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As much as I loved Thrillerfest, I feel the need today (before I settle into working on a novel) to uncap a tube of the social grease that writers need to lather up with before attending the next conference -- and squeeze it out here:

1. Don't spend your time grabbing all the freebies (and worse, bragging about how you paid for your trip by getting $2,000 worth of swag at the conference)  if you want to be perceived as a pro. Someone in the profession can buy the friggin' books now and then and doesn't need to just grab every damn free book they find. On the other hand, get some of them. But don't build your stockpile for future eBay sales. You're not going to read all 40 ARCs. Leave some of those to the fans and to others.

2. Take someone to lunch or dinner. Do it twice at a con. Don't just freeload on everyone else's free lunches. 

Accepting someone's offer graciously is wonderful; popping up at the last second to join a lunch or dinner in the hopes that someone else will pay is going to mark you as someone to avoid -- and ditch -- in the future. My personal take on this is: I take editors and other publishing people to lunch when possible because they always have a ton of writers expecting them to pull out their credit cards and pay. Now and then, treat the people who treat all the time.

2a. If someone has bought you a meal more than once, you're freeloading. There's an expression called tit for tat. Give some tat. Buy the next meal, or risk being perceived as someone-to-be-avoided.

3. If you're going to complain about the price of soup, don't order the soup.

4. Focus on learning and contributing, not on holding up your novel or a poster of your novel every ten minutes and saying the equivalent of, "Writer! Me! Got book! Mine! Came from my head! Thought it up! Genius! Fascinating! Love me!"

5. Like number 4, if you're on a panel, holding up your book every ten minutes and managing to maneuver every question  to page 134 of your novel where you spent weeks researching a fine point of how chocolate was made in the 1930s in Scranton by steelworkers who managed to combine cocoa with lead dust....well, unless it's the Scranton Lead Poisoning Chocolate Scandal of 1934 Panel, just answer the friggin' question about what it's like to deal with publishers.

6. If I'm at a conference where one more novelist pulls out his or her figurative -- ahem -- appendage to try and spar with another novelist, I'm going to go Loreena Bobbit on him -- or her. No need to trumpet success with your colleagues -- save that for  the bedroom. If you're successful as a moneymaker, we know it already by your demeanor. If you're not, you can pull and pull on that thing, but it will still not get any bigger.

Plus, I measure success by the writing itself, not your house, your advance, or your ability to talk yourself up.  I've been around the rodeo, cowboy -- I know bull when I smell it.

7. If you never asked someone to a dance in school, or were never asked yourself, you may not know how important basic manners are in many social situations. This is the advantage of all those childhood courtship rituals.

When you ask someone out, you do it politely. When you cut in on someone, you don't stand in their line of sight and wait for them to decide to give you their attention. That's obnoxious and you're sending a signal you don't want to send. 

You wait until the end of one dance, and then when that's over, you politely go over and ask to spend a little time with the person. If that person indicates that they'll catch up with you later, then step away and go do something else -- and don't suddently imagine the various daggers you'll thrust in their hearts later on in some pathetic, figurative way.  

Likewise, if you're dancing with someone and someone cuts in at the end of the dance -- and the person you're with indicates interest in the new dancer -- step away, and go find someone else to dance with for a bit. You don't own anyone else's time at a conference, and they're there to see many people.

Talking to people at the conference's cocktail party or social event isn't that much different than asking someone to dance at the high school homecoming cotillion. Be polite, don't sidle up when the conversation looks intense and possibly private -- or if you do, expect a deserved slap in the form of a cold glance, or a polite but dismissive: "Can I help you?"

8.  Dress appropriately. Get your hair cut, or done. Look like a professional. You don't need to change out of the t-shirt and jeans -- if that's your "author" look. But if you have even a fleeting sense that every man there is wearing a jacket and you don't want to be a maverick, get a friggin' jacket. If you DO want to be a maverick, own that look. That's fine. I have a good friend who makes a black t-shirt and black jeans work for him -- and it does -- and he's aware of how it works for him. Plus he gets a great haircut. 

