I thought this might be a good time to share a few of the tips and hacks I’ve picked since attending my first convention in 2007. Now, many of the articles you’ll find on the web concerning conventions concentrate on topics such as networking and pitching books to agents and authors. This post will be a little different. I figured there’d be no point in regurgitating the same old advice about meeting people in bars, attending book launch parties in order to work the room, and so on. Instead, this one’s about some of the nitty-gritty practicalities that first-time attendees might find useful.
1) Breakfast. If the price of your hotel room includes a complimentary breakfast, make sure you’re up in time to eat it – especially if it’s served buffet-style. Load up your plate with twice as much as you think you’ll need, and eat as much of it as you can. With luck, you’ll be able to skip lunch – which will save you a considerable amount of money at some conventions, where the hotel food is often way overpriced, giving you more money to spend on a decent evening meal, and beer. Also, egg protein is great for mopping up any alcohol still sloshing around in your system. And bacon cures many ills.
2) On Twitter? If your Twitter handle is something other than your name, try including that on your name badge as well. Many’s the time I’ve been talking to ‘John Smith’ for hours before realising I already knew him as “@robotsmonstersandgrr_75” on Twitter. In addition, following the event’s hashtag may lead you to a few room parties or other happenings that you might otherwise have missed.
3) Don’t be pushy. Nobody likes an aggressive networker, or a show-off. Yes, you might be at the convention to promote yourself, but learn when to give it a rest, okay? These events are supposed to be fun, remember? Take a few minutes to enjoy yourself.
4) Don’t be a wallflower. I’ve made some excellent friends at conventions. Hanging out with a hotel full of people who like the same sort of stuff you do is a joyous and liberating experience. But if you find mixing with people difficult, this post I wrote about acting confident in social situations might be of some use: How To Be More Confident.
5) Don’t be a dick. Think twice before starting arguments in the bar, or putting somebody down because they haven’t read a certain book, or prefer one type of fantasy to another – or are of a certain sex or sexual persuasion. If you’re unpleasant, people will remember you that way. I don’t care how important you think you are, once you’ve acquired a reputation as an ass, it’s very hard to shift – and, if you’ve come here to spend time with people who are into the same stuff as you, you don’t want to alienate them by being a tosser. Have a bit of consideration, and treat everyone – including the hotel staff – with politeness and consideration. I shouldn’t need to say this, but I’ve seen a few fledgeling authors (who should’ve known better) acting like arrogant pricks when they really should have been paying attention to the people around them, some of who were editors who may otherwise have been interested in working with them. Remember: politeness costs nothing; but rudeness can cost your credibility, your friends, and your career.
6) Pack tablets. After succumbing to a particularly nasty bug at Eastercon a few years ago, which kept me alone in my room for two days wondering if I was going to die, I’d recommend you slip a few medical supplies into your wash bag. There might not be a chemist anywhere near the hotel, so ensure you’re well stocked with painkillers, anti-diarrhea tablets, indigestion tablets, and anything else you think might conceivably be useful. And always make sure you have plenty of bottled water in your room, to swig them down with – as well as to rehydrate when you wake up the morning after the night before.
7) Get some fresh air. Conventions can become hermetically-sealed little worlds of their own. Try to get out for some fresh air during the day. Phone home. Catch up with news from the outside world. Take a break. Try to see something of the city beyond the hotel car-park. You’ll feel better for it when you dive back into the convention’s maelstrom.
8) Above all, have fun. Try new things. Go for dinner with a group of people you’ve just met. Spend the evening at a room party organised by Hungarian sci-fi fans, swigging pálinka from a plastic cup. Attend every book launch and panel you can. Make new friends; meet up with old ones. Join in. Show people that, under your gruff exterior, you’re actually a pretty cool person to hang around with. Because conventions are like a gathering of the tribes. These are your kind of people. They like the same sorts of things as you; they get that whole geek thing. So relax, and have fun. And make sure they’re having fun too.
9) Pack some biscuits. Trust me, you’re going to feel peckish when you get back to your hotel room at 3am, and room service costs a bomb, so it’s always useful to have a packet of digestives, or some peanuts or something, squirrelled away in your suitcase… Especially if you skipped lunch.
10) Share. We’re all in this together, so if you’ve got a hard-won nugget of wisdom about surviving conventions, let’s hear it. Drop a comment below, and share it with the rest of us.