How I learned to stop worrying and love the Con

As most of you probably already know, the Romantic Times Booklovers’  Convention is almost upon us. Hundreds of writers, multiple book signing events, panel discussions, craft seminars, parties. Pitching and networking and bears, oh my! And most of it with people you have never met before.


I’m sure there are writers out there who adore social interaction, have vast circles of friends in real life with whom they talk in person regularly, and…I don’t know, whatever else it is that socially active people do. I wouldn’t know, because I’m not one of them. For me, the above description of a typical convention might as well be subtitled “A Visit to Hell”. At least when I first started going to them, that was the case.

These days I look forward all year to events like RT, because I’ve learned to love the Con. I’m a con-vert (sorry, sorry), but I know a lot of people express trepidation or outright horror at the very notion of attending one – sometimes even after they’ve already been. So if you’re happiest in your cave, or are perhaps waffling over whether to attend RT or Nationals, here are some thoughts on how to enjoy yourself and get the most out of your time and money. While these are geared towards writers, I think a lot of this stuff applies regardless of your profession. And there will also be gifs and things! Yay!

Things that help: 

– Buddy up. Seriously. Even if you normally wouldn’t dream of it, consider finding a roommate. I have three (my RT gang includes Christine d’Abo, and fellow Wonkos Ruthie Knox and Cara McKenna).


– Know what you’re there for. Yes, it’s a professional event; but you’re unlikely to see specific return on investment from attending a convention, no matter who you meet or how many workshops you attend. What you will see is professional improvement that’s hard to quantify. Tips on social media that you picked up from a random conversation about Twitter. A new book idea that you and a few other writers tossed around in the bar. Putting faces to names. These are all “soft” results that might not impact your sales directly; but they’re all things that can make you better at your job, which will hopefully redound to your benefit down the line.

– Buddy up. Can’t stress this enough. It is perfectly okay to feel like clinging to a few safe people when you are in a hotel full of strangers. It is okay to make sure you know somebody in every workshop you plan to attend. Having roommates helps with this, obviously.

– Take breaks if you need to. Many of us are introverts and are easily exhausted by social interaction. Set aside time (put it in your schedule, even, if that helps you) to be alone; take a quiet break in your room, take a bath, nap, do some writing, etc. Even if you have roommates they’ll likely respect your need to have a few hours of down time. Sometimes even a ten or fifteen-minute break from the social whirl can help you catch your breath, emotionally speaking. Do whatever works for you.

– Buddy up. You need somebody to eat with and hang out at the bar with. While I’m not a fan of cliques in some settings, Cons are a setting where having a “core group” is absolutely necessary. You don’t have to exclude anyone else – but make sure you have that foundation of a few people as a baseline.


– Did I mention buddy up?


Pros about Cons:

– Introverts! Introverts everywhere! We rarely gather in groups (that’s sort of the point of us, isn’t it?) but when a lot of writers get together they can actually behave like a pack of rowdy extroverts. Don’t be frightened – they’re still just as shy and retiring as ever, really. But meeting an entire hotel full of people who feel just like you can be an exciting and validating experience.

– Most of the people around you probably feel the same way and have the same insecurities. When you were told this by adults when you were in middle or high school, it was bullshit advice. None of us believed it, nor should we have, because it didn’t matter; what mattered was that some kids were able to fake it better than others and if you couldn’t do that you were screwed.

As a grownup writer at a writing convention, however, it’s actually true: most of the people around you probably have the same insecurities. That’s because it is a hotel full of writers. They’ve all had to get out of their pajamas and go out in the sun for the first time in months, just like you. They’re all experiencing computer withdrawals, and they’re all worried they’re going to make somebody’s eyes glaze over when they forget themselves and start talking about their main character’s emotional development. Just like you.


– At a writing convention, though, nobody’s eyes glaze over when you talk about your character’s emotional development. That’s the beauty part. Everyone is there to talk about all the stuff you never get to talk about. Suddenly, having a lot to say about craft makes you an interesting person.

