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Thanks go to Quel for asking this very good question.

DEE'S LITTLE GUIDE TO SCI-FI/FANTASY CONVENTIONS

I've been to a few conventions. I'm not monthly convention-goer, so my experience is somewhat limited compared to other folks, butI generally attend at least one a year, usually two or three. So far, every one I've been to has had a few things in common. (I've gone to a few mid-sized conventions: PhilCon, LunaCon, Arisia, Boskone. These days, I only make it to Arisia and Boskone, though.)

WHAT TO EXPECT: SCHEDULES AND ACTIVITIES

A Sci-fi/Fantasy convention usually runs like this:

Register:

You show up on Friday night or Saturday morning and check into your hotel room (if you have one or need one). Then you get your badge and booklet from the convention itself. This is usually at a table staffed by a couple of convention folks. If they're organized and you're preregistered, it's just a matter of saying your name, showing an ID and getting your badge. If they're not, or if you haven't preregistered, it make require some paperwork and some time. Still, no biggie. I've yet to meet a surly staffer at a registration table, even under the worst of circumstances.

Art Show:

Once you have this badge, you basically can go into any convention room. For art fans and artists, this is particularly important. The art rooms are usually guarded 24/7 to keep art theives out, and to keep photographers out. You flash your badge at the door, and you can go in and look at all the art. If you want to buy art, you can register as a bidder and make your bids. You'll find out at the end of the show if you're the high bidder. If you really must have a piece you've bid on, it's often a good idea to keep checking back and outbid whoever bids over you.

Dealers' Room:

The other room that every convention I've gone to has is the Dealer Room. This is where people sell stuff. Depending on the theme of the convention, it might be book heavy, or it might have lots of jewelry, or costuming, or props, or videos, or just items of general interest to sci-fi and fantasy fans, or furry fans. You can talk to the dealers to find out what's selling, or to just learn more about them and what they're doing. This is a good place to sell mass produced items, non-limited-edition prints and the
like -- but you have to man the table all day somehow. For this reason, I don't do a dealer table. I like the panels too much to spend all day trying to sell stuff.

BTW - there are often items selling at conventions that are bootlegs or otherwise violations of copyrights. People get away with it, due to the non-public nature of conventions, but that doesn't make it legal. So, if you're thinking of selling fan-merchandise, make sure you're all good with the company or author who created the property, or that you've gotten your merchandise through legitimate channels. If you're a big fan of something, and you really want to make and sell stuff based on it, just take the time, email the owner/company, and get a note giving permission. (Get it in WRITING, and never lose that letter...) Single pieces of fine art, like a sketch of your favorite character done in an original way, are protected by the First Amendment, I've read, and you shouldn't need permission to show and sell these as originals. But, mass producing and selling something can be a no-no, depending on the thing. Don't use trademarks without permission.

Okay...Back to the Convention Commonalities:

CON SUITE:

There is often a Con-Suite. This is a room at the convention with complimentary chips and soda (usually) that you can stop in to just meet people who happen to be stopping in, like you. It's a nice hangout. Sometimes there are special events or hob-nobbing sessions in there where you can meet cool people.

PANELS:

Cons also plan panels and activities. These will be listed in the program. Panels range from book critiquing sessions where you can get an exerpt of a manuscript reviewed, to debates and discussions on topics that are important to fandom, to tutorials on how to do various things, or book readings by an
author followed by discussions or signings, or just because people want to read a book together. Panels can be from 30 minutes to 2,3 or even 4 hours, but most of them are 1 hour long. Besides the art show, panels are the reason I go to conventions.

ACTIVITIES:

Activities commonly seen at conventions are:

  • The Masquerade - one of my favorites - a costume contest and show.
  • Anime Rooms - where they play anime films.
  • Gaming rooms - where you can find AD&D games, or some other systems going on.
  • Live Roleplaying - these are things like "Vampire: The Masquerade", where people pretend to be various vampires and play out a continuing plot.
  • Dances - usually in costume.

Hall costumes are a lot of fun too. People dress up and go through the convention. It adds to the flavor. There's nothing like stepping out of an elevator with three Klingons in full gear right behind you, especially when there are 'Mundanes' in the hall. Watching the reaction can be really fun. (Mundanes are folks who aren't attending the convention, who often have no idea what Sci-Fi, Furry Fandom, Anime or even Klingons are.)

