Goals aren’t for everyone. Goals in January? Even less so.
For some of us, setting goals is just setting ourselves up for failure. You need to take a good hard look at where you are, where you want to go, and what stands in your way.
1. Current Obligations
If you are already over-committed, you might want to re-examine your priorities and see if you actually have the bandwidth to take on new tasks.
If not? This probably isn’t the right time for you to set new goals. Instead, you might want to look into what steps you could take to free up your bandwidth — to either get a better handle on everything you’re currently trying to do, or make space for new goals in the future.
2. Emotional State
Check in with yourself, first. If you’re not in the right space, emotionally, setting goals can end up hurting you.
Some people are naturally contrary, and when faced with a goal, find ourselves doing anything else.
Others? We have trouble dealing with the setbacks and failures that are intrinsically a part of striving for something that’s not in our reach, yet.
If you know that you won’t be able to roll with the setbacks and keep at it? Your priority should be working on getting yourself back on more stable ground, emotionally. And making sure that you have a firm support network that will be able to help you through any setbacks and push you toward your better self.
Instead of setting goals, just work on whatever project seems to be flowing better and concentrate on making progress. Let your creative side out, without burdening it with expectations.
Of course, if you find setting and meeting goals intrinsically encouraging and reinforcing, then do so. Just make sure they’re achievable and things you actually have control over.
For writers? Setting word count or page-edit goals are something you can control. Self-publishing or querying 50 agents is something you can control. Getting an agent or traditionally published? Not so much.
Basically, whether it’s the right time for you to set goals, or not, just boils down to timing.
Timing of obligations.
Timing of dealing with everything life throws at you.
For me? New Years Resolutions are a GREAT time to set goals and plan out how I’m going to approach them.
Why? Because October is busy and has #OctPoWriMo, November is PACKED and has #NaNoWriMo, and before I can catch my breath? December is there with all the holiday cards and decorations and baking and gatherings.
January? Is my first chance to breath since the start of fall. It’s my first chance to take a step back, see where I am, and decide the best way to get from here to where I want to go.
But, your annual cycle doesn’t necessarily look like mine. For professors or teachers, summer might be your time. For tax accountants? May. For parents? September (or October, after all those open houses and back-to-school activities and the first wave of brought-home-germs).
Don’t feel like you’re doing things wrong if your schedule doesn’t match up with the calendar, or what everyone else is doing.
As I’m fond of saying at my dayjob, processes exist to help you accomplish stuff. If the process is getting in the way, you need to either adapt the process for your purposes, or find a new process.
Did you set New Year’s Resolutions?
If so, share them with me!
If not, did one of these three things contribute toward that decision? Or was it something else, entirely?
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:
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
Flashback to NaNoWriMo 2018! This year, I’m doing a series of short stories. The first week went great. The second week was a struggle. I’m only just keeping pace with my wordcount though. We’ll see how this week goes.
Finding Your Own Pace: A Writer’s Struggle
All writers work differently, but since I started with NaNoWriMo, I’ve come to look at NaNo as my novel kick-off season. Even if it takes me months and months after to finish the story, (not to mention editing, revising, and querying the sucker) I can get at least the first 50,000 words out. Usually.
When it comes to daily word targets, like NaNoWriMo encourages, I’ve run the gamut.
For those who don’t know, NaNoWriMo sets the goal at 50,000 words– approximately 200 pages which is a bit short for a novel. Which breaks down to 1,666 words per day, or about 6 pages.
Pick Your Pace
I’ve failed NaNo, won NaNo by the skin of my teeth, and done 75k one glorious November. Different stories, voices, and points-of-view write faster or slower for me.Some writers wait for the spirit to be upon them and crank out 30,000 words in a weekend. Some write 5-6k on the weekends and a couple hundred on the occasional workday.
This might be you!
Me? Not so much.
As I’ve talked about before, I’m not a sprinter, I’m a marathoner, but 1,666 words is usually achievable for me. With the right story? I can hit an average of 2,500 words per day.
I can only do it by writing EVERY DAY. If I wait until the weekend to sprint? I’m doomed.
I have NEVER written two-NaNo days worth of words (3,332) in a single day. If I get more than 1 or 2 days behind, I cannot catch up.
Left on my own, when it’s not November, I set daily word count goals (or at least weekly ones), but my writing pace (fit in around my day job) is approximately half-the-speed of a NaNo.
If you’ve never NaNo-ed before (look, I verbed it!), it can seem daunting. And it feels like there are just people who can commit and do it, and people who can’t.
But just because I’ve “won” NaNoWriMo once (by hitting that 50k target before midnight on November 30th), doesn’t mean I always win.
My Past NaNoWriMo’s
I’ve rebelled with half-Nano’s, spent a November edited instead. I’ve started to draft a sequel, but it petered out. My first NaNo win was my 3rd NaNo attempt — at writing the exact same book.
Two years ago, I did that nano-and-a-half in November. It was a sequel, so I knew the world and the characters, and how the magic works. Plus? My life was pretty settled that month.
Last year? I started a new job, had a full outline I wanted to follow because my story was a Robin Hood variant, and I barely squeaked out my words.
When my life is settled, I commit and focus — that’s what it takes for me to win NaNoWriMo.
This year? I’ve got a very rough outline that I need to revamp for the age range I’m writing for.
