Since I spent last weekend at Ad Astra, and Mike Rimar's report on the convention (henceforth referred to as a "con") is posted to the blog, I thought I would discuss the role of conventions in a genre writer's life.
Writers need human contact. We spend a great deal of time alone with our computers, so once in a while we need to get out of the house and interact with other writers and the people who read our work. Why go?
- To network (to meet editors, agents, and writers)
- To "build your brand" (this is how we create a readership)
- To learn (panels can be great sources of hints, tips, dangers, and must-know-publishing info)
- To read your work so new people are exposed to your style/voice
- To meet other writers (to plot noodle, start a writers' group, etc)
- To motivate your writing (I always dive back into writing with a passion after a con)
For any convention, you purchase a "membership" which gives you the right to attend the con, the annual general meeting, and to nominate/vote for affiliated awards. The earlier you purchase the membership, the cheaper the price. Memberships are never refundable, but if you find out you can't make the con, you can usually sell your membership to someone else who wants to attend.
Different types of cons will provide different experiences. I'm going to talk about a few of the main ones for the genres I write in: Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror.
World Con (WC)
What: the major annual convention for Science Fiction
Where: different location each year, this year (2012) it's in Chicago, IL
When: the summer, not any specific weekend, this year (2012) it's Labor Day Aug 30 to Sep 3
Who: SF/F writers, agents, editors, artists, readers, fans, costumers etc
Awards: the Hugos
WorldCon is "the" convention to attend each year. Many, many genre people attend, so if you're serious about your work, just beginning to write, or somewhere in between, you should attend at least one WorldCon to see what genre cons are all about, and to begin to network. I don't go every year, but I try to attend when they're close enough to get to by car. All of the "major players" tend to go to WorldCon, so you're likely to find panels with editors from the big three magazines (Analog, Asimov's, and F&SF) as well as editors from the big publishers (Ace, Baen, Daw, Del Rey, Harper Voyager, Orbit, Spectra, Tor) and the small ones (CZP, EDGE, Night Shade, Pyr). They usually have a masquerade contest and one of the big highlights is the Hugo Awards presentation. WC is a mixture of fun and business so it's a nice mix if you've never been to a con. It's also a mix of media and lit, so you'll certainly find panels about movies and TV shows if that's an area of interest.
World Fantasy Con (WFC)
What: the major annual convention for Fantasy Fiction
Where: different location each year, this year (2012) it's in Toronto, ON
When: close to Halloween, this year (2012) it's Nov 1 to 4
Who: F/H writers, agents, editors, and artists almost exclusively (ie no fans or costumers)
Awards: the World Fantasy Awards
World Fantasy Con is the most "professional" of all of the genre cons. A great deal of business takes place at WFC. If you have a contract with a publisher, chances are they will be organizing a dinner for their stable of writers attending the con. As a networking opportunity, you cannot beat WFC. I try to attend every year, though at times the location will limit my ability to afford to attend. If you're looking to meet the greatest number of agents, editors, and writers, go to WFC. Be prepared to attend the parties, many of which go late into the night, as these provide the best opportunities to meet and greet. Because WFC is so important, they have a limited number of memberships available (usually 1,000) so it's not too large but it packs a big punch.
World Horror Con (WHC)
What: the major annual convention for Horror Fiction
Where: different location each year, this year (2012) it was in Salt Lake City, UT
When: the spring, this year (2012) it was Mar 29 to Apr 1
Who: H/F writers, agents, editors, and artists almost exclusively (a few fans, a few costumers)
Awards: Though WHC does not have its own official awards, sometimes the Bram Stoker Awards banquet is held the same weekend at the con. The Stokers are organized and administrated by HWA: the Horror Writers Association and are sometimes held separately from WHC.
