t ask the question and then wishing I could ask afterward. I did once, but I don’t like to do it because I know they probably have somewhere to get to and I’m keeping them from it. Or not thinking of something useful to ask until the end. Or the final question sparking a question of my own and not being able to ask.

    I am one of the types that likes a drink to loosen up, but I’ve known my limits for quite a while now, but oddly I’ve never actually drank at a con bar. There’s a fine line between social and socially inept with the ol’ firewater. A drink or two gets me to actually talk to people I don’t know for the first time. Otherwise I tend to be the stand back and study type–aka wallflower…except, I’m not overly pretty…maybe more like wallweed…but the kind you don’t mind in the yard…maybe more like a wallherb…yeah, maybe rosemary or oregano…yeah, oregano…don’t mind me, just rambling now… πŸ˜‰

  • Oh, yes. A list like this should be mandatory reading for every convention and conference. #3 especially.

    I attend Penny Arcade Expo, a video game convention in Seattle, and they make a big deal about all of these points. Of course, they also have their resident deity, Secretary of Geek Affairs Wil Wheaton, and his number-one catch phrase is now law: “Don’t be a dick.”

    Personally, I’ve found that at most I can handle one drink. I don’t like anything that gives me the chance to act like an idiot, especially when it comes to the writing conference I attend. The online writing forum associated with it holds a party on the Saturday night, and there are always successful writers, editors, and agents in attendance. That one time … I, um, thanked an agent for rejecting me. I meant it in the most positive sense (i.e., it helped me realize I wasn’t ready to be published at the time), but … well. Anyway. Hm, she hasn’t been at the conference since … (No, I’m not really worried. Not really. And better to make a mistake like that than, well, dance on tables.)

  • And better to make a mistake like that than, well, dance on tables.)

    Unless you maybe dance really, really well. πŸ˜‰ Then again, prodigious pints of porter don’t lend themselves well to one’s ability for tripping the table fantastic with any level of proficiency.

    ooh, I should write today. But darn it, the dishes beckon! Where are helpful house fairies when you need them?

  • Deb S

    Now you tell me.

  • Deb S

    That was supposed to be: “Antiperspirant. Toothpaste. Shampoo and soap.”
    Now you tell me;)

  • The one I would add to this is: Respect people’s personal space. Many people at cons are openly affectionate. They give hugs to one another, place their hands on each other’s backs and shoulders in casual conversation. That’s fine. If you know the person, and you know for certain that he or she doesn’t mind, grope to your heart’s content. But there are also people at cons who do not like to have their physical space violated, and unfortunately some of the former give nary a thought to the feelings of the latter. Keep your hands, hugs, caresses and kisses to yourself.

  • Daniel said, Unless you maybe dance really, really well.

    I dance well enough, but even dead sober I won’t try it without a firm grip on the floor. Furniture cannot be trusted. πŸ˜€

    Deb, it’s never too late! *laughs*

    David, yes, good addition to the list! I’m demonstrative, but only with people I know. When strangers come in for a smooshy hug, it makes me awfully nervous. Like they’re going for my pockets or something…

  • Keep your hands, hugs, caresses and kisses to yourself.
    Aw, so much for my plan to give ya a big wet sloppy one then. πŸ˜‰ KIDDING! πŸ˜‰ Egads, I feel uncomfortable even hugging someone I hardly know when they come in for one. I end up doing the one hand on the back man-hug thing. I’m also bothered by the people that feel they need to stand two inches from you to speak. Makes me want to keep backing up.

  • Another one to add: don’t pitch your story unless asked to, and when you do, do it briefly with a few well chosen phrases. I was passing a stall at a con once when a young guy who had self pubbed a novel asked if I liked edgy fantasy. Trying to be supportive, I said yes. He launched into a point by point plot summary of his book without pausing for breath. I stood there for a couple of minutes feeling embarrassed and irritated, then apologized and walked away. When people offer an inch (out of the kindness of tehir hearts) don’t take a mile.

