Convention survival tips

In a couple of days, I leave for my annual trip to England, where I will visit family and do sightseeing touristy things and, most importantly, attend a convention. It’s Nine Worlds Geekfest again. I went last year and had a fantastic time, so I’m excited about being there again this year.

As convention season is now in full swing, and my brain is mostly consumed by packing lists and schedule checking, a quick primer on good convention survival tips seems appropriate. After all, you can never have too many tips, right?

Eat, drink, sleep, and be merry!

Add shower to that list. Very important.

Many people will give ratios for the sleep-meals-shower plan, usually in the vicinity of 6-2-1. It’s all about self-care, so the ratios don’t work for everyone. Aim for whatever is your personal minimum for enough sleep to be functional and cheerful for several days of high-intensity braining and socialising. If that’s six, go for it. If that’s eight, don’t accept anything less. It may seem fine to have two hours sleep on the first night of the convention, but you’ll be sagging (and possibly bad-tempered) by the end if you do. To enjoy the con fully, SLEEP.

And remember to eat and hydrate. Breakfast is key: take full advantage of whatever breakfast your hotel provides (or buy something substantial if you have to go out) and think of that as your base for the day. If the con gets really busy, you may not have time for three big meals, so make sure you start the day well. Carry granola/cereal bars with you. Stock your room with some snacks you like. Try to stop for another decent meal through the day, but if you don’t, make sure you breakfast well and snack plenty.

And drink tons of water. That’ll help even more than the food. Carry a water bottle and refill it whenever you pass a fountain. Trust me, you’ll be grateful you did that.

At least one shower a day is key, for everyone at the convention. Including you. It keeps the air smelling fresh(ish) for everyone, and a shower when you get up can help a lot if the sleeping thing goes awry. A second shower later in the day is also a great pick-me-up if you’re flagging. I ❤ showers at conventions.

Take a couple of extra t-shirts with you. If you’re tired and sweaty and want to have a freshening up shower, a clean t-shirt to pull on after will feel *amazing*.

Check the schedule before the con

If you’re on any panels, make sure you know the time and location. I always put them in my phone calendar, so if everything fails and I lose my programme and my badge doesn’t list them and there’s no WiFi to check the schedule online, I still get to my programme items on time. Helpfully, putting them into your calendar should also remind you about your programme item if you’ve got alerts set up. (Please do that.) Go to the room your panel(s) will be in early in the con, so you know how to get there and don’t get lost on the way.  Your fellow panellists will be rolling eyes and silently judging if you show up fifteen minutes late, trust me.

Also check the schedule for anything you really, really, really have to see. I wing it a bit when I’m at a con, because people talk me into unexpectedly interesting things, but I make sure I’ve highlighted/calendared/whatevered the stuff I most want to see before I even get to the con. It’s disappointing to realise that talk on dragon biology you really wanted to do was two hours ago and you’d forgotten about it or your mental note had the wrong time.

Socialise! (Which is not networking, nope)

I understand that, for some people, the social aspect of a convention is awful due to anxiety and horrible shyness. If that’s you, ignore this part. Do what you need to do to make the convention enjoyable for you. Conventions with a good accessibility policy have quiet rooms, which are designed for people who need time out to decompress from all the noise and crowds. They’re for you, so don’t be afraid to use them. And don’t be scared to stick to your room when you’re not in programme items. That’s also an A-okay valid choice. You’re supposed to enjoy a convention, and that means doing what you’re comfortable with.

For everyone who does like a bit of social time, don’t get yourself so over-scheduled with programme items you *must* see that you miss out on the social side of a convention. You can make friendships that last for years at a con, because everyone is there to geek out about the same stuff together. My regular con roommate is someone I met at my very first convention and we always have a blast together. If you’re an aspiring pro, don’t look at every bar and con social as a networking event. Everyone sees what you’re doing, believe me. Socialise. It’s not the same. The people you’ll meet may or may not be useful to your career, but that’s not what matters. Conventions are about joining a community of fans. Networking comes after.

