Cons are what you make of them. The reason to attend any con boils down to networking and exposure. Sometimes exposure means making new fans by doing readings or panels. Sometimes it’s as simple as putting faces to names of folks that you’ve interacted with on message boards. Networking can take the form of chatting up fellow writers, editors, publishers, agents. It never hurts to make new friends. By networking, you may find out the inside scoop on markets or anthologies quietly accepting submissions. Sometimes you, as a writer, simply need to get away and recharge yourself, commiserating with fellow writers. As interesting as some of the panels may be, remember that a lot of the real networking gets done in the bar (though be warned: Jesus turned water into wine, not tequila, for a reason).

A friend and I got into an argument about the importance of conventions. Partly, it was about the type of cons that we need to attend at this point in our careers, if we are thinking long term. At this point in my career, going to conventions is very important (though admittedly, cons short on professional opportunities and long on the partying probably less so). I love WHC. It was the first convention that I went to. Some of the folks I met at that first con are still friends to this day. However, it is hard to judge the value of going to the various conventions. JA Konrath had an interesting blog on the cost vs. benefit analysis when it came to promotion. Here’s what he said about conventions:

Going to Writing Conventions and Conferences
Monetary Cost: Ranges from free to $1500 for overseas travel
Time Cost: High. Travel is the second most time-consuming promotion.
Benefits: Intangible and tangible. Networking is important, and meeting fans is essential. If you do well on a panel, you’ll sell some books, but you’ll never sell enough to cover the expense of the trip. Depending on your marquee value, you may be invited to attend for free, or may even get paid.
Word of Mouth Potential: Medium to high, depending on how hard you push yourself.
Momentum: High. Do well on a panel, you’ll have a line of people buying books.
Does it work for JA? I attend a lot of conferences, and whenever I do, a group of authors wind up at the bar openly wondering if it is worthwhile to attend a lot of conferences. The consensus: You should attend some. You can learn a lot, and help build a brand, and meet many key people. But if you’re going to 15 cons a year, at $500 each, you might want to spend some of that time and money elsewhere.
How much to spend: 35% of your promotional budget, 25% of your time.

Let me admit something to you: if I have nothing to hype, I’m not going to hype. Unless I have a book to promote, something tangible beyond the joy of my personality to give to you, I’m not going to waste your time with endless marketing. Some folks never turn it off and it gets kind of nerve-wracking. I say that to say that I am not looking at cons emphasizing the promotional opportunity side of things. I measure the value of a particular con a couple of ways.

1) Did I get a chance to talk to the editors, publishers, agents that I wanted to?

2) Did I get a chance to hang out with the writers that I wanted to?

3) Did I get to hang out with my friends?

4) Did I get any work stemming from the con?

With all the tangibles and intangibles that go into mixing and mingling with folks, the last point is the trickiest point to measure a con by. There are some cons that I judged as lousy at the time, which later turned out to be among the best, since I might have made one contact which led into several publishing opportunities.

Professionalism is a must. In dress, in conduct, in conversation, networking is like a constant job interview. You never know who is watching and you never know who is judging. Watch how much you drink (and if you are going to drink too much, do so in a “safe”–read: only among your good friends–environment). I liken it to drinking too much at the office Christmas Party: you don’t want to get drunk in front of your boss. And be personable, because the sad reality is that you are selling you.

The type of cons I choose to attend depend on what I want to accomplish. If I want to re-connect with friends and talk to a few professionals, I’ll go to the World Horror Convention. If I want to hang out with a higher professional to fan environment, I’ll go to Book Expo America. I’ll save the fan cons for a point where I have something to offer potential fans. In the meantime, it’s a countdown to World Fantasy Convention.

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