Morgan's 2020 Resolutions

As January firmly establishes itself, I’m finally ready to talk about what 2020 is going to look like for me.

Last year was intended to be a year of reading, revision, and reflection.

Thusly, I listed my goals:

  1. Blogging/Vlogging
  2. Reading
  3. Revising
  4. Querying
  5. Beta-reading
  6. Conventions
  7. Writing

As I shared last week, I did great on everything on that list — except my revisions and querying — you know, the parts of the list that actually get me closer to publication. Does anyone else see the problem here?

This year? This year my focus is on revisions and querying/submitting.

As always, I like to set SMART goals –

  • Specific – you’ll see numbers and dates!
  • Measurable – you’ll still see numbers and dates
  • Achievable – I set goals for things I have influence over. I’m aiming for an agent, getting something published, but unless I self-pub, I have no control over that.
  • Relevant – I’m keeping my exercise goals and healthy eating off this post. These are all about my writing, the relevance should be clear.
  • Time-sensitive – Obviously, these are intended to be completed in 2020, but some items may have specific dates associated.

So? Let’s take last year’s list and put it in a new priority order.

Morgan, a long-haired brunette, is laying on a carpet, legs in slippers kicked up behind her, writing in a notebook.

Behind her is a table and a bookshelf.

1. Revising

Last year’s goal of revising 3 full manuscripts was… ambitious. I clearly was thinking more about what it takes for me to edit (clean up a draft) than about what it takes to get feedback from others, integrate it, and polish the draft till it comes out in my voice.

The manuscript I had ready for querying last year is in the middle of revisions with my wonderful mentor. But? The mentorship officially ended last April, and, although she generously volunteered to keep at it with me, she has paying work that, of course, comes first. So? We’re working through my novel 30 pages at a time.

My hope is to have the revisions done by the end of May, when I hit Balticon. But, life happens. So, what can I do to speed up the process on my end? Make sure that the next 30 page chunk is as ready to go as I can make it before I get feedback from the previous section.

I’m cutting a secondary character’s role in the last 3rd of the journey, and changing the nature of the last leg of the journey quite a bit, so I already know a large part of the plotting changes. Plus, my mentor keeps reminding me to add visuals. As I’ve said before, I worry about what’s in the character’s head and the action. I forget people want to see the world itself. So, that’s my revision priority.

But, of course, there’s going to be some downtime.

To fill that in, I’ve been nudging my alpha reader who has my middle-grade contemporary fantasy (the school play story) and should hear back in the next week or so.

Also? Last year also included writing some short stories and some poetry. Between revising my middle-grade story and getting those shorts and poetry ready for publication, I’ve got a lot to work on.


2. Querying & Submitting

If you haven’t tried to get your work published before, this item might seem confusing. What’s the difference?

Querying is a intro-letter and first chapter or so that you send to a literary agent. Once you have an agent, they often make you do revisions, before submitting your work to a publishing house.

Why do you need an agent? There are many publishing houses that do not accept unagented work. Agents understand what your contract should look like and what is negotiable. Plus? The agent’s job is to know the market — and thus know what your book needs in order to best sell it — and to whom. Typically, you query 5-10 agents at a time.

Submitting a manuscript/short story/poem is what you can do to any editor/publisher who is open to it: publishers (who are open to unagented work), literary magazines, anthologies, etc.

When you’re sending a cover letter and your story to the place that will actually print/publish the piece, it’s called a submission. Typically, submissions are exclusive (unless the guidelines state otherwise), so you have to wait to hear back before you can send to another publisher.

This year, for my short stories and poetry, I’m going to try to get at least 5 stories ready for publication and submit them to at least 10 markets. At least half of those submissions should be before July, just to make sure I don’t forget to put myself out there.


3. Blogging/Vlogging

With you, I’m finding an audience and, I hope, creating a community. You are the people whose queries I help polish as you look for an agent, whose books I add to my massive to-read pile, the people I feature in my Author Spotlights. Blogging puts me out there, keeps me accountable, and gives me a way to give back to the community.

Plus? I haven’t missed a week on my blog since February of 2016 (although, I have done reruns) nor a vlog-post since I started vlogging on June 27, 2017. So? I’d hate to break my posting streak! Thus, I’ll continue putting out a new blog/vlog every Thursday with writing tips or writerly musings.

I’m already off to a great start with this, but when I have them lined up, I’ll also be sharing Author Spotlights or Query Corners on Tuesdays.

I’m thinking of adding some Authortube videos of my massive to-read pile, or maybe an occasional brief weekly check-in since those were popular during NaNo. I just need to find a time that works every week for those, so I can schedule them in advance and make them interactive.

Quote on a grey board on a brown shelf with books behind it.
“And to think, some of life’s best stories haven’t even begun”

4. Reading

I did great on this one last year, but I’m not gonna look a gift horse in the mouth. I had a lot of travel, and managed to hit 41 books, but there’s no guarantee this year will as generous. I even managed to read a decent amount of physical books — but a lot of those were new or re-reads. Not as many from my to-read pile as I’d like to admit.

