Good evening, Readers!
As of the writing of this, I am coming off of a wonderful three day speculative fiction convention in Ottawa. I’m of course, talking about Can*Con. I’ve mentioned it before. It was a hectic, people-ly, wonderful weekend. As wonderful as it all was, conventions, even 2019 Aurora Award winning ones (I had to brag. I had to), can be tricky for me to navigate. I am an extreme introvert – hardly a unicorn in the spec fic crowd, I know. While I love to be around my friends, or even friendly people, it can quickly become exhausting and even terrifying. Here’s how I survive a three day stint of extreme peopleing.
1. Locate and utilize a quiet space. I was fortunate that Can*Con this year had a room designated specifically for quiet time. It is the only convention I’ve been to that has. Every time I was feeling overwhelmed, overly stressed, or needing a good cry, I would head to that quiet room and sit for a moment. It provided a safe, quiet place for me to gather myself and recharge. In the likely event that there isn’t such a designated room, I highly recommend scoping out the place and finding a quiet spot to which you can retreat when everything gets a bit too much. If you’re traveling there, do not fear to retreat to your room if you need it. I did that often at my first Ad Astra conference in Toronto.
2. Formulate a battle plan. Take a good look at the program of events and make a list of three columns – absolutely must see, interested in, and don’t really care for it. That way, if anything is cancelled, you have somewhere to go; you aren’t stranded and panicked because your plans went uncontrollably awry. You may run into the problem that two panels you desperately want to see run concurrently. I’m afraid there isn’t much that can be done for that. But you can…
3. Go with a friend. Having someone around you know and like can be a blessing if you’re surrounded by a sea of strangers. Even if you’re in a convention where you know practically everyone, it’s handy to have a friend attend with you. You can, for example, each head to a must-see panel, take notes and compare afterwards when you meet up again. Ideas are always better if shared.
4. Keep hydrated. This is just sound life advice, but did you know that before you get thirsty, you feel tired or sleepy, get sluggish, can experience headaches and be otherwise grouchy. Staying hydrated is essential to ensure that you have a pleasant experience.
5. Bring snacks/make plans for food. Again, just sound life advice, but eating out at conventions can get expensive. If you’re able, plan ahead and do some meal prep. If you pack soft, non-smelly foods like sandwiches, you might even be able to get away with eating during a panel (super useful for those conventions that do not offer a break period for the acquisition of meals). However, if you’re eating out, be sure to keep those receipts. Depending on your region, you may be able to claim those meals on your taxes.
6. Engage. It can be a scary thing to approach folks at conventions. There isn’t really any way around it, but practice does make it easier. Start, if you like, by asking questions at panels that permit it. You can then use that to speak to any of the panelists afterwards, asking for clarification or even pointers. Also, try the dealer’s room if the convention has one. It’s a great place to practice conversational skills, and most of the vendors are quite happy to chat. I know I am.
7. Shift focus. Sure, most people are hoping to sell their work at conventions of this type. I found that an extraordinary amount of pressure, and so for my first few conventions I was an utter wreck (pitching is stupid hard and I hate it). That changed when I decided that selling my work to agents and publishers was a secondary objective. The first, I decided, should be making friends and networking. These connections could only serve to help me sell my work, and get support for doing so by those in the biz, in the future. I am now friends, or at least friendly acquaintances, with a number of wonderful people. They are incredibly supportive and have been invaluable with their help and advice in getting my work improved and seen. This shift in focus took much of the pressure off, and the conventions became immediately much more enjoyable after that.
Conventions are a wonderland of information, inspiration and connections. They can also be exhausting, and often terrifying. To this day, I suffer from exhaustion and terror going into conventions, even wonderful, home conventions like Can*Con, but I’ve learnt a thing or two over the years, and so thought I might share what I do in order to survive an intense three days.
I am so very glad that I took the frightening leap of attending my first con some five years ago. However terrifying the thought, or exhausting it is, it is most usually worth it.
When S.M. Carrière isn’t brutally killing your favorite characters, she spends her time teaching martial arts, live streaming video games, and cuddling her cats. In other words, she spends her time teaching others to kill, streaming her digital kills, and cuddling furry murderers. Her most recent titles include ‘Daughters of Britain’ and ‘Skylark.’