I had the pleasure of attending my first large convention (Legendary ConFusion in Dearborn, MI) this past weekend and was pleasantly surprised that some of my biggest fears about attending one were largely unfounded. I came away with some very important and practical advice on writing that I had not gleaned from various forums, blogs, and podcasts. I also had the opportunity to meet some authors, a fellow book blogger, and a couple of aspiring writers.
For those who have never attended an SF convention, let me share the misconceptions I had prior to attending:
Misconception 1: The SF community isn’t really welcoming to newcomers.
I expected my day to be filled with panels of authors explaining how they are wonderful and how you can be too. I also expected there to be merchandise peddling at every turn, but quite the opposite was true. I found a majority of the authors to be warm, and most importantly, authentic. Without putting forth a lot of effort, I had some genuine conversations with several people and it was nice to meet others who share a common love of SF literature.
Misconception 2: You are a small fish in a big pond.
Yes, it’s true that there is a lot of noise on the internet and even in the SF community. There are many authors and fans, but my experience at Legendary Confusion was much smaller and more intimate than I expected. I attended a panel on Freelance editing, which had maybe ten people sitting in a circle. I also enjoyed a reading by two authors that I met earlier in the day with a handful of others. With so many options to attend panels with topics that appeal to your specific interest, the convention felt anything but large.
Misconception 3: The best conversations are with popular authors you want to meet.
I am very thankful that I didn’t go into the convention with a list of people that I wanted to network with. And frankly speaking, just because someone is bold on the internet or writes the most popular books doesn’t mean that it is the person you will connect with the best. In fact, I missed catching a few of the authors that I was determined to meet, but I was not in the least bit disappointed. I had good conversations with authors who worked in the same profession as me (Ron Collins: engineer), who attended the same school at the same time as me (Ian Tregillis: University of Minnesota), who unbeknownst to me hosted one of my favorite podcasts (Brad Beaulieu: Speculate), who had absolute perfect recall of characters and plots from previously read novels (Brigid Collins), and one who gave a wonderfully animated reading of his upcoming novella (Mike Underwood: Attack of the Geek). It was also a pleasure to connect with fellow book blogger, Andrea (the Little Red Reviewer), dressed as none other than the lovely Sabetha from The Gentlemen Bastards.
Misconception 4: Authors don’t really care about fans — they just want to sell their books.
This is absolutely untrue from the people I met. One author I met couldn’t break a twenty and wanted to give me his book for free (I was way too stubborn to oblige). And Toby Buckell, who was both articulate in panels and very inviting in conversation, gave away several free copies of his book and autographed them. I loved that authors wanted to engage with other people and were excited to talk about their books just as much as any other subject that came up.
Misconception 5: There’s nothing to learn in a panel that you can’t learn online.
Maybe this isn’t a misconception, but I definitely picked up some new tidbits about writing that I didn’t gather from the various podcasts and blogs that I visit.
- It is not uncommon for traditionally-published authors to use a freelance editor before submitting a work to an agent. In the age of the internet, there is so much noise and getting your work as polished as it can be is a way to help it get noticed.
- Several authors independently mentioned the importance of critique groups. They are so important for moving your writing to the next level. An editor should not be pursued until the critique group has been fully tapped. I am not currently a part of a critique group, but am eager to get involved.
- Craft comes first. I had the impression that having an active social media presence is as important as writing a good book, but if you write well enough, eventually your work can find a home. Or as Toby Buckell mentioned in a panel (paraphrased), if you happen to catch a gust of wind and you don’t have your sails set straight, then it is all for naught (or is it “naut”?).
- Have fun. If Twitter is your thing, then do it. If blogging is your thing, by all means, keep it going. If you loathe the thought of tweeting 140 characters or less, but think you should do it for publicity, forget about it. One of the panelists mentioned that Twitter sells much less books than the other social media venues. Whatever you are doing should be enjoyable, otherwise the journey isn’t worth it.
- Don’t assume that being a full-time writer is your dream job. There have been many authors who quit their day job and found the world around them crumble because of it. While the appeal of working on the craft eight-to-twelve hours a day may sound ideal, the reality of it hits some people hard.
In summary, I left Legendary Confusion completely drained, yet fully energized to continue to pursue writing in the field. I now know that there are people who are welcoming and there is a wonderful community of people that share similar interests. I also now can appreciate the immense frustration that comes when certain demographics are marginalized or excluded. For a newcomer like me to feel as welcomed as I did, I would certainly want to extend that same hospitality to others in the future.