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Writing Excuses Season Three Episode Nine: Attending Cons

Writing Excuses Season Three Episode Nine: Attending Cons


Key points: First of Two Parts! Conferences are for training, conventions are for fanning. Tradeshows/Expos are for industry, and media cons are exhibitions. For an aspiring writer, conventions provide inexpensive introductions and networking, while conferences provide intensive training at a cost. Details of what to do to make cons useful to week.

[in poking around to check names of conferences, I found this guide: ]

[Brandon] We have WorldCon -- World Science Fiction Convention -- coming up that all three of us are actually attending. We've spoken of cons before, about how, particularly for Dan and I, they were very instrumental in getting us published. So we thought we would do a podcast talking about how to use cons and conventions as an aspiring writer to further your career.
[Howard] And what not to do.
[Brandon] I want to lay a little groundwork because I've come to realize that when I say cons, I know what I mean, but a lot of aspiring writers aren't sure what cons are because there is a whole lot of stuff going on out there.
[Dan] There's a lot of cons I don't even know what they're like.
[Howard] There's differentiation... when you start differentiating conventions and conferences. One, conferences are professional associations where you are buying a fairly expensive membership for training. Conventions are things for fans which are usually broken down by genre -- anime cons, science-fiction fantasy media cons, sci-fi literary cons, horror conventions, costume conventions -- they are all very genre specific. You see some of that genre stuff bleeding over into conferences where you'll have... what is it, the BYU Writers for Young Readers...
[Brandon] The Maui Writers Conference is another example. This is just our definition, con versus conference... some of them are... it's hard to really...
[Dan] There's a whole spectrum.
[Howard] Con versus conference versus... there's a third point on that triangle, which is Expos, which is where industry organizations are exhibiting to other professionals. The biggest example of this is E3.
[Brandon] Or in writing, BEA. Book Expo America. But I posted on my blog, "Hey, I'm going to be at BEA next week." People are like... BEA? What's this? Should I be going to this?
[Howard] Librarians are going to BEA, booksellers are going to BEA, but the average reader is not going to BEA.
[Brandon] Exactly. But there is one more distinction in here. I'll run over these all again for you when we are done. Media cons. What's the difference between a media con and a literary con?
[Howard] For me, the difference is that a media con will have an actor there signing photographs for between 20 and $100.
[Dan] Media cons will also have people dressed like Sonic the Hedgehog.
[Brandon] So will some of the [inaudible -- area?] cons.
[Dan] So will some of them.
[Howard] So will anime conventions. And you will see storm troopers at almost all of these.
[Brandon] When I say a media con... my editor explained it like this. A media con in his opinion is something where you're being exhibited to. People are putting up displays to entertain you or to sell you a product, most specifically...
[Howard] The dealer's room is the whole convention.
[Brandon] A lot of people say ComicCon is like this.
[Howard] ComicCon is... yeah, it's a media con. It's overwhelmingly funded by media stuff. Yes, there are panels and other things happening upstairs, but that show room floor is enormous. That's the reason those half a million people go.
[Brandon] DragonCon is like this, too. DragonCon is more focused on having fun than on getting published. Even the literary cons are not focused on getting published. We'll talk about the differences and things here.

[Brandon] Let's go over these four. We're going to spend the podcast talking about different types of people -- what they're trying to get out, different archetypes and how to use these various different conventions and cons. Just to run down the list, we've got literary con which would be DragonCon, or World Fantasy Convention, or World Horror...
[Dan] Didn't we just say DragonCon was a media con?
[Brandon] Not DragonCon. Bleh, bleh, bleh...
[Howard] WorldCon.
[Brandon] WorldCon!
[Howard] Worldcon, World Horror, World Fantasy. Local shows like CONduit...
[Brandon] Bubonicon, CONduit... [Bubonicon: ]
[Howard] CONduit, BuboniCon, LepreCon, InConJunction [ ]
[Dan] All of those little things.
[Brandon] Then we have media cons which are...
[Dan] DragonCon, ComicCon...
[Howard] Emerald City ComicCon, New York Comic Con, Chicago ComicCon... are all going to fall in the category of media cons.
[Brandon] A conference is where you pay money up front to go and learn from specific instructors for a period of time. So Orson Scott Card's Writing Boot Camp, or Maui Writers Conference...
[Dan] The Clarion workshops.
[Howard] There's a self syndication conference in Las Vegas that they've invited me to present at in September... that I forgot the name of.
[Brandon] The last one will be tradeshows, like BEA for industry.
[Howard] Tradeshow/Expo.

