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To Con or Not to Con

My lovely writing friend Juliana Spink Mills is on the convention trail this year and did me a nice guest blog about it. Juliana writes fab YA and MG fantasy and is a bit of a flash fiction demon. She's just started her new blog here, about reading and wriitng and what not:

And, have at it, Juliana!

To Con Or Not To Con

So you’re a writer. You’ve written a couple of novels already. Or maybe you’ve been working on the one wonderfully rich doorstop epic since you were fifteen. Or you haven’t started yet, but it’s always been your dream and now the kids are finally in full-time education…

Whatever your case may be, if you’re a writer you will inevitably you get to that point where you say, “Well, now, self. This is all very nice, but what else should I be doing? Should I be learning more, and reaching out, and networking?” Because everyone says you need to network, and you hear it so many times that pretty soon you feel like a wannabe cable channel.

That’s when you begin to hear whispers of this magical thing called a CON. Conventions, sometimes called conferences, can take on a rather mystical air for the uninitiated. There are Agents! And Publishers! And Big Name Authors! “Maybe if I go to one of these things called Cons I will finally attain level-up status.”

Problem is, these here Con-things are expensive once you’ve factored in registration, travel expenses and accommodation. And many of us writer types would rather stay home in the comfy armchair with the cat than face a roomful of strangers. So is it worth the price and the pain?

I attended my first Con last year: the SCBWI Winter Conference (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators). I was a mess of expectations on my lonely bus ride down to New York. Would I meet interesting people? Make friends? Make professional contacts?

This year I got ambitious and signed up for three Cons, including the World Fantasy Convention. I’ve been to one so far: Boskone, held yearly in Boston by NESFA (the New England Science Fiction Association). My verdict, so far?

I’d say go for it. In really, really annoying caps, like this: GO FOR IT. Not because you’re going to walk out of a Con with an agent and a publishing deal, because except in very rare cases that’s just not going to happen. Plus being polite and not pushing your pitches all over the place is considered a Very Big Deal.

So what can you get out of a Con? Here’s my Top 3.

1. Be open. A Con is a golden opportunity opportunity to learn new things. This may come from panels (like seeing Scott Lynch talk sidekicks and henchmen) or from conversation at the bar (like ‘what happens if your agent retires from the business?’)

2. Network. Yes, it happens. No, it doesn’t hurt. Sometimes all ‘networking’ means is connecting with other writers. You’ll gain a new twitter-buddy, like each other’s blog posts and soon enough you have one more friend and ally in the big, scary world of publishing. If I hadn’t gone to my first conference, I wouldn’t have met the members of my solid gold writing group.

3. Perhaps the most important of all. Push yourself past your limits. Cross those self-imposed boundaries. Dare something new and daunting and return home with a healthy baggage of higher self-esteem. You did it! You went, you conquered (even if rather timidly in the corner by the potted plant) and you learnt a ton of stuff.

And you may well find, in the days and months to come, that you stand a little straighter, smile in the mirror a little more and sit down to write with a little more swagger and confidence. Because you did it. You brushed shoulders with all sorts of people, the agents and the publishers and the Big Name Authors, and you came home realizing they really are just people like you. Doing their job, like you. And suddenly that dream, the dream of being a writer? It doesn’t seem so distant anymore.

Do some research. Look up conventions and conferences that are within reach of your budget and your time and travel limitations. There are a ton of them out there, and some are very small and friendly, just perfect for a first-timer. And maybe, just maybe, take a chance and step out of that comfort zone of yours.

The cat and the armchair will still be there when you get back. I promise.


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