So? I’m keeping my goal from last year of reading 26 books – a little more than two a month. This time? At least 10 of them should be physical and ALREADY on my bookshelf.

So far? I finished a short story collection I bought over the holidays AND read a book that’s been with me since before I moved. Not a bad start!

5. Writing

Yet again, writing is so far down my list!

I can hear your thoughts, your concerns. What’s wrong, Morgan? I thought this was your writing blog. Why isn’t this more writing focused? Do you want to be a blogger/vlogger more than a writer?

Well, first? Rewriting IS writing, and revisions are tops on my list. The goal is publication and I’ve got 4 manuscripts, 21+ short stories, and 30+ poems just waiting for a home.

More writing right now just means a larger backlog of things to be polished.

But! Never fear, I will be doing OctPoWriMo again — writing a poem a day for all of October. And then NaNoWriMo — writing 50,000 words in November. If I’m really stumped in November, I’ll rebel and revise either 5 shorts or a full manuscript. But, knowing me, I’ll probably make new words.

6. Beta Readers

I’ll be reaching out to beta readers as I wrap up my revisions on my middle grade novel, hopefully before August. Last year’s goals of having revisions of two different manuscripts done by May AND July were unrealistic.

As always, I like to keep my beta reader pool to no more than 8 readers, typically from different backgrounds. I usually give them separate copies, so that their feedback won’t influence each other.

I’m considering joining a local critique group and feel that short stories work much better in those venues than a full manuscript. Especially since I’m more interested in feedback on my pacing and characterization than the chapter itself. I guess it’s arrogance, but I think I know where my problem points lay.

On the flip-side, I’m now a contributing editor to The Oddville Press, an online literary magazine of odd, but not really fantastical tales. I’m also a regular beta-reader for my dad (who’s retired from a day job and enjoys filling my inbox). Not to mention, I have a few critique partners, and writer friends who have been known to reach out for feedback. I will try not to commit to more than 3 full length betas this year.

Morgan taking a selfie while sitting near the front of a room full of chairs. (She's at a writing panel at a convention)

7. Conventions

Actually, maybe I should have changed the name of this goal. This should be all the in-person writing goals. I aim to attend 6+ open mic nights, 4+ monthly writer meetings, try a critique group, and 3 NaNoWriMo events (kickoff, 1 write in, and the all-nighter till 11pm). Plus? Two+ conventions.

I intend to hit Balticon again (May) and — if everything works out — WorldCon (August) in New Zealand (!!). I submitted to be a panelist at Balticon again… and this time was accepted! And? I think they approved the panels I suggested (topics from this blog that I feel I can talk competently on, and that my unpublished perspective won’t be a detriment to my authority on the subject).

How do I know they approved them? They recruited me to be on their Programming team! (Apparently, after attending nearly 30 panels a year for the last 5 years, they suspected I might have opinions about what makes a good panel and who are the good panelists.) So, that’s another time commitment.

What does being on panels net me? Why do I want to do this?

First, it’s a greater reach for my blog and vlog. Plus, a larger audience when I do get published. Hopefully, a way to make more friends and supporters. Plus, a chance to talk about all the stuff I obsess over on my blog and on my vlog in person with actual people.

But how does attending conventions count as a writing goal? Isn’t it just fun? Or part of your social media addiction?

Well, if you’ve been following my blog, you’ve probably noticed that over half the content is actually write ups from notes at convention panels! I attend the panels, for those who can’t (or don’t). Also? My sister teases me that I act like a teacher, trying to get her recertification credits, all in one weekend.

And? Well, I talked about it in my post on attending conventions, but, of course, there’s the networking aspect. The science-fiction and fantasy conventions I prefer are full of readers, writers, and even some publishers and agents!


In Summary

As is becoming my trend, the first part of my year will be focused on revisions, the middle on conventions, and the end on writing. Plus, I’ll be reading and blogging and vlogging throughout the year.

Except December. I’m not a writer in December — everyone needs a chance to breath.

We’ll have to wait until next January to see if I had 2020 foresight.


What does your plan look like for 2020

Did you build in flexibility?

And, how SMART are your goals?


See my previous years resolutions and reflections:
2017 Resolutions | 2017 Retrospective
2018 Resolutions | 2018 Retrospective
2019 Resolutions | 2019 Retrospective

Morgan's 2019 Retrospective

2019 kept me busy. Between my dayjob, my own projects, and helping friends and family with their projects, I was, as always, completely overbooked.

As with 2017 and 2018, I may not have ended my year with a signed agent, but I didn’t just sit around.

I attended 2 writing conventions, wrote 21 short stories, 33 poems, got a mentor who is helping me revise my 1st novel (my 8th time), and revised my fourth novel.

Between Balticon and WorldCon, I hit 39 panels, 7 shows, 4 readings, 2 yoga classes, and helped run 2 parties. Outside of cons, I attended 3 different writing groups, joined the #authortube community, and became a regular at my local open mic nights for writers.

