Writer Life & Lessons

What To Know for Your First Writing Convention

DSCN9419Last October, I attended the World Fantasy Convention in Brighton. As a con newbie, I tried to look up “what to know before hand” and “how cons work” so I might have a vague idea of what to expect. Of course, many of those things have to be experienced to really get your head around them. However, there are some useful things to know before you attend.

This was a post I planned to put up prior to this year’s FantasyCon, but I’ve realised that actually, the Cons are starting in July/Aug, not just September. So if you’ve not been to a con, here are a few hints I found useful or wish I’d known from my first one.

– Autographs

I write under a pen name: K R Green. As it happens, the letters somewhat match my name; which is helpful at times. And as I’m not published, and don’t have a massive following of people who were attending the con, I didn’t think I’d need to be signing anything.

As it was, I was asked to give my autograph three or four times — all of which looked very different from each other because I’d never written my pen name in anything but block capitals.

Some people want to collect even prospective author’s signatures in their con books.

Tip: Prepare some form of signature.

– The Bar

This was a very common topic in the “what to expect” posts I found. The most common was “don’t get drunk and be sick on the agent you’re trying to pitch to”. Which is a fair point, really.

However, this can be a good place to have conversations, and one drink often won’t hurt if you’re feeling nervous.

Also, during my Con experience, I attended six author/publisher parties: 80% of which had pyramids of free wine in them, plus agents and publishers mingling around. This made a fairly good atmosphere for introducing, pitching, and business card swapping. However, I’d also say that the cafe is a great, under-rated place, especially if you’re sitting alone or as a small group — people will quite readily introduce themselves as they sit at your table and before you know it, you’re chatting to a guy who would later on win an award…

Either way, don’t be that guy slurring in the bar “see that agent/author/publisher? They’re a *&^%.” Especially if they can hear you.

Tip: Do attend the bars/cafe if you feel up to it — they really are the best places to casually introduce yourself and connect with people. 

– Business Cards

This was something I heavily researched before attending, and essentially, it was considered a positive if you had your pitch on them, and kind of a waste if not. However, trading business cards with others; even other unpublished writers and illustrators was a big part of the convention, and it was an expectation that you’d have them. It was a great connector, a little ice-breaker between newly-met people, and even let some of us newbies connect by ‘practising’ as if we were giving them out to agents/publishers.

There are people who would say it’s a waste of money. Considering we’d planned to keep ourselves unnoticed as it was  our first con, by the time day 2 rolled around, we’d befriended agents, published authors, editors and publishers alike.

I’d say it doesn’t hurt, particularly if you have anything to offer in terms of a connection: twitter or email or website. A plain white card from a stationers would do.

Tip: Take some form of connection with you.

– Outside Conversations 

When outside of the convention venue, don’t forget that you’re still recognisable from inside. You never know who might be walking behind you to the bus stop or sat on the train seat opposite (like an Agent who sold a book everyone’s heard of…). Until you’re home, with doors closed, just remember that people you’ve met or who recognise the massive badge around your neck will judge you even when your feet hurt and you’re dying for some food on the way home.

Tip: Be Mindful of the People Around You. They could end up as your agent/publisher.

– Phone (with wifi/3G)

Apart from making it easy to trade contact details with new friends and photographs of authors you love, I found myself constantly checking social media for what panels had been good, the whereabouts of forum members I wanted to meet and generally giving feedback on my favourite aspects of the day. Which then gave me a mountain of data to look back on as I tried to compile the best notes, photographs and events.

Tip: Take a phone/tablet and keep a charger handy for each night. 

– Pitch

Even though my novel wasn’t completed, these are the perfect places to test out your pitch. Have one prepared.

And if you’re like I was, and didn’t use every opportunity to pitch, then at least know your story so when someone asks just in conversation, you don’t stand there silently. I was asked by a few published authors about my book, and at least was able to say that it’s about a girl and her magical connection to a hawk. That’s not a pitch; but it’s a lead that I could then build on if asked for more.

 Tip: Be able to sum up part of your novel in a sentence. Even better, have a three-sentence pitch ready.


My final tip would be to remember that everyone (or mostly everyone) is human, and that we meet humans every day. Be kind, considerate and try to engage people as a fellow human not as an advert for your website or a child trying to impress a teacher. And of course, have fun.

There are already some great posts out there about conventions, like this one by Matt Moore on what to bring with you, or Chuck Wendig’s Dos and Donts of Panel Etiquette.

Have I missed anything? (I’m sure I have.) Let me know in the comments!

What do you wish you’d known at your first convention? 

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