Ten Years In Conventions

Today I head down to San Antonio and LoneStarCon 3, this year’s Worldcon. Coincidentally, this weekend also marks exactly the 10 year anniversary of me attending my very first science fiction convention: Torcon 3, up in Toronto. Before then, with the exception of a one-day  Creation Star Trek convention that I covered as a reporter (and at which I stayed only a couple of hours), I had never been to a convention, or knew anything about science fiction fandom in any real sense. So cannonballing into fandom’s deep end, as it were, was a genuinely interesting experience.

Me and Cory Doctorow at Torcon 3, Toronto, 2003. Note the can of regular Coke in my hand. Oh, how we’ve changed in a decade.

Those of you who are curious of my thought on my very first convention at the time can get a report here (this is one of the nice things about having such a long-running blog: all this stuff is documented). Looking back across the expanse of ten years, I have become very fond of my time at Torcon 3. It’s where I first met so many of the people who I now call friends and are important parts of my life; not just writers but also booksellers, artists and fans.

Ten years ago, when I stepped foot into the convention space in Toronto, with the exception of my editor Patrick Nielsen Hayden, whom I had met only once, I knew literally no one in science fiction, I had published only a single science fiction story (this one), and my novel Old Man’s War, which I had sold to Tor, wouldn’t be published for another fifteen months. I was, literally, no one. Even so, people were kind and treated me as if I was already part of the family. They made me feel welcome into the community, and made me want to be part of it.

Ten years later, I am, and happy to be so, and happy to be going back to see and spend time with my friends. While I’m there I’m sure there will be some people at LoneStarCon 3 who are like I was ten years ago: New, unknown and unsure of where they fit in. I hope they feel as welcome as I did; I hope to be one of those who makes them feel welcome.

52 Comments on “Ten Years In Conventions”

  1. I am at DragonCon for the first year starting tomorrow. I hope I feel welcome – but when I was picking up my badge last night I started to get a better understanding of why you’ve set out your harassment policy.

    Safe travels for you!

  2. John–

    I was also at that con – though ten years fades memories of almost all the details. I remember seeing Cory but obviously not you (who remember nobody, right?).

    Do you remember any specific that happened that made you feel welcome? Can you name anything specific (other than this post?) that would make a newbie feel welcome today?

  3. I was in the audience at the Hugo award ceremony in 2009 when you picked up your rocketship for “Hate Mail”. You looked as if you were fitting in pretty well by then…

    And I’m really looking forward to getting my copy of “Mallet” from Sub Press. 2014 Hugo, anyone?

  4. Had you been a science fiction fan before you went to a convention and entered fandoms? I’ve never been to a con myself, but I’ve been a sci-fi & fantasy fan since, oh, about 1982 or ’83 when I saw “Return of the Jedi” for the first time. My interactions with fandoms have all been online; I’d like to start going to cons when I have the time and the money.

  5. Have a great time. I have so many friends and acquaintances going I’m starting to be sad I’m not going due to health and finances and less “shrugging it off”. I’m sure I’ll enjoy it vicariously through everyone’s posts and pictures. Good luck with the Hugo.

  6. In reading that “old” post I noticed that you can no longer read the comments (or leave a comment of course). Did you remove them entirely or are they just not made available?

  7. Hopefully someone in Registration follows your Twitterfeed and has mde appropriate arrangements for greeting you… I tried to reach my contact to ensure churros would be waiting at the reg desk for your arrival, but was unsuccessful.

  8. I recall (good god, some many years later, enough that it seems improbable that it’s been almost 40 years since my first convention; make me sound sort of old now, but it’s just that I was young then) my first con. Welcomed is the word.

    I like to think I am welcoming to those who are coming to fandom now. When I became active in a fandom I’d only been peripheral in before (filk) they were just as welcoming (and no one has forced me to sing).

    That sort of thing is what I look for in a place/fandom. I’m glad you came to Torcon, and wish I was going to be at LoneStar Con.

