How to Prepare for a Convention

Hi everyone!

I’m still drafting my report on BayCon, but realized that post was getting rather lengthy. Here I’m going to a breakdown of how I prepared for that convention, and what I would have done differently.

First, let me make a distinction between a convention and a conference. To my mind, a convention is a fan event, where you’re going to interact with people in and out of the industry for the purpose of fun, enjoyment and sharing. A conference is primarily a business and networking event, designed to help you move to the next stage of your career through information sessions, networking, and formal pitching events (or similar.)

That may not be a textbook definition, and there is certainly some overlap. I’ve made most of my professional connections at conventions. But that’s not our quibble today!

Here’s how to prepare for a convention — a fun, fan event — as a pro.

1. If you’re speaking on panels or giving a presentation
Make friends with the organizers. See what they’re expecting of you. Reach out to others who are speaking on the same panel as you, and get to know them. Read their work. It helps to know how the discussion will go, so that you can prepare relevant information.

2. Prepare relevant information
If you’re going to an instructional workshop, have your notes with you. Simplify and break them down into small chunks the audience can follow without getting lost — but don’t go overboard. Generally, you’re not lecturing. Find a balance between being informative and entertaining.

3. If you’re moderating a panel for others
Read their work. Check out their web sites. You should be able to give a brief introduction of each person — or better yet — be able to use their accomplishments as a starting point to introduce the topics of discussion. Prepare more questions than you need. One method of question-prep is to list out every question that comes to mind on the topic, and then erasing all the boring ones. Remember, you’re there to facilitate them; not hog the spotlight yourself.

4. Clothing and Costuming
This is something I’m still figuring out**, so I invite your comments and suggestions.
Generally speaking, if you’re going to be at a convention as a pro, you should dress the part. I’m a little put off by the idea of setting a glass wall between me and other people — fans, pros, or otherwise — but Kevin Andrew Murphy once said, “it’s not so much a glass wall as costuming as your authorial persona. Don’t wear anything on a panel that you wouldn’t want for your dust jacket photo. Dressy casual is good.”
Of course, dressy casual is relative.

I’ve had mixed responses as far as, say, a fairy costume. Some fans thought it was great, and made me more approachable — whereas other pros were less impressed, and saw it as a reason not to take me seriously. Consider who you’re dressing for. That said, the convention you go to might have costumed events such as a masquerade ball, or regency dance party. Dressing up at night for parties is generally acceptable.

5. Supplies
FOOD: Hotel food is expensive. I usually pack my own, as though I were going camping.
RECORDING EQUIPMENT: I also pack extra notebooks to take notes on panels (even the ones I speak on, you never know what you’ll learn from the folks you’re sitting next to.) It’s also a good idea to take a camera or minirecorder if you want to recap your performance to see how you can improve. Always ask for permission to record, of course.
MISC: Band-aids, painkillers, allergy medicine, needle & thread, bathing suit, extra socks — prepare for it all.
CASH: Again, sort of a no-brainer. Between the dealer’s room, the parties, and meals, having cash in your pocket, rather than your whole bank account on a card, is a quick way to budget your weekend.

It’s always better to over-prepare and not need it, than to under-prepare and get caught with your pants down. Remember, whether you’re there to make friends or to sell your books, conventions should be FUN. All the prep you do should be to self-facilitate, and make the live experience as smooth as possible.


How do you do it? Did I miss anything important?


Carrie Sessarego of Geek Girl in Love.

** With regard to costuming… this probably merits a post all its own. Wearing costumes is easily one of my favorite things about conventions, and the prospect of them being off-limits deeply saddens me. I dressed up as a yellow fairy for two reasons: I have a story coming out from Fey Publishing this June, and wanted to promote that. Also, I have a friend named Fritz, and I had to make a joke referencing Bakshi’s animated film, “Wizards.”


“They’ve killed Fritz! Those lousy stinking yellow fairies! Those horrible atrocity-filled vermin! Those despicable animal warmongers! They’ve killed Fritz!” – Wizards (1977)

Here’s a quote to contradict Murphy’s, regarding my costumes specifically:

I thought you did an excellent job with the two panels I attended. Your personal excitement and passion for the subjects made them much more accessible than they otherwise might have been. The entire panel on building your writing community was easily the best at the con. The chemistry of the panelists and the sensitivity that each of you all brought to the subject was model perfect. Frankly the “glass wall” can (in some cases) hinder the process. Of course we attend panels primarily to listen and learn, but we also go to engage and respond. The audience’s “yes” and “Ah’s” as well as the questions are what bring such panels to life.”  – Andrew Roberts


I wasn’t the only one with wings.


