Worldcon: The Last Chapter

Well, Worldcon is over. It’s been a time. Looking back on it, I want to review the things I learned, the things I did right, and the things I plan to do differently in preparing for my next convention. First, though . . .

FIRST, I want to make you insanely jealous by bragging about the book reading I got to attend with Connie freakin’ Willis. Yes, THAT Connie freakin’ Willis. The Connie freakin’ Willis who happens to be a sci-fi Grand Master and a brilliant freakin’ author. Connie freakin’ Willis really knows how to enthrall a room. Just listening to her engage with people was like a masterclass in communication. For an hour, she read exerts from her upcoming comedic sci-fi novel, The Road to Roswell, which will be released next year.

I’ve never been to a book reading before. I always knew they were standard publicity techniques, but I never realized how valuable they are as tools for developing craft. I could see Connie monitoring the audience to hear how they responded to jokes and one-liners. I also tried to take notes on the places where the audience laughed, the types of setups that evoked the biggest gasps, and the plot/character moments that had everyone leaning forward in their seats to hear better. Mostly, though, I just enjoyed a hilarious story from a pitch-perfect storyteller.

When she answered questions afterwards, Connie had this way of making us all feel like we were just close friends sitting around and chatting about our shared interests—even though the room was packed.

There were differences from most of the panels I attended. I’ve watched enough panels to know that you always get people who’d rather make comments than ask genuine questions, or who say things that end up falling flat. Many presenters roll their eyes or call the person out (which is a valid response in some cases). With Connie, though, there was none of that. She bled seamlessly from topic to topic; she treated potentially awkward moments as remarkably interesting, often putting a unique spin on her response that opened up a new anecdote or discussion. To her, they were interesting.

Basically, she made all of us feel seen, listened to, and valued, and did it while staying quiet and unpretentious. There was none of the humble-bragging you get from certain authors, or the bombast you get from others. She treated all of us like intellectual equals, despite being one of the smartest people you could ever hope to meet.

For all you poor souls who haven’t encountered Connie freakin’ Willis in person, you now have the consolation of a poor-quality and partially obscured phone-camera picture taken through the heads of the audience. Tragic, really.

Things I Learned

The sci-fi/fantasy fandom really is as small as they say. I’ve always heard that, but until you see all the movers and shakers assembled in one hotel, and keep bumping into giants of genre, you don’t really believe it. Everywhere I turned, I saw Neil Clarke, Scott H. Andrews, Sheree Renée Thomas, etc.

Also, editors do want writers to succeed. They’re desperate to discover work that excites them, and not being mean with their rejections. Mostly, they’re rooting for us.

I also learned that much of the advice I’ve received in the past, even from uber-experienced professionals, is wrong. That’s because the world of publishing is changing so quickly. I’ve had terrific writers tell me that you should only find an agent who lives in New York City, because they’re the ones who have access to editors. However, I spoke to several amazing agents this weekend—including ones who live in NYC—and they confirmed that’s no longer the case. Don’t argue with professionals when they give you advice, but always seek multiple opinions.

Things I Did Right

I think my attitude going into this was the right one. I was there to make friends and to learn, not to pitch my books or try to impress people with my brilliance. I’ve been writing seriously for over a decade, but in many ways, I’m still in the adolescence of my writerly journey. It’s not bad to admit that.

I’m also glad that I decided to break out of my introvert-box and talk to people whenever I had a free minute (though I admit I grew more tired and withdrawn towards the end). Being social doesn’t mean I have to be properly gregarious; it just means saying hello and asking questions. Every now and then, I greeted someone who didn’t seem interested in speaking to me, but I think most of them were tired or focused on other things. Sometimes they thawed a bit when I asked about their favorite books or brought up something else we had in common.

And I made friends who I hope to stay in touch with for a long time.

One small thing: I’m very glad that I printed out the schedule of sessions I wanted to attend. There were online schedules, and paper grids listing all the panels for the whole con, but having something I could flip through was useful. I also downloaded a map of the hotel, which was smart, since no one could get cell service on the lower floors.

Things To Do Differently

I didn’t end up using any of the pitch materials I printed out, though they weren’t bad to have. As far as my verbal elevator pitch, my preparations were solid, but I plan to tweak a couple elements based on feedback. Live and learn.

If I want to meet professionals at my next convention, I now know that it’s not a bad idea to contact them ahead of time to set something up. As an introvert, I tend to assume that most people view direct online contact as overly pushy. In many cases, though, people seem to prefer it.

For years, I’ve heard legends about my favorite authors meeting their future agents or publishers at Worldcon. That’s slightly misleading. While those connections do sometimes happen, most professionals at Worldcon aren’t specifically looking for new clients. There are other environments where that’s more common and structured—including massive pitch sessions—which gives me a next step to pursue. I expected to feel a bit disappointed in the aftermath of pitch-rejections, but honestly, I feel energized. I know I have a solid book, and I think I have a good chance at getting it accepted somewhere in the future.

Well, those are my thoughts on Chicon 8. I plan to attend other conventions, including more Worldcons. For now, I have work ahead of me. A few literary agents who I want to submit to based on their preferences; acquaintances who I want to follow-up with; practices I want to implement in my craft and career. You may have noticed that podcasting sessions occupied much of my schedule. There’s a reason for that, as I hope to reveal in a few months . . .

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