I have another friend who does the $300 haircut/dye and $2,000 suit and she looks great, too. Me, I just stick to khakis and button-down shirts and a reasonably decent haircut just before the con so that I look as if I actually can match my socks. But I'm keeping my eye out for a new jacket for next year...

If you can't match your socks or you haven't gotten a haircut in 20 years, go find a friend who can advise you on this.  Look like the pro you want to be. It's easy: learn how to dress, get your hair cut (or else styled if it's long), and ask a friend's opinion about this if you're not sure.

Don't look like you were stuffed into a barrel at birth and only let out at the age of 30, with no idea of how to dress or look appropriate for someone your age. Unless that's your thing -- then, wear that barrel proudly!

9. Don't complain about what you're unwilling to work on yourself.  If you can't stand something about the conference, go talk to one of the organizers and volunteer. Likewise, if you love the conference, let it be known to the volunteers -- and thank them for their hard work.

10. If you're at a conference primarily to self-promote, don't talk about your book all the time. Talk about what inspires you to write and create.  Think about it like sex: you talk about your organ or your ability in the bedroom, and it sounds empty except to the most drunken or deranged of potential mates.

Ask what excites the other person and let them know what excites you about life, and you'll have more dates than you can handle.

* * * *

Sure, this list included pet peeves of mine...but, believe me, you'll have a great time at a conference if you keep some of this in mind. Too sleepy to check this for typos; but, you'll live.


Douglas Clegg


( 39 comments — Leave a comment )
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Jul. 15th, 2008 04:14 pm (UTC)
ahh, the dreaded conversation remorah!

At World Fantasy, I had a guy sidle up to our conversation and just stand there for 20 MINUTES, saying nothing... and finally when one of us acknowledged him, he was a little bit batshit crazy fanboy from LJ. Then after another ten minutes of silence, he drifted off like a ghost ship.

Jul. 15th, 2008 04:25 pm (UTC)
Anton -

I can't blame people with few social skills for this kind of stuff. I just hope they learn so they can have a better experience at these cons.

Good to hear from you! I see your book everywhere in the stores!
Jul. 15th, 2008 04:24 pm (UTC)
"Writer! Me! Got book! Mine! Came from my head! Thought it up! Genius! Fascinating! Love me!"

You just made me laugh for five minutes straight. I can only imagine... ;)
Jul. 15th, 2008 04:26 pm (UTC)
Sadly, I could only come up with that because, well, early in my career, I believe I once did it.

Only once, I promise.
(no subject) - jerel - Jul. 15th, 2008 05:49 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - douglas_clegg - Jul. 15th, 2008 06:49 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jul. 15th, 2008 04:56 pm (UTC)
Good list.

No, scratch that -- excellent list.
Jul. 15th, 2008 06:50 pm (UTC)
Thank you, John.
Jul. 15th, 2008 05:02 pm (UTC)
Great great list
OH My Goodness. Too funny! I laughed out loud a dozen time.

Jul. 15th, 2008 07:11 pm (UTC)
Re: Great great list
Thanks for coming by -- and for laughing, too. I had a bit of fun writing it up.
Jul. 15th, 2008 05:06 pm (UTC)
Good manners are helpful in all aspects of life, I've found. Not just cons.

Sadly, many of the fans who attend these conventions are lacking in basic manners. It devalues the experience, imo.
Jul. 15th, 2008 06:46 pm (UTC)
Given that fans allow me to have a career, I'll never fault a fan for any of this. They don't need to appear as professionals to me -- it's enough that they enjoy reading and want to come meet writers.

Colleagues -- other writers and publishing professionals -- are a different story. Thanks for the note.
Jul. 15th, 2008 07:10 pm (UTC)
Great blog, Obi-Wan. Thanks so much. Always something yummy here to chew on.

And gawd, I still need a haircut.

