Congratulations, up and coming writer! You’ve just received your first invitation to attend Convention X as an author guest. This is great news! You’re going to spend a day or three (or four) in the company of supposedly similarly-minded individuals, where the focus of many panel discussions, casual hallway conversations, and raucous diatribes offered in the hotel bar all will revolve around topics of mutual interest and passion. Pack wisely, don’t forget your toothbrush, wear comfortable shoes, and hydrate.
Oh, and here are a few other tidbits of hopefully helpful advice, offered from the perspective of one writer guy who’s participated in programming and activities at all manner of conventions from the local one-day affair all the way to the Pop Culture Mecca itself, San Diego Comic-Con. I personally believe that these infonuggets apply whether you’re attending your first convention or you’re a seasoned con pro.
The first, big piece of advice I can offer is for you to just Relax, and Be Yourself. You’re a pretty interesting person already. Even if you don’t believe that, others do, which is why you’ve been invited to the convention. Readers and fans come to meet authors at these shin digs because they want to get a little insight into the person who wrote those books they love so much. So, give them You, not some “persona” you’ve created for the con circuit. Be approachable. Make with the chit-chat, be it with other guests, fans who arrive early for panels, people with whom you’re waiting in line for your morning coffee, whatever. Also, it’s a well-known fact that the best and most fun conversations between writers—or writers and editors, or writers and agents, or even the Trifecta of Awesome that is writers, editors and agents cohabitating—happen in the bar, or at a room party after the day’s activities are concluded, so be sure to seek out these venues.
This leads us right to Act Like A Professional. Yes, you’re at the con as an “Author Guest,” which should never be confused with “Egocentric Boob.” Be humble, as well as polite and considerate of the other guests. Don’t monopolize panel discussions or other conversations. Be engaging and respectful of the fans, who are paying to be there, and don’t hassle the con staff. In fact, I’ll repeat that one: Don’t Hassle the Con Staff. Those people are volunteers working long hours. They were at the hotel before you showed up and they’ll be there after you go home. In between, they’re bringing you food or something to drink or getting you to your scheduled activity or helping with the crowd control at your panel or book signing. Let those folks know at every opportunity that their work’s appreciated. The short version? Be the kind of guest the con wants to invite back next time.
If You’re Not On the Panel, You’re Not On the Panel. Few things at a convention are as irritating as someone from the audience at a panel discussion doing his or her best to be a part of the action. The people sitting at the front table are running the show. They’re driving the discussion, and they’re the ones who decide when and how to engage the audience. When someone else asks a question, don’t try to get in the middle of them and the panelists in order to offer your take on the matter. Maybe you should’ve been up there instead of that other guy and it’s an egregious sin that you got overlooked, but it happened, so let the panelists do their jobs.
Going hand in hand with this is Don’t Oversell Yourself. You’re there as a guest, with a badge identifying you as such, so pretty much everyone you encounter knows why you’re at the con. Editors and agents know that writers of every stripe will be seeking them out all weekend, which is why you’ll usually find these folks in the hotel bar. There will be times and places for promoting yourself and your work. Panels, for the most part, aren’t that time or place, whether you’re in the audience or sitting up front. Yes, you’ll have the opportunity to introduce yourself and provide some brief background, and maybe at the end the moderator will give you a chance to pimp your new book. Otherwise? Don’t bring copies of all your books to decorate the panelists’ table. The fans have programs, and they know when and where to find you for signings, your table where you’re selling your books, and all that good stuff. In related news, every handshake with another writer or an editor or agent isn’t your cue to pitch them your latest book or concept. Keep it casual; the conversation likely will turn to that sort of topic on its own, and maybe an editor or agent will express interest in seeing something. Otherwise? Keep your manuscript in your Bag of Holding.
Okay, just to keep everything in perspective, remember that it is a convention, and it’s supposed to be fun. Therefore, Don’t Be Afraid to Be A Fan. Writers are fans of other writers, to say nothing of the TV or movie guests who might be in attendance if it’s that kind of show. It’s perfectly okay to get your book or photo autographed or to take advantage of offered photo opportunities. Don’t forget to check out the dealer’s area, and pay particular attention to those vendors offering items they’ve hand-crafted. Some of that stuff is simply beautiful. As for other writers, don’t be afraid to find them at their table in the dealer’s area or author’s alley or whatever and introduce yourself. Get your copy of their new book signed. Buy more books from them, even. Just don’t try to turn the tables and sell your stuff to them. That’s what your table and signings are for.
Take Care of Yourself. There’s always something going on at a convention, even long after the scheduled activities are done for the day. Parties and after-hours programming, or just hanging out in the hotel bar or restaurant while catching up with friends and colleagues. It’s easy to lose track of simple things like getting enough sleep or making sure you’re eating right. One suggestion from writer David Gerrold on my Facebook page when I solicited input on this topic was to follow what he calls the“6-2-1” rule: At least six hours of sleep per night, at least two meals per day, and and at least one shower per day. Indeed, I consider showers at conventions to be a moral imperative. Experienced con veterans know what I’m talking about.
Oh, and here’s another pro tip for use at conventions and any other signings—one that sounds like a no-brainer but often is overlooked by first-timers: Don’t Use Your Legal Signature. Develop something to use just for these activities, and make it distinctly different from the one you use to sign documents, checks, and so on.
Oh, and you’re a writer, so Remember Your Pen. The rest of us beat that “Look at me! The writer without a pen!” joke into glue ages ago.
All right, I’ve rambled on way too long. This list should, if all goes according to my Master Plan, be just the tip of the Advice Iceberg. Who’s got more helpful pointers?