Most conventions have some kind of social event on the last night. Dead Dog Party, or farewell picnic, or something. It’s worth sticking around for the last night, instead of going home after the closing ceremony, because sometimes this is when the best conversations of the weekend happen.

If you’re new to conventions and don’t know anyone, don’t panic! Most cons have sessions early in the schedule for new people to meet and socialise. I highly recommend checking them out.

My other tip for meeting people: volunteer. Check out what positions are needed, match your skills to them, and volunteer. Gopher, tech, and registration are all great positions for newbies to conventions. You’ll meet people, you’ll bond with your fellow volunteers and be introduced to other people, and you’ll get the satisfaction of knowing you helped the con to happen.

Follow the convention Twitter feed and hashtag

Don’t be glued to your phone, but do check the con’s Twitter feed every now and again and take a peek at the hashtag. Theoretically, any changes or announcements should be posted on pieces of paper somewhere around the convention. It’s a good theory. It doesn’t always work, and announcements like “I lost my blue water bottle! Has anyone seen it?” rarely make it to the boards. So, take a quick gander at the Twitters when you have a couple of minutes, just to see what’s going on around the con.

Be respectful

Read the convention’s code of conduct or similar policy. Respect it. If you think you’ll have trouble following it…I don’t know what to say to you. Because it’s not actually *that difficult*.

Don’t be the person who ruins someone else’s day with a thoughtlessly cruel remark or a cosplay that takes cultural appropriate to the max and then some. If you wouldn’t say it or do it around your friends, family, and work colleagues, think about whether it’s appropriate to say or do at a con.

Lastly…have fun!

I’m not sure I need to explain how to this, do I?

Links for your weekend reading 26/02/2016

New experiment for the blog: a round-up of all the links I’ve collected over the week, rather than writing half a dozen little blog posts for each of them.

To start, in response to last week’s Booksmuggler’s problematic column about alphahole heroes in romantic fiction, Ilona Andrews wrote a fantastic, well-researched blog post analysing the same trope: Brief Analysis of Alphahole Trope in Romantic Fiction. When we said that the article should have been written by someone who knows the subject and can do the research, this is what we meant!

(Plus, it’s funny. I particularly enjoyed the ironic use of pink hearts.)

Most people have read this, but for those who haven’t: Mark Oshiro detailed his experiences at ConquesT last year. Trigger warning for racism, homophobia, sexual harassment…really, everything that should never happen at a convention.

In response to that, and so many other incidents, Mikki Kendall wrote about why conventions need to get behind codes of conduct better: On Bad Cons & How You Kill An Event in Advance.

Jim Hines is as sensible as ever on this, too, and includes summaries of just a selection of harrassment incidents at other cons: The Importance of Having and ENFORCING Harassment Policies at Cons

Canadian readers, looks like we’ll be losing Doctor Who from Netflix soon, too. CraveTV is getting an exclusive streaming license for New Who from the summer. I’m not surprised, but it’s making me cranky. I just signed up for Crave (for the Star Trek) and the interface is shite, but it looks like it’ll be our only option soon (if we’re too lazy to walk across the room and get the DVDs out).

Accessibility – Dublin 2019 Worldcon Bid

One the reasons I’m proud to be a part of the Dublin 2019 Worldcon bid team is the importance that has been placed on accessibility. We have been incorporating it into every aspect of our planning from the beginning, which is, in my opinion, how it should be done. We’re determined to make as much information as possible available well before site selection, so that people can vote with all the facts they need at hand.

To that end, the access team did a tour of the proposed location, and the report from the team has been made available today on the Dublin 2019 website.

Take a read and you’ll see what I mean by “incorporating accessibility from the start of our planning”.

Accessibility isn’t a last minute, nice to have bolt-on feature. It is something all conventions should be working on from the very beginning.

WFC accessibility policy follow up

World Fantasy Con 2016 has made an accessibility policy publicly available. Hooray!

But, er, it’s still not a great one and it doesn’t solve the issue of people having to pay more for the convention because they had to wait to find out what the accessibility policy is.