  9. Heather and other DragonCon attendees–say hi to my daughter who’s working as a “booth babe” at the Crimson Art Henna booth!

    John: wow, you’ve come a long way in ten years! (But now that I think of it, so have I; ten years ago I was about a green belt in TKD and toying with the idea of going back to school; I’ve since gotten my black belt and a Physical Therapist Assistant degree.)

  10. TorCon was my first too, and boy was it an eye-opener. I remember waiting in line to get Terry Pratchett to sign my books only find I’d left them at home (400+ kilometres north of the Con), signing up for over a dozen mailing lists (I still get promotional material from some of them, much to my dismay), listening to George R.R. Martin (the Guest of Honour) give a reading, meeting Spider Robinson (he called me ‘dude’), and lugging my 400 page manuscript around hoping to find an editor who’d recognize my genius!

    It was a great weekend, but even as a newby I saw some organizational hiccups. Mr. Pratchett commented on the situation to me when signing my, hurriedly purchased, book (at that point I could only afford one). It still has pride of place on my shelf.

    Pity I missed your reading Mr. Scalzi. That would, no doubt, have been another highlight to the trip.

  11. Wow, TorCon doesn’t seem that long ago to me. I guess I’m a veteran congoer compared to you; my first WorldCon was in 1980, and I’d been to a couple of regionals (none of which prepared me for the overwhelming atmosphere of WorldCon) before that.

    TorCon was a very good place to be a Tor author. While the names were coincidental, IIUC TorCon offered Tor a variety of sponsorship packages including an outrageously expensive and luxurious one they called Platinum…and were stunned when Tor picked that one (I believe more to support TorCon than for the perks of the package, but that could be my memory faulting).

  12. To be honest, Mr. Scalzi, you don’t look that different. Honestly, I think you’re just better-photographed now.

  13. My very unscientific poll of attendees / voters here says that Redshirts is a shoe-in for Best Novel. For good luck, I’m going to wear my red shirt to the ceremony Sunday (a redshirt is good luck for the person not wearing it, right?).

  14. Wow, TorCon3 was the second World SF convention I attended in person. It was also the spark for my first (and so far only) trip to Toronto. Not only did the trip introduce me to some great Canadian fiction, it came close enough to the Toronto Film Festival that I could check out quite a few films there. The only buzzkill from the experience came afterwards, courtesy of TSA paranoia. But I still do want to save up for another WorldCon trip outside of my comfort zone.

  15. @Michael – he was literarily no one… maybe autocorrect struck and he didn’t notice.

    Or maybe he just demonstrated why editors are Good Things.

  16. While I wasn’t able to make it, my SO Nadine is there and helping out at the Book Universe booth (the only new book seller with a large selection of MMPBs as well as hardcovers at the show). Stop by and say hi (and sign some of Amy’s stock) if you can. (That goes for any attending author). She also has my Phoenix Comicon business cards for anyone interested….

    A side note: while my name is listed as Vice-Chair on the Phoenix in 2014 NASFiC bid ballot, I have not actually been actively involved in the bid due to fannish politics and did not realize I was still considered Vice-Chair.

  17. My first Worldcon was 1981 and same thing. I had a membership to this one, and was so looking forward to it, but finances meant we just couldn’t go. So I’m missing seeing EVERYBODY, waaaaaaaah.

  18. I went to a couple of SF conventions back in the 80s. Then it was purely a day out as a low-keyed fan (of Dr. Who and Star Trek) who wanted to hear some panel discussions on where the shows were going, and of course, to hit the vendor’s room. I had a group of friends with me, so I didn’t mingle with any strangers.

    If I went to a con now (as a budding but as of yet unpublished writer of fantasy), it would be with different goals, and I’d likely be going alone.

    The whole thing scares me to death. I’m afraid I’ll go and spend the whole weekend alone (my husband isn’t terribly interested in these sorts of things). Or that maybe I’d meet a couple of people but fall out of touch with them except for a very superficial “facebook friends” level of connection. I’m so envious of people (like yourself :) ) who have the skill set that allows them to know when follow up contact would be welcome and not pushy, and so can do something like attend a con as a nobody and come away with friendships that are strong a decade later.