This year, I did a lot more interacting in person, versus all the virtual interaction I’ve done in the past, but I love comparing numbers, so let’s look at them.

orange and green pen on graphing notepad
Photo by freestocks.org on Pexels.com

My Writing Goals Last Year

I made sure to set SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, results-focused, and time-bound) goals.

2019 Goals

  1. Blogging/Vlogging – don’t break my streak. Maybe add a picture post.
    • WIN: Well, no new picture posts, but my streak is still going strong.
  2. Read at least 26 books this year.
    • WIN: I blew this one out of the water with 41 books this year!
  3. Revise Manuscript (MS) #1 in February, MS #2 in April, and MS #3 or #4 in June.
    • PARTIAL CREDIT (50%): Instead of 3 revisions, I’m halfway through a revision with my mentor of MS #1, but I did finish a revision of MS #4. It’s now off with my alpha-reader.
  4. Once MS #1 has been revised, starting in March, query 3 times a week for 4 months.
    • FAIL
    • Um… I’m still revising it. I didn’t query At All this year. ūüė¶
  5. Beta-Readers – after revisions, send MS #2 and MS #3/4 to <8 beta readers.
    • Partial Credit (25%): My alpha-reader’s sitting on MS #4, and MS #2 was never revised.
  6. Conventions
    • WIN
    • Attended Balticon and WorldCon as planned.
    • Did NOT get on any panels, but that’s fine. This coming year’s looking good ūüėČ
  7. Writing. Do OctPoWriMo and if I don’t have a great idea by NaNoWriMo, rebel and revise something.
    • WIN
    • I did OctPoWriMo – October Poem Writing Month – a themed poem a day for all of October.
    • I didn’t rebel by revising, but instead by writing short stories. I hit 50,000 words, so I count that as a NaNoWriMo win.
  8. And give myself a pass if I don’t get anything accomplished in December.
    • Wait? That was on my resolutions? *whew* Thank you, Past-Morgan. You were 110% correct on that front.
    • WIN

Things outside this list I achieved, though?

  • Got a writing mentor from The Broad Universe in January
  • Set up my own newsletter
  • Networking – became a regular at Open Mic Night for writers
  • Got asked to read slush for “The Oddville Press” – an online magazine.
  • Got asked to help with Balticon programming — due to my extensive panel viewing, I’ve got insight on which panels worked and which panelists I’d love to see again.
  • Beta-reading for friends. At least 2 full length novels and 5 shorts.
  • Setting up Trello for me (and for a friend on her blog tour for her book release)

Morgan peers over her laptop (it has a red flowery vinyl skin on it). trees are in the background behind her.

Blogging!

Top Lifetime Post

My sleeper hit, 10 Questions To Ask Your Beta Readers, from 2016 is still tops with 2,134 lifetime hits (and is published here). But, it’s way down from its peak, one of 2019’s posts beat it out for popularity.

Despite being less popular than my regular posts, I’m keeping my Query Corner — where I rewrite queries with authors preparing to enter the query trenches, and my Author Spotlight — to help promote friends works. I’m not hustling for¬†entries,¬†but will share them when I have content for them. (If you’d like to participate, please contact me at¬†morgan.s.hazelwood@gmail.com)

My Top 10 Posts of 2019!

  1. Morgan’s Complete Guide For Attending A Convention
  2. So You’ve Decided to Write A Novel – 7 Tips To Get Started
  3. Making the Asexual Textual
  4. Introduction to Hopepunk
  5. Done To Death: The Art of Killing Characters
  6. How I Finally Gave In and Set Up My Own Newsletter
  7. The Future of Podcasting
  8. Advancing the Story Without Traumatizing Your Characters
  9. What The Writer Needs to Know: The Brain and The Body
  10. Picking an Agent (or #PW Mentor) To Query

My Top 5 YouTube Videos! in 2019

Not all of these are from 2019, but here’s what was popular on my feed this year. (I’m still not sure where all my Mythology viewers are coming from, but I’m happy to have them.)

My Top 3 Posts of 2018

My Top 3 Posts of 2017


My Top 3 Posts of 2016


My Top 3 Posts of 2015


Social Media Stats

I like stats and tracking progress, so here are my numbers for 2019. I tried to be both engaged and engaging, while still invested in upping my content creation in all mediums.

Followers

First off, I worked on getting more followers for my Youtube channel and Instagram. I was sporadic in my Pinterest and Reddit usage. Having hit the Twitter follow limit, I can only add people as people add me.

Between all my social media accounts, I added 5,970 followers, more than double last year’s! Twitter was, of course, #1 for number of new followers, but percentage-wise, my facebook page, facebook profile, and Youtube channel were the main areas of growth. Plus, I added LinkedIn to this chart and removed GooglePlus.

Content

This year I maintained my streak of blogging at least once a week and kept up with the vlogging. (My Goodreads stats are books added to my library, the last 2 years are the books I’ve read.) (My FB page wouldn’t give my year stats and stopped letting me scroll in mid-2016, so, those stats are incomplete, but I can compare to the last 2 years.)