Mari Ness explains here why ADA compliance is not a guarantee that a convention is accessible. Read her blog post, it’s informative for anyone who has doesn’t understand some of the issues we’re talking about. Accessibility isn’t just about ramps, door widths, and induction loop systems. It’s about allowing everyone to participate in the full experience of a convention, no matter what their health or disability status is.

Conventions, accessibility policies, and codes of conduct…AGAIN

Just when I thought we’d finished talking about World Fantasy Con and their policies (or lack of) around harassment and accessibility…we’re doing it again. Welcome to WFC 2016!

A part of me is boggling that, after all the discussion and WFC’s past record with harassment, they don’t have a code of conduct yet and are in no hurry to make one because “be nice to each other should be enough”. That’s basic shit. Hundreds of people were signing John Scalzi’s code of conduct pledge two and a half years ago.

*headdesk*

Jason Sanford explained the situation with WFC 2016 better than I can.

And Marie Brennan expressed her justified ire at the way this situation has become a safety surcharge for many due to the lack of accessibility policy.

I signed the convention accessibility pledge last year, too. Both of the conventions I am planning to attend already had their codes and policies in place because they’re annual cons, run by the same group each time, so they’re not starting from scratch each time. That makes my decision about buying early bird tickets pretty easy.

As I explained when I signed it, the pledge for me was in large part because I feel that conventions should be accessible to anyone regardless of ability or health status. Every part of the convention. Not “all the convention except these five panels in this room and, oh yeah, the main hall stage – hope you’re not on a panel there or receiving/presenting an award”. No really, that’s happened at WFC, and at far too many other cons.

It’s also because I have times when I have my own accessibility requirements. As the last few weeks have reminded me, I’m not always as mobile as I everyone else. If I bought a ticket today for a convention, I’d want to know that I’ll still be able to access that convention when I go, even if I am using my walking stick and need reserved seating somewhere I can make a fast exit from a room. If I don’t know that, I can’t buy the ticket at a time when it’s more affordable. It’s no good having policies that aren’t announced until two weeks before a convention, when most of the big expenses have become non-refundable.

Conventions that are a moving feast like WFC, Worldcon, and Eastercon need to change. They need to make their accessibility and code of conduct policies a part of their bid material. A key part, one that’s as important as their hotel information and financials.

As members who vote on site selections, we need to start demanding that this material is included in the bid. We need to tell bid teams that we won’t support them if they don’t have those policies in place before site selection happens. It’s the only way to make sure that the policies are taken seriously and are in place long before prices rise.

Why I signed the convention accessibility pledge

Yesterday, Mary Robinette Kowal made a proposal to fandom: pledge that, from 2017, we will not attend conventions that do not make serious efforts to be accessible. You can read more about the details and what conventions can do at the SF/F Convention Accessibility Pledge on her blog.

I’ve signed.

I attend at least one convention each year, taking part in panels and frequently working somewhere behind the scenes. I’ve been attending cons for fifteen years, and over that time, I’ve seen the full range of what cons will (and won’t) do to address accessibility needs. Most of the cons I do are UK ones, and most have been fairly good on an accessibility front, which makes me one of the lucky ones, I suspect. The Stargate cons that I used to go to regularly always had seating reserved for those with accessibility needs, areas for wheelchairs, arrangements for those who couldn’t stand in lines, and interpreters on hand for people with hearing impairments. To me, that always seemed like the bare minimum that should be done, and if they could do it, why didn’t everyone?

I’ve heard awful stories from people who have been to cons that were accessibility nightmares. Or cons where the convention staff did their best, but the rooms at the con hotel were impossible. Fans pay a lot of money to go to cons, and they should be able to enjoy all of it, not just parts.

This year, I went to Nine Worlds for the first time. It’s a convention that tries very hard to be accessible and inclusive to everyone. For the first time, I got to see what a convention is like when it works to include those with invisible disabilities, too. There was a quiet space for people to retreat to when they became overloaded, which is a particular boon for anyone not staying on site with a hotel room to retreat to. Every programme room had microphones, and panellists were instructed to use them.

