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Why bother with cons?

I’m going to a science fiction convention in Vancouver. It’s VCon, October 19-21st. We call them cons in the trade, and they are unique to the book world, as far as I can tell. We’ll have panels on topics related to books, writing, science, fandom, and issues related to futurism and the changing world. There’ll be gaming, video, costuming and schmoozing in the bar.

So why go? I meet quite a few aspiring science fiction and fantasy writers who have never been to a con. Lots of beginning writers are oddly reluctant to learn about the industry which they are so keen to be a part of. Let me summarize the arguments:

1. Cons are just for rabid fans; hey, I’m a writer. Just plain wrong. All sorts of people attend cons. Many of them happen to love science fiction and fantasy and want to write it, just like you. Granted you will see people with whom you have little in common. I must say that cons will stretch you a bit. It’s so easy to feel superior to (here fill in descriptor of people you’d rather not be around.) I have a whole rant waiting rabidly to get out about the role of snobbishness in our lives. It’s a bad thing. This is a hold-over from the days when we used to kill strangers that roamed too near the home fires. Go to a con and take an open mind.

2. I will be a nobody at cons that worship the big names. Again, wrong. However, entering the field of publishing is no time to unpack your insecurities. There will always be people whose careers you envy. But there is little “worship” at cons. People are there to meet others like themselves who share similar interests and perhaps listen to favorite writers hold forth on panels. It’s not an ego-fest. It’s a sf/f-fest. This, for example, is how VCon describes itself: “literate appreciation rather than fascinated adulation.” Exactly.

3. I don’t have time/money to go to cons. Do you have the time and money to invest in your future career? Sure you do. And cons are a part of it. It’s not just networking, meeting editors or authors who might give you a blurb. It’s immersing yourself in a trade gathering where you will learn plenty; there are panels on breaking in and the tropes of sf. You need to know about this stuff. You will learn about new books. Make lists. If you are still reading your favs from 1990, you are not keeping up. I don’t know how many times I’ve asked new writers who they like in sf, and they say Heinlein and Asimov. My dears, move on.

4. I won’t know anyone. That may be true, so find a pal to go with. Talk to panelists after their presentations. Tolerate a little anxiety–you’re stretching yourself, remember? Strike up a conversation in the hall with someone who asked an interesting question from the audience. Throw yourself into the con events as a keen observer; think of it as research, not a big party where you don’t know anyone. You’ll get a little more out of each con and if you’re attending local ones, you’ll start to build a base of acquaintances.

5. I hate people. Stop it, just stop it! You will become neurotic enough in the writing life; don’t pile it on in advance. The number one thing you will get out of writing science fiction and fantasy is the people you will meet. They are some of the most interesting and fun people on the planet. You’ll find they are a lot like you.


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