COMMUNICATIONS VIA BULLETIN BOARDS AND TABLES:

At night, there are usually room parties, meetings and all kinds of private activites being run by convention goers, totally seperate from the convention itself. You can find out about them via fliers left around on tables in the hallways between rooms. People advertise other conventions here, give out free samples of fanzines and magazines, or just leave fliers of things of interest. There is also usually a central bulletin board where you can leave messages to coordinate with friends on where and when to meet for meals. You also may find calls to open meetings in rooms, like "Everyone who plays on FurryMUCK -- there's a get-together at 7pm in room 203"...etc.

So, from about 9am until 10pm there is usually something scheduled in the program to do. And, after that, there are parties and all-night showings of various movies to hit. So, if you're an insomniac, it's a great place to spend a weekend.

I find myself getting pooped by 7 anyway. I'm old. I'm 30. ;)

Showing Art at a Convention

Art shows are, from what I've seen, usually run with paper bid-sheets under each piece of art for sale. You set a minimum price for the piece. Each bid has to match or exceed that price or any bids before it. In some shows, if a piece gets three bids it goes to auction on the last day of the Convention. Auction is cool. I've never had a piece go to auction, but I've sat in on some. If you only get 1 or 2 bids on a piece, it is sold for whatever that amount is.

The convention usually either charges a flat fee per panel you reserve, and/or a commission on each sale.

If you're showing art at a convention, you show up early (usually an hour or two before the art room officially opens) and set up your panels. A panel is usually 4'x4' or 4'x6'. You'd be amazed how much art you can cram on that size panel. Preregistering for a convention if you're going to show art at it is especially good. That allows them to send you bid sheets ahead of time. You can set up your prices for the pieces you want to sell before hand, so you're not scribbling for the whole hour before the show trying to get your sheets in order.

Most shows require that at least 50% of the work you show is for sale. The rest can just be marked 'Not for Sale' and people can see it and go 'Wow'. You might even win an award or two. Or, you can do what I do -- put a ridiculous price on the not-for-sale stuff. Heck - if someone wants to pay $10,000 for one of my originals - I'll take it. :)

They also usually require that the piece is matted, framed or otherwise suitable for wall-hanging. For this reason, I matt and frame all my stuff for conventions.

You can get cheap frames almost anywhere. AC Moore has mats and frames, any department store sells those cheap picture prints in frames... And garage sales sometimes have decent frames. You just have to remove the conquistador painted on black velvet first, and tuck your canvas in it's place. :) Even if a frame is a terrible color, I find spraypainting it black and then using a metallic rub and buff cream can turn it into a very classy antique gold, silver or copper.

I'm a mat-snob. I like to double-matt my pieces. :) Costs a few bucks more, but it's totally worth it in my mind. Mats are not so easily found at dirt cheap prices, but they run about $2 to 7$ at AC Moore or other art and craft stores. I haven't really hunted around for a lower price. If you're really into doing shows, it might be worth it to take a mat cutting class at your local community college or frame shop. Mat cutters are expensive, though, and matt cutting is an art that so far has eluded me. :) I'm not good with blades. I'm typing with three fingers right now. (Kidding...)

At the end of the show on Sunday, you stop in and pick up whatever art you've got left on your panels that haven't sold. If you've made a sale, you check with the art show management to see if the person's come by to get it and payed for it. Conventions now have credit-card readers right there at the show, which is nice. In a few weeks, you may receive a check in the mail from the convention. Some conventions may even settle up with the artists right there at the convention.

GENERAL SAFETY CAUTIONS

Conventions are not a good place to go alone. I've found that it's generally more fun if you bring a friend or two, and stick together. There *are* strange people at conventions. There are even horrible people and criminals at conventions.

I was once stalked at one by an over-amorous gentleman, but luckily the guy was harmless and I eventually ditched him by jumping into a friend's hotel room, who then had to slam the door in his face to stop him from following. All I did was make eye contact with this guy, mind you. I didn't even say 'Hi'. It made about ten minutes of the convention very not-fun for me, and rattled me for the rest.

Parties in private rooms can be great fun, but they can be dangerous. You never know who's behind each door, and what they're into. Get your drinks yourself. Don't drink from an open punch bowl or a two-liter bottle that's being shared between partygoers. Open the can yourself. Never leave your drink unattended. Heck - never put the can *down*. And, have a buddy system. Go into a party with a buddy or two, and agree that you will all leave together.

If you're underage, don't go looking for beer and getting blasted in a room full of strangers. If you get drunk, get drunk in private with friends, where it's safe. There are *predators* at conventions. There are predators everywhere, so conventions are no exception. Keep your guard up at all times! Just because they like what you like doesn't mean they won't hurt you.

