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Convention-al Wisdom: Why I Love Attending Cons as a Writer

Russell James shares how conventions act as more than networking events for writers, but as opportunities to be face-to-face with your readers, to make new friends, and more.

Sometimes, being a writer is isolating. If you are perusing Writer’s Digest, you know exactly what I mean. The creative process is solitary. Then, once finished, my interactions with agents, editors, and publishers are all through email. I can easily never speak to another human being, let alone actually meet one. It can feel like being in a bubble and sometimes it makes me question whether all this effort has an impact.

My solution turned out to be attending cons.

Convention-al Wisdom: Why I Love Attending Cons as a Writer

I’ve attended many types: horror, pop culture, author-centric. I’ll skip all the ways to calculate profitability, because that’s not the main reason why I do them. I do them because the people I meet and the experiences I have always breathe new life into my creative process. I’ll give you some examples.

Convention-al Wisdom: Why I Love Attending Cons as a Writer

First and foremost, I’ve met people who read. That’s a big deal since the public’s perception is that reading, and especially using a printed book, is about as popular as skunk-scented shampoo. Well, going to a con is a reminder that the world is still full of readers, and some of them are ravenous. This was a welcome revelation since I’d planned a career around having an audience available.

Convention-al Wisdom: Why I Love Attending Cons as a Writer
Convention-al Wisdom: Why I Love Attending Cons as a Writer

Some of those readers are experts in their professional fields. A number of my repeat readers have been gracious enough to help me with technical details that I’d otherwise stumble over in my books. One example is a nurse who corrected some glaring medical misconceptions I was about to put into a story. I’ve also been lucky enough to find several horror fanatics who became beta readers, and their input on the first drafts of my stories has been invaluable. You can read all their names in every work’s afterword.

Convention-al Wisdom: Why I Love Attending Cons as a Writer

One real treat is a returning reader, especially one not looking for a refund. As I’ve made subsequent appearances at the same con, familiar faces drop by and tell me they liked a certain book or are looking for the next one in a series. The sparkle in someone’s eyes and the excitement in their voice when they discuss something I wrote is the kind of positive reinforcement one never gets from an online review.

The most amazing return reader was a woman at a Dallas con who told me she’d bought a book from me at another event, and then gave me a pretty good list of her favorite plot points. I asked what con we’d met at, and she told me the LA Times Festival of Books. That was six years ago! Her sharp retention, the huge distance between cities, and the long time between the events really threw me for a loop.

Convention-al Wisdom: Why I Love Attending Cons as a Writer

At most cons, whether they are horror or pop culture, there are cosplayers in costumes. Many cons even sponsor contests and the cosplayers go all out to win.

Convention-al Wisdom: Why I Love Attending Cons as a Writer

There are plenty of people in purchased get-ups from famous films, but the best are the handmade ones, usually celebrating a lesser-known character that was the wearer’s favorite. Some of these outfits are amazing and I have dozens of pictures of Hollywood-perfect prosthetics, realistic life-size working wings, and costumes that are amazing reproductions. Amidst all those are efforts fashioned with far more love than skill and still worn with pride. Those cosplayers are the most endearing.

Convention-al Wisdom: Why I Love Attending Cons as a Writer
Convention-al Wisdom: Why I Love Attending Cons as a Writer

Friends who share a love of reading frequently hit the cons together and are so much fun to visit with. There is inevitably a back-and-forth negotiation between them about who is buying which book, because of course they will be traded as soon as they are finished.

Convention-al Wisdom: Why I Love Attending Cons as a Writer

One of the joys from the convention crowds is having excited younger people come up to see my books, proving that all in this upcoming generation aren’t entranced by video screens and phones. That says to me that there is hope for the world.

One specific example occurred when a man introduced his shy middle-school son to me. He explained that his son had read my Grant Coleman adventure stories and that I was his favorite author. First off, I was shocked that I was anyone’s favorite author. Secondly, I was shocked that his son had read one of my books. I’d never considered kids reading my books. The B-movie sci-fi vibe of the book turned it into a PG-13 tale, but I’d still thought adults would be the only readers. The father bought the rest of the series and later posted pictures of his son at school doing a report on one of my books. What a treat.

Convention-al Wisdom: Why I Love Attending Cons as a Writer

The most serendipitous experience occurred at the Miami Book Fair. Severed Press had just released Claws, an adventure story about National Park rangers saving Fort Jefferson and Dry Tortugas National Park from an invasion of giant crabs. Two vendors shared each booth at the show. And to my great joy, I shared with the National Park Service, and two rangers who had actually worked at that park. Guess who got to take home free signed copies?

Convention-al Wisdom: Why I Love Attending Cons as a Writer

So, as the pandemic waned and conventions made a comeback, I decided 2022 would be a big convention year. I have cons scheduled at least once a month this year, one as far west as Arizona and one as far north as New Hampshire. The trunk is packed full of books and I will be on the road. People seem to be excited to get back out and spend time with those who share their passions, and I can’t wait to meet them.

Convention-al Wisdom: Why I Love Attending Cons as a Writer

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For the shows in August and beyond, I will have the new release from Flame Tree Press, Demon Dagger. This Los Angeles-based horror/thriller follows a vengeful demon escaped from Hell. The demon targets the demon hunter who sent him back to Hell, and will get his revenge by stealing the soul of the hunter’s son. This father will stop at nothing to save his boy.

Convention-al Wisdom: Why I Love Attending Cons as a Writer

If you want to drop by one of my tables this year and talk shop, I am ready. You can check my appearance schedule here and see when I’ll be in your neighborhood. Until then, keep on writing.

Freelance Writing with Kelly Boyer Sagert

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