What struck me most was the placement of the accessible seating in each room. There was the usual row or two at the front that I’m used to, the areas reserved for wheelchair users, and they’d made a real effort to keep aisles wide enough for wheelchairs to fit down (as long as attendees didn’t block them with bags etc. *sigh*).

But there were also a few reserved seats beside every door.

Why is this so important to me? I have bowl disease. Whenever I go anywhere new, I scope out where the nearest bathroom is and how easily I can get to it in a hurry, even when I’m not in a flare. It’s become a part of my life. I even have an app on my phone to help me find public bathrooms fast. Those reserved seats near the door? Meant the world to me. If I’d been in a flare, I could have asked for one of the accessibility passes and sat there at each panel. If I needed to run out to the bathroom (anyone with bowl disease will know how little time we get to make the mad dash), I’d be right by the door. No running down aisles, pushing past people, feeling self-conscious about being a distraction. Just slipping out through the door beside me and dashing for the bathroom.

When you go to a convention with a really good accessibility code that’s implemented well, it may suddenly seem like fandom has far more people with disabilities than the rest of the world. It doesn’t: this is what the world looks like when it’s fully accessible to everyone. Look around at your local community, office, or school. The odds are good that it’s not accessible to a lot of people, and so they don’t go. You don’t see them because they can’t be there.

That’s not fair and we should be trying to change that, but most of us are one small voice in a sea of people who don’t want to change. However, there is a place where we can make a real difference and ensure that our SFF community isn’t a no-go area, or an online-only forum.

I’ve signed the accessibility pledge because conventions should be accessible to everyone, even if the rest of the world hasn’t caught up yet. Fandom is huge. Taking part in the face to face part of it shouldn’t restricted to those who are neurotypical, able-bodied, and free from chronic illness. It should be accessible for all of us.

World Fantasy’s “Anti-Harassment” policy

Have you ever noticed how certain conversations have to be had again and again and again, because nobody pays attention to them the first two dozen times?

It’s anti-harassment policies this week. AGAIN.

Last night, Natalie Luhrs posted about this year’s World Fantasy con’s “anti-harassment” policy. I use the quote marks because, wow, that thing definitely doesn’t look like any of the good anti-harassment/code of conduct policies I’ve seen at cons that actually take this shit seriously.

John Scalzi has also chimed in with some commentary on it, which is typically on point and on the nose.

That policy is bullshit. Utterly bloody useless. Of no help to man nor beast, and certainly no help to someone actually experiencing the kind of harassment and abuse that has been documented over and over at cons. Only doing something if it’s criminal? No discussion of safe spaces, listeners, escorts, or expulsion from the con for perpetrators?

Bull. Shit.

Some people experiencing harassment may want to report the incident to the police. Maybe. A good code of conduct policy will lay out how the convention will help them to do that and the support they’ll provide.

Most people won’t. Hell, most of the behavior that causes issues isn’t actually criminal because it’s not actually illegal to follow someone around a con and ask them to fuck every ten minutes. Nor is it illegal to constantly interrupt panels to spout gamergate driven rhetoric or spew racist garbage. But you know what? These things happen. Regularly.

(SXSW has just cancelled a panel on harassment due to…fear of harassment from gamergate. Like I said, it’s the week for it. Their approach is no better than this useless policy.)

A good code of conduct policy (and that’s a better term than anti-harassment policy, I’ve always felt) lays out what is unacceptable and describes the support a convention will provide. It discusses safe spaces, escorts, listeners, and the consequences for the harasser, with the potential for the harasser to be banned from the con without refund. Look at NYCC’s policy in Scalzi’s post. That’s a good policy.

When I worked Operations at Loncon3, we were all given material about how to handle any reports of harassment: who to call, what to do, what not to do. We employed trained listeners who were on call at all times, so that minimally trained ops staff weren’t the only people dealing with an incident. We posted the code of conduct prominently in the PRs, on the website, and around the convention.

Dublin 2019 has already developed a code of conduct policy that I’m proud of (and can’t link to right now, but I’ll grab the link later).

There are sample policies out there. It’s not that hard to create one from those templates.

