I have now been to two conventions. I attended Comic Con in San Diego in 2009, which is now a hazy recollection of lots of queuing and a blur of media previews and people frantically pressing freebees into my grasping hands.
FantasyCon was on the opposite end of the spectrum. The only queue was waiting with a friend to check into her room on the first day. 450 people or so attended, and it was a nice blend of readers, writers (both established and hopeful), bloggers, and industry professionals. The programme was packed full of panels, readings, and book launches, and there was even a disco and a Lovecraft-themed burlesque, though I’m afraid I didn’t watch much of that. Nipple tassels just aren’t quite my thing, you understand, even if there are tentacles involved.
I went not knowing what to expect or quite how to act. I ended up just being myself, though I squashed my nerves as deep as they would go. I made lots of friends, learned a lot about the industry, and I hope I didn’t make a complete idiot of myself. I have plenty of genre fans in my day-to-day life, but it’s always nice to get into in-depth discussions with near-strangers about all sorts of geeky subjects. I ended up ranting a couple of times about my thoughts on gender and sexuality in SFF (sometimes at great length depending on how much gin I had ingested for courage), but people put up with them graciously.
I ended up not attending as many panels and readings as I’d initially planned due to losing track of the time and consistently misplacing my programme. I attended the Judging a Book by its Cover Panel, which was interesting as I’d never really thought about the process of cover art, aside from wondering why cover artists sometimes ignored what a character was meant to look like (like the beautiful American cover art of Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb having a blonde Fitz). I also attended The Rise of YA Panel, Dealing with Agents and Editors, and How to Market Your Novel.
A few times in the panels, the issue of women writers in SF was brought forth before industry professionals, as there appear to be far more men writing in the genre than women. Jo Fletcher (of the new imprint of Quercus, aptly titled Jo Fletcher Books), said that she felt it a travesty, but for some reason science fiction with female names tended to sell less. Juliet E. McKenna brought up an excellent point that it’s not so much that there’s a gender discrepancy in the gender of writers, but than men are receiving 70% of the reviews, which thus lowers the visibility of female science fiction writers.
I only attended a few readings, and for my next con, I plan to go to more. I went to Adam Christopher’s and Anne Lyle’s. I knew Anne online and befriended Adam pretty early on and so it was wonderful to get a taste for their writing, but I also wish I’d sat in on at least one author I didn’t already know.
I also attended a MasterClass with literary agent Will Francis, of Janklow & Nesbit, and I really enjoyed it. As a hopeful writer who’s queried a couple of agents without any luck so far, it was nice to ask questions and have more of an idea of what it’s like from the other side of the query.
Mainly, I spent a lot of time in the bar, chatting with people. And that’s the main strength of these conventions—making friends and connections. Writing is a solitary activity for many. I’m lucky in that my husband also writes, but many do not have that support. And the genre community in the UK is lovely and welcoming, and so even if you’re a nervous newbie, I can’t recommend going to them enough.
See the gallery below for two photos of the beach and the Royal Pavilion.