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Rated: E · Essay · How-To/Advice · #2170672
My annual article on what I learned from the experience of attending my local SFF con.
Today I am writing my annual “Always a Fan Never a Panelist at my Local Con” article. You may ask, “Hey, D.H., why bother even going to the sci fi convention if you aren’t going to be able to promote yourself as an author?”

It’s like this. First, networking of any kind is always important, and I am a Science Fiction and Fantasy fan, so connecting with my “peeps” is always a good thing. More than that, I’m also looking to learn and, well, I need the community as much as the community needs me. Writing is a solitary business… It’s a creative process that needs stoking and maybe stroking, to encourage it along. I’m not talking about stroking one’s ego – at least, not for the sake of stroking one’s sense of importance. Validation that one is going in the right direction, encouragement when times seem bleak, or when you’re wondering if there is an end in sight sort of thing – that’s when you need the community of fellow writer’s on the journey, coming in contact with others who’ve seen success and achieved it.

Also writing and publishing novels or getting a short story published in a major magazine does not mean most writers can afford to give up their day jobs. Having a day job that pays the bills allows me the opportunity to write; however, it does not necessarily give me the time and energy to write. That takes discipline. Well, and, being a writer, for me at least, means I can’t not write and still feel sane. Writing is my creative outlet, channeling my pain at times, and more often than not it gives my characters the chance to tell the story they demand I tell – as they want it told. Draft after draft, “No, it didn’t happen that way," they say. "It happened this way!” Hmm, I did mention I can't not write and stay sane, didn't I?

Hence, I’m writing this article at 3 a.m. in the morning at Capclave, thinking about “novel pitches.” That’s another reason I’m at Capclave, not to pitch my latest novel, but to learn about where I can make such pitches; what I need to know to be ready to pitch, when the opportunity arises.

You see, I’m planning to attend World Fantasy in a month or so. It’s being held in the region and won’t in the least be like Capclave. It’s a professional convention of about 750 people, authors, agents, and editors for publishing houses -- large ones.

I sat down with an author tonight who’s going to be there and has been before. I figured I knew what the dress code would be, but it never hurts to ask, so I don’t stand out as either “under-dressed” for the occasion or “over-dressed.” I was pleased to learn wearing jeans (in good condition) is not too casual and the shirt I was wearing was just fine. I often wear a t-shirt promoting one of my books at cons (making me a walking billboard), but I didn’t plan to do that at World Fantasy and now still won’t.

I learned that getting a glass of water at the hotel bar and hanging out would be a good networking strategy because agents pop up at odd moments – and don’t introduce themselves. They just want to know what you write, and what projects you’re working on. The author I spoke with tonight told me when someone asked her what she writes and she replied, “Short fiction,” they turned around and that was that. “They want novel pitches, so make sure if you have your elevator pitch ready.” Hence, I’ve woken up at 3 a.m. in the morning with pitches running through my mind.

I’ve also a novel to pitch that isn’t part of any of the series I’ve been writing… It’s a Young Adult novel currently in the hands of my editor, which will begin coming back my way, hmm, this evening to work on again. I’ve also another book, Middle Grade, which isn’t precisely in the fantasy genre, so I asked my colleague, if I should pitch that, too. She told me if I met a particular agent, it might interest them – since that agent doesn’t just rep SFF and has the contacts that might be interested in that book’s genre and market.

Now, if I hadn’t come, I would never have had this conversation or gotten to know this particular author better or had someone to ask these things, which are important to think about on my writer’s journey.

I came to this con as a vacation, knowing I’ll likely to continue to never be a panelist at my local con, which is smaller than most of the others I tend to go to. I’ve sat down and spoken with a number of now old friends here, about life, how they’re doing, how I am, how the writing’s going, and offering advice as best I can… and what did I also do here? I went to a two hour plotting workshop by author Allen Wold, whose just published a six book fantasy series this year with Double Dragon Publishing, something's that's taken him decades to do.

I haven’t sat in one of his workshops for a few years. I’d encouraged a friend to go and she did – and thought to myself, sign up, I could use it, too. So I did. Later, I heard the convention's guest of honor, author Nancy Kress mention on her Guest of Honor panel that plotting is something she’s always struggled with – and thought, if only she could have been to the workshop this morning… Oh, I also signed up for a Point of View Workshop with Meriah Crawford, an Assistant Professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, for this morning. Meriah’s working on a book on point of view. She’s a writer (and is a private investigator, too), and uses her knowledge of point of view beyond what it means to write in first, second, or third person to write really interesting stories.

So the answer to why am I've come to this sci fi convention? It's to continue to grow as an author and person; stoke my fires back up a bit, be social, and help stoke other people’s fires, if I can.

Hmm, one thing more… Twelve hours ago, I walked into a session on Crowd Sourcing with author Alex Schvartman, editor of the Unidentified Funny Objects anthology series; Neil Clarke, editor of Clarkesworld; and Joe Stech, who is a publisher and editor as well. I found I was the audience. Yes, they had an audience of one. So, when the opportunity presented itself, since the panel wasn’t going into “presentation mode,” I asked about Patreon and whether it would make sense for me to seek support as an author. I learned what the give and take to connect with my patrons would be and that it might make a lot of sense – even how I might want to look into connecting it through my social media links. After about fifteen minutes, someone else joined me in the audience and asked about Kickstarter and when it might make sense to run one. And, I learned, Kickstarter wouldn’t make sense for me at this point, not without an individual project to promote, but more importantly, not based on the number of twitter followers I have at the moment, either.

I need to build a bigger following than the nearly two hundred people I have. To run a successful Kickstarter you need fifteen or sixteen hundred followers. Oh, and you need build your mailing list, which really helps with running a successful Kickstarter – and with marketing your stories in general.

So, in answer to “Then why come?” As you can see, it’s an opportunity to learn again, and be a one of the “peeps” not just be among my “peeps.”

Dare to Believe, my friends. Whether it’s because there is a story in you demanding to be written or something else you’ve always wanted to do.

D.H. Aire
Author of the Highmage's Plight Series

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