From Alma Alexander:
At a SF/Fantasy convention several years ago I was on a a panel that explored what a professional (writer, artist, editor, agent…) actually DOES at a convention, how they might approach it differently from the reader, gamer or fan attendee.
For a couple of years when I first started out, I was a prolific con-goer, up to nine a year before sanity prevailed and I cut it down to a few. Having just returned from Orycon, the only convention I’ve allowed myself for a couple of years, I was musing about cons in general, why I go, what I get out of them…what is the attraction for a professional writer?
. . . .
Con goers get issued with a program which details the panels which will be available over the course of the convention weekend. There is a limited number of useful topics for such occasions, and some of the hoarier topics have been relentlessly trotted out at every con since God Created Convention.
This is where we come in, the pros you see seated behind the tables in the hotel conference rooms, facing the serried ranks of either depressingly empty or intimidatingly full chairs set out in rows before us.
You get to this point – you’re a professional. You’ve published books or stories, you’ve been PAID for that, or you’re a professional artist, or editor in the field, or simply an expert on some topic and were collared to take part in a panel discussing same. The panel of “Pros At Cons” looked at what was expected of the folk on THIS side of the table, the pontificators – whether we were really here as revered professionals or whether we were the hired entertainment, the performing seals, planted in our seats by the program planners to keep the masses happy..
There are many reasons one becomes a writer – and at least one of them involves a fundamental personality trait: writers are notorious for being loners. It’s a solitary profession where you retire to your office and face off with your computer, and it’s you in your own world surrounded by characters and creatures of your own making.
Some of us can shrug that off and at least put on a show of being gregarious at conventions, mingling and schmoozing and generally mixing with the crowds – and, to all intents and purposes, actually enjoy ourselves. For others, it isn’t so easy. Some folk are genuinely quiet and shy and not natural public speakers.
If you happen to run across me in a crowded party full of people I barely know, I’m likely to be the one cowering in a corner and hoping that someone might start a conversation because I sure as hell am not going to walk up to a stranger and stick out a hand and introduce myself.
However – put me on a panel where I am supposed to speak about writing, and I blossom into an articulate and eloquent speaker with active opinions which I am not at all shy about expounding on or defending. It touches my passion, and that changes everything. I am no longer just a writer, I am WRITER, hear me roar.
This is something that defines me. And I can conquer the tongue-tied shy little girl who often dominates my social interactions with strangers. When I am wrapped in that writer cloak, the things I have to say become meaningful given the writerly context in which they are uttered.
. . . .
People like me go to conventions because we have written books, and conventions are where our readers are. I have had several people come up to me in the hallways just to tell me, “I liked your books”. That, in itself, is a pearl beyond price.
We also go, and present ourselves at serried ranks of panels, because what we are really hoping to do is introduce ourselves, as writers, to a whole new slew of readers, people who may not have necessarily read us or even heard of us before but who might be motivated, given a good performance at a panel, to wander down to the Dealer’s Room and ask the booksellers if they happen to have any books with our name on them.
But also…After a while, after you’ve been to a few of these, you acquire a circle of friends who turn up at many of the same cons that you do – and it’s like a gathering of the family of the heart. And that’s part of it, too – at the end of a long day full of panels and readings and signings oh my, the pros retire to the coffee shop or the bar and congregate in giggling groups, trading war stories, tossing good news on the table to a reception of gleeful squees (any delight shared is doubled!) or laying some piece of bad news out like a tiny corpse and then having a wake for it with a glass of wine (or something stronger) in hand (any sorrow shared is, at least in theory, lightened…)
It’s companionship, camaraderie – this is my tribe, and I belong to it, and it accepts me, and it laughs at my jokes even if it’s heard them before and it has hugs and commiserations to provide in the wake of disasters, as well as perspective provided by sharing disasters of its own. It’s… coming home.
Link to the rest at Alma Alexander
PG is of two minds about conventions.
At good conventions, he’s learned a lot over the years and been exposed to people he might not have heard anywhere else. At ordinary conventions, he’s been bored stiff, left the convention hotel to check out whatever city in which the convention is located or to find somewhere that doesn’t have any convention attendees to go online.
For PG (as for many others), the key is good speakers. These are speakers who know something and know how to communicate what they know in an engaging way. Some speakers know a great deal about a particular subject, but, for one reason or another, are terrible at talking about their knowledge/opinions.
Speaking of opinions, PG thinks most (maybe all) good speakers have strong opinions about topics they’re discussing. If a speaker doesn’t care enough about a subject to have an opinion about some aspect of the subject, they’re likely to be terminally boring. In such cases, if the topic is important to you, buy the speaker’s book or look up some articles he/she has written online. You can read faster than the speaker can talk and not be bored.
If you’re a speaker, don’t be afraid to disagree with another speaker on the panel. Disagreements are more interesting than the verbal equivalent of everyone nodding their heads at whatever everyone else is saying. If you don’t personally disagree with the other speaker, you can frame disagreement as something like, “Many other people think just the opposite is true. They say you should eat all the different colors of Lifesavers instead of throwing away the ones that aren’t red.”
If you’re an introvert, conventions can be torture. PG suggests that you think about some topics you want to discuss with others ahead of time and do a bit of research. Plan some questions you would like to ask of one or two speakers on each panel ahead of time. Learn a little about the biographies of the speakers and (if the convention provides a list of attendees) some of the other attendees.
Maybe there are some people who live in the same city you do and you can make chit-chat about favorite places or mutual acquaintances. If there’s a lunch or dinner, when you first sit down at the table, introduce yourself to each of the people who are within conversational distance and ask them about themselves, why they chose to come to this convention, what they’ve learned, who their favorite speakers are, etc.