As targeted last year, I maintained my average of posting on Instagram twice a week. And started posting at least weekly to Pinterest.

Account Break Down

  • WordPress – I started this blog in April of 2015.
    • I took a bit of a dip in the blog category, although some of it is just plain not posting as much. I had a lot of Query Corners, Author Spotlights, and a blog hop last year. This year, I didn’t do as much. Actually slightly below 2017’s numbers, in views and likes.
  • ¬†Twitter MorganHzlwood¬†– I joined in March of 2016.
    • I could be more engaged. But, I think I’m comfortable with my level of engagement. I’ll ramp it up if needed. I’m still just posting and responding to my notifications. It’s a good way to avoid the drama that twitter can be prone to.
  • ¬†Tumblr MorganHazelwood¬†– I joined in June of 2016
    • I mastered queuing things, in spurts. Grew a bit organically, but I think the platform is dying.
  • ¬†Instagram MorganHazelwood¬†– I joined in 2015.
    • I may try posting on an actual schedule. Or not. You never know when something pretty will happen. I’ve been trying to be more intentional in my posts. Making 1 text post for every 2 image posts. (or reversed in OctPoWriMo). And making sure to vary the types of images.
  • ¬†¬†Pinterest MorganHazelwoo¬†– I joined in 2015.
    • I’m sharing my video post weekly, but not much else. I should join some group boards? Or something like that. I did make that inspiration-board for my middle-grade novel, though.
  • ¬†Facebook PagesMorganHazelwoodPage¬†– I joined in 2015.
    • I invited all my friends once. A lot of them followed me, and I’ve been trying to post semi-regularly. Since I bother to alt-text most of my reshared content, “Writing About Writing” often reshares me — and brings in MASSIVE readership for those posts. Otherwise, though FB still often shows my posts to fewer than 10% of my followers. It’s annoying, but I’m not paying. I’ll just keep reposting on my personal page as well.
  • ¬†Facebook MorganSHazelwood¬†– I joined in 2013.
    • I got a lot of new followers when I posted a tribute to the Mars Rover Opportunity. (The post went VIRAL) It was a roller coaster for me and as heartbreaking as a robot could ever be. </3
  • ¬†Google+Morgan S Hazelwood¬†– I joined in 2013
    • Dead.
  • ¬†GoodReads Morgan Hazelwood¬†– I joined in January 2016
    • I read 41 books this year, beating my target of 2 books a month significantly!
    • I rated all of them, but don’t think I reviewed them.
  • Reddit –¬†Morgan Hazelwood¬† –¬†I joined in January of 2017.
    • I slipped on this, but my karma is 510.
    • I had 7 posts, mostly reshares from my blog.

In Conclusion

I didn’t do as much as I’d hoped.

Some of that was external.¬†People who are reading your work out of the kindness of their hearts and working around their own schedules aren’t necessarily going to adhere to your schedule.¬†My paying job got very busy for the summer, plus personal travel.

Some of the issues were the consequences of decisions.

  • I’m still running 2 Facebook PitchWars support groups and administering another SFF writer’s group. Plus, stepping up as part of the #authorTube community. That takes time, energy, and spoons.
  • I decided to do my best to keep up with at least 5 different types of social media.
  • I really like 9 hours of sleep a night, even if 7 is more standard.
  • I still have scheduled social time with friends Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday nights. Add in my blog post writing and uploading Wednesday nights and full weekend social schedule…

I’ve been prioritizing keeping up with my self-imposed schedule over actually writing.¬†I’m still a bit burnt out, but I have goals. This year, I’m going to take intentional breaks. EVEN if I haven’t achieved my target for the previous working-stretch.

However…

I DID do a lot of writing, more revising on my first novel than anticipated, grew my vlog, critiqued novels for friends and family, and read an average of 3.42 novels/novella’s a month.

I may have fallen short, but you know what Les Brown says about that?

222r9n

How well did you do on your goals?

Had you given up on them in January, did you rock the BLEEP out of them, or did you do okay but think you might do better with concrete, SMART goals?

YouTube Survival Guide

I know, I know. I’m a writer blogger, but I’ve got this YouTube channel thing, as an #authorTuber. So, when I saw this panel at Balticon53, I had to pop in and take some notes. I’ve blogged about my approach before, but these notes come from the experts!

Thanks to Rebecca Davis, Devin Jackson Randall, and JP Beaubien, moderated by Melissa L Hayden, I’ve got some validation for things I do, and some new things to try out.

YouTube Basics

How do you even START a YouTube channel?

If you have a gmail account, you’re already there — at least for personal use.

Why you might want a separate email and channel for your YouTube Channel

  1. Prevents hackers or trolls from easily interferring with your day-to-day accounts.
  2. Helps with branding.
  3. Because you can’t keep your subscriptions entirely private from the one you’re subscribing TO — and not all the YouTube channels you follow are likely to be on-brand.

How Private Can Your Activity Be?

