I got my very best piece of convention advice early in my career. It was at my first “pro” convention, the World Fantasy in 1994 in New Orleans, in a conversation with writer/editor/publisher Cecilia Tan and writer/editor/translator Lawrence Schimel — both of them old-hands by then when it comes to conventions, compared to me. I don’t remember which one of them said it. I complained, on about the third day, that I was tired and hungry. One of them told me:
“Then you’re doing it wrong! When you’re at a convention, you’ve got to either eat or sleep!”
Since then, I’ve attended an awful lot of genre conventions, and I’ve had great times at most of them. I rarely managed to both eat and sleep, but I tried to do one or the other, and it’s proved to be damn good advice. So I decided to compile a little of my own, none of which represents the views of any of my publishers, my fellow bloggers at Night Bazaar, or anybody who’s not completely nuts. That is to say, it’s all mine.
I should point out now — and would have done it earlier if I didn’t have such a bitchin’ anecdote to lead with — that this post assumes you are primarily a writer. It also assumes that you are primarily (or at least significantly) interested in writing science fiction, fantasy, horror and to a lesser degree crime/mystery, and are interested in going to genre conventions that are primarily based around writing.
(By the way, if such conventions don’t sound like fun, don’t go — it’s as simple as that. If what you do professionally is write, then anyone who tells you that you “must” attend genre conventions “for your career” is to my way of thinking either wrong, or they’re your publisher. If they’re your publisher, then…sorry, you probably have to go. Otherwise, the only absolute “you must” in writing is that you must write. Even Heinlein’s rules are to some extent up for grabs nowadays, in my opinion. Except that pesky first one.)
I’m not going to address media-oriented conventions (San Diego Comic Con, for example) or more general book-oriented conventions (BookExpo America or the West Hollywood Book Fair, for example) because while I’ve done plenty of them, I think they’re a very different gig than going to SF/F/H conventions. I’m also not going to address writer’s conferences (which are different than conventions) because I don’t have any experience with them.
Last, but far from least, I am including here both “writer-oriented” conventions like World Fantasy and “fan-oriented” conventions like Worldcon or local conventions (Baycon is the local one in the San Francisco area). They are very different beasts from one another, but personally I don’t like to draw a line between them, so I’m not gonna. Therefore, by necessity, the following 10 points vary widely in their applicability to a particular convention.