by Allison Pang
This is actually a timely topic for me as I've been out of the convention scene for a couple of years now. Not really by choice, of course - health issues just made traveling a bit more problematic than usual. (Plus I ended up using most of my vacation time for surgery recovery, so...eh.)
The thing about cons is that for the most part, you get out of them what you put into them - and that as you and your writing journey changes, so do your con experiences. My first writing con was RT 2009 (so long ago, ha ha.) I was working on my first book, and I had no idea what I was doing.
At that level, nearly everything about the con was a pro - meeting people, pitching my book, attending panels and workshops - it was worth every penny and I learned an incredible amount - and it only fueled my desire to attend more conventions. (It's where I first met Jeffe, btw - we ended up rooming together and hosting the FF&P Party in our suite, so yay networking! And actually - speaking of networking, I met many of my fellow Word Whores at various cons as well - small world.)
However, as my writing experience changed. so did my reasons for going to cons. As an aspiring writer, most of the panels and workshops I attended were on the craft of writing itself, how to find an agent, how to write query letters. Once I had more confidence in my writing, I moved into topics involving marketing, networking, and self-publishing.
After I had a book published, conventions became more like marketing events - trying to figure out what swag might work best, doing signings or panels or readings. In some ways it's easier because you know your way around what's going on and how to better manage your time, but if you're a natural introvert, it can also be harder. (At least for me. I know my largest weakness is being on panels - not because I don't have anything to say, but because I have a tendency to not speak up as much as I should. I'm working on it. >_< )
You may also find that as your writing focus changes, the sorts of cons you attend change too. Some of that may be due to "real life" commitments like jobs or family. (It can be a lot harder to get away with younger children, for instance.) And then it becomes a question of trying to figure out which cons get you the best bang for your buck. Not every con is a good fit - if you're uncomfortable in larger crowds, try out smaller ones. If the smaller ones don't have the selection of events you want, head toward the bigger ones. I've done cons as small as 200 people all the way to 120 thousand. They both have their charms, but I will admit, I'm most comfortable around some of the smaller venues.
And of course - the audience changes depending on the convention as well - obviously RWA or RT are going to focus on romance and writing. A comic convention like NYCC is a completely different animal. Maybe not so good for romance writers...but if you're looking to get a comic critiqued by a editor, it's the better way to go.
So the best advice I can give for conventions is to know your purpose for being there. Networking? Spectacle? Pitching? Panels? Sightseeing/research? (And there's nothing wrong with just going to a con for fun, either - they don't *all* have to be about business.)
All that being said, I'm dipping my toes back into the convention pool a little later this year - I'll be at Authors After Dark in August and World Fantasy Con in November. Hope to see some of you there. :)