Awesome Con 2014

This weekend was Awesome Con! I don’t know if “awesome” is the word I’d choose to describe it, but it was an experience, and it was educational via experience.

I headed out late Friday afternoon to pick up my badge, assuming – correctly, as it turned out – that Friday would involve fewer people and make the whole thing easier. Also, I’ve never actually been to the Washington Convention Center, so I wanted to scope out the place when I wasn’t in a hurry to be anywhere. There wasn’t much going on Friday evening, so I accomplished what I wanted (badge, seeing what is where) and went to the only thing that was remotely interesting, a panel on how to fit writing time into your life.

Saturday morning I had my first panel (ever!) where I was a panelist. (It was about working with a small press.) I arose early to prepare for the day and checked my email to find a message from the coordinator that one of the panelists had a family emergency. There were only three of us to begin with, so that brought us down to two. I was aware of the author I was on the panel with because her Kickstarter is going on right now (take a look!) and I’ve seen emails from her (I am the minion for the small press that is publishing her book), but she’s a new author and I’m relatively new to small publishers (I know nothing about the third person who couldn’t make it, but had hope she had some good wisdom to share), so I was worried the two of us just weren’t going to cut it. In a panic I sent an email to three other writers who I knew were there to ask if they could panel crash. Mercifully, one could. Janine Spendlove came and rocked it. (I moderated, which I actually kind of liked.) I thought the panel was interesting (at least, I learned stuff), so I’m calling it a success.

After that, I had no more responsibilities for Saturday, so I could just be a con-goer. Unfortunately, HORDES OF HUMANITY. The place was packed. Still, I did enjoy myself. As I left my panel, I saw the line for Jewel Staite wasn’t too horrible (possibly because half the con-goers were still in line waiting to just get in the building), and I knew I’d only have to stand in line for 15 minutes or so, so I got in line. I’ve long liked her work, and she was positively adorable in person. Also, all of the questions that fellow con-goers asked her were good! There was nothing weird, no 3-minute-long gushes about her awesomeness, nothing uncomfortable. So that was great!

She ended up being the only media guest I saw. Billie Piper would have been cool, but the massive hordes to see her were crazy, so I just stayed far away. (I don’t want to see anyone bad enough to stand in line for four hours.) I also wanted to see Erin Gray, but her Q&A was late in the day, and I ended up leaving because I reached human saturation and had to flee or my brain was going to explode. I do kind of regret not sticking it out (though who knows what the state of the line to see her what like). On the other hand, by leaving when I did, I maintained my sanity.

I wandered around the exhibit hall, with all the nerdy stuff for sale and all the artists (also autographs and photos, but I had no interest in those). It was PACKED. Seriously, often the crush of the crowd came to a standstill and then inched forward oh so slowly. It was incredibly stressful. Also, I was really hungry, which was not helping my ability to cope, but the lines for food were ridiculously long, and there’s no way I’m standing in line for hour for expensive, poor quality food. (I actually don’t know if it was poor quality, but it’s a convention center feeding thousands of people, so it’s probably not that great. That’s just the way things work.) After weaving my way up and down the aisles for while, fighting my way through the HORDES OF HUMANITY, and covetously eyeing these adorable TARDIS earrings for a bit before deciding against buying them (I used to have pierced ears, but they’ve long since closed; I keep thinking I should get them pierced again because earrings are pretty much the only jewelry that doesn’t drive me insane, but I haven’t done it yet, and buying earrings when I don’t actually have pierced ears is just ridiculous), I fled the exhibit hall as my brain began to scream. I kind of wanted to check out the costume contest, but once I saw the line to get into that I knew it wasn’t going to happen, so I was done. It wasn’t very late, but nope, I was finished for the day. I had to get out. Flee. Escape.

I took two buses to get home (there’s a metro stop near the convention center, but the trains suck on the weekend, and I don’t live close to a metro stop anyway, so buses are often easier for me), and while I was waiting for the second one, I was in front of a sandwich shop. I hadn’t eaten there before, but I’d heard good things about it. My stomach rumbled and I knew I had about 15 minutes to wait before the bus came. I eyed the shop and debated the pros and cons. (Pro: I’m hungry, I’ve heard good things about the place, it smells good. Con: I’m unemployed and can’t really afford things like that right now, and I have food at home, which I will be at shortly.) Just as I decided against going in, a homeless guy nearby asked if I could afford to buy him a sandwich. “Sure!” I said, and he and I went inside. I told him to get whatever he wanted, and since I was in there, I got me a sandwich too. (Turkey with avocado and bacon. Delicious!) He went down the street to eat, and I returned to the bus stop.

I arrived at home and recovered from the HORDES OF HUMANITY.

Sunday morning – Easter! – started with church. My ward (congregation) meets at 12:30, so originally I was just going to miss it because I had two panels to be on Sunday afternoon. I didn’t even realize Awesome Con was on Easter weekend until three weeks ago or so, and I was a bit sad about it. Then a couple weeks ago we were informed that Elder L. Tom Perry** was going to be visiting our ward and I died a bit inside. However, they also informed us that we would be combining with the other ward in our building and meeting at 9:00. After a quick look at my schedule to verify my panel times, I did a little internal jig because I could make it!

(**For the non-Mormon readers, the highest Church leadership in the LDS faith is the First Presidency (three men) and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (twelve men, as the name suggests). They lead the Church for the whole world. Elder Perry is one of the Twelve. For him to visit my ward is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.)

So Sunday morning I went to church (I got there ridiculously early, and it’s good I did), and it was a lovely Easter service. The choir sang a beautiful, lively version of “He is Risen.” Elder Perry gave a lovely sermon on Christ and the Resurrection. It was a great way to start Easter Sunday.