World Horror Con is a mixture of WC and WFC. From a business perspective, most of the horror publishers, editors, agents, and writers attend, so it's a great networking opportunity. From a "fun" perspective, I find WHC is the most fun of all of the professional conventions. I can't put my finger on why exactly. Suffice it to say, Horror writers are more fun. :) I don't attend every year, but I try to go whenever my budget allows.
Big Media Cons like Dragon*Con, ComiCon, and FanExpo/Festival of Fear
What: media conventions that showcase television, movies, and fiction in SF/F/H
Where: Dragon*Con is in Atlanta, GA, ComiCon is in San Diego, CA, and FanExpo/Festival of Fear is in Toronto, ON (though there's also one in Vancouver)
When: Dragon*Con is over the Labor Day weekend (Aug 31 to Sep 3, 2012), ComiCon is mid July (Jul 12-15, 2012), and FanExpo/Festival of Fear is mid-to-late summer (Aug 23-26, 2012)
Who: actors from all manner of genre movies and TV shows and their fans, artists (comic book, graphic novel, cover art), SF/F/H writers, agents, and editors, costumers, gamers, podcasters, did I mention fans?
These conventions are huge! Dragon*Con had 75,000 people last year and ComiCon over 100,000. If you plan on attending you MUST plan ahead. I have to book my room in early October for the following year's Dragon*Con and the rooms usually sell out the day they go on sale within an hour. I'm not kidding! A large proportion of the people attending will wear costumes, so you might want to consider bringing one so you don't feel left out. These media cons are not as business focused, so you're much less likely to network much, except with other fans. But I cannot begin to explain how much fun I have at Dragon*Con. I attend pretty much every year, and consider it the one weekend where I let my hair down, allow myself the luxury of being a "fan," and have fun! On the business side of things, there are plenty of writing-related panels and many authors attend, but often, WC is the same weekend, so most of the players will be there instead of Dragon*Con.
What: the annual convention for Canadian English Writers of Speculative Fiction
(Note, Boréal is the equivalent con for Canadian Francophone Writers of Speculative Fiction)
Where: different location each year, this year (2012) it's in Calgary, AB
When: any time from about June onward, this year (2012) it's Aug 10 to 12
Who: SF/F/H writers, agents, editors, and artists, fans, etc. Though we aren't exclusively Canadian, as we have many guests from all over the world, Canadians probably make up the majority of attendees
Awards: the Aurora Awards
This convention tends to be a local convention, but with a national slant. Generally, local cons throughout Canada will compete for the opportunity to "win" the CanVention designation. Since we are such a large country, the CanVention organizers try to alternate West/East every other year to give authors a chance to attend closer to home. So CanVention is more a designated site for the Aurora Awards than its own, distinct convention. Which leads me to the next type of con...
Your local convention.
What: the small, approachable speculative fiction/genre convention closest to where you live
Where: different locations all over the world
When: usually about the same time of year each year
Who: SF/F/H writers, agents, editors, and artists, plus fans, costumers, and the occasional film/TV star
Awards: depends on the convention
Usually, there's a con not far from where you live. For me, Ad Astra is my local con, so I attend every year, and catch up with all of my writer-friends. Some have small awards ceremonies, some don't. Some are strictly for writing, some have masquerades, comics, and celebrities. You can usually learn about these cons at your local genre book store, or the library, or through social media like Facebook. Your local con should become a "must-attend" con, since it provides the absolute best opportunity to network with local writers who can become your peer group, your writers' group, or simply someone close by to meet for coffee and plot noodle your latest work-in-progress.
At this point, if you're new to the notion of conventions, you're probably feeling overwhelmed. Trust me, the people who attend these cons are the nicest, most open and personable people you will ever meet, and you might suddenly find yourself in a room full of peers you never knew existed. From huge media cons to small and intimate local cons, there's a weekend suited to your needs.
Do it now:
Buy a membership to the con that seems right for you. Chances are, you'll thank me for introducing you to the experience.
Check out the appearances page on my website to find me at this year's roster of cons. As the dates get closer, I will post my schedule online.