  1. You can hide/show a lot of things from your feed, but on the individual videos/channels that you’ve responded to, your name is still attached. Such as:
    • likes
    • subscriptions
    • comments

Why You Might Want Your Activity Public

Just like with blogging, a good comment on another user’s blog can drive traffic back to your channel.

Plus? People like to support people who support them — the reciprocal nature of YouTube can be strong, especially among smaller YouTubers.

The “Rules” of YouTube

Before you start putting everything out there, you’ve got to know the rules.

Legally

  1. Copyright infringement check is mostly automated — a single report of infringement is a lot less “weighty”. (Thank you, trolls)
  2. You can get hit months later with an infringement charge — that results in your video getting removed — for sharing a Picture.
    • Typically, in this case, you can successfully argue that it is:
      1. Fair use
      2. Parody
      3. Education
  3. To avoid charges — video clips from movies/etc need to be a small percentage of your video.
  4. If you get 3 strikes in one year, your site is DELETED.

Why are copyright claims important?

1. If a property doesn’t protect their copyright material, then it enters into common use and their copyright holds no weight.

2. If your channel is big enough to be monetized, there are more restrictions on what you can share from other sources.

How DOES One Get Monetized?

The big question that a lot of YouTubers want to know.

CAVEAT: the rules are ALWAYS changing.

The big things you need to know:

  1. Over 1,000 subscribers
  2. 4,000 hours of watch time in the last year
  3. You get no payout until you’ve earned $100

If your content is tagged with a yellow dollar sign, it means some ads may not be appropriate for this video. In other words, you get fewer ads and less money.

I.e. Some key words, that are not listed anywhere, can lead to less visibility and ads. Experience has shown YouTubers that “corpse” is one of those words.

How To Monetize A Post If You Can

  1. There will be a “Monetization” tab in the YouTube creator studio
  2. You get to select where in your video the ad is:
    1. Preview
    2. Mid-video, 30 second, unskippable ad
    3. Ads at the end
    4. Pop-up ads

Where Do The Ads Come From?

By the time you have 20-30,000 followers, you’ll start getting propositions, although it might not be ads that you want. These days? It usually starts off with:

  1. Russian Ads
  2. Phone mobile games.

Where Do YouTubers Make Their Money?

It’s not from the monetization. Yes, they get some money from there, but that’s not where the salary-level YouTubers get paid.

Sponsorships are where it’s at. After you have about 70,000 followers, sponsorship offers will be coming in. Make sure it’s something that matches your brand and something you’re not embarrassed to tie your name to.

How To Find A Sponsorship?

Wait for them to come to you, unless you have a great pitch, for a company that is an excellent match for your channel. Don’t accept a sponsor you don’t believe in.

  1. The recommended way to handle a sponsorship is through an agency like socialBluebook.com.
  2. Typically, you’ll have a contract and a due date, with 2 business days for you to approve their ad. The contract is typically terms:
    1. Either X views in Y days
    2. Or you’ll have to show their ad again

YouTube is a Hussle

For people who aren’t monetized through YouTube or sponsors, there’s still ways to make money — if just to support your YouTube habit.

  1. Merchandise
  2. Patreon

Community Expectations

YouTube isn’t just screaming into the void. You want to have something to offer. You want to have a theme, so that subscribers know what to expect — not meeting expectations is the best way to lose followers and get down-voted.

  1. You need to have a personality! People watch videos because of the person, more than the information. They can probably get the information elsewhere.
  2. Building on that — you need to entertain the audience and have energy.
  3. Invest in a decent microphone (Audacity is a decent, free, voice editing software program)
  4. Manage the comments on your posts
    1. You can ban certain words
    2. You can shadow-ban: the user sees their comment, but no one else does.
  5. Watch and comment on other people’s videos. Especially in your niche:
    1. Your videos should appeal to their audience
    2. You can see what other people are doing in your niche
    3. You can see what’s overdone and what’s not covered
    4. And? If you’re posting on the topic, you’re probably interested in it
  6. CAVEAT: Don’t spam comments. “Nice post. Check out my site.” are obvious link spam and won’t get you far.
Image

Clearly, this is a high-level conceptual approach to YouTube. Where to start, the big copyright worries, some of the details about how monetization works, and community expectations.

Is there anything the panelists missed? Anything I wrote down wrong?And… is there anything you’d like to share about YOUR approach? Let me know in the comments below.

And? If you’re an #authorTube blogger, this is a call out for you to share your links below! I’d love to connect.

Morgan On #AuthorTube

On YouTube, there’s a whole group of writers talking about their writing, sharing tips and successes and struggles. Since that’s literally what I do here, and I’ve been turning these blog posts into videos for a while now, I celebrated my TWO YEAR anniversary on YouTube with my first ever live stream. Finally reaching out, to become an active member of a community I’ve been passively contributing to for so long.

For those who are interested, here’s my unscripted introduction to the rest of the #AuthorTube community.

Morgan’s Complete Guide For Attending A Convention

As I contemplate approximately 82 panels that sounded great for me to attend in under 4 days, I realized it’s time for me to share my complete guide for attending conventions.