– You get to invent yourself. Some people might see this as a negative, but I think it’s fun (and stress-reducing, for me) to spend a few days being the best version of me I can. We’re all different when we’re around different people, and we all have many “selves”. Work self, home self, self around the family. At a convention, you may want to be that person you are when you’re online; when you’re jumping onto twitter canoes and commenting on blogs (and, for some of us, asking when cocktail hour starts). Don’t be afraid to be that version of yourself, out loud and in person. Because that is you, even if you’re not that way all the time. Remember, you’re also meeting every one else’s “conference self.”

– While there may not be a direct, quantifiable impact on sales from attending a conference, I’ve found them enormously valuable in terms of professional development. Not just the workshops, but the time spent soaking in a solution of concentrated writer-brain. I’ve picked up more useful information and gotten more great ideas from chance conversations while “networking” in the bar at conferences than I have from most writing-craft books I’ve read. Articulating thought processes that you don’t normally discuss makes your brain handle them differently, and can jog a new level of understanding. Sometimes having to talk through a craft concept or the application of that to your book just turns that light bulb on. Even if you think of yourself as working best alone (I do), it’s good for you to mix it up once in awhile and approach things from a different modality.

– It’s only for a few days. You can do almost anything if it’s for a few days and you know the time frame in advance.

Cons about Cons:

– Cons can be overwhelming even for people who don’t have issues with going out and doing things with people. There are so MANY things to do, so MANY strangers, and it’s all in an unfamiliar setting. It can feel a bit surreal at times. Especially when people are in super funky costumes.

– It is SO FREAKING SOCIAL. Conventions are excruciatingly social events, no way around it, and you have to be “on” all the time. Even a “fun” convention like RT is a professional occasion and an opportunity to meet people in your field, so you must be aware of that the whole time. The mix of party and business can get exhausting pretty quickly.

– If you’re already anxious about social situations, a Con is likely to make you quantum times more anxious. While there are benefits also, only you can decide how they weigh against the cost of that anxiety.

– You have to be ready to make last-minute changes in plan, and go with the flow (a phrase that strikes fear in the heart of many of us, I’m sure). Many of those changes will involve choosing to do things you normally wouldn’t choose to do.

Do you really want to go to that workshop you’re not that excited about, or should you go with your friend who is about to hang out with one of her editors in the bar? Hint: probably go hang out with the editor, even though it isn’t on your schedule and you’re not a “hanging in the bar” kinda person. Lunch in the hotel restaurant like you planned, or venture forth into the city with a group of authors, some of whom you don’t yet know, to try this fabulous Thai place one of them heard about? Unless you’re violently allergic to peanut sauce, I’d suggest the Thai, even if you’re not a “spontaneous going out to a new restaurant” person. One of those writers could become your new critique partner, or maybe explain a craft concept in a way that suddenly makes it clear to you…or even become a good friend.

It’s All About the Shoes:

– Don’t worry. It really is not all about the shoes, or the wardrobe, although some people (myself included) spend an inordinate amount of time on that aspect of things. I’ve seen some pretty awesome writers at conventions wearing normal work clothes or casual wear, perfectly sensible shoes, and party dresses that aren’t themed. All of that is absolutely fine. It’s a long few days, and you need to be comfortable in order to enjoy yourself. Wear what makes you feel good and don’t worry about the theme parties if you’re not so inclined. You will not be the only one.

– At every costume event, there will be people who are not in costume. It is okay to be one of them.

- At every super-fancy event, there will be people who are not all that fancy. It is also okay to be one of them.

– On the other hand, if you want to dress up, a conference is certainly your opportunity! And if you don’t already know about, now you do. You’re welcome. There is a UPS drop box across the street from the conference hotel.

What does she know about all this anyway?

As some of you know, I suffer from major depressive disorder and social anxiety. I’m always very frank about that, and about the fact that I take medication for those conditions and see my psychiatrist regularly, because I think mental health is just as important as physical health – and the more we learn, the more we know that to a great extent mental health is a facet of physical health. Also, if I weren’t on those medications, you wouldn’t want to know me (you’ll just have to trust me on that). My point is, when I talk about the difficulty of emerging from the writing cave, switching my pajamas for real clothes, and facing the anxiety of being in a crowd full of strangers, I really, really know whereof I speak.

