If you’re a writer in the sf/f tradition, the subject of conventions is going to come up sooner or later. If you’re coming to writing through fandom, chances are that you’ve been attending conventions for a considerable length of time and what is there to talk about? And then there are those new authors who get told by their editors or other close associates that “You really need to attend conventions” and they go “Conventions? What’s that?”
What it is often called, or was before sub-genre fragmentation took over, is “A Gathering of the Tribes.” (Though some reserve that term for WorldCons) Fans and writers and artists and such folk gathering together on a weekend to meet each other, talk shop, drink in the bar, hang out with friends, sometimes attend panel discussions and readings, maybe meet your favorite author. That kind of thing. There’s usually one going on somewhere, most weekends.
I still remember my very first, long before I was selling. I was never a real fan, mind you. Probably for the same reasons that I’ll apply to the subject of conventions in a minute, but I was a reader and aspiring writer, and I knew about them. Usually they were taking place a long way from where I had just started work after college, and I had no travel budget to speak of. However, I learned of one within driving distance, and it was JUST IMAGICON, being held that year in Memphis, TN. It was back in 1978, and as for the convention itself, you can probably imagine what it was like for someone like me: Theodore Sturgeon. Kelly Freas. The de Camps. It was, and I say this without either irony or hyperbole, like walking among gods.
A lot has changed since then. Most of my personal pantheon has since left this world. It’s a lot easier to keep in contact with readers and colleagues, almost to the point that the traditional purpose of a convention is almost redundant, and yet we keep having them, and people travel vast distances at great expense to attend them. So. Should writers still attend conventions?
To some people that shouldn’t even be a question. They like conventions. Social media is great as far as it goes, but there’s nothing that beats face time, and hanging out with friends and colleagues. Maybe doing the kind of one on one networking that you just can’t do as one set of phosphors to another. These are the sort of people that are to conventions as fish to water. However, I figured out a long time ago that I was not one of those people.
Which is not to say that I don’t enjoy a good convention. I do. Some people find them refreshing, reviving. I don’t. Even if I had a good time, met people I wanted to meet, got to hang out with the friends I never get to see in the flesh any other way, I will leave the convention drained. If it’s a convention where I’m wearing my writer hat–which is most of them–and I’m doing panels and readings, it’s even worse. I don’t draw energy from being “on” the way you need to be at such times. I give it away. Usually I’ll need two weeks to a month to recover afterwards. I don’t get much writing done after a convention.
I also almost never do business at a convention. Sometimes there are meetings to solidify relationships that have already been created or deals already done, but that’s about it. On the other hand, I know it’s different for other people. I have a friend who is one of those folk who knows how to get the most out of a convention. I’ve seen them “work” a dealer’s room, and I can only watch in awe and envy. He’ll also hang out with friends and catch up and be genuine in both pursuits. I know it’s possible, and if you’ve got the same sort of personality, you’d be an idiot not to take advantage of it. Networking at that level can do wonders for a career. It is also possible to have a very good career in the field and avoid conventions altogether. Communication, as I mentioned earlier, is no longer the huge obstacle that it used to be, and to be blunt, there are a lot more readers out there than fans who attend conventions, to which I say thank heavens for that.
So should you attend conventions? That’s up to you. You can have a career without them. You can meet new people, make new friends, even do business there. You can do the same things online. But for those who find being surrounded by several hundred of your closest friends that you haven’t met yet is the greatest thing ever, nothing beats it. If you’re not, don’t force yourself. Either way, the thing that matters is getting the writing done. All else is secondary.