[Brandon] Let's just take what I think a lot of our average listeners are. We have a person who is an aspiring science-fiction fantasy author who has written some, maybe even finished a couple of books, or is working on them. This person... if this person were going to attend one of these, which one should they attend and how do they make the most out of it?
[Howard] I'm going to put a stake in the ground and say don't bother with the media cons. The reason why is that if there is an author at a media con, the author is probably there doing a signing and is in and out. Because of the scheduling of a media con, is not in a position to answer questions. You're not likely to see an editor there. You're not likely to see an agent there. Your heroes who are there -- the Patrick Stewarts and the Hulk Hogans and whoever else happens to be at these media cons -- they're not interested in talking to you about your career. They're interested in talking about themselves and selling you a $40 photograph.
[Brandon] OK. Dan?
[Dan] I would agree. I would say what you need to be looking for are the first category that we talked about, the kind of literary World Fantasy... In fact, when I was at the World Horror Convention at the Stoker banquet, that's what David Hartwell said when somebody asked him this very question. He said World Fantasy is the first one that should be on your radar. Because it is a great con.
[Brandon] It was the first on ours.
[Dan] It's the first one Brandon and I went to. It's small. It has a ton of editors from every genre. They call it World Fantasy but it gets sci-fi guys. It gets horror guys. It gets everything.
[Howard] Why are you picking literary conventions instead of literary conferences? Because the education is going to be better at a conference, right?
[Brandon] Let's pause for a commercial and tackle that when we get back.
[Howard] OK.

[Howard] This episode of Writing Excuses has been brought to you by Dungeon Crawlers Radio. Actually, that's not accurate. It was several episodes ago where Writing Excuses was very literally brought to you by Dungeon Crawlers Radio. They bailed us out of a tight spot in CONduit. We recorded a really awful ad for them. So now we are recording this one, which we hope comes out a lot better. -- cooler than we are. Go there now. I'll wait. OK.

[Brandon] And we're back.
[Howard] I've been patient. Answer my question.
[Brandon] My answer to you is that I'm not picking one over the other. I think they both have their value. We should talk about both of them and what to do at both of them. The reason Dan and I went to World Fantasy as opposed to Clarion is because we were dead broke. Clarion as I understand... Clarion and Odyssey and some of these... Orson Scott Card's Writing Boot Camp... David Farland does these and they are very effective. We got lucky in that we took Dave's class when he taught it at BYU, so it was just part of our curriculum. We didn't have to pay out of pocket.
[Dan] We didn't have to pay 900 bucks.
[Brandon] But the thing about these is, I think you get your money out of them. We should ask Eric James Stone sometime, I think he went to Odyssey. They're great for your money. They're six-week programs, but I think they're like three grand. Don't quote me on either of those.
[Dan] They're very different things, though, as I understand it. If you are going to one of these writing conferences, you're there for people to teach you things about writing.
[Brandon] It's like taking a class.
[Dan] Yeah. Whereas if you go to World Fantasy or one of these other cons, then you are there to try to meet people and network. So they have completely different reasons.
[Howard] I'm going to try to answer my own question. The investment is lower, and even if the event is a bust for you on meeting an editor or meeting an agent or selling a story, you're likely to have a good time because those panels are fun. There are fun things going on, and it's a little broader. Especially if you are new and you're trying to figure out what you like, what's your interest. You can network, you can make friends, you can figure out whether you are going to do Clarion or Maui or one of these others...
[Brandon] A lot of these... Worldcon and World Fantasy will often have panels given by the people who run Clarion or Odyssey. I've seen them.
[Dan] World Fantasy usually has a Clarion panel.
[Brandon] You can go and ask them questions and determine if it is worth your money for you to put up the $3000. I've never talked to anyone who's gone to one of these that hasn't thought it was worth every penny. But getting six weeks off of work that you can go and live somewhere and take these things...
[Howard] Luxury!
[Dan] It's a fantastic opportunity that doesn't fit into everyone's schedule or budget.
[Howard] We've told all of our listeners, "Yeah, you should be going to literary conventions, not conferences, to start with..."
[Brandon] If you can afford it and you...
[Dan] If you've got the time and the money to go...
[Howard] If you've got the time and the money, go to a conference? OK.
[Brandon] I would say go ahead and pick a Clarion or Odyssey or Clarion West... I would probably say...

[Howard] But Worldcon is this week. We got people going to Worldcon this week. We've got five minutes to give them advice. What are we going to tell them?
[Brandon] I think we're going to tell them listen next week too because we are going to have to break this into two...
[Dan] We are.