Conventions shouldn’t be afraid to set out what is not acceptable behavior and take real action when people report it. The only people who will be put off going to a con with a good code of conduct policy are the people who would actually be doing the harassment, and we’re better off without them. For people who aren’t sure where their behavior crosses the line, and worry they may cross it unintentionally, that set of guidelines about what’s unacceptable is helpful because it shows them where the line is.

If we’re serious about making conventions more welcoming, about encouraging people from historically unrepresented groups to come, we’ve got to get serious about this.

World Fantasy con’s current policy is a steaming turd of uselessness. Shame on them.

Conventions – they get better with practise

This morning on Twitter, Kate Elliott talked a little about her experience of conventions and how it’s changed over the years, and she expressed something I’ve been thinking during recent discussions: conventions get more fun when you know people.

People often talk about their first convention feeling like they’d finally found their tribe, their place in the world, and I’d never dispute that feeling. It’s how I felt. But at the same time, you can’t walk into your first convention (even if you’re a published author) and expect that everyone will immediately rush to introduce themselves and invite you into all the cool groups. That just doesn’t happen. Anyone who expects it will have a disappointing experience.It takes time and work to get to the stage where you walk into a con and are immediately greeted and offered a drink, trust me.

I’ll admit, when I was at Nine Worlds this year, I did walk into the lobby and immediately end up talking with a huge bunch of people and making plans to go out to supper. I announced on Twitter that I’d arrived at Loncon last year and had company at lunch a few minutes later.

Here’s the important part: I’ve been going to conventions since 2001. I’ve built up a network of friends and contacts over that time, and every year, I meet at least a couple of new people, so that network is constantly growing. If I go to cons in the UK, there’s a fair chance that at least a couple of people that I know will be there, and that makes the whole experience better. Even if the convention itself is problematic or poorly run, I’ve had fun because I’m spending time with good people.

But what do you do when it’s your first con? How do you start that process?

Here’s where social media is really good. At my very first convention, I met up with a group of people that I knew from mailing lists, because this was in the day when message boards and mailing lists were where fandom was at. I’d been chatting on the lists for a while, made some friends, and we all met up on the first night and hung out for the rest of the con. Through that group, I met some new people. One of those new people since been my con roomie at almost every event I’ve been to. It started the process of finding friends and contacts, and that process has snowballed ever since.

So, use social media. If people that you already know through Twitter or Facebook (or mailing lists!) are going to something you’re interested in, arrange to meet up in a group. Social media is a really valuable source of potential con buddies.

How to meet people on social media is a process that really deserves it’s own post, and I’m definitely not the person to write it. I’ve been doing this since 1999 and I sense that breaking into this whole “talking to other fans online” thing has changed hugely since I began.

If you’re not doing social media, or you haven’t got any contacts yet, or you’re going to a con none of your friends are going to, it’ll be a little harder to meet people, but not impossible.

Most cons run newbie sessions. Use them. Not only are they great for giving you a run-down on the con and its quirks and traditions, it’s a great way to meet other people in the same boat as you. Some newbie sessions are specifically geared as meet-ups rather than information sessions – even better! Don’t be afraid to say hi, be interested and interesting, and see what happens.

The other great way to meet people is through volunteering. Unless you’re going to a big pro event like SDCC, conventions are run by volunteers. They’re always in need of people to work on registration, ops, stewarding, gophering, tech…so many potential roles. Contact the volunteer organiser before the con (there’s usually a form on the website) or find out where the volunteer sign-ups are when you’re there. Volunteering sounds intimidating, but it’s really not. If you’re a first-timer, a good con will make sure you’re well supported and not given anything you can’t handle. You’ll meet other volunteers and bond over the shared experience of queue wrangling and gecko warming (it can be an odd experience), which has led to some great friendships for me.

The important thing is to set your expectations correctly. If you expect everyone to welcome you with open arms and invite you straight into all the coolest conversations, your first convention may be disappointing. If you go in expecting to need to work to make friends and grow contacts, you won’t be disappointed, and you’ll probably have a great time.

And that great time will only become more fun and more welcoming with each event you do.