I love conferences and conventions (yes they're different) and consider them a part of my writing life. Sometimes I can't wait to get to them and sometimes I dread every second leading up until I actually walk in the door. Knowing what to do/why you're at these events can make the difference between having a great time and being miserable the entire time you're there.
So get your battle gear on and let's prep for heading into the throngs of people at your next convention!
1. Know why you're going.
Are you there because they have awesome panels on writing and you're looking to improve your craft? Is your favorite author there and you want to fan out all over them (respectfully please)? Know why you're there so you don't show up and get totally overwhelmed at all the options. If you're there for the panels don't get sucked into the black pit that is the dealer's room.
2. Take notes.
If you're sitting at a panel, take notes on what is being said and who's there. I love making notes of who says something clever on a panel so I can find and follow them on twitter/instagram/the moon. It helps to know who is there and saying things that make sense to you. A lot of times you can find out those people have blogs and you have a whole slew of resources now at your fingertips. For instance, I met Delilah S. Dawson at a convention, and loved everything she had to say on a panel about writing. I followed her on social media and now I've got a hat filled with writing tips and tricks that make me ridiculously happy.
3. Don't be an ass.
If your dream agent is there please do not hunt them to the bathroom and try to slide your manuscript to them though the stall door. Don't argue, insult, or belittle anyone. Be a nice person. No one is here to make enemies and you shouldn't be either. This also means to please watch how much you drink at the bar and/or after party. Trust me on that one.
4. Make friends.
I know, I know. Talking to people is scary and weird. Most writers are introverts and talking to a stranger is scary. Find something small to start with and build from there. One of my best writing buddies in the world I met at a writer's conference. We started talking because I liked her skull accessories and she liked my skull purse. We bonded and years later we still talk on a regular basis. The other people in the audience with you are the writers of the future too. Ask about what they learned, make small talk, be brave! The people on the panels and behind the tables are human (mostly. Some of them might be robots but that's a different story) and are happy to talk to you. Just don't hover forever and stalk anyone. Remember rule 3.
5. Have business cards.
I love business cards. At every event I want to collect as many as possible. It's like a professional version of pokemon where you have to collect them all! Business cards are a great way to keep in touch after a conference. Find one another on the interwebs and keep in touch. If you meet someone in a burlesque horror writing panel then you may have just found yourself a new critique partner. After the convention take a few minutes to send out emails just saying thanks and inviting them to continue the conversation.
6. Enjoy the post-con buzz and crash.
After every conference or convention I feel revitalized. All the creative energy is back in buckets and I'm ready to create a whole new world. However, I also feel isolated. I've left the world where I can talk about murder in public without being judged and back to the everyday world. It can be a bit of a culture shock. Be aware of this rollercoaster. Step 5 can really help here by letting you keep in contact with those people you met who may or may not live very close to you. The internet is a great and terrible thing. Use it for good to keep that creative energy around you.
7. Have fun!
Enough said. Enjoy yourself. Laugh and be ridiculous.