    Anyone have words of wisdom and power on how to attend a con on your own as a nobody, when you really don’t know anyone in the community at all, and to have it be a positive experience instead of terrifying?

  19. My first was Norwescon in ’78. Theodore Sturgeon was GOH; he signed my book with a glyph meaning “Ask the next question,” a question mark with an arrow striking through.
    A great bunch of people all around.

    As how to attend on your own? Ask the ConCom if they want any help. I’m an introvert but worked registration for several years; a table and a task is a great ice breaker.

  20. My first con was CouleeCon, in La Crosse, Wisconsin. Pro GoH was Fred Pohl, who’d just gotten a Hugo for Gateway. There was also this young fella who showed up unexpectedly, mostly know for his short piece, “The Sandkings.” What was his name? Oh, right, George R. R. Martin.

  21. I was at Torcon; I spent hours in a small room under the escalator helping the Programming folks beat the schedule into some semblance of sense. (There were some people scheduled on three different panels simultaneously, as I recall.) Apparently a combination of the SARS scare and the weeks-long power outage had done a real number on planning.

  22. TorCon had some odd issues. That planning problem meant that you had to have ALL the daily updates, since IIRC they weren’t cumulative or day-specific, to go to an event. That is, to check the time and location for a panel on Sunday, you had to check the original schedule, and the updates issued Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday to be confident that you knew where, when, and if the event would take place.

    This was too much for me. I had a good time anyway (Toronto is beautiful, and I found that at least the fannish Torontonians I met were friendly and charming; also, French-Fry Trucks). I just didn’t go to a lot of programming.

    The other problem wasn’t the con’s fault; it’s an intrinsic drawback to any Canadian con. Canadian law requires all foreign vendors to pay ALL of the sales tax on everything they brought. Then they refund the sales tax…eventually…on whatever didn’t sell. This has the intended purpose of making it hard for American businesses to come in and drive out all the Canadian businesses, and the unintended consequence (because the structure described above is stupid) that HUGE American businesses can afford to front this money, whereas small ones cannot.

    Hence, very few vendors in the dealers’ room, because there just aren’t that many Canadian vendors, and most of the US ones couldn’t afford to come. So in the case of WorldCon another unintended consequence of the law is to make it just a little harder for Canada to get the bid, since vendors are also fans, and others who care about large and diverse dealer rooms will also consider that when voting.

    This didn’t keep Montreal (another beautiful city and fun con) from getting the bid a few years later. It’s just always going to be an issue.

    Oh, and TorCon was where I (essentially a New Yorker) acquired one of my favorite stories. A friend was showing me the town, and said “we go that way next” or words to that effect. Seeing the traffic clear, I started to walk across the street. He actually yanked me back up onto the curb by my collar, saying “When the light changes! Canada!”

  23. Not only was I at that TorCon, but I actually remember seeing you there. I’d already been reading your blog for four or five years, and I was startled to see you there because I had no idea you were in SF in any way. You were standing outside the room where you were about to do a reading, I think; I was waiting for someone to get out of the panel before yours and didn’t go in to find out what you were reading. I was too shy to say hello, although I think maybe you commented on one of my buttons–and I was a veteran of two previous WorldCons by then!

  24. Xopher: I get a kick out of that story. As an American living in Toronto, though, I like to think I’m doing my part in teaching innocent Canadians to jaywalk.

  25. Erica, Walt has excellent advice. Volunteer! The ConSuite always needs help. As does various forms of Ops, manning the question booth, bag checking at the art show, signing people up for Kaffeeklatches, working on the newsletter, dozens of other opportunities. If you have time ahead of the con, there’s program packet stuffing, badge alphabetizing, set up, etc.

