Conventions 101: What Are They and How Do You Survive Them?

I’m currently listening to Blackstar by David Bowie (it’s taken me pretty much all year to be able to, because sad), unpacking from the NC burn, Transformus, so that I can repack for Dragon*Con, which is Labor Day weekend. Whew!

Who Am I?

You can read more about me on my bio page, but I wanted to make a quick note here too, since this is my first official post on SpecChic. What you can expect from me: I go to a lot of conventions and conferences, so you’ll see a few posts throughout the year about specific cons. I’ve been on the editorial side of the publishing biz since 2008, so many of my posts will be geared toward writers. And I’m a huge fan of urban fantasy, supernatural, dystopia, steampunk-ish, and unconventional TV shows, so expect some stuff about that, both old and new. You might even see some stuff about books in my columns! But for now, let’s talk about conventions!


Conventions can be strange and intimidating events, not the least intimidating of which is omg, people!

There are many different types of cons, ranging from industry-specific to fan conventions. I’ll be focusing more on fan cons and writing cons, but much of my content will be applicable to other types of conventions and conferences as well.

Me, as the 4th Dr. Who Dragon*Con 2015

Me, as the 4th Dr. Who, confronting my arch-nemesis! – Dragon*Con 2015

Generally speaking, conventions are events for folks with some sort of similar interests, whether that’s professional, hobbies, or fandom. The program will often include classes, panels, demonstrations (when appropriate), photo opps, book signings, and often other social events. Conventions can range in size from several dozen people to tens of thousands. That might sound really frightening to those folks who are sworn introverts! But going to a convention can be a ton of fun, if you work it right.

Choosing a Convention, Attending, and What to Expect

As a fan, you might go to a convention to meet your favorite author, artist, actor, or other industry pro. You may also go to simply commiserate and connect with other fans. You might go to show off your latest costume of your favorite TV character. You might go just to party. 🙂 There are lots of reasons!

As an author, conventions are primarily for networking, sometimes for classes, and often for pitching opportunities. But mostly the networking! At writing-specific conventions, you’ll find classes and panels about the craft of writing and other writers’ experiences. You’ll also find other authors — some above your level, professionally, others below. But what you really want to find is the bar! Even if you don’t drink, you’ll want to find the bar, because this is where authors and industry pros go to hang out. You’ll meet and connect with folks who you might later work with, or who can be an inspiration to you. You might even share a drink with your idol!

In deciding what convention to attend, take into consideration your purpose in going. Are you looking to land an agent? Hobnob with actors? Reinvigorate your writing? Your why will help you to decide which conventions you want to invest your time and money in.

Speaking of money, you also want to keep in mind the convention costs. This is not just the convention registration fee, but also the costs of lodging and travel if necessary, as well as meals and purchases in the vendor room. If you can attend a convention closer to home that will still be beneficial (however you define that), then that would be more of a draw than a conference on the other side of the country.

Surviving the Convention

Yes, sometimes the cons can be SO crazy that “surviving” is the literal interpretation of getting through it.

There’s a saying among con-goers that everyone should adhere to the 6-2-1 Rule. That’s six hours of sleep, two meals, and one shower every day. (I know, the shower thing sounds like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised….) It’s very easy to get caught up in the excitement of a con and lose track of time. Or stay up drinking with a bunch of cool folks and forget that there’s a 9am panel you want to attend. Or run from class to panel to vendor room to costume contest to late night screening of an anime film and then realize you haven’t eaten since 8:45 this morning. Remember the 6-2-1 Rule: 6 hours, 2 meals, 1 shower.

Also remember that you’re allowed to have time to yourself. You don’t have to attend every single thing at the con. If you need to go to your room and decompress, do it. Listen to your body. Listen to your mind. When you need down time, take it.

If you’re at a writer’s con, you’ll want to remember that this is your professional face. Definitely have fun, but don’t have the kind of fun that leaves you wondering what the heck you did the night before. When you’re interacting with other authors and industry pros, treat them with the same sort of respect you would want others to treat you with. Also keep in mind that this is the perfect opportunity to really connect with other industry folks. When someone interacts with you face to face, you become a person, rather than an e-mail or a submission package. Cultivate that opportunity!

After the Convention

It’s not uncommon to have a couple emotional days not long after the con. It can be anywhere from one to four days later and it usually lasts 24-36 hours. Most con vets call it con-drop. It’s like an adrenaline crash. There are all kinds of physiological reasons for it, but the end result is that you might feel lethargic, unmotivated, tired, a bit depressed, and/or overly emotional. Understand that it’s normal and will go away usually by the next day. The best advice is to be kind to yourself and engage in comforting behaviors.

For me, I like to read a book that doesn’t require a lot of intellectual investment. And also tea. And chocolate. I definitely like chocolate as a con-drop remedy! Some people take baths or go for a run or go see a movie. Do whatever brings you comfort.

