In less than a week’s time I’ll be at FantasyCon, one of the major genre events of the year. With my publisher’s hat on I’m preparing by making sure I have enough books, plenty of change in my float and all the necessary information so that I know how to get there, where to park, where to lug books to, etc. etc. Also, as I’m a panellist speaking on four different panels I’m trying to get my head around the possible discussions we might have and how I can usefully contribute. Fellow indie press publishers are carrying out similar preparations (and perhaps, like me, already looking forward to relaxing with a drink of something at the end of the first day!).
Writers are often urged to attend conventions, conferences and events, because, you know, networking is a good thing. However, it is also often acknowledged that networking – real life talking and socializing – may not be a writer’s preferred activity. So I got to thinking about how writers, particularly those who may be new to writing or the con scene, can get the most out of events like these.
1. Study the programme. FantasyCon’s three day programme is so stuffed full of panels, readings, book launches and other fun things, that it would be easy to keep oneself busy for every available moment of the convention. But for those who are more introverted/quiet in nature, it’s a good idea to think ‘less is more’ and to schedule in some downtime/time away so that you don’t get overwhelmed. Of the panels you do choose to go to, remember to take along a notepad and pen. No doubt you’ll pick up some useful writing and publishing tips. Also, challenge yourself by going to a panel or two that may not seem immediately relevant to what you’re writing. You’ll be surprised at what you’ll learn. Most of all, be prepared to listen and learn.
2. Make a publisher happy. The dealers’ room, ostensibly the “marketplace” of the con, is the place to go if you want to know more about the people behind the presses. It also tends to be quieter during the most popular panels. If you’ve ever considered being published by one of the indie presses in the dealers’ room, this is the perfect opportunity for you to get to know their books better – pick them up, leaf through them, assess their quality. Ask yourself if you’d like to see your book alongside the titles they’ve published. Conversely, be honest, and ask yourself if your book would be a good fit for the press. If you can answer ‘yes’ to both those questions then ask them more about their books and about their submissions guidelines. Lastly, show them that you’re seriously interested in their press by supporting them with cold hard cash (no, not bribery, merely book buying) and/or signing up to their newsletter. I may have a vested interest as an indie publisher myself, but it genuinely is the best way to immerse yourself in the culture of indie presses: get to know the books and get to know the publishers. Here are some cool presses to check out: Unsung Stories, Luna Press Publishing, NewCon Press, Shoreline of Infinity, PS Publishing, Guardbridge Books, Grimbold Books, Stairwell Books, Elsewhen Press, Fox Spirit Books.
3. Avoid temptations. Inevitably, the bar area will be a place where industry professionals, readers and writers end up hanging out. It’s a good place to relax and get chatting. Just don’t get too relaxed… remember, you only ever get one chance to make a good first impression to that dream agent/publisher, so if you know that one glass of wine turns you into a madly gesticulating ‘I love cats’ singer maybe lay off the alcohol. (Francis Plug is not a role model.)
4. Find your tribe. Into fairy tales? New weird? YA dystopia? Noble bright? Then, no doubt, at FantasyCon you’ll find others who love those subgenres too. (They’ll be found at the appropriate book launch/reading/panel.) Get chatting to them about favourite books and who knows, you may end up as writing buddies who beta-read for each other (or, better still, you may have a friend for life).
5. At all times, be O.P.E.N. That is: Open-minded when it comes to encountering the new, be it situation, person or subject, Professional (and polite) in exchanges, Enthusiastic when it comes to topics or books that you’re genuinely passionate about, and Nice. Because, as loathed as the word is by many writers and editors, the whole event – which is helped along by many, many kind volunteers – runs a lot better when people are nice.
6. Lastly, have fun. If you go only to “bag the dream agent” or to pick up a publisher you’ll most likely come away sorely disappointed. These things can and do happen, though rarely. Conventions, conferences and events are as much about community (more so, actually) than book deals. If you go with the much more modest – and enriching – aim of learning something new, having fun, and making friends you’ll always come away happy and buzzing. A book deal may well happen somewhere along the line, maybe because of a seed planted whilst at a con – a chance conversation or fortuitous meeting – but it’ll be a side effect of what you can control: your mastery in writing, your professionalism and your following.