 If I hadn’t gotten lucky and happened to share a room with Christine d’Abo at my very first convention, I might have never gone back. But Christine turned out to be not just a roommate, but a friend. I buddied up. I followed her around because she seemed to know the drill, and she was cool with that because she’d been a conference newbie at one point, too. She paid it forward, big time (and has since become, by the way, one of my best friends in the world).

One of the reasons I look forward to conventions is that while doing so, I also get to indulge my little over-preparation obsession. Yes, I do have spreadsheets detailing what I’ll wear and when. Yes, I do start thinking about those things months in advance. But those are stress-reducing techniques for me. Knowing what I need to pack and having a checklist makes me calmer. Knowing my roommate(s) helps me feel at ease. Taking quiet alone-time breaks allows me to maintain apparent sanity. And I remind myself often that it’s only for a few days.

Even so, the anxiety can get the better of me at times. I thought I had the whole conference/anxiety thing stuffed firmly in a box, but during one of the book signings at RT 2012, I experienced a panic attack. It started near the end of the event (during cleanup, actually, when everyone started to get up and clear their spaces…but then they announced that the authors needed to stay at their tables until their stuff was picked up). I don’t think anybody noticed – that certainly wasn’t my first rodeo, I know how to get through one, and I knew I had meds waiting in my room, which helped a lot. Inside I was a hot mess, however.

I barely remember gathering my stuff from the table when it was time to go. Eventually I made I up to the room, downed my Klonopin, and was back in shape by that evening. And that was all that happened. Had the attack, then dealt with it. And everything turned out okay. It was all okay!

It was a huge moment for me, because that had always been my worst fear about conferences – what if I have a panic attack when I’m supposed to have my professional author face on? It happened…and the world didn’t end. The rest of the conference, even the rest of the day (and the next, much longer, book signing a day or so later) were fine and panic-free. This year I am even adding Club RT to my schedule. Unstructured chat with whoever walks in! I am fearless! And I’ll have my Klonopin in my pocket, just in case.


The upshot is, if you’re on the fence, you should try it. If you have always said “Nope, never in a million years,” you should try it. Grit your teeth, make a plan, suck it up, and know that even if your worst fears come true, it might not be so bad after all. It’s a risk, sure, but the rewards are totally worth it. Even if you opt out of the fabulous shoes.


ETA: I got all these gifs from google image searches – if any of these belong to you and you don’t care to see them here, please just let me know and I’ll be happy to take them down and/or credit :-)

About Delphine Dryden

Areas of wonkery: geek culture, kink/BDSM, science for those who are not mathematically inclined, educational psychology. Read more >
This entry was posted in Life & Wonk, Writing Wonkomance and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

34 Responses to How I learned to stop worrying and love the Con

  1. Great post! I look forward to stalking you in Club RT, LOL. No really, nothing to panic about…

    My first conference was a small local two day thing, and it was overwhelming, so I know that my first foray into the big time is going to be OMG. On the other hand, I also know that Romance Writers are the nicest danged people on the planet, and yep, we’re all just a little bit…odd.

    I’m not changing out of my PJ’s though, just bringing the sparkly ones…

  2. Kate D. says:

    Ooh, I so wish I could come to RT–I only live a couple of hours away–but I can’t take any time off of work. Maybe I can find a buddy to drive over with me for the big book fair on Saturday, at least…

    I’ve been to several academic conferences over the years but haven’t been to a big book fair since I went to the L.A. Times Book Fair when I was an undergrad in L.A. It was AMAZING, seriously mind-blowing, to be surrounded by so many readers and writers. Even though I don’t normally love crowds, I really did love being around so many like-minded people (and I think it helped that it was outdoors, rather than in a convention center or hotel).

    Thanks for all the advice, Del. I hope you and the other wonky ladies have a great time at RT!

  3. Thank you so much for this, Del. All of this is huge for me. This entire community has been such a huge thing for me, in a relatively short period of time, it’s overwhelming. Also, this totally means you’ll let me follow you around like the stray and hungry dog that I am, right?

    I love you for talking about the shoe and wardrobe, thing, too. Everything about this made me feel so much better.

    Also, thank you for your candid inclusion of depression and anxiety. What you wrote about it is a real contribution to your peers and do all of the professional con advice.

