Tag Archives: conventions

World Fantasy Convention 2013

World Fantasy LogoEarly this month the World Fantasy Convention finished their 39th convention.  The convention was filled with hundreds of published authors, nearly a hundred artists, dozens of editors, and many fans and hopeful writers looking for their big break.  While this is true for pretty much every convention, the World Fantasy Convention has one aspect that I find unique and enjoyable, the number of attending memberships are limited to 850 and typically sell out early.  If you can plan ahead and get a membership, you become a member to a convention that has amazing authors and well known publishers, but retains the small personal feeling you get at the smaller cons.

This year we were treated to Neil Gaiman acting as toastmaster and were specially treated to a guest appearance by Sir Terry Pratchett.  We had about 60 publishers in attendance from all over the world willing to answer questions and talk shop.  It wasn’t uncommon to see Neil walking around the bar or encouraging spontaneous musical guests to perform for us.  Authors were friendly and the talk and great camaraderie was felt throughout.

With all that said, I’m sure it’s not hard to figure out why such events are great for networking.  The limited numbers means you have a greater chance to talk with the people that matter and get actual feedback and opportunities to pitch your work.  This is definitely why I first started coming, but I found another element to this convention that I didn’t realize until after my third year of attending.  There really is a community that is formed within these smaller conventions.

I started going to the World Fantasy Convention in 2009 when it came to San Jose, California.  I’ve heard of the convention before, of course, and would follow the World Fantasy Awards to see what was popular and find new books to read.  As a writer looking to get published, it seemed like a good environment to put myself into.  I would walk around and introduce myself.  I would meet many different people, with many different reasons to attend.  All were friendly, and they all treated me as a fellow author, despite being unpublished.

I knew after the first one that I wanted to attend the next, and signed up right away.  Each year I would meet new people, and each year I became closer friends with the other members who attend yearly.  I began to form my own community of writers from all over the world.  Writers who care about my works, as I care about theirs.  We encourage each other and each year I come home with renewed vigor ready to get to work and finish my next manuscript.

I don’t do it so I can join their ranks.  I’m already a member of their community, and they never make me feel like less of a person for not being published.  I do it because they are the people I want to be like, and just by being around them I’m encouraged to work harder for my own dreams.  The convention just has the added benefit of including many of the publishers and editors that I want to see my work.  The network is there to help, and the opportunities are available to those who seek them out.

The World Fantasy 2014 will be held in Washington, D.C. on November 6-9, 2014.  If you don’t currently go to any conventions, it’s not a bad one to start.  They welcome newcomers with open arms and the community is open to everyone of all skill levels.  There are other communities around as well, and they all have their benefits.  This is just the one I’ve found and I enjoy.  Keep writing, and get your novel out there!

Networking: Friends with Benefits

In October during Marketing and Promotion month, we had a great post on networking by Kim May. There’s a lot of great advice here on how networking can help you reach and connect with your readers.

This month, I’d like to focus on how to network with industry professionals.

Few of us are lucky enough to have people in the entertainment industry – and yes, writing and publishing are part of the entertainment industry – as part of our circle of family and friends growing up, but it is possible.  Ironically, one of my friends-who-is-also-a-published-author started out as the roommate of another friend I met through my toy collecting hobby.  Looking back, I laugh at some of our earlier meetings when neither of us had any idea of the other’s interest in writing.

But let’s assume you don’t have a contact like that.  I didn’t for many years.  How do you meet people who are working where you would like to be someday?

You can read blogs, join newsgroups, “like” Facebook pages, and/or follow Twitter feeds.  The best part about these venues is that even if you live in an isolated rural area, and can’t afford to travel, as long as you have Internet access, you’ve got all you need.

First, reading blogs etc will give you a feel for what it’s like to work as a professional writer / in the entertainment industry.  You may find it’s not for you.  Or, when you reach that point yourself, you will have some idea of what to expect.  I’m eternally grateful for the advice from a writer, who is now also a friend, who put on her blog the importance of turning around correspondence for publishers as quickly as possible.  They’re people too, they’re on deadlines too, and keeping them waiting and wondering if they are going to hear from you or not is an undesirable situation.   As someone who used to submit things on the day they were due–and never before–I realized that holding on to my finished submission until the due date wasn’t doing me any favours.  And I would never have realized that without this advice.  It’s invaluable, and it’s free.

Comment when you have something useful to say.  Over time, people will recognize your name and, if applicable, your avatar.  Remember, though, that reputations can be bad as well as good – keep the drama off someone else’s site, or you will be remembered for all the wrong reasons.