  • Guin

    You can expand #1 to simply, “restrict side conversations during panels.” I went to LepreCon (Phoenix) this year for George R.R. Martin, and during his main session, the couple behind me were conversing — supposedly whispering, but it carried like a stage whisper. I wanted to throttle them. I don’t see the point of going to a panel/session if you’re not willing to pay attention to the whole thing.

    Something I’ve run into more lately is people not turning off their cell phones unless speakers specifically remind them to do so. At the writers’ workshop I attended last weekend, I think almost every session was interrupted by someone’s cell phone, several with loud and/or obnoxious ringers.

    And yes, yes, yes to the personal space thing. I am fine being huggy with people I know, but someone touching me without me being prepared for it — even just a hand on the back — can make me jump out of my skin.

  • AJ, I once had a self-pubbed writer try to pitch me his science fiction novel by handing it to me and demanding that I read the foreword, a two page rant about his work only being suitable for people with post-graduate degrees, since they were the only ones intelligent enough to grasp his lofty concepts.

    Do I even need to mention that he made very few sales that day? πŸ˜€

  • Misty, I agree with all your points. Particularly because I just spent awhile laying them out for my own post. AHHHH! Well, I suppose great minds think alike. I’m still going to post on Cons but I clearly need to refocus things or simply write one word — Ditto. πŸ™‚

  • Stuart, I’m sorry I scooped you! I look forward to seeing the refocus. πŸ˜€

  • Then again, prodigious pints of porter don’t lend themselves well to one’s ability for tripping the table fantastic with any level of proficiency.

    Baha, Daniel. No they do not. But I’m horribly uncoordinated, so table-dancing is out for me, too. What’s even worse is that they serve wine at the after-party I attend. One glass of that and I’m … well, let’s just say that wine and I are not friends. πŸ˜‰ I may have learned the hard way, but at least now I’ve learned. But this is also reason #97 why I now use a pen name …

    When I think about conversation-monopolizers, I shudder, because they don’t make it fun for other people. But then I also think that, when people monopolize like that, it’s often because they have a desire to be heard. They’re looking for validation, especially when a professional is involved. Maybe there’s a social cue or two that they never picked up on, or maybe they’re just lonely. (Writing can be a very lonely process, IMHO.) Knowing that you’re being heard by someone is a huge self-esteem issue. I say this because I’ve occasionally struggled with that last bit myself. It can take a *lot* of work to get over stuff like that.

  • Excellent post and great points in the comments! I can’t wait for ConCarolinas this weekend πŸ™‚

  • Dang. No dancing on tables???? I bet you won’t let me wear lamp shades either. Poo. πŸ™‚

    Misty, my mother (also a Southern mom) despairs of me and my total lack of nice/sweet/polite instincts. I stop people with a firm *STOP* when they want to hug, kiss, pitch, or ask the wrong kind of questions. My favorite line when asked by someone if they can pitch their book to me is, “Can you do it in 20 seconds? If not, come back when you can. A 20 second pitch is a professional pitch.” When they get that deer in the headlights look I add, “Seriously. I’ll listen, think, and even recommend an agent if it’s a good pitch. But if you can’t do a 20 second pitch, then you aren’t ready.” Most come back, at which point I’ll critique the pitch and tell them to come back and try again. By the end of the Con, they can pitch. A couple have even gotten agent recommedations.

    As to people monopolizing panels (panelists or audience members) a good moderator stops that fast. The moderator’s job is to make sure everyone has fun and gets a share of the panel time. Unfortunately too many moderators have no idea how to do the job. Speaking of which, I’m moderating a panel at CC. And I have no idea what questions to ask. I better get cracking.

    I’m monopolizing the post. Zipping my lips!

  • I bet you won’t let me wear lamp shades either.

    No, but that’s because you are entirely too gorgeous to hide under a dusty old lampshade!

  • Oh… My goodness. Why thank you, Misty darlin! Um… Thank you.

  • Speaking of cons. What are the big cons that urban fantasy authors go to each year? Curious.

  • Oh gee…World Fantasy and RWA pop immediately to mind. I’ll throw this one to Faith, since she’s in the genre…