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.