Jul. 15th, 2008 07:19 pm (UTC)
Your hair looks great. It's only when it's down to your toes from the '70s shag cut that was gotten in...the '70s...that the new 'do is necessary.
Jul. 15th, 2008 07:20 pm (UTC)
Doug's been to a con or two, I think. ;)

Excellent list, Doug.
Jul. 15th, 2008 07:34 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Mark!

I also don't want to imply that everyone at cons is like this. It's just a handful buzzing around that makes you think someone didn't put screens on the windows.

Most people are polite, "get it," and enjoy themselves and treat each other well.

Then, there are a handful of exceptions...
Jul. 15th, 2008 08:52 pm (UTC)
I would have laughed but it was so very true. There were more than a few panels I walked out of at RT because the speakers - all NYT types - did #4 to a sickening degree. I may never sell like them but I'd like to think I have class.

Oh, and may I copy/paste this to a few places with attribution?
Jul. 15th, 2008 11:19 pm (UTC)
Sure, just link back here if you can. I appreciate it.
Jul. 15th, 2008 09:59 pm (UTC)
Oh, Lord. Have seen (and probably) done all of the above over the years. Great stuff, Doug.
Harry Shannon
Jul. 15th, 2008 11:46 pm (UTC)
Oh,yeah. And don't -- under any circumstances -- foist one of your promo buttons on a big name author, saying, "Here. Wear this!" He'll think you're a stalker, or at the very least, downright rude.


P.S. Great post!
Jul. 16th, 2008 05:47 am (UTC)
Has someone actually done the button thing? That's pretty funny. I've never really liked buttons -- they seem very late-60s-early-70s to me.

Ultimately, Morven, I think the writer has to gage the event to see if what he or she is doing makes it easier or harder to meet and talk with the people he or she wishes to know.

Thanks for the note!
Jul. 16th, 2008 04:37 am (UTC)
Well said.
Jul. 16th, 2008 05:45 am (UTC)
Thank you. Great avatar!
Jul. 16th, 2008 05:05 am (UTC)
This made me laugh and was a bit of an eye opener too - Im sure new authors/profesionals could benefit from it.

Now if you have any advice for fans/regular peeps who are attending these cons for the first time, that would be extremely useful :)
Jul. 16th, 2008 05:44 am (UTC)
Thanks for the note and kind words.

My advice for fans or new attendees is pretty much: enjoy yourself, have fun, don't forget to buy a round of drinks at the bar now and then -- because then we'll be your friends for life.
Jul. 16th, 2008 12:31 pm (UTC)
Excellent. Bookmarking this. Should be handed out.
Jul. 16th, 2008 04:45 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Steve -- well, this was written really to release a little frustration at some things I observed, but also to poke fun at it.

At Thrillerfest, very few people behaved this way...but it only takes a few. And I'm only referring to people in the industry, not the readers and fans. THEY were great.

And 99.9% of the industry folk were great, too.

It was that .1% that'll drive ya crazy.
Jul. 16th, 2008 01:56 pm (UTC)
Great list, Doug. I witnessed at least half of your rules being broken at ThrillerFest. Despite that, it was still a terrific conference. I enjoyed your panel on Saturday. David H. is a hoot. See you next year if not sooner.
Jul. 16th, 2008 04:44 pm (UTC)

Good to see you here! Thanks for the note. I didn't see many Thrillerfest attendees doing any of this, but it just takes a few to make me want to poke fun and write up a list like this.

David Hewson is not just a great writer, he's the man I would like to be. He's amazing.


Jul. 16th, 2008 04:00 pm (UTC)
Medical help needed
My stomach hurts so freakin' much from laughing. Thanks.

Sandra Ruttan
Jul. 16th, 2008 09:53 pm (UTC)
Re: Medical help needed
Sandra -

Some famous brilliant and intellectual publication once reported that "Laughter is the Best Medicine."

That said, you are cured. Just don't O.D.
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