Some conventions have some very sexually explicit material, or con-goers with a very lax idea of what's okay to do in public. They think 'If you're at this convention, you must be just like me and you want to screw everything in sight'. I saw a 40-ish year old woman, dressed in fishnets and a very skimpy neglige, try to give a lap-dance to a 16 year old she didn't know out in a hall once. Ick.

Stay tuned into the atmosphere around you, especially if you're in a private room. If you feel at all uncomfortable, get out, and get to a public lobby or room, or back to your own room. I personally try to keep at least 2 feet between me and anyone else I don't know. When I was younger, single and much prettier, I had waaay too much uninvited physical contact when I went to various in-room get-togethers. It was usually in the form of unsolicited backrubs or people just getting too close constantly. I never let it get farther than that, and I'm glad. Now I'm old, grumpy and married, so people usually give me at least three feet without me even asking, so I'm much happier.

Just like a city, day is often safer than nighttime in a hotel or at a convention. That's why I tend to either go home, or return to my hotel room around 7, and I'm never on a party or smoking floor. But, I'm waaaay old. :)

ON SOCIAL SKILLS AT SCI-FI FANTASY CONVENTIONS

Most people - I'd say 99% - at conventions are totally normal. They know how to behave themselves. They're fun, polite, pleasant, friendly...or, if they don't want to be social, they just keep their distance and you can tell what they need. A lot of people at conventions can be under incredible stress - usually from preparing for something like a panel or masquerade - but they're still nice. 99% of congoers know how to send out appropriate social signals and receive them. These people are why I keep coming back to conventions, despite the experiences I will outline below:

"But, oh, that damned 1%!!"

"The Psycho" - I've only had one bad experience in a con-suite, when someone threatened to kill my husband because he sat in "her chair". (There are generally no reserved chairs in a con-suite. It's like a lounge. That was the case here.) She actually screamed at him, and I actually got ready to come to blows the way she flew at us. Then, when he quickly got up and moved for her, she acted too friendly and pretended like the whole thing never happened. I think she was looney-tunes. We got pissed and left. Yes, there are some strange people at conventions. (I'm one of them, but I don't care if you sit in my chair. I only care if you sit in my lap. ;) )

"The Meanie" - Some folks are just mean...probably due to a lack of social skills, but who knows? Once I was having an argument with a friend in the hallway - he wanted me to go out with him to see the city for a few hours, but I had promised a friend to help her with her costume - I was totally torn. I hadn't seen this friend in ages, so I was very upset, almost in tears, when I had to firmly and somewhat loudly say 'No' to his pressuring. We agreed to meet later and he left.

I then had a total stranger who, I guess, had decided to watch our entire conversation walk up to me and say "Are you through being a BITCH now?" and then stormed off before I could say anything. I was stunned. I had never met her, or even seen her before that day, and she decided to introduce herself that way. My friend didn't know her either. She was just a complete stranger. It was the meanest thing a stranger has ever done to me. Some con-goers are just unbelieveable. She was the straw that almost had me never return to a convention again. How many other strangers were going to be mean to me randomly? Luckily, I continued going, and she was just part of that lovely 1%. I've never had an experience like that again.

"The Uninvited Paramour" - And, as I mentioned before, I was stalked for a few minutes at one convention by a guy who, for reasons unknown, *HAD* to give me a backrub. I was in my room, getting my room key, about to head downstairs. My door was open, and this guy was walking down the hallway. He paused at my door, and I smiled at him, because he was wearing a strange costume. I like costumes. He then came *into* my room and offered me a backrub, like I was the only female he'd ever seen in his life, or like he'd just gotten out of prison or something.

I brushed past him, and he followed. I got my room shut, and headed off, with loverboy hot on my tail trying to make conversation obviously aimed at getting more physical. Finally, I just got fed up and went to a friend's room, and banged on the door. He opened it up, and I slipped in. My friend had to slam the door in this guy's face to stop him from following me in!

So, there you have it. I have had some of my best experiences at conventions. Too many to really go into detail here: great panels, making great friends, meeting up with friends I hadn't seen in ages, getting wonderful feedback on my art, seeing and meeting other great artists, authors, gamers, game designers, getting re-inspired to write more stories, learning new writing and art techniques...I keep going because these experiences far outweigh the bad ones. But, the bad experiences can be really bad, but are generally avoidable.

So, just keep your guard up, don't make eye contact, and enjoy. ;)

-Dee (dee@dreslough.com - no flames please. This is my take on conventions. If you have a different one, you can write your own web page.)

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