Con tips for first-timers

There’s a first time for everything, right? And first times can be both exciting and a little scary. But they’re memorable too. Some of my favorite memories are firsts: the first time I bought a house, traveled abroad, taught a class, held my newborn daughters. In romance stories, often some of the best parts are the first time our heroes meet, the first time they kiss, the first time they…. Well. You get the idea.

So what about the first time you attend a convention? My first book-related con was GayRomLit in 2012. I was a new author and showed up not knowing a soul, but I came away from the con with more confidence and some wonderful new friends.

So for those of you who will be attending Love N. Vegas as your first con, or who have plans to be a newbie at other cons, I offer some tips.

  1. Plan ahead. Things can get crowded during a con and sometimes hotel rooms and events fill up early, so make sure to book your travel as soon as you can comfortably do so. I recommend staying at the con hotel if you can. You’ll probably get discounted rates, you’ll be helping support the con, and you won’t waste time commuting from elsewhere. It’s way more fun to be in the thick of things.
  2. Be a tourist. Take advantage of the con location, if you can, and stay a few extra days before or after to see the local sights (you’ll be too busy during the con itself). Vegas is great for this because you can catch a show (my favorites are Chippendales, Zumanity, and Absinthe), stroll the casinos, visit a museum (I suggest the Atomic Testing Museum), or take a longer excursion to Hoover Dam or even the Grand Canyon. Vegas.com has all sorts of ideas.
  3. Wear comfortable shoes. Most cons involve a lot of walking, and you don’t want your experience ruined by sore feet. As some of you may know, I have a particular fondness for boots, so I just make sure to choose ones that are cute and comfy.
  4. Bring a bag. You’re going to be carrying stuff and you’re going to be accumulating more stuff, so bring a nice roomy bag to carry it all in. I’ve seen people with wheeled luggage—and even wagons!—but I’ve found that a largish messenger bag does the job for me. Lots of pockets help me keep all my stuff separated, so I can easily grab a pen, phone charger, wallet, or whatever else I need at the moment.
  5. Talk to people. I’m a pretty solid introvert, and social situations—especially ones with tons of people—can make me uncomfortable. But at a con, I know I have something in common with everyone else there: a passion for whatever the con’s centered on. That makes it easy to find things to chat about. These are your kindred spirits.You might meet new friends or learn about new books you’ll love. At the very least, you’ll pass the time while you’re standing in line.
  6. Bring snacks. In my experience, lines for food and coffee can get pretty long at con venues. You’ll save yourself time and aggravation if you throw a few munchies into that bag. I have one lovely friend who’s been known to pass out bags of healthy trail mix at cons, but if you’re not lucky enough to be hanging out with Venona, you can make do with granola bars and the like. Even a few hard candies can tide you over for a bit. If possible, you might also want to bring some food to keep in your hotel room so you don’t have to go out (and wait in more lines) for every meal.
  7. Don’t be embarrassed to fanboy/fangirl. The authors are there because they want to meet their readers. It never gets old to be told someone loves my books. It’s especially cool when readers can name a favorite character or explain why one of my stories touched them personally. I will add two caveats to this rule, however. First, remember that lots of other fans are there too, so don’t monopolize your fave author. And second, if you see your author in the midst of something—setting up, maybe, or hurrying to the bathroom!—you might want to wait to chat until you both have more time.
  8. Souvenirs! At many cons, you can pick up a lot of swag. But remember you’re going to have to schlep it all home, plus that stuff costs authors and publishers money. So choose to take only the swag you really want. Also, don’t forget to take a lot of photos (but do remember to ask folks before you photograph them). You can also bring things for authors to sign besides just books. I’ve signed totebags, picture mats, Kindle covers, autograph books, T-shirts, and more.
  9. Schedule in some down time. Chances are, you won’t be able to see and do everything at the con, and you don’t want to exhaust yourself trying. Be aware of your own limits. There’s no shame at all in a mid-afternoon nap, a walk outside of the con grounds, a quiet half hour with a coffee, or whatever you need to recharge your batteries. You’ll have a lot more fun if you don’t overdo it.
  10. Don’t stress if not everything is perfect. There’s a lot going on. Sometimes complications arise, or sometimes things don’t work out as planned. Sometimes you just don’t get to do everything you wanted. If this happens, try to focus on the positive. Even mishaps can turn out to be advantages in the long run; several of my minor travel disasters have inspired stories or plot ideas for me. Remember, you’re at the con to have fun, and with a little planning and a sense of adventure, you will!

Do you have con tips? Please share them below!

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