Con Season Thoughts

As I’m preparing for SDCC and WorldCon and PAX and the eventual WFC, I see common themes emerging from each of these, with respect to my pretending-to-be-a-writer thing I gots going on. So, I decided to consolidate those things in a post here. This isn’t an all-encompassing list, but just a list of things I do.

Before I start in, however, I want to take a moment to recognize that these things I am suggesting cost money, and for some, money is a prohibitive issue. Some folks are going to cons when they are local, getting a spare badge in exchange for some time spent working at a table. I get that. This is not directed at you incredible powerhouses, still busting ass despite financial hardship. Keep doing what you do.

This is directed at the rest of us.

Business Cards. Keep it simple and clean, with easy-to-read information that isn’t very likely to change. Mine is incredibly simple: my name, my website, my email, my twitter, and my logo (yeah, I have a logo, who does that?). Other than that, it’s largely blank.

Maybe you think, who am I, I’m not published yet, why do I need a business card? I’d say you’re looking at it the wrong way. I had a business card before I was really submitting my work for publication. I just like getting to know rad people who do rad things. Cards help with that.

Also, I’ve found having one side of your card blank is incredibly useful, for two reasons. One, say you meet someone and you’re enjoying talking with them, but it’s Thursday, and by the time they get home on Monday and detox they’re not likely to remember who you are. However, if you write a salient detail about your conversation on the back of the card, bam, instant recall. And two, if you meet someone and you’re enjoying talking with them, and they don’t have a business card, you can get their info down easy-peasy.

Website. Do you have a website? Is it up-to-date? Is it clean and easy to navigate? Does it look professional? A significant number of SFF writers I’ve met cannot answer yes to any or all of these questions. Which, guys, it’s 2011. I’ve had a website since 1994 (which I hand-coded in Notepad because I’m that fucking hard).

Here is the list of things your website absolutely needs:

  • a simple URL
  • a page about you
  • a page listing your publications/art/whatever all it is you do for fun or profit
  • a way to contact you

This list should be really obvious (sadly it’s not) but I’ll dwell a moment on the “simple URL” part. This is something you want to be able to rattle off without having to say a single slash. No one else should own this domain. Not wordpress, not blogger, nobody but you. I live at geardrops.net. I have lived here for a few years. I will keep living here until it no longer suits my needs. (I have had a multitude of other homes in the past, all lost to the entropy of the Internet.) Why is this good? I will let Scalzi tell you why this is good.

And perhaps you believe you can’t afford your own domain. My hosting, which supports enough to get me a WordPress-powered site (though I’m looking at switching to a Joomla-powered site but that’s neither here nor there) costs $5 a month. Five bucks. Skip a latte, you’ve paid for your server for a month. And it’s not even technically challenging. Find some hosting that supports PHP and SQL (aka just about any hosting service), throw WordPress on there, and that’s the end of your tech demands. Barring that? Find some kid, offer cash, get a website. (Barring that, real talk, email me, and for a pittance I will make you a functioning, if basic, website.)

Pitch. I know there are piles upon piles of posts about pitching specific novels. I’m not talking about focusing on getting one work out the door. I’m talking about pitching yourself.

I know, how gauche. Let me explain.

What I’m saying is be as honest about who you are as you possibly can be. Think about your appearance and demeanor. Think about how you come across to others. Some people call this “personal branding.” Whatever. It’s about being true to yourself. Look at the Inkpunks. Every one of us is fairly identifiable. If I say “Fitness Fanatic” you know I mean Sandra. “Booze Nerd?” Andy. But none of us are faking an identity. We have our passions and our markers, and we wear them proudly.

Another part of “pitch” is knowing what it is you create. At my first WFC I was asked “What do you write?” to which I had no answer. Saying “scifi-slash-fantasy” is fine in a typical setting, but at WFC, everybody writes scifi-slash-fantasy. Having an answer to this is important, I think. I know it’s hard to describe an individual work, and it’s even harder to describe a whole body of work. But it helps to be able to answer that question.

One last part about “pitch” that I’ll go into, briefly, is your physical appearance. I’m not telling anyone reading this that they need to go out and subscribe to the narrow and unflinching western ideals of beauty. Speaking frankly as someone who has suffered under the pressure of those ideals, it’s damaging, it’s limiting, and most importantly, it’s not always going to be honest to you. Physical appearance is not about someone else’s ideal of beauty, it’s about your own identity, and it’s about showing people that they should care about you, because you care about you.

In all of this, I just stay true to myself. I keep myself watered and fed and rested, I pack clean outfits and shower daily and do my hair like I like. When you’re presenting yourself as your happiest and best and truest self, people respond to that.

So that’s what I do, but I’m curious… What do you do to prepare to be a writer at a convention? I’d love to hear more tips!

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  • http://profiles.google.com/jaym.gates Jaym Gates

    Great post! I put on my Professional Face. Given my tendency for sarcasm and morbid humor, I try to make sure I’m a little more polite, a little more laid back and a little more tolerant. It’s a small community, and word travels like wildfire if you’re rude or stick your foot in your mouth.

    I also take my complexes of inadequacy, failure and social anxiety out of the suitcase right before I leave. I need all that room for the books I will acquire! (Seriously: make sure you have SOMETHING for books. A heavy-weight canvas bag with a comfortable strap, or a box, or something. Especially anywhere you’ve got goody bags! Word to the wise, however: multiple books can confuzzle TSA scanners. Be ready to unpack them.)

    • Anonymous

      I like that “Professional Face” idea. It’s not about faking it, just about maybe being a little more conscious of what you’re saying. And as for unpacking the fear/anxiety, I won’t lie, I use booze for that ;)

      And *absolutely* about the books thing. Sheesh, how many times have I been side-tackled by a bag of shwag and no space for it?

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_PU5HGHTECKTNSGJMXRNUBME6MA M

    I’ll second the recommendation for a clear, concise business card! Last year at ReConStruction/NASFiC10, I could easily have gone through a stack of a hundred just from the people who asked for a way to contact me… but I did not have any business cards.

    If you meet someone with whom you would later like to connect, whether it’s another writer, an editor, a fan, or something else, after you have exchanged contact information MAKE A NOTE about the circumstances under which you met. You will meet a lot of new faces at a convention… and so will they. Unless you have an eidetic memory, you’ll also forget a lot of the salient details. Mentioning those details when you later contact someone can remind them of just why they thought you were worth their time.

    OTHER SUGGESTIONS:

    If possible, get to the sessions you want to attend early enough to sit near the front. Pay attention. During the Q&A, if you have a relevant question, don’t be afraid to ask.

    If you see someone in need of assistance, stop and take a moment to help, even if you don’t know who they are.

    Pack a few small snacks (nuts, peanut butter crackers, et cetera) so that you aren’t faced with the choice of going to lunch or passing out from low blood sugar in the middle of an important session.

    POSSIBLY USEFUL TIPS:

    You can fit an entire bottle of wine in a standard 750ml SIGG bottle.

    • Anonymous

      > POSSIBLY USEFUL TIPS:
      > You can fit an entire bottle of wine in a standard 750ml SIGG bottle.

      You can also fit an entire bottle of wine in a Starbuck’s Trenta cup >.>

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_PU5HGHTECKTNSGJMXRNUBME6MA M

        Well, now I’ll know how to spot you at Renovation…
        ;)

        • http://operabuffo.blogspot.com Wendy Wagner

          POSSIBLY useful? Just possibly? Guys, I’m proud to know you! And now *really* looking forward to Renovation.

  • Caroline Willis

    PAX? Hooray!  Will there be an inkpunks meetup or some such?