In thinking about the subject of this post, I was trying to remember what the first writing-related convention I attended was. I think it was probably FantasyCon, but I’m having trouble remembering because I realise that my regular attendance at conventions has evolved as a very organic process.
Some time back in the early 1990s, possibly when I was involved in my first writing group, I found out about a monthly pub social involving other writers and started to attend. Most of the attendees at these gatherings were members of the British Fantasy Society. It seemed to be a good idea to join this organisation, which existed to promote horror, sci fi and fantasy fiction.
Anyway, from there I learned of the existence of FantasyCon. I think the first one I attended might have been a day conference, held at Champagne Charlie’s on Villiers Street underneath Charing Cross station. As it was a conference that just required day attendance, it didn’t seem too intimidating. When I started attending FantasyCon as a weekend event, again it wasn’t too intimidating – my husband reads fantasy, sci fi and horror so he was happy to come along, and a lot of fellow writing group members are also long-standing FantasyCon attendees.
I joined Mystery Women in the mid-1990s, as at that point I was really getting into crime, and through that organisation I learned about the crime conventions. I had no one to go with me at that point. But although I lacked confidence in other areas of life, strangely the concept of going alone to a convention I did not find daunting. I figured it was the best way to network, and how else was I going to meet writers, agents and publishers in the industry unless I made a point of going to these conventions?
I can’t remember which year I first attended the St Hilda’s Crime & Mystery Conference in Oxford, but it has to be nearly 10 years ago. The first year I went, I didn’t actually know anyone – I’d attended a few Mystery Women events but hadn’t spend a great deal of time talking to anyone. But, undaunted, I booked in the conference, and arrived on the Friday night in time for the drinks reception.
I got myself a drink and for a few minutes stood alone in the room, trying to work out a plan of action. Everyone seemed to be engaged in conversation. Would it be rude to just march up to a group and introduce myself? While I was mulling this over, a group of women approached and said, “we noticed you were on your own, so we thought we’d come and talk to you”. And so I met Carol, Jane and Christine, and I was no longer alone for the rest of the weekend.
After many years of attending Cons, I am finding I am no longer left with no one to talk to. I run into the same people – people to whom I can say, “nice to see you again”. And there are always new people to meet – someone who had something interesting to say on a panel, or someone whose last book I really enjoyed.
My advice on Cons to anyone who’s starting out in their writing career is this: don’t be afraid to attend. Don’t worry you won’t know anyone. You might not know anyone when you arrive, but you’ll have some new friends by the time you leave.
Cons are valuable networking opportunities for writers. They are the best places to meet new people in the field: publishers, agents and writers alike. And to get the best out of them, you have to be a regular Con-goer. You only feel like the ‘newbie’ for the first one. And the most important thing is, Cons are great fun. Even the crawling out of bed with a hangover after four hours’ sleep to attend the first panel of the day because you were drinking in the bar till 4am with a group of writers is a cherished part of the Con experience (because the night before was such a good night it was worth the suffering).
There are a lot of Cons out there - too many for one to be able to attend all of them. But choosing which ones to go to is all part of the fun!