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.

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Kyra L
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Kyra L

I’m going to the San Diego Comic-Con, FINALLY, this
year.  And frankly, I’m totally
intimidated and feel like such a tourist. (can relate with #1 on your list) #4
is definitely very important, and this is something I keep repeating to myself
in my head, and know this from experience. I spent most of my life in NYC and
you run into actors, writers, directors, ALL the time pretty much anywhere. Talking
to them is like having a random conversation with your next door neighbor who’s
walking their dog. (except that they’re famous)  As long as you’re not being pushy or pitchy… they’re
really cool and you end up having a great conversation most of the time.

Annie Marie Peters
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Annie Marie Peters

I love this post!  Number four is truly great advice.  People don’t just want to be pitched too.  It’s important to make human connections.  You never know where it could lead.

JosephZieja
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JosephZieja

RandomOenophile Thank you, ma’am!

JosephZieja
Guest
JosephZieja

I love mixing it up.  I went to MAGFest this year and acted like a buffoon for 3 days, but the key there was that I wasn’t trying to show editors that I was a real human being who could produce good fiction and hold a decent conversation.  The important thing, I think, is to remember what your purpose is at the con!

StorytellerGRL
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StorytellerGRL

I’ve been to a few comic-cons a number of years ago, and I went solely as a geeky fan seeking autographs for my comics and general geeky fun (nothing wrong with that, by the way). But I’m looking forward to soon re-entering the con life as an author, ready to network, take notes, learn, and hopefully one day be doling out those autographs myself.
Thanks for this great article! 🙂

KLMcKinley
Guest
KLMcKinley

Loved reading this. I have a folder where I keep the handouts I receive from panels and workshops.
I’ve been attending a local con for several years now and I’ve established a great relationship with some of the authors, editors and publishers. 
Definitely mind your P’s and Q’s. No one likes a drunk and/or obnoxious aspiring author. If you don’t think authors and publishers talk to each other, you would be wrong.

Mark_Cassell
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Mark_Cassell

writeawaybliss mythicscribes I think johnburrell17 may find this useful. 🙂

Mike Cairns
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Mike Cairns

Hi Joe
Fun read, thanks.
I’m heading off to super comic con in March in London and very much looking forward to it. Not sure I’m going to do much regarding my books, but I shall be geeking out over all the wonderful art and being as human as possible. 🙂
Must say, I love the costumes… won’t be wearing one though.
cheers
Mike

Brittaney Edwards
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Brittaney Edwards

I’m going to my first in march I’m pretty exited 🙂

Tony Dragani
Guest
Tony Dragani

I’ve never been to a con, but I hope to someday. I’m not into cosplay or fan culture, but I think that going as an author would be a rewarding experience.

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