And once you’ve gotten through con-drop (or even before it hits), make sure to reach out and connect with all the folks you met at the con! Whether it’s a fan convention and you friended people on Facebook before leaving or especially if it’s a pro convention and you collected business cards, make sure you take the time to send emails/messages to those folks. That’s master level convention etiquette!

By now, you might have guessed that I love going to conventions! So if you ever see me at one, please do say hi! 🙂

I’m going to include some links below to upcoming cons, but if you’re looking for one in your area, there’s a great site called… wait for it… Upcoming Cons. It’s geared especially toward Speculative Media, from horror cons to anime. If you can’t find an interesting con to go to, you’re just not trying!


Check Out These Cons, Happening Soon!

August 17-21 – MidAmeriCon – Kansas City, MO
September 2-5 – Dragon*Con – Atlanta, GA (I’ll be at this one!)
October 28 – 30 – ICON – Cedar Rapids, IA

Do you go to conventions? Which one is your favorite and why? What’s your best piece of advice for someone who’s never gone? Let me know in the comments below!

 

12 Comments

  • Tez Miller August 11, 2016 at 7:32 am

    How awesome is the music video for Blackstar?! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kszLwBaC4Sw I would so read fiction based on it 🙂

    Reply
    • Venessa.G August 11, 2016 at 8:47 am

      Right? Seriously, Bowie was the *original* “Spec Chic”!

      Reply
  • ketherian August 11, 2016 at 7:35 am

    I’ve always heard the rule as a 5-2-1 rule; but it’s good advice no matter how many hours of sleep you need. It needs to be said that these numbers are not interchangeable. You cannot eat five meals, sleep 1 hour and take 2 showers (although 1 or more showers during a summer con is probably a good idea). I love conventions. I just came back from Otakuthon in Montreal. Fun anime convention (that I work at). There’s all manner of conventions (comics, table top rpg, gaming, anime, sci-fi, lit) each a bit different but all of them are a lot of fun. I’ve never heard of con-drop before (experienced it lots of times but never had a name for it). Thank you. Cool article.

    Reply
    • Shara White August 11, 2016 at 8:54 am

      I had never heard of con-drop either, but I have heard of con-crud! Venessa didn’t talk about the chance for crud!

      Reply
      • Venessa.G August 11, 2016 at 9:02 am

        @Shara: Ah, crap! I forgot about con-crud! I don’t get it often, so I think that’s why.

        Con crud is essentially the mystery ailment that folks come down with within about two weeks of going to a con. Think about it. Hundreds (thousands, in some cases) of people packed into a smallish area. Lots of germs!

        A lot of folks really stand by using a lot of anti-bacterial stuff during con. I never use it. Not that I think I’m superhuman, but I always *forget* to use it. And because I know I forget, I make sure to take precautions on the front end. That generally means bolstering my immune system. Airborne works for this. I used to use Airborne but have since shifted to Elderberry Extract. I’m currently hooked on the gummies. Some folks also use zinc/vitamin c pills and lozenges. They all essentially do the same thing.

        You should also make sure to get good sleep in the week or so before the con. Make sure you’re going in well-rested!

        Okay, so there’s my last-minute con-crud update 😉

        Reply
        • Shara White August 11, 2016 at 10:29 am

          Yay! Yeah, I can see how being around that many people would make you more susceptible. I wondered if part of con-drop was due to con-crud!

          Reply
          • Venessa.G August 11, 2016 at 11:41 am

            In my experience, con drop and con crud are entirely different. Con drop is generally attributed to having been high on endorphins for 2-5 days and the general emotional high or emotional stress a con causes. Con drop will generally happen within 3 days of the con. Con drop tends to have more of an emotional effect, whereas con crud is simply being sick with some mystery ailment. I did forget to mention in the con crud section that I generally do Airborne or Elderberry Extract for at least a week before the con, preferably two. At the height of con season, I’m popping elderberry gummies every day 😉

    • Venessa.G August 11, 2016 at 8:58 am

      I’ve heard 5-2-1 also, but 6 hrs is the first one I heard. Also, I’m old. I need the extra hour! 😉

      Thanks so much for your comment!

      Reply
  • candaceinathens August 11, 2016 at 11:50 am

    An awesome post, my sister from another mister. Seeing you at StokerCon has become a legend T and I tell our other buddies. Yes to allll this. One way I deal with Con-Drop is I write a little note or I request to friend them and reconnect if only briefly now. I used to write quick letters in the Paleolithic Age within a couple of days to strengthen the ties that bind. We MIGHT show at Dragon*Con this year. Let’s stay in touch just in case. Would love to see your lovely self again soon. <3

    Reply
    • Venessa Giunta August 11, 2016 at 2:39 pm

      I will be in the Writing Track room on the Embassy level of the Hyatt! Come see me! <3

      Reply
  • candaceinathens August 11, 2016 at 11:51 am

    P.S. — I love that photo. lol.

    Reply
  • ntaft01 August 15, 2016 at 11:22 am

    Well man, the KC Convention Center is hopping this year with cons!

    Reply

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