4 Essential Tips for First-Time Con-Goers

Baltimore Comic-Con Loki
Ditch the Costume

This article is by Joseph Zieja.

Cons are vicious, insane things, where emotions run as hard and fast as the alcohol, where dreams are made and broken at bars, and where George R. R. Martin sends people out for cheese steaks at three o’ clock in the morning.  You will meet people dressed in costumes from anime you have never heard of and, now, never want to see.  It’s a horrifically daunting, exhilarating, and generally rewarding experience.

So why should you take advice from me about going to a convention?  Because I’m you.  I’m the new guy, and I’m here to give you the new guy’s perspective on con-going, and I think I did pretty well for myself at the last few cons.  I’m here to give you the 4 Essential Tips of Convention Attendance.  I know these are true because I literally just did them for the first time.  Remember that I’m taking the angle of an aspiring professional here – you should absolutely still go to conferences and have fun just to have fun, as well.

1. Table Your Introversion

Look, I know how it is.  I’m not a social butterfly, but I’ve trained myself hard to be able to work well in social situations.  Cons are social events.  Take a good, hard look at how you interact with people, and know when you’re nearing Nerd Rage (condescension does not help you).  If you see an author you admire, go shake her hand and give her a short compliment.  I’m hoping to write another article specifically about schmoozing later, but you have to be willing to schmooze before you can learn how.  And, dear god, stay up late and go to those parties.  The days are busy for the pros – the nights are for relaxing and chatting.

2. Take a Notebook

If you’re going as a new author, you’re going primarily to learn from your betters.  Never forget that.  If you go to a con and spend the whole time in the dealers’ room or the gaming room, you’re simply not going to get the same professional value from the conference, though you’ll still have a lot of fun.

That information you get from all those people who have been doing this for years?  You need to write it down.  You will never be able to apply the information to your writing and your business ten days after the conference if you don’t.  Professionals are giving you nuggets of wisdom, the things they wish they knew when they were starting out.  Later, compile your notes and start thinking about how you can improve your writing by using them.

3. Develop Extra-Con Relationships

Remember when you were young and you went on vacation and met that cute girl and only talked to her for a week because then the vacation was over? Yeah, don’t do that.  Cultivate these relationships outside of the con.  Exchange cards (but don’t be pushy) and follow up.  You’re not being a nuisance by emailing someone who gave you an email address.  You need to stick in people’s heads (in a good way) or you’re going to start from square one the next time you meet them.

4. Be a Human Among Humans

I saved this for last because it’s the most important, and if you stopped reading earlier in the article, I wanted to spite you by depriving you of this information.  Never forget that you’re a person and that the people you’re talking to are people as well.  You have interesting parts of your life that they might want to hear about.  They have interesting parts of their lives that you would probably love to hear about.  Don’t pitch, pitch, pitch.  Have conversations.  Laugh.  Tell (appropriate) jokes. Buy someone a beer because you’re a nice person, not because you want to get in their rolodex.

And ditch the costume.  Look, I know it’s fun, and I know you probably look great in that catwoman suit, but you don’t have the social capital to spend right now.  Brandon Sanderson could get away with dressing like a character and still be taken seriously.  You can’t.

So there you have it.  It may not be gold, but it’s based on an experience that you might be getting ready to have, and your first con is something that will only happen once.  I hope you see that the common thread through all of these pieces of advice is generally to relax and learn.  Be a human among humans.  Have an open mind.  Try not to stress.

Oh, and here’s a stealthy number 5. KEEP WRITING.  Having a novel completed BEFORE you go to a conference shows that you’re serious – don’t put the cart before the horse.

Have you been to a con recently?  Do you have any advice for aspiring professionals?

About the Author:

Joe Zieja is a new author and newbie con attendee.  His work has been published in Daily Science Fiction, Pill Hill Press, Loconeal and others, and he has spoken at WORLDCON as a panelist.  He also looks great in a catwoman suit (but he wouldn’t wear one to a con).  You can see a complete list of his works at www.josephzieja.com, and you can visit his voiceover and music studio at www.renmanstudio.com.