But then I left church, went home to change clothes, and hopped on a bus to return to the con. A very dapper gentleman got on the bus just before I reached my destination and cheerfully wished me a happy Easter. I smiled and returned the greeting. He asked if was going to church and I told him I’d already been. He seemed pretty happy with that answer and commented on what a beautiful Easter day it was. (And it really was a lovely spring day.)

At the con, there were far fewer people on Sunday than on Saturday. I was relieved. I was a bit early for my panel, so I looked over the schedule, saw that “History of Gaming” was about to start, and thought, “I have no interest in the subject and know nothing about it, so I’m almost guaranteed to learn something. I’m in!” Two gamer dudes had a PowerPoint presentation all about the history of gaming consoles. I still have no interest in the subject, but now I know something about it, and it was actually an interesting panel.

Next up was the panel on Preparing a Manuscript for Submission (I was a panelist on this one). This was the panel I was most comfortable with because I actually know quite a bit about this subject. There was only one other person on the panel with me (again, more is better, IMO), but since I was more comfortable with the topic, I wasn’t quite as worried about it. My co-panelist was Mindy Klasky, who has written a whole bunch of books. Also, as it turns out, she’s really cool and smart. We stepped outside for a minute to make a game plan (we hadn’t met until that moment) and then got underway. We covered self-editing and beta readers, preparing a cover letter/query and novel summary, standard submission formats, and submission guidelines. Mindy knows a lot about preparing a summary of your novel (apparently she teaches classes on the subject), so she covered that, and I found it very informative (I wished I could have taken notes). I know a lot about standard formats and guidelines, so I covered that. The panel was fairly full (it had more than my other panels), and it seemed to go really well. The audience had good questions and seemed to enjoy it. It was a nice concrete subject, and I know I like that sort of thing when it comes to writing advice, so I assume many others do too. Many folks eagerly came up afterwards with more questions, and I got to feel like I had a clue because it was stuff I actually knew. This was my favorite panel of the three I was on, and this is one I think I would recommend be done at other cons.

I had an hour break before my final panel, and there was nothing else to do, so I returned to the exhibit hall. There were a lot fewer people than on Saturday, so, though there was still a fairly high population wandering through the space, it was navigable and pleasant. You could actually stop and look at the nerdy stuff for sale.

After I had my fill, I found a place to sit down (a miracle!) and read for a bit until it was time for the final panel, Crowdfunding Your Book. This is another topic where I know more than the average person, but I’m still learning. But the guy in charge of the Kickstarters for Silence in the Library Publishing was on the panel, and he knows A LOT about the subject. Something like 2/3 of book Kickstarters don’t fund, but all of the ones he’s run for SitL have funded and gone beyond. He is wise. The man can rock a Kickstarter. So it was kind of pointless for me to be on the panel. Really, it should be a moderator to help move things along and him, and that’s it. And the moderator is probably superfluous, but hey, I say stick a second person up there anyway. Still, despite the pointlessness of my presence, it seemed to be a successful panel. (And my co-panelists are friends, so that’s always nice.) The folks who came seemed engaged in the subject and asked good questions, and I saw quite a few folks taking notes.

So… my first con as a panelist is now complete. I was really nervous, but I’d say it was a good experience overall. I felt a fair amount of awkwardness and out-of-place-ness, but really, when isn’t there? I really wouldn’t mind doing the panel on preparing a manuscript for submission again, though.

I didn’t do as much at this con as other cons, and that was kind of a bummer. I’m just not into standing in lines for an hour (or five), and there weren’t many other options.

Awesome Con has a lot of potential, but these are some things I hope improve in the coming years:

1) Four is the ideal number of panelists, in my opinion. You get a nice mix of experience and knowledge with that number. Most seemed to only have two or three. Now, the one I was on with just two of us actually was my favorite one, but I consider that an outlier.

2) Places to sit. This isn’t Awesome Con’s issue as much as it is the Convention Center’s issue, but man, there is no place to sit unless you’re in a room for a panel or a Q&A with the guests, and it kind of sucks.

3 and most important) I wish there were more panels. I know it’s a media con, so they’re focused on the big stars, and that’s cool (I like them too), but when there are hordes of people and you’re just not going to get into the room to see the big stars, it’s nice to have interesting panels to choose from. Also, more options better distribute the hordes.

(Based on comments on Facebook, the line for tickets on Saturday and the lines for photo ops were completely out of control. It was a huge mess. Neither of those affected me, but I note it just to say I am aware that there are other growing pains that may be of greater importance to the folks in charge because they are getting slammed for it right now… but panels matter too :-).)

This experience made it clear that I definitely prefer smaller cons: there just aren’t the crowds and there is more variety. However, if Awesome Con can improve the panels (mostly just in quantity), that will help a lot. (I was impressed with the media guests they had, so that part of it seems to be something they are doing well.) It was impossible for me not to compare Awesome Con to the Salt Lake Comic Con that was going on the same weekend. (I know it seems like a random comparison, but since I’m originally from Utah I have many friends in Utah, and so posts about it were popping up on Facebook.) I looked at the schedule for the SLCC, and I was envious of all the cool panels they had! I don’t know how fair the comparison is. They’re both in their 2nd year, they’re both media cons, and they both involve hordes of humanity, but SLCC has the “Comic Con” name and, presumably, organizers/experience. Awesome Con is an independent con (I think). But nonetheless, SLCC’s panels looked great and I wished Awesome Con was more awesome. The potential is there!

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