Should You Attend A Convention?

Before deciding to attend any convention, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What is the focus of this convention?

    There are as many different types of conventions as there are conventions themselves. Some are more professional oriented, some are pitch events, some are workshop focused, some are all about the party. Note: for the geek-oriented conventions I’m mostly referencing, they’re often known as “Cons”.
  • What are the expenses involved?
    • The cost of admission
    • The distance
      • Gas/Parking money or plane/taxi costs
    • Workshop fees (sometimes these are extra)
    • Hotel room (can you room with friends? Is there a crash board for the con offering space in someone else’s room?
    • Food
    • Spending money
    • Can you staff (involved ahead of time, likely for the full convention) or volunteer (sign up, drop in, obligated for a set number of hours) in order to cut costs?
  • How accessible is it?

    If the convention space has been around, you can typically find out from people who have been there before. If not, you can contact the hotel/convention center/etc. Check to see what the convention says about accessibility. If they make it a priority, it should show.
  • How large is the convention?

    Is it a local college con with a couple hundred guests, or the tens of thousands that flood Atlanta for DragonCon? How well do you do with crowds? Size can influence the last two questions.
  • Who are the guests of honor?

    Sometimes, it’s worth splurging for a writer you’ve always loved, an actor you admire, the launch of some new webcomic/movie/whatever.
  • What sort of program events do they have?
    • Ceremonies – opening, closing, awards, etc
    • Panel topics
    • Concerts
    • Screenings
    • Readings
    • Parties
    • Signing
    • Photo Ops
    • Video Games
    • Contests
    • Cosplay
  • Are your friends attending?

    It’s always good to see a familiar — and friendly face in the crowd.

What To Bring To A Convention

  • Clothes

    If this is a geek event, everyone in day clothes will be wearing jeans and a black t-shirt. Do you want to stand out? Or blend in?

    If this is more business oriented, try for a business casual dress. Maybe a geeky t-shirt, with a dress skirt/slacks and blazer?

    Good walking shoes. Typically, you’re going to do a lot of walking on concrete floors. Even if you’re not, you’re likely to be on your feet a lot more than *I* am on an average day.
  • Costumes

    Do you cosplay? Check before you dress up, some conventions (like World Fantasy Con) aren’t into it. Others encourage it (DragonCon)

    Some allow more explicit costumes than others, be sure you know the rules.

    There are conventions with strict photography rules — for hallway pictures, creepy stalkers, and professional photo shoots. Check before you make plans.
  • Food and Drinks

    If you can, bring breakfasts, snacks, and drinks of your choice. Hotels can be very drying, so you’ll need to hydrate more than normal. Especially if you bring in any alcohol.
  • Business Cards, Queries, Pitches, and Chapters

    If you’re going? Network.

    Hand out your business card to anyone who seems friendly.

    If there are pitch sessions, agents, or imprint editors? Have printed copies of your pitch and your queries printed out. And just in case? Have a copy of your first chapter.
  • Electronics

    Some like having laptops, or live tweeting events. Have your electronics, a bag for them, and all your chargers. Bring a spare battery if you can.
  • Notepad and Pens

    I don’t like to take notes on my computer during panels. Instead, I’m scribbling like mad in a new notebook I got just for this con.

    YES. This is an excuse for a new notebook, or to use that one you’ve been hoarding.

    Bring a couple of your favorite pens to write with. Even if you’re doing the laptop thing or phone-ing it in. ūüėČ You might end up with a hallway autograph session, or need to scribble down someone’s room number.

What To Do At A Con

I touched on this briefly, when you were deciding if you should attend, but not everything is in the program book.

  • Panels

    A panel is typically a discussion between 3-6 guests, with a given theme. Usually, there is a moderator to make sure the conversation flows.

    Typically, these are 50 minutes long, with about 5 minutes given to introductions, 30-35 minutes for discussion amongst the guests, and 10-15 minutes for audience questions. Different conventions have different standards, though.

    When picking which panels to attend, there are several factors to consider. I wasn’t kidding earlier when I said I was contemplating 82 panels over 4 days. Luckily, I’ve cut it back to about 65 panels/events at this point.

    And? They’re spread among the same 35 hours, so literally, I can’t do nearly half of them. I’m going to have to pick.

    When I’m torn between panels, these are my decision factors:
    • What’s the panel topic? Is it relevant to my writing? Does it sound interesting? Have I seen it before? Is it a hilarious show? Maybe it’s a relaxing concert?
    • Who’s on the panel? Have I heard them before? (Even if this is your first time, as you go on with the weekend, you’ll often find you have specific panelists you enjoy more than others.) Maybe a panel is one I’ve seen before, but has a whole new cast of characters! Maybe they’re a friend I want to support and love hearing.
    • Do I need a break? Is this my 5th panel in a row? Do I need a nap or food?
    • Will I need to queue up? At WorldCon two years ago, the panels proved far more popular than anticipated, so to get into any panel, you had to queue up an hour before. So, I did.
  • Events