7 thoughts on “How to Prepare for a Convention

  1. marfisk

    It’s a good list. On the food, I always bring food, and keep some on me, because you never know when you’ll be running from panel to panel (as panelist or audience) and find your blood sugar crashing. Conventions tend to remove the limits of time and traditional schedules.

    As to the costuming, I don’t costume. I have in the past, but it’s not something I make a habit of. However, that’s part of the convention scene, an integral part, and so holding yourself separate when you want to participate doesn’t make much sense.I actually got odd looks at one of my “panels” which was a birds of the feather because while I was there for Steampunk in literature and digital art, everyone else was in costume. It didn’t stop a lively discussion (and collecting some sources for gears) either.

    One other point on the separation that I learned from going to the how to moderate panel more years ago than I can remember. The folks in the audience tend to be well-read, well-educated in the genres, and may know more than you do on any particular point. The best panels are where the panel engages with those who have come to explore the topic.

    I guess in this, I’m very much not a glass wall type person. I’ve been on every side of this table except the organization one, and I have friends there. We’re a bunch of people coming together to share in what we enjoy. Take a page from David Weber’s book (not literally because it would break the binding ;)). I loved how much he was “one of the people” as opposed to “this amazingly superior author.” If he can do it, there’s no reason you can’t.

    1. Setsu Post author

      You’re absolutely right, and thank you for sharing your thoughts on this. I’ll have to practice taking questions to improve at it — it was a bit of a stumbling block last time.

      1. marfisk

        I don’t know…you did a great job as moderator on the panel we shared, a difficult task, and overall I’d guess the audience felt they’d been heard. You can go too far on the recognition too and let someone from the audience take over…which generally doesn’t go well.

  2. CarrieS

    Hmmm…what is this glass panel of which you speak?

    Re costuming – if you are at a convention to play, wear whatever the heck you want. If you are there to network, wear whatever “sells your brand”, much as I hate that phrase. You are fun, outgoing, outspoken, daring, and whimsical – if your costume reflects that, then wear the damn thing, especially if it has a connection to your books! Costuming can help people remember you – as long as you want them to make that association, go with it. I don’t dress up as a Marvel superhero because I want people to see my costume and think 1) this person loves books and writes about them at (the book cape) or b) steampunk/Regency/histprical (the Steampunk Jane Austen outfit. Your costume works if it sparks conversation because that’s a chance to network. Plus, and I can’t say this enough – your costume works if wearing it makes you feel relaxed and happy. It’ a convention, not a conference, and that means its a place where we can be our weird crazy selves!

    1. Setsu Post author

      The glass wall wasn’t literal – it was the sense that there’s a separation between the pros and the audience. They can see and hear you, but they can’t really access you. At this stage, at least, I don’t want that. Maybe if I get burned by some crazy folks (as I’ve done to people I love and admire) I’ll take a step back.

      When I’ve met people further along in their careers than me, the consensus has been “Yeah… you might want to scale it back a bit.” It’s one of those situations where you only get one chance to make a first impression. Without any other data on me or my work, it would take some effort to take me seriously.

      I think the best person to model in this instance is Gail Carriger, who dresses professionally and includes elements of her genre in her style. She is instantly recognizable in a crowd, and you have a clear sense of her interests from her fashion choices.

  3. sherylrhayes

    I have mixed feelings about the costuming comments, mostly because I am known at BayCon and Convolution primarily as a costumer and secondarily as a writer. I attended a writer’s workshop where the professionals there identified me as “that knit Klingon chick,” but it has not affected my standing so far. Mostly because I have good sense to not bring my bat’leth to the workshop. If one day I am (fingers crossed) participating as a writer, I will adjust my dress to something more professional.

    Gail Carriger is a good example that I was going to bring up of combining an interest in costuming with her writing, but you beat me to it.

  4. Pingback: Quick Notes – How to Edit Your Own Work | KatanaPen

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