Gerald Brandt on Why Writers Go to Conventions


Comic Con 2015 convention floor, Javits Center NYC/Shutterstock ©

As a writer, I go to a lot of genre based conventions. For me, that specifically refers to science fiction/fantasy based ones. If you haven’t attended one, you should.

There are so many of them, it’s tough to know which ones to go to, which ones are worth the time and expense. Especially if you are on a limited budget. And since we’re writers, chances are it is.

The first thing you need to do is figure out where you are in your writing career: are you looking for an agent or an editor, or have you published (either self-published or via a small or large press) already? Maybe you’ve just started writing and are looking for ways to improve your craft. Wherever you are along the path, I can guarantee there’s a convention out there for you.

If you’ve just started writing and are looking for help, one of the multitude of writing-based conventions will do. Almost every genre convention has panels on world building or creativity. If you’ve never been to a convention, they’ll also have a panel for new comers (or newbies) to teach you how to best navigate the convention. Pick one or two conventions near you that have panels on writing, and sign up. You can sit in the back of the room and just absorb the information, or up near the front and ask questions. We were all newbies once, and learning from someone that’s been there is an excellent first step.

If you’ve honed and polished your craft, maybe had a short story or two published, then you’re probably looking for an agent or an editor. This is where some of the smaller local conventions may fall short for you. I say may, because occasionally agents or editors will get invited, and will be expecting to be pitched to. There are also local conventions that, although possibly genre based, cater solely to writers and will be filled with panels on writing and have agents and editors attend.

If you are looking at getting picked up by an agent or a big publishing house, one of your best bets is World Fantasy Con (held this year in San Antonio, Texas). It’s what is called a professional convention. People are there for business.

If you’re already published, the focus of conventions changes dramatically, you shouldn’t be looking for where the agents or editors are (unless that is still your focus). You should be looking for where the fans are. These are your potential readers. These are the people that will talk about your book(s), recommend them to friends, possibly post reviews online.

My opinion is to attend as many of these conventions as you can. Get on panels (You’re the one handing out advice to the new writers now), attend panels as part of the audience, go to the con suite. Meet people. Be friendly. As with all the other conventions you’ve attended, don’t be a pushy salesman. If you’re outgoing and open to conversation, you’ll gain readers.

When I made the transition from looking for agents and editors to being a published writer, I made what I think is a basic, newbie error. I didn’t change what conventions I went to. Yes, I met fans and gained potential new readers, but not the way I could have if I’d gone to where they were. Don’t make the same mistake.

That being said, I’ll never stop going to World Fantasy. That’s where I’m guaranteed to get a face-to-face with my editor.

Before I leave the topic, I like to say a quick word about etiquette, and this is true regardless of whether you’re at a convention or not. If you’re pushy, if you interrupt ongoing conversations with your pitch or shove your manuscript under a bathroom stall, you won’t get read. If you take your book and jam it into potential readers faces, or you go on and on (especially when not asked) about your plot or your characters, your book won’t get bought.

If you’re friendly and open, willing to make new friends and just have a conversation, then nine times out of ten, the editor or agent or reader will ask you about your book. Take that opportunity and give them a brief spiel.

Now get out there. Find a convention that fits your needs and get a membership. You’ll be glad you did.

Gerald will be at the following conventions this year. If you’re there too, come and say ‘hi’!

Minicon: Minneapolis, MN
April 14th – 16th

Keycon: Winnipeg, MB
May 19th – 21st

When Words Collide: Calgary, AB
August 11th – 13th

Can-Con: Ottawa, ON
October 12th – 15th

Word Fantasy: San Antonio, TX
November 2nd – 5th