So yeah—GRL was fantabulous this year and I came back exhausted and happy and feeling like I maybe had this writer thing down just a little bit better since my first con, Yaoi-Con, 2010. Which got me thinking--
Oh my God! How much have I learned in the past three years?
Well, quite a bit, really. And since this column is all about writerly advice, I thought I’d pass some of what I’d gleaned through hard (and happy!) experience down to the newbie. Cause, dayum, what I wish I’d known then.
Top 10 Things to Know About Writer’s Cons, in No Particular Order
10. Know where you are going.
This means a couple of things. Are you going to Portland in the spring? Bring an umbrella. Are you going to Portland in the winter? Bring an umbrella. Are you going to L.A. anytime? Bring a swimsuit. Even if it’s not swimming pool weather, most hotels have a hot tub—sayin’.
But it goes deeper than changes of wardrobe. Literally know where you are going. Are you going to a writer’s conference or an author’s convention. A writer’s conference is going to have lots of workshops and discussions and chances to work on craft. An author’s convention is going to have lots of presentations and publisher’s events and chances to meet your favorite storytellers, live. Although both events will have evening activities, the conventions tend to be a little more lively and hair tends to be down and flowing. A conference is your chance to get out your inner writing-geek with your fellow writing geeks and to concentrate on the industry and craft knowledge that will make you better. GRL was (to me) a nice combination of both, with the conference on the first day I attended, and the convention following through the weekend—but each kind of event demands a different approach and expectations. Be informed.
9. Know why you are going.
Okay, I’ve made the mistake of going to a conference without actual knowledge of why I was there. I was… well, out of my depth is a nice way to put it. (For one thing, I flunked Dress-for-Success 101. Apparently the rest of my career will serve as the make-up course, but damn. I really thought jeans and a T-shirt were all-purpose wear—damned California manners, they’ll betray you every time.)
Are you going for a book signing? Are you going to see presenters? Do you want to meet someone? Have you made commitments to your publisher? To your fellow professionals? Are you speaking? Are you going to be in the audience the whole time? Which presentations do you want to see the most? Who will be there that you wish to visit with face to face?
These are questions that you must answer, preferably before you get on the plane. Yes, I have signed up for a lot of things before I knew what I was getting myself in for, but with one notable exception (mentioned above) I had a pretty clear idea of what I was in for before I left. For one thing, yes, I had to know what to pack. Which brings me to…
8. Get dressing advice from someone other than me
I remember a couple of years ago when the exquisitely beautiful Ally Blue was wondering on Twitter what she should wear to RT. I was thinking, “I don’t know. Clothes?” Because honestly, she could look good in a pillowcase. Now, well, let’s just say I have a whole lot more sympathy.
I’ll admit it. I made a real effort for GRL and RT this year. Why? Well, it comes down to this. Last year, after GRL, I was surprised, flattered, and totally embarrassed by all of the Facebook pictures that started popping up featuring me and some of my favorite people.
My Mate noticed: “Yeah—you’re all over FaceBook aren’t you?”
Me, red faced: “Little bit. How’d I look?”
Mate: “You looked good—but that white T-shirt you were wearing, that wasn’t so flattering.”
Me: “Which T-shirt? There were four of them. They were promotional. I wore one every day.”
Me: “Oh hell.”
So be prepared. If jeans and a T-shirt are your thing, that’s great—wear your favorite T-shirts and you’ll be fine. If that’s not what you want showing up in your FB and Twitter circles? Yeah. Take a trip to your favorite store and see if you can find a balance.
But there’s more. You may have to dress in time layers. There’s morning/afternoon, evening, and after-party. The evening and after-party may range from semi-formal, extremely formal, or costume. Consult your schedule and pack your heart out. And about consulting my damned schedule. This year, Mary IM’d me about three weeks before GRL. “What are you wearing to the costume ball?”
To which I replied, “OH HOLY FUCK! THERE’S A COSTUME BALL?”
Uhm, yeah. And thank heavens Mary warned me, or I wouldn’t have had a thing to wear. Seriously—consult your schedule and dress accordingly. And, uhm, definitely ask someone else for suggestions. Someone not me.
7. Don’t pack your off-switch
Seriously—be prepared to be “ON” at all times. At breakfast, when you come down to the little quickie mart in your jammies? You will meet someone you wish had not seen you in your jammies. At lunch, when you need protein or your eyeballs will implode? The person you snap at in line for the bad hotel buffet will hold the key to your future. While you are sitting in on a seminar you can’t remember why you wanted to attend? The person next to you will be a fan who’s waited the entire con to meet you.
YOU NEED TO BE ALWAYS ON.
It comes back to why you attended the con in the first place. If you are there to make professional contacts, well, professional contacts are everywhere in the hotel. If you are there to interact with heroes or readers? Once again, they are everywhere in the hotel. You can beat up your teddy bear when you get back to your room and sleep on the plane on the way home, but until you get out of the convention location and onto the cab, your entire purpose for being in that city is to be a professional. If you can, learn to snore politely. Which brings me to…
6. Do pack everything else
Snore guard? Blind fold? Ear plugs? Sudafed? Motrin? Laxatives? Anti-laxatives? Tums? Three extra pairs of underwear? Extra hosiery? Extra underwear? Extra swag? Extra glasses? I-Pod? Power strip? Internet Hotspot? Llama puppets? Umbrellas? Extra sweaters? Your best friend’s favorite chocolate? Your personal tea pot? Tampax, even if you’re a boy?