    Here’s your hugging rain check, which you can cash with me this summer! I will not even worry about nervous crying!

    • Oh my gosh I would LOVE to have you follow me around all puppy-style! Be warned that it’s easy to lose me in a crowd because I’m shorter than just about everyone. Nervous crying is absolutely okay by me (both when I do it and when others do it). That’s what inappropriate jokes and stupid puns were made to counteract, right? I AM PREPARED.

      I think people who are legitimately suffering from mental illnesses ought to own it, just like people with diabetes or high blood pressure. My body, left to its own devices, doesn’t produce enough thyroid OR enough serotonin; why is it okay to medicate one of those things but not the other? Nobody thinks people with poor insulin regulation just need to snap out of it or show better character…so why is that still so many people’s recommended “cure” for people with whacked serotonin and/or norepinephrine regulation? /soapbox

  4. Laurie Evans says:

    Funny! I love the graphics.

    Went to my first conference ever (New England RWA) last year. Social anxiety here, coupled with insomnia and a few other ailments. It was so hard for me. I went knowing NO ONE. No roomie. Barely started writing a few months before the conference. Had almost zero grasp of craft. I gave myself a gold star for just going. I still can’t believe I did it. I even pitched to an editor (what WAS I thinking?!) Although it worked out. It wasn’t as bad as I thought, and I was asked for more (yay)!

    It’s coming up again in a few weeks. Not pitching, so that helps my stress level. Still anxious, but the ability to talk about writing for two days with people who UNDERSTAND? Priceless. At least I know what to pack this time. And yes, quiet room breaks are necessary. Just have to remember I’m not the only anxious introvert in the room. I actually met people more nervous than ME. Didn’t think that was possible. I pretended to be an extrovert.

    I’ll be packing my Klonopin, too.

    • *high five* Good job for going for it! I’ve heard that’s a good conference, too. And it really will be better once you meet up with a few people you know. Start making some meetup plans with your online writer friends, etc. who are also going to be there. I’ll bet many of them would be thrilled to have somebody to touch base with, and at least one pre-confirmed conference buddy!

      • Laurie Evans says:

        I did get to know some writers online after the conference. But I’m dragging my feet emailing them and saying “Hey, let’s meet up.” I will email them tomorrow. I swear!

  5. Thanks for this. I’m looking forward to meeting you at RT. And … got my digital copy of the June RT today. Congratulations!

    • Oh, thank you! It was so gratifying. I felt like, “Yay, I write the BEST smut!” Which is ridiculous, of course – we ALL write the best smut. But it’s still very flattering.

  6. Sarah Wynde says:

    Every year, I have at least one moment while reading about ComicCon and/or RT where I think “Oh, that sounds like fun.” The moment quickly passes and is replaced with the thought, “Oh, or, you know, maybe more like hell on earth, armageddon and the zombie apocalypse, all rolled into one happy package.” I guess this was that moment for this year.

    Even though I think the chances that I will ever go are so remote as to be almost non-existent (probability approaching zero), I am curious about the buddy up thing, though. Did you go with friends or did you meet people there? You mentioned that you got lucky with your first roommate but how did you wind up with a roommate that you weren’t friends with?

    • First roomie I met on the Ellora’s Cave author loop (IIRC) and we were friendly on twitter. She seemed like a good ‘un so I took a chance when people were looking for roomies for RomantiCon.

      I met Cara McKenna at that conference, and I knew she was as introverted as I was so she’d be safe to room with. And Ruthie, I met either when I did her website, or earlier than that on Twitter, before she was published and became a superstar. Ruthie’s just damn good people, you can tell from her tweets and emails. So no fears there.

      I can’t remember how the four of us ended up together at RT last year…probably twitter. But it was epic, anyway, so we decided to repeat the experience this year.

      Basically you meet people on yahoo loops or twitter and take the friendship into real life, which requires a leap of faith but it’s a fairly safe one (if it’s a writer or somebody else actually registered for a convention, you know at least that much about the person to begin with). Then you meet more people at conferences.
      You should go at least once. You don’t want that “what-if” hanging out there unsatisfied. There is no other gathering that large I would ever press upon people who don’t like large gatherings…but reader/writer cons are just different.

