6 Tips for a Successful Con

It’s CONVENTION TIME!! This month marks the beginning of what I consider “con season”. With RT starting tomorrow (see my schedule here) and then many more cons to follow (BEA, RWA, Comic Con, World Con, Dragon*Con, etc.), I have to get myself in The Convention Zone.

In other words, I have to make myself look less like a hobo who hasn’t groomed since last summer and more like a presentable human being.

As an experienced and enthusiastic con-goer–both as a fan and as an author–I’ve compiled a few broad tips for those of you who might be new to conventions.

Tip #1: Hydrate!!

Seriously, drink LOTS OF WATER. You’re going to endure a lot of walking, possibly a lot of standing, and definitely a lot of waiting. Keeping your body hydrated is critical.

Even if you have to pee constantly, there is nothing to ruin a convention like a dehydration headache–or worse, a hangover the next day. I know that tend to indulge in all sorts of dehydrating treats at cons (extra dessert! salty fries! beer! sugary coffees!), and I wind up bloating like a manatee and stumbling through the day with a raging headache.

BUT, if I keep a bottle of water with me at all times, I find I can get through the day with a much happier body. Yeah, it’s a pain to lug the water around all day, but it’s so worth it. Especially if you’re at a con somewhere hot or in the middle of summer.

I recommend bringing a reusable bottle with you or else buying a bottled water as soon as you arrive. You can then refill the bottle at water fountains as often as needed.

Tip #2: Nourish!!

Same with the tip for drinking water, don’t forget to EAT. It’s easy to get so caught up in panels and workshops and parties that you skip meals. That’s fine–skip a meal or two–so long as you have lots of nourishing snacks to tide over your poor body.

Personally, I’m a fan of trail mix and meal bars (which are never enough food for a full meal–those companies are crazy!). With all the waking/standing/waiting needed, I find I need way more calories than normal to get through the day.

Also, having snacks lets you make those awesome panels or events that are right when you would normally be craving lunch or dinner. Pop a granola bar, enjoy the show, and then snag a real meal once you have a spare moment.

I recommend loading up on meal/granola bars, trail mix, nut medleys, apples/bananas before you go to the con. I even buy all that stuff before I leave town, so it’s easy to pluck from my suitcase and dropp into my satchel for the day.

Tip #3: Plan your schedule ahead of time.

There will likely be LOTS of awesome panels you’ll want to attend. Perhaps there’ll be signing events or parties, special meals or afternoon teas. Whatever the occasion, figure it all out ahead of time, and make sure you’re planning in travel time. Some of these cons span multiple buildings and multiple street blocks, so getting from one event to the next is no short trip.

Also, plan for CROWDS and for possibly not being able to attend the events you want to attend. You might find that the panel on erotica you were dying to go to is all full, but hey! You’ve already picked out a back-up panel on historical research, and you know exactly where to go for that.

So be sure you pick the events you want to attend, compile them in a master list, and print the list out ahead of time. In the past few years, I’ve seen most cons move to a phone app schedule, and personally, those SUCK. They’re great in theory, but usually conventions get SO crowded that there’s no phone service! No one can even get on the dang internet to check what time X-panel starts or in what room X-workshop is.

I recommend printing your schedule before you go to the convention (or saving it in a file on your phone). You’ll be so glad you have that handy-dandy schedule all folded and easy-to-reach in your pocket. No waiting on 3G for you!

Tip #4: Keep a signing pen with you.

Whether you’re an author or a reader, having a nice permanent marker in your pocket might just “save the day.” Maybe you’ll spot an author you adore in the hall, but without a pen, how will the author sign something for you? Or, maybe you’ll get stopped by a kind fan on the street, and you gotta have a pen handy if you want to keep that reader happy! 🙂

I recommend having a silver permanent marker for signing bookmarks or glossy things + a simple black marker/pen for signing books. If you’re an author or aspiring author, always have some business cards and swag within easy reach!

Tip #5: Respect a person’s space.

This should probably go without saying, but I’m still surprised at how often I see people jump celebrities in the coffee line or popular agents who are clearly just waiting on a taxi. I once saw an agent washing her hands in the bathroom while an overly earnest writer gave an elevator pitch to the sound of hand-dryers. I’m sure that aspiring author made an impression on the agent, but I’m not sure it was a good one.

Heck, I’ll admit to having once mobbed an author I adore at a coffee shop, and in hindsight, I’m so ashamed I did that! I would HATE to have my coffee with friends interrupted by a blubbering, hysterically excited Sooz!!

I recommend keeping your fan freak-out moments or agent/editor pitches to appropriate settings like signings, events, or panels.

Tip #6: Back each other up in harassment situations.

There have been a lot–a LOT–of issues with con harassment in the past few years (the issues have always been there, but only in the past few years have they finally started to receive attention). I wish I could say this was only an issue at fan/cosplay conventions, but the fact is that it’s also a BIG issue at industry and reading conventions. As much as I adore cons, I am harassed EVERY year without fail. One time it got so bad that Sarah J. Maas practically threw down with a man who wouldn’t let go of my arm. She was screeching in his face while I tried to yank free and he continued to insist that I wanted him to take my picture. That wasn’t my first incident (or Sarah’s), and I doubt it will be the last.

Enter the Back Up Project whose goal is to empower women (and men) to step in and back each other up when we see signs of harassment. If Sarah hadn’t been with me when that guy pushed and pushed and pushed me for a picture before physically grabbing me and yanking me toward his friends, who knows what would have happened to me? Despite my protests and resistance, no one else was stepping in to stop this guy, who was not only way stronger and way bigger than I, but was also calling me a “bi***” over and over again for not being more compliant. Yes, picture-taking is a part of cosplaying conventions, but I wasn’t even in costume!

So yeah. That behavior happens all the time, and its our job as con-goers to help each other out. To step in when we see signs of harassment. To ask conventions to establish sexual harassment policies and to also ask cons to enforce those policies.

I recommend that if you see a girl (or a guy) in trouble, back her/him up. It IS okay for you to step in, and it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

So there you have it! Those are my top 6 tips for a successful convention this 2014!

You tell me: what tips do you have for convention newbies?