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Authors: Why Attend Conventions?

March 21, 2012

Tags: Conventions, publicity, ideas, writer's block, fear

A fellow writer, thoroughly jammed with writer's block, shared with me that he never attends genre conventions (mystery, SF, fantasy) because, "It's just not his cup of tea." After a few minutes of additional probing, it turned out he was afraid of meeting new people. Those he had never met before hadn't been vetted, hence, might commit one of the following errors:

1. The person in question might impart that he never cared much for that writer's works.
2. He or she may not have even heard of that writer.
3. The bothersome attendees might besiege him for autographs.
4. During the autograph session, no one might show up.

Fear is a valuable thing. It keeps us from running after armed robbers wearing only slippers and a thong. Fear sometimes gets us to the doctor's office, hopefully in time to catch that nasty affliction in the bud. In fiction, fear is primo character motivation and reader tingler. Fear, however, is not a very good career, marketing, or social counselor.

I went to my first SF convention in 1978 at the invitation of IASFM editor, George H. Scithers, who thought it would be good to meet my future readers (at that time, I only had one short story, "The Tryouts," that had been published). If the editor who had, at that point, bought all of the stories I'd sold (about seven then) hadn't invited me to the con, I wouldn't have gone. The whole idea terrified me. What if no one had read my story? What if everyone had read it and couldn't wait to dump on me? When I got there, I found that writers and fans were issued the same style of nametag. There was nothing on it that said I was a writer!

How will they find me? But do I want them to find me? No! Yes! No!

Well, the panic subsided, I learned a bit of humility, made some friends who still like me, met a lot of readers only a few of whom had read my story, got pumped up, and came away charged up with story ideas and enthusiasm that lasted until the next con I attended where my batteries were recharged.

At NorthAmericon in St. Louis, Editor Scithers convinced me to do a Q&A talk on writing as a program item. There were three hundred or so attendees, the session went on for four hours, and was I ever charged up. From that session were the origins of my writing instructional, Science-Fiction Writers Workshop-I, as well as a love of doing talks on writing and writing workshops at conventions. In later years, this evolved into my online writing course, The Write Stuff, which became my how-to book of the same name. There are many stories and novels I've written that can, in whole or in part, trace their origins to conversations I've had or panels I've been on or attended at conventions.

If you haven't tried a genre convention, please do so. Besides joining the most interesting part of the human race, cons are a well of ideas and enthusiasm, you get to meet editors, agents, and your fellow writers, and most important of all, you get to meet your current and potential readers. You say you only write mysteries? Most of those who attend the science fiction and fantasy convention Readercon in Burlington, Massachusettes are also big mystery readers. Just saying.

It's getting to know you, and you getting to know them. Yes, it helps sales, but that's not really the most important part. You will discover entire new rooms within yourself simply packed with exciting things to do, to think, and to write. It's a lot more fun than hiding in your home office 24-7.


  1. March 21, 2012 10:21 AM EDT
    Thanks, Barry! Still fond memories of you being here for Keycon
    - John "The Bear" Speelman, Winnipeg
  2. March 21, 2012 10:47 AM EDT
    I couldn't agree more. I have 7 cons planned for this year (new book out) and I can't wait!
    - Betsy Dornbusch
  3. March 21, 2012 11:12 AM EDT
    Keycon was a great convention, and the Worldcon held in Winnipeg was the most terrific time I've ever had at a con. Toastmaster at a Worldcon is the best job ever. If Manitoba would swap locations with Quebec I could attend more Keycons.
    - Barry B. Longyear
  4. March 21, 2012 6:54 PM EDT
    You and I were Pen pals before we met at a Boskone We also made some mischief at Noreascon 3 whe a certain writer blew up during a panel and ruined it.(Gee his autograph line was so small the next day. You and Haldeman had them wrapping around the lobby over and over. I would not trade those memories for all the latinum hidden in Quark's Bar. They also cemented our friendship, which I have always treasured. I tell all who haven't, "GO!". You will be amazed how you will feel after.
    - Lawrence J. Morrison

What About This Blog?

For writers & readers. For writers, this is stuff I've learned, am in the process of discovering, and stuff that is imparted to me by other writers. For readers, I believe the more one knows about what goes into the writing of a story, and into the life of being a writer, the more one appreciates an author's writings.

This is a two-way blog. Your comments on the blogs are welcome, as are your questions. Comments on blogs can be made directly on each blog entry. For questions and comments not related to specific blogs, use the eMail link below.

Barry B. Longyear is the first writer to win the Hugo, Nebula, and John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer all in the same year. In addition to his acclaimed Enemy Mine Series, his works include the Circus World and Infinity Hold series, Sea of Glass, other SF & fantasy novels, recovery and writing instruction works, and numerous short stories.