I met Maggie at a convention this year and we were instant friends. I thought it would be fun to have her share some tips about getting the most out of conventions. We considered collaborating on a full-on little SF convention survival guide, but alas, we're both too swamped for such an endeavor at the moment. This will have to do – for now. Who knows, maybe we'll surprise the world with a Con-going for Dummies book one day. ;)
A conversation about SF conventions
AW: Do you have a special SF convention packing list?
MHB: I used to be pretty haphazard in packing until a friend at another convention told me how to pack for a writing convention (how much clothing, etc). I now know what I need to pack so I have set things I pack. I do about 8-10 cons a year so I have to have everything more or less down to what I need to bring. Basically, I'm there for three or four days. That requires two pairs of jeans, three or four shirts, socks, under things, etc. And my traveling clothes.
AW: What do you put in the suitcase for conventions that you don't for other trips?
MHB: Do I have other trips? (Add maniacal laughter here). I usually bring my costume (the Chi'lan warrior thing) and my con jacket (the red and gold one with the dragons). I drag books along much to the rampers' chagrins.
AW: Do make plans for networking while you're there?
MHB: Yes, but it's not formal.
AW: Do you google other panelists?
MHB: No, I'm too egotistical and too busy.
AW: Other Guests of Honor?
MHB: Half the time, I don't even know who the GOH is unless I know them, and even then, it's a crap shoot if I remember who it is before I get there. Are you sure you really want me to answer this? I sound unprepared, but I'm not. The reality is that I'm not there to run into a particular writer or play fan girl. I know certain people will be at a con and I know I'll have a chance to chat with them, but my number one job is to do my panels, meet with my fan base, and promote my books. If I don't do these things, then I shouldn't be there. This is just part of my job as a professional author.
AW: Do you read books by them? Bring them to get signed?
MHB: I sometimes read books by other authors at the con. Usually, I read them after I meet the person, but yes, there have been books I've read before I met the writer. But I usually won't read their books beforehand just because they're at a particular con. They've got to impress me personally, and then I'll buy their book at a con and read it. As for bringing books to get signed, that's nuts for me. See, I'm carrying my books and I'll buy books at the con, which means I'm going to break my arms lugging books around. So, no. Even if I have a book by an author, unless I buy it there, I don't bring them to get them signed.
AW: Do you make plans for visiting nearby attractions?
MHB: Usually not, but I have gone to the Space Needle and the Science Fiction Museum in Seattle. I've had a fan take me to Pike Place Market too. That was cool.
AW: What about room sharing with convention friends?
MHB: Most of the time I don't, but lately I have to save on costs. I suggest if your readers want to do that, pick some folks you get along with, otherwise you will all go nuts.
AW: Does your husband join you?
MHB: Not out of town. He gets to take care of the pups. He enjoys the local con. I know he has a lot of fun there. He's met the folks around town, and he's taking a class on fencing. He also has a lot of fun going to panels.
MHB: If he did come with me out of town, he'd probably do the con, and we'd probably go see the local attractions.
AW: What about the green room?
MHB: I wish all cons had green rooms. Unfortunately, they don't, but I've dealt with it. It's nice to have a green room just to collapse in and decompress. Norwescon and Radcon have wonderful Green Rooms.
AW: Worst food?
MHB: I would say that the worst was when the green rooms weren't stocked or were under-stocked. Otherwise, I have had no bad experiences with food.
AW: Best food?
MHB: I'm holding out hope someone comes up with really awesome food in a green room. Probably Radcon is the best thus far.
AW: Do you pack energy bars just in case?
MHB: Energy bars are a must for travel in general. So, yeah, I have some 3 year old energy bars rummaging around my bag.
AW: Worst hotel experience?
MHB: The Freddie Krueger sheet episode. I was staying with some friends at a con. Naturally we got in the room at about 2 am. Being the mistrustful sort, I looked in the bed first. I found drops of blood on the sheets. My friends looked at their sheets after they got in bed and found tons of makeup on the sheets. So, we call to the front desk which was totally apathetic. We had to change our own sheets at 2 - 3 a.m. The whole story went around the con and it became known as the Freddie Krueger sheet episode. Yes, we did get a discount on the room at the end.
AW: Best hotel experience?
MHB: Any one I won't remember, because there were no issues!
AW: Do you bring a lap top and write during the convention?
MHB: I bring a laptop but the muse has yet to strike at a con. Usually, I'm using it to get online and feed my damn Hatchlings. (If you don't know what Hatchlings are, join facebook and accept an egg from me). I've known other authors who can sit and write at a con. Not me.
AW: Do you bring money for the dealer's room and art show?
MHB: I bring some money for the dealer's room. As for the art show, I have no idea how to bid and how the auction works so I stay away from that. Plus I don't want to try to bring a piece of art home.
AW: Do you bring costumes? Mending materials just in case?
MHB: Yes, I do bring a costume, but it's for promoting the book.
Mending materials? Ha! I didn't make my costume, so it's unlikely I could mend it.
AW: Do you dress for comfort or to impress?
MHB: Comfort. I can't impress anyone if I look uncomfortable.
AW: Books – do you sell them through the dealer's room, at the signing, both? How do you find out?
MHB: Depends. If my publisher is there, they sell them. I know vendors in the dealer's room at cons I go to, so I bring some copies just in case, but they usually have copies of my books. I'll bring a few books to the signing if the publisher isn't there.
AW: What's the best thing that's happened to you at a con?
MHB: I got to talk to a number of publishers who are interested in my work at World Fantasy.
AW: What was the worst thing that's happened to you at a con?
MHB: A bunch of my books got lost in the mail going to Worldcon. A missed opportunity. Oh well.
AW: Funniest con experience?
MHB: A friend of mine didn't get her badge in time because of glitches and ended up going through panels without it. That evening, we're sitting at a party and con security came up to us and demanded that she leave. I said "Don't you know who she is?" like I meant it. They apologized and scurried off.
AW: Luggage horror stories? How do you avoid them?
MHB: Two words: Carry on. Seriously. If you can't fit everything you need for a con in a carry on, something's wrong. Also consider shipping items via UPS, Fed-Ex or even the US Mail.
Read more about Maggie and Howling Dead, a techno-thriller "with a bite."
Excited about conventions now? Finding one near you is easy. The following websites have searchable databases of regional and world conventions. You might find there are more flavors of speculative fiction conventions than you realized.
Containment Convention Finder
And here are the home pages for World Fantasy and Worldcon (SF).
vote it up!