Conventions, seminars, launch parties and book signings are great in-person venues if you’re lucky enough to be able to travel or live near a city.  Authors and editors will give panels, readings, room parties, and book signings.  Attending panels and readings gives you conversation starters when you go to the parties and signings:  introduce yourself by name, then ask a question, comment on something, or give constructive feedback.  Don’t hog the person’s time – they’ll be meeting a lot of other people at the event.  At subsequent events, you can then re-introduce yourself (“we met at Ad Astra this past April”, “I came to your book signing last year in Toronto.”)  Faces become familiar very quickly.  And I’d be amiss if I didn’t mention Superstars Writing Seminars, where I received great advice from professional writers and also met a number of fellow newcomers just starting out in the field.  Look how far we’ve all come!

I’m very fortunate to have a friend who is a New York Times bestselling author–the person who first recommended Superstars to me, despite not being part of it herself.  It was her assurance that Superstars was worth the money and time that got me here today.  I’m not going to drop her name here, because the purpose of this post is not me showing off how special I am because of who I know.  I mention it to illustrate that unfortunately, the following paragraph contains advice that still needs to be shared:

Don’t expect professional authors to become your new best friends.  They’re busy people, on lots of deadlines.  They have private lives they aren’t going to share with people they’ve just met.  They are not going to drop everything to reply to you immediately, and they don’t owe you anything.  Be courteous, be respectful, be appreciative, and be professional.  These writers are active online and at conventions to connect with their audience and, if they are generous and have time, to share some insight on their profession.  You will not become friends with everyone you say hello to, and you will not stay friends (or even acquaintances) if your sole purpose of communicating is to “get stuff,” whether that “stuff” be attention, information, free swag, or “awesome inside sources”.   Treat industry professionals as people, not as means to your goals.

When you are at conventions, do attend public events (book signings, autograph sessions, panels, public room parties and launch parties).  Do not try to crash private functions (ie author-only parties), follow people into the restroom to strike up conversations, or loiter outside people’s hotel suites waiting to pounce on them.  As on the Internet, being loud, drunk, promiscuous, smelly, obnoxiously persistent or rude gives you the wrong reputation very quickly.  And remember that alcohol makes all sorts of things seem like A Good Idea At The Time.

As someone who rarely drinks alcohol in public I strongly recommend a glass of pop, soda or juice carried around a room party or nursed at a convention bar if you are a non-drinker or if you have reached your drinking limit.  People will think it is a drink (thereby saving yourself the need to constantly turn down offers of drinks) and you will both appear sociable and remain in control of how you are presenting yourself.  (I also note that if you are a non-drinker, after seven or eight Dr Peppers you will feel like bugs are crawling all over you, so go easy on the caffeine-as-alcohol-substitute.  Lessons from Ad Astra 2013–bad decisions made so you don’t have to!)

The best thing about networking is that it builds its own momentum.  Once you know one person, they will introduce you to other people.  Soon you’ll find yourself in contact with all kinds of people who are working in, or working towards, your chosen profession.

Conventions as Marketing, Part II, or Every Day is An Interview

I wanted to follow-up on Quincy Allen’s great post of October 15, 2013 about the value of active convention attendance on your marketing plan. The post is particularly timely as I’m packing my bag for World Fantasy which will be held in Brighton, England from October 31 – November 2. Quincy shared how his career had been enhanced by his decision to attend conferences. Like Quincy my successes in writing can be traced back to my decision to attend a conference. But that’s only a part of the story. Showing the is the easiest part. What Quincy did, and I recommend you do, is he was an active participant in the conferences.

Taking a convention from being a fun event to being a professional marketing tool is hard work. We attend writers’ conferences or seminars, to market our writing, and to meet other writers, agents, publishers and editors. For ease of reference, I’ll refer to agents, publishers and editors collectively as “agents.” You cannot sit in the seminars and only interact with the group of people you came if you are marketing.  Every day of a convention is an interview. Every moment of every day is an opportunity for you to help or hurt your career. So how do you ramp up your marketing potential at a Con?

Before the Con: do your homework.

One of the things I love about World Fantasy is it posts a list of attendees or “members” so I can see if my dream editor or agent is going to attend. This year WFC also has a separate list of attending publishers so if you don’t know that Jane Doe is with XY Literary you can see that XY Literary is attending and investigate further. Conventions are often crowded. Decide in advance who you’d like to make a connection with, why, and how.

I wanted to talk to Peter Beagle because I love his stories and since he was a Guest of Honor that year . How was I going to meet to him? Because he was scheduled for a reading, an interview session, and to attend the banquet I knew where and when I could find him, but I also asked my friends if anyone knew him. One of the founding Fictorians did and she introduced me. Ask your friends and colleagues if they know the person you want to meet. Chances are that one of them does. A personal introduction will usually take you a lot further than cold calling on someone. If the person you want to speak with is not giving a lecture or otherwise booked to be in a specific place be prepared to check the Con Bar – regularly.