    My favorite is autograph line wrangling. THERE’S a way to meet people! I wrangled both of Neil Gaiman’s autograph lines in Montreal and you get to know the people standing there so long, especially the ones at the front of the line. For long lines like that, you don’t get to spend hardly any time with the author. I barely got my own two books signed. For smaller or sporadic lines, conversations with authors are very possible.

    If there is a regional con in your area, consider going and volunteering.

  26. Thanks for the advice there :) Cons never come to my city (Sacramento) unfortunately. Seems like most of the Northern CA SFF fans are in the bay area, which is a goodly drive–close enough that it seems wasteful to pay for a hotel, but far enough to constitute a lot of exhausted driving over the course of the weekend. Still, I may try Baycon sometime and try volunteering. I was considering it this year, but didn’t see any place on their website to indicate an interest in this.

  27. Looking at the guest list it seems like this con will suck! Other than the Hugo of course.

  28. Erica, if it helps, the only con I ever went to with anyone was my first one; and even then, it was mostly a matter of “my old professor is letting me crash on her hotel room floor, we occasionally crossed paths”. I’ve since been to the Montreal* and Chicago worldcons all on my lonesome, and making friends was not difficult, even though in a non-fannish context I am not particularly ept socially. Going by yourself is a lot of fun, and I highly recommend it. With the usual caveat of “in any group you get jerks”, fans are for the most part absolutely fantastic people.

    *Should maybe note that Montreal is my home city, so I was in a geographic comfort zone.

  29. Erica: in my experience, it’s almost always worth staying at the hotel, no matter how close the convention is. Having a place where you can dump (or try on) your schwag, hide from the crowds for a few moments, catch a much needed nap (there’s too much going on for too many hours of each day), and maybe stash your icebox (I always bring some sandwich makings) is well worth it. I’ve tried not getting a room when a convention was really nearby, and I’ve always regretted it. Some of the most interesting people I’ve met at conventions have been random encounters in the hallways.

    Of course, it can help to have a couple of friends with whom you’re willing to share a room, to help defray costs, but convention rates for hotel rooms are usually very low.

    As for meeting people? Really, seriously, not a problem. Convention folk are generally a friendly and garrulous bunch who are quite experienced at spotting shy newbies and gently encouraging them to join in the fun.

  30. Erica, this is no doubt a rotten time to tell you Westercon was in Sacramento just 8 weeks ago.

    Is taking the Coastal Starlight train up to Portland, OR an option? It’s been several years since I’ve been to OryCon, but I certainly enjoyed attending it for several years running whene I could. Their web page has a “Get Involved” link asking for volunteers and the people I know who work on the convention are friendly and approachable. It’s November 8-10 this year. http://35.orycon.org/get-involved/

    Yes, yes, yes to the comments about volunteering. Think about what sorts of tasks you enjoy and look for volunteer opportunities that will be fun. I love working registration; it gives me a way to welcome people to a convention and interact (very briefly) with lots of people I’d otherwise only pass in the halls, program rooms, art show, and consuite. Since you’re a budding writer, you might want to talk with the folks doing the daily newsletter and see what kind of material they’re looking for. They might welcome a short series of brief articles looking at OryCon through the eyes of someone there for the first time. Or program item recaps, party reports, or even “Confessions/Adventures of a First-Time Volunteer.”

  31. Baycon Volunteering:

    List of upcoming cons:

    I third the suggestion to get a hotel anyway. Half the fun is at parties which go late into the night (which are just as much fun if you are more comfortable, like me, hanging on the edge and dipping in a toe as they are if you jump off the deep end with glee).

    Orycon is also a fun con. Not too big. Not too small.

    Spokane is bidding for the 2015 Worldcon. I actually have no clue who (Spokane, Orlando, Helsinki) will win the 2015 Worldcon bid. All three of them have pluses and minuses and I haven’t gotten a sense of who’s in the lead. Site selection voting ends today. Results announced tomorrow.

    (I love the idea of Helsinki and it sounds like a great city to host a Worldcon but I cannot go to Helsinki in 2015 after going to London in 2014. I wish they’d bid for 2016 but they considerately didn’t want to step on Kansas City’s toes.)