My story involves school-aged kids dealing with parents. So, that means middle grade or younger. YA typically are coming-of-age stories, where they have adventures without adults.
In prep, I’ve already created a list of about 50 names that fit my world, so I can grab and go. Left to my own devices, picking a name for a character can take longer than my daily allotment of time for writing.
But, placeholder names don’t really work for me. Remember that nano-and-a-half I mentioned? It’s filled with 30 place-holder names and is sitting as a rough draft on my googleDrive. (No offense, but Alice, Bob, Carol, and the invaders from Canadia don’t actually fit my fantasy world’s aesthetic.) I’ve gotta admit, it feels pretty daunting to fix.
I’ve got a few obstacles:
I’ve never written for this age range
so I’m not familiar with writing at this pacing.
I’ve never written a story in this world
so I’ll be having to think through the intricacies of the world as I go.
Plus, I’ve got a day-job deadline coming up.
It might end up being a chapter book
Those are typically around 20,000 words.
If that’s the case, what do I do?
write 2 novels? Start a series?
or call it a day
So now? The only way for me to find out what happens to those cool characters I’ve got half-formed in my head though? Is to write it!
[Throwback Thursday: Just as true as when I first posted. And? Those placeholder names are still in that rough draft I’m scared to touch.]
7 Tips for Preparing to Write A Novel
For Pantsers AND Plotters and #NaNoPrepMo
Whether you’ve just decided it’s finally time to write that book you’ve been thinking about on your own or you’ve been bit by the NaNoWriMo bug, starting a novel can be intimidating!
It doesn’t matter if you’re a pantser (writing by the seat of your pants), a plotter, or something in between, there’s still stuff you can do to prepare yourself before you start writing.
Plotters, you have your to-do lists, but even you can get stuck. Here are some things that may be on your list, and a few things that might not be.
Pantsers and plantsers? You might not want to do all the planning that the plotters do. You might be just along for the journey to see where the story takes you. BUT! That doesn’t mean you have to be left out of writing prep!
That said, here are my top 7 writing prep activities.
Clearly, the plotter’s first choice and the fear of every pantser, but outlining can be as extensive — or as sparse — as you want it to be.
– You can have 10 pages of notes for every chapter
– A basic “[Main character] wants [objective] but [obstacle] stands in their way.” statement
– Just pre-write a query letter!
– Even most pantsers find having a starting point and an end target at least moderately useful.
The cousin of outlining. These help you check your pacing — whether you’re going for a 3 act, 4 act, or another sort of structure.
Jami Gold has a great collection of Beat Sheet Worksheets to help you plan out your story’s emotional arcs AND plot arcs.
OR — save the beat sheet and use it when you’re pantsing to decide what to do next!
3. Mood Boards
Gathering together pictures that suggest your characters, your settings, your wardrobe, and your world.
You’d think this would be most helpful for those writers who are more visually oriented — literally helping them see their story. But, my imagination isn’t very visual, and I say that mood boards can be INVALUABLE for those of us whose imaginations are more conceptual.
If you have a vague idea in your head of a character’s look or the settings, you can google image search until you have something that works for your story — then you can use that image to help describe your people, places, and things to your readers.
4. Character Sheets
It’s official. I’m a geek. I’ve been playing D&D and its cousins since 2000. But even if it’s not a true ‘character sheet’, writing out your characters strengths, weaknesses, and personality traits is very helpful when you’re deciding during the story how your character will react.
You can use things like Myers-Briggs designations, star signs, or zodiacs to help flesh out your character and keep them consistent.
5. Creating a List of Names
I can spend weeks picking the perfect name for a main character. During NaNoWriMo, I’ve definitely lost hours of writing time trying to come up with names for characters, places, and my magic system.
Two NaNos ago, I decided to save a lot of time by just giving everyone placeholder names: Alice, Bob, Carol… I went through the entire alphabet and ended up naming the enemy country Canadia. It helped me accomplish a NaNo-and-a-half, but it had consequences (yep! 75k!). The editing this is going to require has me scared off starting that rewrite. Don’t make my mistake.
This year? I intend to have a list of at least 20 random names that fit my story and world that I can grab-and-go with once I start writing. So far I’ve got 6.
6. World Building
Is your story happening in the real world or a made up one? Do the laws of physics work the same?
Having a good idea of how far apart places are, the transport times, and key landmarks is super helpful.
I spent a couple hours last NaNoWriMo figuring out how far it was from Loxley to Nottingham. And the number of times I’ve redrawn my fantasy map because of average pilgrim walking paces versus bicycle paces… is more than twice.
I also have 2 moons in one of my worlds, so I keep an eye on the tides and the moon fullness in regards to the aforementioned travel times. It can get tricky!
7. Minimize Real World Distractions
I’ve mentioned this before, but for me? Having a stocked fridge, clean clothes, and straightened house when NaNoWriMo starts means I can ignore those things for longer while I dedicate more time to writing.
It usually takes a week or so after a good clean for my house to start really getting piled up.
I try to keep my calendar light, preload the Panera app on my phone for write-ins (getting hungry? Keep writing and the food will come to me), and work hard to build up momentum. Once I’ve got a good streak going, meeting that daily word target, I don’t want to break it.
And that’s it! Are you starting a new novel? Tell me about it!
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
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?
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
Are your friends attending?
It’s always good to see a familiar — and friendly face in the crowd.
What To Bring To A Convention
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.
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.
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. 😉 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.