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.
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?
** 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.”
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