by Elizabeth Engstrom
This is a follow-up post to Christina Lay’s experience of the 2017 World Fantasy Convention. I was there, too, and my experience was a little bit different.
I was there because I had been a judge for this year’s World Fantasy Awards. That experience warrants a blog post of its own, but I won’t go into that here. This is about attending the convention.
World Fantasy Award
When I was young and in the hunt, I used to go to this convention all the time. It is a professional convention, which means it is heavy on professional writers, editors, agents, and booksellers, and light on fans. There are fan conventions, where people wear costumes and write fan fiction, etc. This is not one of those. It is smaller, quieter, and to me, more meaningful. Professional.
I haven’t been to the WFC in many years, but I went to this one in San Antonio because I had judged the awards. I saw many people that I haven’t seen in years, and those relationships had not changed. We were all happy to see one another. I went to panel discussions, I participated in a surprisingly rich panel discussion of one of my favorite authors, I dined with friends old and new, and had a nice time.
But the minute I stepped into the convention hotel, I had a familiar feeling. These conventions bring out two emotions in me. One is envy. I tend to castigate myself: Why hadn’t I finished that book that’s been sitting on my desk for the last six months? I could be celebrating its release along with everybody else who was celebrating a release. (In fact, I had a book released this year and was celebrating its release.) The other is a feeling that I have become irrelevant, last-week’s news. And yet, I had a book released this year, and was a judge for these prestigious awards. Why would I feel like that? I don’t know, but both things plague me at every WFC.
This year, however, as I was sitting the ShadowSpinners table in the Dealer’s Room, I saw a very successful author I have admired for years. We have met, but I don’t know him well enough to approach (oh yeah, I also have to fight the introvert in me who wants to sit in my room and watch television), so I just watched him walk the floor in the dealer’s room.
I saw in him what I was feeling in myself. He looked exactly like he felt like he was irrelevant, last-week’s news. To me, he was anything but. And with that astonishing revelation, I started looking around the floor, the halls, and I saw it everywhere, on many people’s faces. There were the young hungry authors, networking their hearts out, but those of us of a certain age weren’t as aggressive. We’ve been well published. We’ve paid our dues, but somehow that wasn’t enough.
Knowledge is power, and once I realized that I was not the only one who felt like that, I stood a little taller, felt a little better, enjoyed myself twice as much and was bolder in all my interactions.
I used to teach an advanced novel writing class—mostly about marketing and getting published—and one year WFC landed in Seattle in the middle of the course. Almost everyone in the class decided to go. I gave them an assignment: Write down three goals for this trip. Those who did as I suggested had a much better, more productive, time. And each of them achieved their three goals. Those who did not stood in the shadows, feeling irrelevant.
Here’s the takeaway for me: Make three goals, and actively and aggressively pursue them at a convention like WFC. I could have made my time more productive, I could have had a better time. I could have made these my goals: Introduce myself to three authors whose work I admire (I actually did that); Make three new friends to connect with at future WFCs (introvert that I am, I mostly hung with old, familiar faces); More aggressively market my new release (Benediction Denied, a Labyrinth of Souls novel, from ShadowSpinners Press) by making sure that certain editors and reviewers had copies.
World Fantasy Convention is the best convention for me, despite my personal demons. I always enjoy myself, I always have fun, I usually buy art at the astonishing fantasy art show, and the big Friday night booksigning is beyond imagination. The East Coast conventions have a completely different personality than the West Coast conventions. Baltimore is up next year and after that, Los Angeles.
I am a big believer in attending conferences and conventions. If you’re a professional writer, or want to be, this is the convention for you to attend, get to know, and frequent. Find me on the convention floor. If we’re not already friends, we soon will be.