  32. Erica: Another vote for volunteering, and also to staying in the hotel if possible.

    Consider Convolution if you want something sooner than May, it’s happening early in November in the Bay Area, it’s run by very good folks, and if my luck holds I’ll be there myself.

    You can also keep an eye on the SF/SF fanzine calendar over on efanzines.com for other cons closer to you :)

  33. Welcome! At least you will miss next weeks 102 and such weather. Good luck on the Hugo award!

  34. Xopher: on my only (so far) visit to Seattle, I was seriously freaked out by the drivers who WAITED FOR PEDESTRIANS TO CROSS.

    This behavior is seldom observed in Georgia, especially in Atlanta.

  35. Don’t be fooled, it’s amazing what a heavily enforced law can do for people in crosswalks…..

  36. You have utterly failed to make others feel welcome. I was completely squeezed out and totally snubbed by you and your entourage…who literally rearranged furniture at the bar to exclude those who were already sitting at the table. I would return your book if I still had the receipt. Instead I think I’ll let it soak in the river awhile.

  37. Random Fan:

    I don’t have an entourage and when I was at the bar last night, when I arrived there was no one at the table I was at but me and two friends. Other people arrived after that, including people who I did not know, over whose actions I have no personal control.

    That said, if you had tried to intrude while I was having a personal conversation between friends, as I was when I originally arrived, I wouldn’t have had a problem excluding you because the conversation we were having was a private one.

    So if you feel like throwing my book into the river for actions of others over which I have no influence, or because you are the sort of person who feels resentful that I might have a private moment with friends in a bar, by all means, be my guest. Throw yourself in afterward.

  38. PROTIP – The hotel bar at a Con isn’t a great place to try to have a private conversation with friends. It is perfectly acceptable to introduce oneself to a stranger at a bar and booze emboldens fans. If you don’t want to mingle with fans, pick a bar a few blocks away from the Con.

  39. PROTIP: Just walking right up to ANY pair of people and starting in on their conversation, no matter what the environment, is rude. Better: sidle up, listening, and read their body language (if you can’t read body language ask someone who can) to see if they’re welcoming or not. If so, go up, but don’t join in unless you have something to say and only after making eye contact several times with at least one of them. If not, go away and greet them another time.

  40. Entourage?? LOL.

    At the Nebula signing event, I popped into the bar and John was in the middle of having a private conversation with Mary Robinette Kowal. They both very kindly saw the distress I was in, enabled the husband and I to get the cold caffeinated beverages we needed at that moment, and were nothing but gracious. Nicer to me than I deserved, frankly. And Scalzi doesn’t know me at all.

    I did not at any time feel l needed to throw anything into a river in a fit of pique. I just thought “Gosh, John and Mary are so NICE, flagging down the bartender for me!” And then I sat down over in a corner with some random other people.

    So maybe it’s not John who has the problem with rudeness, Random Fan?

  41. Anonymous Author:

    Pro tip: When attempting to dispense advice that is taken seriously by people who are actually authors, one should not try to assert without proof that one is an author. Or dispense dumb advice.

    It’s fine for people to approach authors. It’s also fine for an author to tell them that you’re having a private conversation (i.e., exclude them). It’s stupid to suggest that authors should not be allowed to have private conversations at a hotel bar, or indeed, anywhere else they choose.

  42. Pro tip: Emotionally stunted toddlers such as Random Fan and Anonymous Author (but I repeat myself) only throw their hissy-fits for the sort of melodramatic attention they crave to fill the existential void of their abject failure at life.

  43. I too have marked ten consecutive years in conventions. My experience has been that whatever I get out of any convention is directly proportional to the effort I put into socializing and having fun.

  44. LoneStarCon was my first SF/F con ever, and I felt extraordinarily welcome. The community of authors was fantastic, and the fans were wonderful. And yes, you were part of that, too. Thanks, man.

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