      • Sarah Wynde says:

        If I’m ever able to follow the rest of your advice — which, distilled mercilessly, seems to equal “go with friends” — I’ll … well, see. I meet the DSM’s clinical criteria for agoraphobia so I think I’d need a pretty solid safety net to take the chance. Not quite sure, frankly, that I’m even capable of building a net that solid. But maybe someday. Life is long and strange, after all!

        • *hugs* Yeah, that’s a tough one. I think “go with friends, don’t be too proud to medicate if you need to” would just about sum it up. Essentially what you’re trying to do is make the event manageably small, socially speaking, by ensuring you know at least some people to start with.

  7. Awww Del! I just want to smoosh you all over.

    I’m an introvert who masquerades as an extrovert – meaning I’m extremely social, hyper, chatty, and then go back to my room to crash and recharge. Conferences don’t bug me because I had to do so many in my former day job. I love going to them.

    For me conferences are a weird messed-up opportunity to immerse myself in the writing culture. After 6 years of being published, I still feel like an idiot and need these opportunities to learn from others. I mean, I’m sharing a room with Ruthie, Cara and Del….AND THEY’RE LETTING ME!! I’m in awe of these ladies, and many of the other authors I get to meet. I go into sponge mode around them, sucking up every bit of wisdom they offer.

    And then there are the readers. I learn every bit as much from them as I do from other authors. What they like, don’t like, what they wished was available for stories, etc. I could talk their ears off, but I think I’d scare them. (apparently I scare people)

    So if anyone sees a ginormous blondish woman with glasses dancing around at RT…probably me. If you’re feeling overwhelmed and want to simply stand close to someone, I’m your Huckleberry.

  8. Jackie Horne says:

    Thanks, Delphine, for this great post. Conferences are a tough slog for most of us introverts, especially huge ones like RWA Nationals. I remember attending my first academic conference, and how great it felt when a stranger came up to my obviously uncomfortable self during the first meet & greet cocktail hour, and introduced herself and pulled me into a group to talk. Now, many years later, I try to return the favor by doing the same. But I still need to take several breathers during the day, to keep myself sane…

    Anyone attending this month’s New England Chapter RWA conference, come commiserate with a fellow introvert–I’ll be the one wearing the “Treasurer” nametag.

  9. I just want to echo what Mary Ann says. Thank you so much for writing this. I’m not going to RT (alas!) but Nationals is close enough that I’m already planning wardrobe stuff. It is only months away. And the little worries have started. It seems so big and overwhelming and what if I wear the wrong thing or forget someone’s name?! Thanks for reminding me that it’s all going to be good.

  10. Nicola O. says:

    I went to RT last year for the first time and it’s definitely overwhelming! I went by myself but I did have a few people I connected with in advance and also had some non-conference plans going on (which is why I went, I used to live in the Chicago area).

    If you aren’t sure how to find someone who’s going, check with your publisher! there are lots of pub-specific events. Another option – Jackie at Literary Escapism does a great interview series every year leading up to RT: Look Who’s Going to RT (I think that will take you to the right place).

    • Good point about the publishers! I’m still waiting on one of mine for a specific luncheon date, come to think of it :-) And thanks for the “Look Who’s Going to RT” resource!

  11. Hey – is that “asking if it’s cocktail hour” crack aimed at me??

    (and IS it cocktail hour, yet?)

    Excellent post, Del – I laughed, I cried, I’ll probably shamelessly copy it someday. :D

    • As I’m sure you’re well aware, Jeffe, the sun is always over the yardarm somewhere in the world. In other words, in the grand cosmic scheme of things, the answer to “Is it cocktail hour yet?” is always “yes”.

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  13. Lynn Rae says:

    I had such a good time reading this! I am going to my first convention-type thingie in June (Lori Foster RAGT) and am not nervous yet. Really. I’m not. Okay, maybe there might be one thing on my mind; how do I reconcile my pen name with my real name? I’m not assuming anyone is going to come up to me as my author self since my first book was released at the end of February, but I’m still going ‘as someone else’. Any advice on that?