    There are tons of types of events, outside of panels.
    • Signings – from actors, artists, writers and more
    • Dances – everything from folk dance, to raves, to full on fancy dress balls
    • Workshops – these vary in length from a 50 minute panel, to a full day, to the full extended weekend of workshop. The longer it is, or more prestigious the instructor, the more likely it costs extra, and needs to be signed up for ahead of time.
    • Coffee klatches – a word from the 60s or so, when people hung out drinking coffee in kitchens. These are small gatherings with a guest of honor, to have an organic conversation. I think. They intimidate me, so I’ve never been.
    • Parades – certain groups or free for alls! Sometimes costumes are required
    • Ceremonies – most have opening and closing ceremonies. Some have awards ceremonies as well. World Con hosts the Hugo awards.
    • Concerts – Everything from acapella groups to ballroom-sized metal concerts
    • Pitch events! – Some have opportunities to pitch (or practice your pitch) with an actual agent or publisher.

      Pitching live can be a “I’ll sign you now!” sort of thing. But more often, it’s a thanks or no thanks situation.

      With the occasional: “that sounds nice, please query me” (and note that the agent requested in the query’s intro). And that submission? Might be super promising! Or, that agent may just have trouble saying no to your face.
    • Gaming rooms – Board games, video games, LARPing rooms, you can find a lot of stuff going on. And? This can be a great way to get to know new people, without having to resort to the ‘small talk’ many people (wrongfully) disdain.
    • Martial Arts – Demos or classes are often found at conventions. Longsword or jiu jitsu and everything in between.
    • Crafting – Demos or classes are often found at conventions. From fiber arts, to drawing, painting, and glueing together fake steampunk guns.
  • Art Show – Artists of all kinds can submit to have their art displayed. Often many paintings and prints, plus fabric arts, jewelry, woodcraft, pottery, and more. Here, it goes up for a silent auction, with a small piece of paper by it for people to write their bids. Usually, identifying themselves by badge number.

    Like Ebay, there’s often a ‘buy now’ option at a higher price. Often, the artists will have tables with less expensive prints in the Artists’ Alley or Dealers’ room.

    The Art Show usually wraps up on Sunday, or the last day of the con. Sometimes, there’s a live auction (I’ve been known to Vanna White one or two auctions in my day). The rest of the time, if you’re the winning bid, you have until a set time to pay and collect your piece.
  • Shopping

    Some have large vendor rooms, some have segregated “Dealers’ Rooms” (for people selling store merchandise) and “Artists’ Alley” (for people selling homemade goods). Here, you can buy any sort of art, con-themed clothing and costumery, swag, books, and more.

    Sometimes there are ‘room dealers’ who set their own hours working out of hotel rooms.
  • Con Suite

    A life-saver for the budget con-attendee, this is a room to relax, socialize, and SNACK. Sometimes they have oatmeal, cereal bars, bread, and pb&j. These rooms may have more, they may have less, but they’ll have some low level of sustenance for those that need it. (If you have allergies, they may be less helpful.)
  • Party Rooms

    In traditional/older school science-fiction and fantasy conventions, in North America, there is the tradition of a ‘party board’, where room parties are listed. Many are registered ahead of time, and end up assigned a room on the same hall, to keep the noise clustered.

    These are typically door-propped, mild to moderate decorations, some swag, some snacks, and a couple of hosts. If the event/location permits, there may be alcohol. People often ‘party hop’, sticking their heads in each of the party rooms and snagging refreshments before heading to the next one.

    Most of these parties are hosted by other conventions, to try and drum up interest and early memberships to help finance their own convention. Some of them are ‘bid parties’. Both WorldCon and WorldFantasyCon travel from year to year, like the Olympics. And like the Olympics, cities bid to host, votes are cast, and there’s a winner.

    I’ve helped with the DC 2021 WorldCon bid party twice. Luckily, no one is currently running against DC. (Also, both parties I helped with were in Baltimore, so the locals are fans, anyway.)

    There are often invite-only parties. Or so I’ve heard. These typically do have alcohol (and some even check IDs to avoid any legal issues). Some people even hire bouncers.
  • Socialize

    There are people around you, interested in the stuff you’re there to see. Talk to them. Admire something to them. Play games with them.

    The key to networking is — make friends.

    NOTE: If you see an agent at a convention — if they’re in the program, you can approach them — as long as they’re not in a rush somewhere, or look to be in a serious conversation. Just give your one line pitch after an introduction (or more conversation). Do not hand them query letters, or manuscripts, or more.

    If they’re not in the program? They’re probably there for meetings, or off the clock and you should leave them alone.


    If this is your first — or even second time at a particular convention, you may feel a bit left out. It seems like everyone else knows each other, everyone else is having an amazing time, and you’re locked out. But these are fans, and they love talking about their fandoms. It can take 3 or more times at a given con before it starts feeling like home. These are relationships that have been built in short weekends, spread over years. You have to put in the time to get there, but if you’re open to meeting new people, there will be people open to meeting you.

