Our theme this week: What conventions and/or conferences do we attend regularly, and why?
I’m not convinced that attending conventions — genre-related or otherwise — or writing conferences is absolutely necessary for conducting a professional writing career. It might help, but it’s possible to have a career without leaving your house, and there are writers who do so. That said. . .
I like going to conventions because they’re fun. Sure, I learn stuff and do lots of networking, and since I started publishing novels I reach a lot of readers at cons. But really, it’s all about the fun. My professional reasons for going and what I get out of them have changed. When I started in the late nineties, I was trying to break into the field, going to panel discussions and gleaning whatever gems of wisdom I could, meeting other young writers in the same place I was, trying to get a feel for the publishing world. Later, when I’d started selling stories and was about to sell my novels, I went to hang out with my friends (the ones I’d met at the very same conventions) and network with editors, looking for that secret handshake. Now, some 14 books into my career, I go for promotional reasons, to woo new readers, to meet with my editors and agent. And to hang out with my friends.
I go to a few different kinds of cons, with different agendas:
Literary Science Fiction and Fantasy Conventions
Since I started out in the science fiction and fantasy reading community, most of the conventions I go to are science fiction and fantasy oriented. This has worked out great for me, because over the last twelve years or so of regularly attending these conventions I’ve been able to build an audience and reach a lot of new readers by appearing on panels and doing readings. Conventions are also the place where I’ve met lots of other up-and-coming SF&F writers, people who are now some of my best friends. Secret advice: these cons are some of the best places to get serious face time with authors. George R.R. Martin is well known for encouraging fans to come see him at science fiction conventions, where they’re more likely to be able to actually sit down and have a conversation with him, rather than the thirty seconds of interaction they get at a book signing.
The ones I try to hit every year:
MileHi Con, Denver’s local SF&F convention.
Bubonicon, Albuquerque’s local SF&F convention.
The World Science Fiction Convention, aka Worldcon. The location changes, and I’ll sometimes go to this one just for an excuse to travel. I’ve made it most years, lately, and always have an exhausting wonderful time. This is the convention that awards the Hugo.
The World Fantasy Convention. I don’t get to this one as often as I would like, but if you write science fiction and fantasy this is, absolutely, the best place you can go for networking opportunities. Geared toward industry professionals, most of the attendees are, in fact, professionals — editors, authors, artists, agents, everyone — and in this setting they’re approachable. (Also, your membership fee gets you a goodie bag full of books. WIN.) Like Worldcon, the location changes every year.
Media/Pop Culture Conventions
Over the last five or six years I’ve attended one or two media/pop culture oriented conventions a year. Not only are these great big geek-out parties, they tend to attract a different audience that the more literary SF&F conventions. More potential readers to reach! These are the conventions that feature lots of costumes and make the news.
StarFest, Denver’s local media-focused SF&F convention. I attend this almost exclusively for reader outreach and publicity — and it works. When my first novel came out, my publisher gave the convention 500 copies to hand out as freebies. I still get people coming to me telling me how they started reading the series because of that freebie. I come here, do readings and panels, am accessible to fans, have a grand old time — and thereby sell books.
Denver Comic Con. This just happened a few weeks ago, for the very first time, and since it had double the expected attendance, I’m sure this will become one of the “must go” cons of the regional promotional circuit.
San Diego Comic Con. The big one. The granddaddy and crown jewel of them all. 125,000 (more or less) potential readers. (And it’s happening this week! And I’m not there! Boo!) My publisher also gave away copies of my first book here, in 2005, and again in 2007, when I was actually there to sign them. I credit this con with giving my career a big boost. I don’t attend every year — it’s a drain of energy and resources, dealing with a con of this size. But boy, it’s like geek Mecca. Everyone with an interest should make the pilgrimage at least once. My plan moving forward is to attend every two or three years.
Dragon*Con. More fan driven than the commercially driven San Diego Comic Con, this is another all-encompassing geek fest that has to be seen to be believed. I’ve only been once — it often falls on the same weekend as Worldcon — but I’m itching to get back, because I reached a huge and enthusiastic group of readers here that I hadn’t seen anywhere else. Next time I go, I’m definitely bringing costumes. This is the only convention I’ve ever been to where I felt out of place not wearing a costume. At least on Saturday night at the bar.
I actually just attended my first dedicated writers conference this past April — the Pikes Peak Writers Conference — as an instructor. I’ve lived in Colorado since 1995, so it’s kind of hilarious that I’d never attended this one at all, even as a newbie writer. Why not? I spent a lot of those years living paycheck to paycheck, and the conference fee is a bit steep. It just never occurred to me to try find a way to attend. I was making progress, and getting lots of good writing advice from authors at MileHi Con. Oh, and it’s usually the same weekend as StarFest. I’m thinking of working out a plan where I attend PPWC one day and StarFest one day. Because my life isn’t crazy enough already, obviously!
On top of all these, I’ll go to one or two regional conventions as a one-off, because I’m in the area or I’ve been invited as a guest of the con. There’s also the World Horror Convention, which I’ve been to a couple of times but not recently, New York Comic Con, and a whole slew of mystery and romance focused conventions that are on my radar that I could conceivably attend. Not to mention the huge publishing industry conferences like BEA and ALA. But I’m trying to cut back, travel less, so I can stay home and write more. But these are all just so much fun, it’s hard to say no.