Attending a Speculative Fiction Convention
by Paula Fleming

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Conventions can be periodic highlights in a writer's otherwise lonely, desperate life. To get the most out of conventions, it's important to:

Why Attend Conventions?

There are many reasons to spend a long weekend and some money at a convention. For one thing, writing can be lonely. Make that, writing is lonely. Most conventions offer opportunities to meet other writers. If you're new at this, here are some suggestions:

Not only is writing lonely, but even simple fandom can be pretty lonely. Depending on where you live and work, you may be feeling pretty freakish. Going to a con can help you feel much more normal! Drink in the ambience of hundreds of smart, informed, intellectually inquisitive folks all being totally themselves. Listen to intense discussions of the intersection of religion and magic in fantasy cultures, or whether fandom's "sense of wonder" can survive 21st-century cynicism, or the practical problems involved in interstellar travel. Then return refreshed to your mundane life.

Speculative fiction is the literature of ideas, and we need fresh ideas, or at least fresh perspectives on ideas, to keep cooking as writers. Conventions can be tremendously stimulating. You'll hear people recommending good reading, both books by new authors you may not have heard of yet and obscure novels long out of print but worth finding. You'll hear smart people discussing interesting topics. You'll hear bits and pieces of this and that, all of which will set your creative juices to percolating.

Making friends is fun. Making friends who are writers, editors, and/or publishers can also be good for your career, but don't let that be on your mind as you meet people. You'll just come across as a shallow, self-interested fraud. Conventions are a great way to hook up with people who share your interests and are fun to hang out with. Make friends, and the "networking" stuff will take care of itself.

If you haven't yet achieved much visibility in the speculative fiction community, then volunteering at a con, whether in the ConSuite, at the registration desk, or on a panel, can help raise your profile. In particular, participating on one or more panels will put your name in the program book and get you up in front of a bunch of people who will listen attentively to you. If you've had work published, you may be able to allude to it in the course of the discussion. If you're relatively new in your career, you may find that being a panelist even helps you take yourself more seriously as a writer!

Different Kinds of Conventions

There are different kinds of conventions. Each has its place in the SF community, and each can be fun.

Worth a mention all on its own is WorldCon, short for "World Science Fiction Convention." Any year in which WorldCon is held outside North America, there is also a NASFiC, or "North American Science Fiction Convention." Members of WorldCon may vote for recipients of the Hugo Awards. WorldCon is attended by thousands and manages to be all possible cons to all possible people, or at least tries.

How to Behave

So you've decided to attend a con, and you've found one that fits your budget, appetite for travel, and programming tastes. What should you do, and not do, once you're there?

Do's

Don'ts

Helpful Sites:

Locus Magazine's directory of conventions
http://www.locusmag.com/Resources/Conventions.html

Science Fiction Convention (Wikipedia)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Science_fiction_convention

Copyright © 2005 Paula Fleming
This article may not be reprinted without the author's written permission.


Paula L. Fleming's science fiction and fantasy have appeared in a variety of publications, including gothic.net; Tales of the Unanticipated #20, #22, and #24; Meisha Merlin's Such a Pretty Face anthology; and Lone Wolf Publishing's Extremes 3: Terror on the High Seas anthology. By day, she's a human resources generalist at the Wedge Community Co-op. To help her, she has three big dogs, two cats, and one husband. Visit her home page at http://home.comcast.net/~paulafleming/index.html or her blog at http://paulaleafleming.blogspot.com/.

 

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