If you are planning to pitch a story make sure it’s finished. “Finished” does not mean the first draft is complete. It means you have done everything you can to make the story as compelling and as free from typos as you can. Prepare your pitches. Ace Jordyn attended last year’s WFC with a list of the people she wanted to meet, and pitches prepared for each work and each person. Amazing, really.

At the Con:  Be professional and bold.

I’ve written about this before so I’m not going to delve too deeply here. Appearances matter. If you want to be taken as a professional be dressed as one. Does that mean you have to wear a suit? No – unless that’s your brand. Look at just about any New York Times best-selling author’s website and you’ll see what I mean. Lisa Scottoline, a retired lawyer and writer of legal thrillers, wears suits. She wore one when she was instructing at the Seak, Legal Fiction for Lawyers convention where I met her. Because of who she is and what she writes the suit is part of her brand. Neil Gaiman and Brandon Sanderson don’t wear suits.  In fact, I would guess that the bulk of professional writers don’t wear suits. Still, they all look professional. You should too.

Act professional. Don’t interrupt, don’t be rude. Enough said about that.

Go boldly.  Follow-up on your plans. Go to the places the people you are looking for are likely to be. Talk to them when you find them. If you can’t find them, ask other people if they might know where Jane Doe is. You must approach strangers at a convention. You must ask friends to introduce you to people you don’t know, but want to. At least one agent has said that she only signs people she’s met at a convention, and the agent doesn’t wear a name tag. She, like every other agent, wants to see you’ve done your research and that you’re passionate about your work. After all, if you’re not excited about and willing to sell your work, why should she be? Sitting in a corner watching the con go by will not result in publication.

Strike while the iron is hot. If you are engaged in a genuine conversation and someone asks what you are working on. Tell them.

After the Con: Follow-up.

Oh lucky day! You spent three hours talking to your dream editor at the Con Bar. So, now what? Follow-up with that person just like you would do at any other networking event. Send her an e-mail saying you enjoyed meeting her at the Con. Make the e-mail specific so that if you drinking a purple girly drink remind the editor so she, who met hundreds of people at the Con, has the opportunity to place you. If you were asked to submit to the editor do so now. It not, just thank her for her time. At minimum, follow the editor’s twitter feed or friend her on Facebook. Comment honestly on posts. If she posts something you find interesting you should comment on it. If not, you shouldn’t. You are trying to maintain and forge a genuine connection with her.

Don’t forget your friends. Remember all those people who helped you research and introduced you around? Thank them as well.

Conventions are one of our most powerful marketing tools if used correctly. Meeting someone at a convention may make the difference between a polite “no, thank you” and a sale. Treat every convention like an extended job interview because that’s what it is. Your primary goal is to form honest and lasting connections with the people you meet. Succeeding at that goal leads to success.


Relax, and Dial Back the Desperation

SOTRA guest post by Travis Heermann.

Writers are some of the most desperate people on this planet.

We pour our poor, tender subconscious out into an endless void, where most of the time nothing comes back to us but endless rejection. Except for Mom, who loves our stuff. The writer’s life is a long, lonely road through a thunderstorm, the aloof gaze of a bazillion passing headlights washing over you in the pouring rain as you drag your luggage behind you, which contains your most precious things–your dreams, your stories, your underwear. And all you want is someone to notice you, pull over and give you a ride, someone besides your mom, someone in the industry who’ll drive you to that cocktail party where the real authors hang out. Many of us walk this road for years, and it breeds a kind of desperation akin only to that experienced by would-be starlets bound for Hollywood, suicidal painters, and musicians living in their van.

On the advice of several people, I attended my first World Science Fiction Convention in 2008 to stick out my thumb and hope for a ride.

I was there with singular purpose: meet editors and pitch my next novel. But the hard part was, I knew practically no one there. There was an acquaintance I had from back home, a fellow writer, and he was literally the only person I knew. As most writers are introverts for whom assertiveness and social intricacies are secondary skills–that’s why we write, for frak’s sake–this kind of situation is a like a death-trap designed by our arch-nemesis.

I could not help but walk around just agog, thinking “Oh, my god! There’s Favorite Writer X.” Such people were thick on the ground, writers I had been reading for years. If Heinlein (were still alive) and Bradbury had been there, I would have collapsed into a puddle of nerveless protean goo.

When one is walking around an event like this, a world of incredible conversations spin about us. It is not uncommon to see four or five established, A-list authors just sitting around chatting. The newbie can only imagine what spectacular deals and secret insider news they must be discussing, what great mind-blowing works they’re forging next, and then one is stabbed by that dagger of silent desperation to be in that circle. And then one stands there, perhaps twenty feet away from the august gathering, mooning like a stalker, until finally sighing and shuffling off, all but drowning in the soul-crushing certainty that one will be an utter nobody forever.

