Tag Archives: conventions

Invisible Fences

I want to talk a little bit about going to SFF conventions and workshops. The first workshop I ever went to, my dear friend Camille told me, “There are a lot of people here who’ve known each other for a long time. They are excited to see each other and hang out. They aren’t exclusive, but it doesn’t occur to them to actively include or invite new people in. But if you go up to people and introduce yourself, they will welcome you.”

That is some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten.

autumn leaves swirly fence

When I first started exploring the SFF communities, I knew no one. I felt like no one. I thought everyone knew each other and didn’t want to know me. It turned out I was wrong. I started by going to small, one-day writing workshops, where I connected with one or two people. Over time, they introduced me to more people. I got braver. I started to feel like MAYBE I belonged. I listened to the advice not to self-reject. I kept working on my writing, I kept applying to workshops, and then last year I got accepted to Viable Paradise.

Last weekend I was at a small convention in Minneapolis. The main draw for me was to reconnect with the friends I’d made last fall. Suddenly I had switched sides of the invisible fence. I didn’t realize it, until it was pointed out. There were people who were new to the community, new to going to conventions, and they were feeling like I used to feel.

I try to remember Camille’s advice, especially since I’m on the other side. I look for people hanging on the edges and try to invite them in. If you are new to cons, most people are there because they want to connect. If they don’t want to connect, they won’t be in public spaces.

Now that I’m further inside/know more people, I try to remember what it felt like to be new. I don’t feel like I have more wisdom or knowledge, even though on some level I do. I understand that the more visible a person is, the more they attract new people who are hungry to know how they got there.

So here’s my advice:

  • Feel free to approach people in public spaces
  • Listen and get a feel for the people or person
  • Do not chase them if they get up to leave. They probably have a reason. I know an editor who had a writer pass her a manuscript under a bathroom stall.
  • If you know people, and there are new folks, try to invite them to join you. Or introduce one new person to someone you know. Or introduce yourself to a new person.
  • I am an extrovert. I don’t have social anxiety. Even for me, it can be scary and intimidating to talk to someone new. I often feel awkward and am certain everyone can see my tentacles quivering. I think most people feel this way. Or at least, I tell myself that.
  • If you don’t have anything to say, THAT IS OKAY. Don’t feel like you have to talk if you aren’t ready.
  • The first workshop I went to, I made a goal to talk to ONE PERSON. Over a three-day period. I did it. Courage is rewarded.
  • If you don’t find the people you are looking for in one place, KEEP TRYING. It took me years to build the community I have now. I didn’t find them all in one place. I had to look in many places, and not the places I expected to.
  • You will get many chances. It’s not a one-and-done. If you are feeling discouraged, try again.
  • One thing that has helped me is finding other writers on Twitter. When I know someone I’ve met on Twitter is going to be somewhere in real life, I like to ask if I can say hi and chat with them in person.
  • There are lots of ways to do something, and you ultimately have to figure out the way that is best for you. If it’s a buddy system, do that! There are people you will find something in common with, and there are people who you won’t connect with.
  • If you are an old hat, or know more than three people at a con, try to remember what it felt like when you first started going.

What strategies have worked for you? What would you wish there was more of?

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How to Con

Last weekend I went to a science fiction/fantasy con that left me with a sour taste in my mouth – and heart. Rather than pick on this particular con, I’m going to just do a write up of things that I think make cons great and welcoming. Mostly I’m going to focus on programming and panels, because this is what I focus on when I go to cons. If you have suggestions for cosplay, gaming, dealers rooms, music/dances, or other events, I would love to hear them. There’s quite a bit available about diversity and inclusivity, and recently there have been discussions about making cons more accessible. There’s also information about harassment policies, which I’m not going to talk about here either.

elevator panel

Panels

Panels are either created by a centralized group who then assigns various attendees to each topic, or they are proposed by participants and then selected by a committee. Either way, here are my recommendations:

Moderators: have ’em.

Since you are going to have a moderator, have them develop questions before the con.
At a bare minimum, have the moderator send their questions to the other panelists before the con, to give everyone time to think about them.
Since your panel is moderated, that means the discussion will be dominated by the panelists, but make sure to leave time at the end for questions front the audience.

Diversity on the panel:
It’s easy to default to asking people you know to do things for you, especially when they aren’t being compensated. Try not to go with the default, which will likely be people who look a lot like you. Stretch yourself. Try to see who you can find that *isn’t* like you: be it gender, sexuality, race, ability, religion, hair color, preference in sushi, etc. I wouldn’t recommend asking someone just for the sake of diversity, which ends up tokenizing, but stretch a little beyond the first people who come to mind (unless of course you are already so awesome and have cultivated these connections already).

I say these things because I have had some great experiences at cons, and I know what’s possible. I want that for everyone. When I look around and see a bunch of people who look like one another and they don’t look like me, I don’t necessarily feel excluded, but I don’t quite feel included either.

In conclusion, spend a little bit of time and effort thinking about the programming and provide guidelines (at a bare minimum – it would be delightful if they were requirements) for the panelists. Cons can be for everyone!

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