A Quick Guide to Making the Most of Conventions

A week from now, two of the biggest conventions in American speculative fiction will begin.  WorldCon opens in San Antonio on Thursday, August 29, and runs through Monday, September 2.  The next day, DragonCon opens in Atlanta; it also runs through Monday.  Both are huge events — DragonCon attracts a much larger crowd, but WorldCon hosts the Hugo Awards and so is a key event on the speculative fiction calendar every year.

This year I will be in Atlanta (appearing as D.B. Jackson) — it’s closer to my home, it’s an opportunity to see many of my writing friends, and it’s a con I have come to love.  But I have attended and enjoyed both.  And for a new or aspiring writer, both conventions offer unique opportunities not only to hear great panels and readings, but also for career-building networking.

And so I thought I would offer a bit of advice.  I’ve been attending cons, big and small, as a professional for over fifteen years, and I’ve learned a good deal.

1. Take advantage of the opportunities.  Editors, agents, and publishers will be at both WorldCon and DragonCon.  They are there to have a good time, they are there to meet with other agents and editors, they are there to meet with their writers, AND they are there to find new writers.  This presents you with a chance to meet people who could shape your career, to become something more than a name on a slush-pile submission.  You can pitch your book, chat with them briefly, and, if you’re lucky, hear those magic words:  “Here’s my card; why don’t you send me your manuscript?”  But . . .

2. Don’t abuse the opportunities.  As I wrote in the paragraph above, editors and agents, as well as all those famous writers you want to meet, are at the conventions in part to do business.  But they are also there to see old friends and have fun.  By all means, approach those who you want to meet.  Go up to them before or after panels on which they appear.  Introduce yourself at parties.  If you see them walking somewhere, go up and say hello, tell them how much you enjoy their work.  But do not interrupt them if they are already in the middle of conversations.  Do not follow them into a restroom (yes, this really happens).  Do not interrupt their meal if you see them in a restaurant.  Respect their privacy; give them some space.  Of course you want to meet them, but if that meeting leaves a sour taste in the mouth of an editor or agent, you haven’t helped yourself.  Also keep in mind that their time is valuable; don’t go on and on about your book.  Give them your pitch, hope for a good result, and then, whether or not you get that result, thank them for their time and move on.

3. Have a pitch prepared.  I could write an entire post about putting together your pitch, but here are the basics:  Your pitch should be short and to the point — 25 words or fewer.  It should give a sense of where the book fits into the market, and what makes it unique.  For my Thieftaker books, a series of urban fantasies set in pre-Revolutionary Boston, my elevator pitch was “It’s Harry Dresden meets Samuel Adams.”  VERY short, and right to the point:  It tells people that my books are urban fantasy with a male protagonist, it tells people that there is a historical element, and it tells them that I’ve thought about who the target audience for the books might be.  One technique for developing your pitch:  Write a description of your book that runs about 250 words — one full page double spaced.  Save that version, then whittle it down to a second version that is 100 words.  Do that again to 50 words, and do it again to 25.  The shortest version is the elevator pitch — the one you would give if you had 20 seconds with an editor or agent in an elevator.  The 50 or 100 word version is what you say if the editor responds with “That sounds interesting, tell me more.”  The 250 word version is what you give if the person takes you back down to the bar and buys you a drink so you can talk about it in greater detail.

4. Allow yourself to have fun.  You don’t want to be that person who is walking around the con checking out people’s name tags all the time, just looking for the next chance to pitch your book.  Yes, you want to make connections, and with any luck at all you will.  But you should also be there to have fun, to go to panels and readings, to enjoy the spectacle of the Hugos or the myriad costumes you’ll see at DragonCon.  If all you do is worry about the networking you won’t have any fun at all, and, more to the point, no one will want to be around you.  Go with a friend or two, resolve to have a good time, and let the rest happen as it is meant to happen. And best of luck.

I hope to see some of you at DragonCon.  If you spot me in the crowd, by all means come by and say hello.

David B. Coe

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There are 5 comments. Get the RSS feed for comments on this entry.

  1. 1. Mary

    Err — you mean the Hugos, not the Nebulas.

  2. 2. David B. Coe

    Mary, yes. Yes, I do. I mean the Hugos. I should probably mention that this weekend I am up in NY dropping my older child off for her freshman year of college. My mind is elsewhere. Thanks for the correction. My apologies. Fixing now.

  3. 3. Douglas

    I’ve always wanted to go to Dragon Con but haven’t made the trip from Columbus, Ohio as of yet. Every year I say I’m going and then it creeps up on me and I miss it. This blog is really good advice. Thank you. I attend comic cons and have some success getting my books out there but Dragon Con would be awesome for networking and such. Maybe I’ll get to meet you there one of these days. Have a good time and good luck with everything. Great blog, BTW. I stumbled onto it from absolutewrite.


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Author Information

David B. Coe

David B. Coe (http://www.DavidBCoe.com) is the Crawford award-winning author of the LonTobyn Chronicle, the Winds of the Forelands quintet, the Blood of the Southlands trilogy, and a number of short stories. Writing as D.B. Jackson (http://www.dbjackson-author.com), he is the author of the Thieftaker Chronicles, a blend of urban fantasy, mystery, and historical fiction. David is also part of the Magical Words group blog (http://magicalwords.net), and co-author of How To Write Magical Words: A Writer’s Companion. In 2010 he wrote the novelization of director Ridley Scott’s movie, Robin Hood. His books have been translated into more than a dozen languages. Visit site.



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