At conventions like World Con and World Fantasy, the two principal cons for professional networking, the air is redolent with the scent of Desperate Newbie Writer, an aroma unique and distinguishable from Unshowered Fan or Get-Me-The-Frak-Out-Of-This-Rubber-Costume-I’ve-Been-Wearing-In-95-Degree-Heat-For-Six-Hours. Many of these desperate newbie writers–and having been one for many years allows me to spot them in a crowd–brim with the same purpose as I had. Meet that editor. Meet that agent. Meet that publisher. Why? To break in! To enlist the aid, or at least snare the momentary attention, of one of those revered, overworked gatekeepers.

Given the speed at which publishing works, and the infrequency and cost of conventions like these, the newbie’s mistake is thinking that anything is going happen within the lifespan of a Galapagos tortoise. Yes, lightning does strike, but would you really want to expect your career to be built on one lightning strike? Ain’t gonna happen, get over it.

But here’s what does happen.

At that first World Con, my friend from back home introduced me to some people, who introduced me to others. I met a few other people who were further down the path that I was. In the five years since, as I attended other cons like World Fantasy, and this year for the first time, Dragon Con, those initial acquaintances have become friends and mentors, and as my social network has grown, so has the potential for professional development. Let us not fail to mention that the respect and camaraderie of one’s peers feels pretty good to a writer’s soul worn ragged by screaming into the echoless void. I should also not fail to mention that I have built up my publishing history with a few more novels and some short stories.

At about this time, I had also launched an Author Interview Series for my blog, which I had conceived as a way to not only build traffic, but also to network with writers I admired. So I had a secondary purpose: to secure contacts for interviewees. Most authors are hungry for exposure, so I found most of the people I spoke to receptive to an interview. I came home with an armload of interviews, and months’ worth of blog content. And because I had asked questions that were not run-of-the-mill fan questions, questions that attempted to get at the heart of how one became a career author, which is what truly interested me anyway, they remembered me. The Author Interview Series became a form of networking.

Here’s the disheartening truth: you will never be part of that circle you so desperately wanted to join, not even if you do break in and build a fabulous career. Because those circles are made up mostly of friends who have known each other for years, and often came up through the weeds from Newbie Land together.

Now here’s the encouraging truth: if you keep at it, if you write, if you sell, if you persist, you will eventually be part of your own circle of long-time friends sitting around at cons, talking shop, bitching, gossiping, all the things that professionals do at professional events.

And you know what? Trusting that this will happen is enormously liberating; it removes all that pressure, assuages all that desperation, blunts the edges of that longing to be “one of the pros.”

So here’s what you need to create your own circles of professional friends, acquaintances, and contacts.

  1. Basic social skills. Most people, especially other writers, recognize that writers are themselves eccentric folk, so they’ll likely forgive a rookie gaff or two. But the better you are with people, the more confident you are with yourself and your work (and oh, isn’t this the tricky one!), the faster your network of acquaintances will grow. If you’re going to World Fantasy, imagine a four-day cocktail party, and prepare yourself for it. Study social dynamics if you have to.
  2. Street Cred. That’s right. You have to write, and keep writing. Eventually, you will pick up some sales. People will start to notice. People will remember you from conventions (hopefully positively), and it will get easier and easier.
  3. Patience. We all know how long it takes to build a real writing career. If you’re in this demanding overnight success, quit now. Go away. You’re deluded. I used to envision Harlan Ellison and Ray Bradbury toiling away at the typewriter, struggling but getting by on the money they made from their short stories. I saw an interview with Ray Bradbury wherein he described how it him about seven years to make any kind of appreciable income from his fiction writing efforts after he sold his first story. Along the course of your career, there will be likely a few big leaps, but mostly it consists of thousands of meandering baby steps.

Now, there are still a lot of people who are further down the path than me. They always will be. But I can also look back and see that there are many, many people behind. Some will give up and turn back. Some will get lost in the Swamp of Despair, or take a wrong turn into the Valley of Evil Counselors. I have come a long way since that first World Con. I can go to major conventions now, guaranteed to know people there. My circle of professional friends and contacts continues to expand.

So relax. Take heart. Your network will grow like a tree that has taken root, and fruit will eventually start to appear on some of the branches.

Guest Writer Bio:
Travis HeermannFreelance writer, novelist, award-winning screenwriter, poker player, poet, biker, roustabout, Travis Heermann is a graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop and the author of the Ronin Trilogy, The Wild Boys, and Rogues of the Black Fury, plus short fiction pieces in anthologies and magazines such as Weird Tales, Historical Lovecraft, and Shivers VII. As a freelance writer, he has produced a metric ton of role-playing game work both in print and online, including Legend of Five Rings, d20 System, and the MMORPG, EVE Online. He enjoys cycling, martial arts, torturing young minds with otherworldly ideas, and zombies. He has three long-cherished dreams: a produced screenplay, a NYT best-seller, and a seat in the World Series of Poker.