Con venues are uncertain—you never know when you are going to hike three blocks through neighborhoods not in the travel brochures in order to get allergy medicine, diet coke, or chocolate. You are far away from home and the silly things that you pick up at Walgreens on a bad day are not optional, and goddess forbid that your stupid human body start doing stupid human tricks in public. I tipped a bellman forty dollars last year to bring me M&M’s, because shitty day and female parts, and I’m telling you, there is no limit to what you will pay for comfort when you are far away from home.
Bring it all. Bring a lot of it. Pack an extra carry-on if you have to. Send it to yourself. If you don’t think you can, get advance notice on the hotel, and if it’s in the middle of bumfuck be prepared to pay through the nose to get it.
5. Don’t forget to pack on your way out the door--
The following things are mandatory when you walk out your hotel door for the elevators:
Hotel key card
The good news is, with a little practice, you can fit pretty much all of this in your Conference ID. If you’re a woman, you’ve lucked out—you can carry a sturdy tote or ginormous frickin’ purse. If you’re a man, a messenger bag or a satchel will be in order. In either case, if you can fit all that other stuff in your Con ID, you can survive a trip outside of your hotel room semi-naked with no luggage. Otherwise, you’re as naked as a newborn kitten.
4. Have stories to tell
Yes, I know you’re already a storyteller, and you may even be scheduled to give a presentation, but you are going to have a chance to interact with a really awesome group of people. Save your best stuff, your funniest moments, your most incredible anecdotes, just like you do when you’re going to see a group of friends that you haven’t seen in a while and you want them to have a good time. Because, well, very often in this profession, when you go to a conference you’re going to see a group of friends that you haven’t seen in a while and you want them to have a good time.
The corollary to this is “Be prepared to let people talk about your books.” Honestly, I am tempted to duck and hide when people come up to me to talk about something I wrote that moved them. Me? Seriously? You’ve got all these really outstanding people here and you want to talk about Locker Room?
Short answer? Yes.
Long answer? If someone wants to talk to you about your stories, any stories, even the ones you wrote when you were just starting out and you don’t feel like you knew what the hell you were doing, then whatever you did, it touched them. Don’t dismiss their need to talk about it because you see your flaws. It’s like when you dress for a party. If someone says, “You look great!” don’t say “I’m hella fat, I have a pimple on my chin and my eyeliner looks like Morse code. Who the hell are you talking to?”
Say, “Thank you! That’s nice of you to say!” or “Aw, that’s so wonderful to hear!”
Both of these things are the absolute truth, and they’re a nice way of letting someone know that their interest and warmth is appreciated. It’s part of being always on, and the responsibility you take on when you put your words out into the world: be grateful for the people who allowed you to touch their lives.
It’s so important I’m putting it on number one.
3. Say nothing bad about anybody
It should go without saying—but I’m going to say it anyway. We are professionals in an insulated vocation. You never know when the person who irritated you at breakfast is bestest of friends with the fascinating new person who sat down to lunch with you. If you must vent (and even Sweden turned to Portugal in the middle of WWII and said, “You know, the Allies are on the side of angels and all, but really, what self-righteous douchepickles!”) vent to your roommate (because the hotel room is sacrosanct venting ground), beat up your teddy bear, and leave it there. It’s taken me a while to learn this, and here I am, giving it to you for free: there is no co-worker whose failings render him beyond redemption. Don’t destroy that bridge before you need to cross it.
2. Say lots of good things about the people you admire most
Because there are a lot of terrific writers and amazing people in this industry. It speaks well of every one of us to acknowledge the greatness and genuine niceness of the people we work with. It makes for a dynamic, positive atmosphere, and makes people more inclined to read everybody’s books. And even if people don’t like your books in particular, if you speak well of their favorite author, they are more inclined to say, “Well, Amy Lane isn’t my favorite, but she’s very nice, and you may have different taste than I do.”
Which, you have to admit, is a damned sight better than “She’s a bitch. Don’t touch her stuff with a barge pole.”
1. Be grateful. Be gracious.
Readers, fans, publishers, vendors, organizers, fellow writers, roommates—you name them, and they have, in some way, shape, or form, put themselves out to meet you. Gratitude, hospitality, putting your best face forward and being grateful for what people have done for you, to see you, to celebrate your craft—this attitude can both make the inconveniences (such as being two city blocks away from Dulcolax without a salad or fruit smoothie in sight) bearable, and the exhaustion funny instead of irritable. It can make your contacts “friends” and your friends glad to travel with you. It can bring in new readers, encourage new writers, and make you someone people want to have at a conference or convention. Say thank you a lot. Hug everybody. Make the hotel staff your bestest of friends.
Be grateful. Be gracious.
That advice can take you all sorts of places—but if you’re travelling to a convention or a conference, the results of following it can definitely make the trip worthwhile.