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An Introvert's Guide to Writing #2

In installment #1, I explained a few things about us introverts. How we are not shy, not ashamed, and not clueless networkers. Or not necessarily.

Today, for the speculative fiction writers out there, I'm going to concentrate on those unusual social events known as science fiction cons. (Why not just call them conventions? I don't know. They are cons.) How does an introvert negotiate the shoals of these horrifying events? (Of course, they are only horrifying in the hallways and networking events. If you are listening to a panel or workshop, you are home free.)

Surviving an SF Con

The first thing for an introvert to know about science fiction conventions is what they're for. Misunderstanding this can lead to a social smash-up. You may never attend another con, and if you do, you will dread it more than is strictly necessary.

Let's say you have a new novel out. Or you have published a few short stories. That is outstanding. But it does not give you much of an entre into SF cons. This is because cons are about sharing among fans. They share a great many interests including, not necessarily in order of importance:

  • sf/f books
  • comics
  • TV shows and movies
  • video and board games
  • costuming
  • alternative life-styles

Thus if you love books but are clueless about super heroes and Firefly, you may be hard-pressed for conversation topics. It's OK, though. You still can talk books. But if you look askance at popular culture, please hide it. You will not fit in.

And it's not really your party. You will be welcome as a professional writer, but only insofar as you are also a fan. That means you can't go to a con feeling that you have special wisdom to impart or that you should receive at least a modicum of respect as someone who has survived to publication. No once really cares, unless you happen to be Larry Niven or Holy Black or you-name-the-master-or-celebrity.

Tips for Introverted Writers at SF Cons:

  • Attend with a friend. Please. I spent my first con in a phone booth talking with my husband. What is phone booth? Google it.
  • Do not talk too much about your published work. OK to mention it if you're on a panel, but not at networking events or in the hallway.
  • Do not prop up your new book on the table when on a panel. This is not strictly an introvert's problem. However, introverts sometimes overcompensate for their self-perceived promotional deficits by getting too pushy. Low key is the tone to strike.
  • If someone asks you why you're at this con, first mention what you love about the field, and then mention that you write and your new book is ____. Won an award? Outstanding. Mention it? This is dicey. The SF/F world gives out lots of awards. Humility may serve you better.
  • Don't talk too much on panels. Prepare three cogent points on the topic and use them if the flow of sharing permits. Introverts often talk too much on panels because they are paddling too hard to be "OK." You are OK already. I'm OK too. It just doesn't have anything to do with our published stories. Do not, for instance, give an example from your own published work. This is not as subtle as you might think. And it annoys the other authors on the panel.
  • Do not wear a suit. Or a sports jacket. If you are an extrovert, of course, wear anything you please. It will fit in. But if you are an introvert, dress down. This has to do with avoiding pretensions and just fitting in with the majority, if that will help you get through the weekend. If you have a favorite SF TV program, wear the T-shirt. It's a great conversation starter.
  • Lots of socializing happens in room parties after 9:00 p.m. Station yourself in the hall outside the party as though you are waiting for someone. When someone you know wanders out of the party, strike up a conversation or walk up and mention how much you appreciated their comment on a panel. You can handle networking much more easily that way than inside a packed room.

What You Get Out of Cons as an Introvert

Despite all I've said, cons can be pleasant. You will meet new friends and perhaps even some important contacts. You might sell a few books, or might not, but a few more people will know who you are. The more cons you attend, the bigger is your circle of friends in writing and fandom.

Attending panels will give you valuable information about the industry. Write down all the titles mentioned by panelists. Go home and read, read.

Cons can also serve to focus your research. Look up the pros and industry professionals who will be on panels. What publishers are they with? Read an online interview. Educate yourself about other writers and the editors. Nothing ingratiates a person more to you than your reference to their work.

OK. You've got your Firefly T-shirt, you've arranged to room with a buddy, your attitude is geared to having fun and fannish discussions, and you've researched a couple of authors/editors. Cool. You are ready to enter the world of SF/F cons. You will never be the same.

Visit Kay's website, Writing the World, where she shares her take on the craft of fiction and the writing life.