[Brandon] There's a few things that I've written down that I think we need to make note of that we skipped over. First of all, media cons aren't necessarily a complete waste of your money. Remember, these places are filled with fans, they're filled with aspiring writers. DragonCon has writing tracks. It'll have teach-you-how-to-write tracks.
[Howard] DragonCon is a bad example of a media con because it's so unique. When I think of a media con, I think of the little ones...
[Brandon] You think of ComicCon...
[Howard] I think of the little ones like Mountain Con. Mountain Con is... if you're a writer... probably not a great place.
[Brandon] It's not as good as CONduit is generally going to be.
[Howard] For conventions of that size.
[Brandon] If you like to collect autographs, then Mountain Con is awesome.
[Howard] If you're a fan, it's fantastic.
[Brandon] I will keep the plug for DragonCon, because DragonCon does have a media track. It has everything.
[Howard] Exactly.
[Brandon] But let me run the numbers for you. DragonCon last year when I was there, I think they told me that they had between 40 and 50,000 people there.
[Howard] About right, yeah.
[Brandon] 40 and 50,000 people. I know of a few editors that were there. A few. There were a couple. Maybe five or six editors and publishers from the big science fiction and fantasy houses. World Fantasy Convention has a cap of attendees -- particularly nonpublished attendees -- of around a couple hundred. I heard 500. I can't say for sure. But the convention is under a 1000 people. The number of editors there is usually in the dozens. Two dozen, three dozen. If you want to meet and listen to editors talk about the business, World Fantasy is going to... just run those numbers.
[Howard] You can't swing a cat without having an editor walk up to you and say, "Put that cat down."

[Brandon] Exactly. I walked into my first World Fantasy and Stephen Donaldson was speaking to an editor at Tor right there in the lobby. The first people I saw were Stephen Donaldson and an editor talking...
[Dan] The very first World Fantasy that Brandon and I went to, we were on the prowl for editors. We found Tom Doherty and we talked to him in a hall...
[Brandon] Don't remind Tom.
[Dan] That's a dumb idea. Please don't do that, listeners, because he's not an acquiring editor. He has a completely different job.
[Howard] Tune in next week for reasons why that was a dumb idea.
[Brandon] We're going to have to spend next week talking about...
[Dan] The point is though that he was there. He was available in the hall. That's the kind of concentrated editorhood you're going to find.

[Howard] My first Worldcon... Worldcon is a little bit less exclusive in that the membership runs between 2500 and 7500, I think. When I was in Los Angeles, I think it was around 7500. I was walking around, running into my heroes. Every science fiction author I loved was there. I was amazed. I didn't know yet that I should be looking for editors. One of the things that happened to me at that convention was, instead of going to the Hugos and cheering for Brandon and...
[Brandon] Scalzi...
[Howard] Fie'ing at Scalzi, I went out for sushi with Phil Folio. Phil and I... I saw him in line for something and said, "Hey, Phil, you want to have dinner together?" We talked for two hours. I learned more in that two hours than I learned in the previous two years.
[Brandon] I went out for dinner with Kevin Anderson and did the same thing. Plying him with questions and things. This sounds like, "Oh, you guys are name dropping." The thing is that first World Fantasy that we walked in, we walked up... I remember walking up to Stephen Donaldson and saying, "I love your books." He's like, "Oh, great" and he brought me into the conversation. I sat there and chatted with him and the editor and people because this con is very small. He could see I was there for the con, he's a nice guy, this sort of thing can happen. We do want to... we will spend next week talking about this too.
[Howard] Name dropping in the other direction. I have had people come up to me at Worldcon, we've conversed, I've realized, "Oh, you've got books that are being sold electronically. That's fascinating, tell me about them. Oh, I want to read them." I go home and I blog them. Suddenly their books are on the top of that epublisher sales list because I drive a blog that's got a lot of readers. Hi Lawrence. Loved the Buffalitos. Anyway.
[Dan] Name dropped yourself, Howard? That's pretty cool, but I know Dan Wells.
[Howard] Maybe that's not how it works.
[Brandon] I know Jordan Sanderson.
[Jordan] That's all that really matters.
[Brandon] Let's pause this...
[Dan] So we are going to break this?
[Brandon] Let's break this for next week.
[Dan] What we have talked about this week is what the cons are, how they're defined, and what they're for. Next week we're going to talk about specifics of what you can do to make that con useful to you.
[Brandon] Sorry to make you wait. This is been Writing Excuses. You're out of excuses. Now go write.

[Dan] Wait, we need a writing prompt, don't we?
[Brandon] I don't know, it's a two-part episode.
[Jordan] Give them half of the writing prompt now.
[Brandon] Oh, half the writing prompt. OK, half your writing prompt...
[Howard] The protagonist has shown up at a convention and in his pocket he has a ...
[Dan] See you next week.
Tags: conferences, cons, conventions, expos, media cons, worldcon, writing excuses
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