    There’s also a thing informally known as ‘Bar Con’, where the writers and agents hang out at the bar. This is a time to socialize with them and/or buy them drinks. NOT a time to do more than a single line pitch, IF they ask.

Take Care Of Yourself

To be respectful of others, you need to respect yourself and not push your limits. Don’t skip more than 1 shower. Don’t skip more than 1 meal. Don’t skip more than 1/2 of a night’s sleep. You’ll feel better about yourself, look more approachable to others, and you’ll have more patience and energy.

Hotels and convention centers are among the most dehydrating places on earth. I’ve been known to bring humidifiers when attending winter conventions to stave off colds. You’ll need to drink at least 8 ounces of water more than you normally would, just to stave that off. (More, if you plan to drink alcohol.)

If you’ve forgotten or lost your toiletries, you can ask the hotel staff or acquire some at the hotel’s store. If that fails, ask the con suite staff. They should be able to discreetly track you down some deodorant or toothpaste.

HOW TO BEHAVE

  • When you arrive at the convention

    Typically, if you’re staying at the hotel, you’ll want to check in first. Many don’t allow check-in before 4pm (to give them time to clean all the rooms after the 11am-1pm check-out time). If you’re early, you often can leave your bags with the concierge (although a tip will be expected)

    Next, you’ll want to find the convention’s own registration. This might be an hours-long line, or a 2 minute stop. You’ll need to have your ID on you, and if you haven’t pre-paid, money. They’ll give you a badge and sometimes a program guide and a map.

    If you aren’t pressed for time, I encourage you to scope out where the panels you plan to attend are, where the event rooms are, and where the restroom is.
  • At a panel
    • Try to arrive 5 minutes early. Be settled before the panelists begin.
    • Make sure your phone/alarms are turned off (or at least on silent)
    • Don’t take up more than one seat if there’s a decent-sized audience.
    • Feel free to take notes! Paper or laptop.
    • If you get a chance to ask a question, don’t be “That Guy”
      • Have a concise question
      • Remember that the audience is here to listen to the panelists, not you
      • Don’t use this as a chance to make an analogy to your own novel or gaming world
      • Don’t use this as an opportunity to show how clever you are and/or how you should have been on the panel
      • I know you wouldn’t do that, but there always seems to be one person who thinks they’re not just making everyone roll their eyes, (including the panelists they might be trying to impress).
    • If the panel didn’t address what you thought it would, this is a great time to ask their opinion on what you were hoping to hear them talk about in the first place. Or maybe you wanted them to go more in depth on something they touched on. These are all good questions!
    • If you must leave early (or it’s not what you expected, or you’re bored), look at your watch/phone with a startled expression, gather your things quietly, mouth “Sorry” in slow motion to the panelists at the front of the room, then slip out with as little ruckus as possible. I promise you, most people would rather watch the panelists than you.
  • In General
    • Be open to new experiences.
    • Chat with people, if it doesn’t happen organically? Hit the gaming room. Volunteer to help the con.
    • Attend something con related, don’t just hang with your friends or hide in your room
    • If you spot someone in costume, or someone famous in the halls, and you want to approach, evaluate the situation.
      • Do they look rushed or exhausted or closed off? They may need some downtime, or be late. Leave them alone.
      • Are they in a deep conversation with someone else? Leave them alone.
      • If they look relaxed, be respectful and courteous. Start with an introduction and maybe a compliment. Don’t be fake or fawning. “Hi, I thought your work in X was so very well something.” or “Hi, amazing work on the costume-part.”
        • Do NOT compliment a body part. Compliment something they can change in less than a week. Hair, costume, accessories, etc.
      • If they don’t seem irritated and you’d like a photograph or autograph, ask. “Do you mind autographing this/if I get a picture?
      • Just because they’re already getting their photograph taken, doesn’t mean you can whip out your camera.
        • They might know the other person/people – and asked them to take their picture so they have a record later.
        • They might be trying to get somewhere else – like a panel, or the bathroom!

After The Con

Some people hit their limit and are ready to leave. Many of us linger and want to catch last minute hugs and waves.

When you get home, odds are you’re going to want a nap. Probably some water, and maybe even some vegetables. Who knows?

Watch out for an energy drop, that’s not just the need for a nap, commonly known as “con drop”.

You’ve just been in ‘on’ mode for 2+ days. For many, this is a unique opportunity to be surrounded by other fans, where your interests are common, not unique. There’s a particular energy for each convention. When you leave that, you can feel isolated. Or irritable. Or just plain exhausted.

Cons are rather manic and leaving them can leave you depressed.

The trick to handling con drop is to know what you need.

For me? It’s often water, naps, and downtime. Then writing up my con-report and posting online, trying to connect with everyone else who was there.

For others? They may need to cave for three days. Or? They might want to schedule dinner plans the next few nights so they don’t go from 100% socialization to nothing.


Taking care of yourself doesn’t end just because you’re home. But with any luck? You’ll enjoy yourself and be ready for the con to return.

Let me know if I missed anything! And check back next week for more writing tips and writerly musings.