By Jon Jordan
Here's some information based on my own experiences and stories I've heard from others.
As you prepare for your trip, there are a few things to remember. Leave room in your bag, you'll be bringing home more than you take with you. Bring some aspirin, maybe some stomach medicine. You are in a strange town, eating out a lot and your schedule will be out of sorts. Better to have some things with you than to have to run to the gift shop and pay $22 dollars for three Excedrin. Bring extra socks and comfy shoes. Happy feet equal happy convention attendee. I also like to bring a few snack items for the room -- good late-at-night munchies can be hard to find.
On the ground at the convention:
When hitting the hotel, especially somewhere I haven't been before, I like to scope out the surroundings. Is coffee available in the hotel? (In St. Louis, yes.) Are there stores and restaurants within walking distance? (Again, yes.) It's nice to have a good feel of the place before it all starts to get crazy.
Before you leave home, you should be able to see a schedule of the panels. Who is doing what and when. There will be a schedule up before the convention starts, most likely around early August. It's nice to have a game plan, but don't be too rigid. Flexibility is key. Seeing panels is great, but if you get into a good discussion with fans or an author, it may be worth missing a panel.
The one thing that my wife and I have found over the years is that it is a good idea to make a little time for quiet. Maybe a lunch away from the convention, or even an hour up in your room soaking in the tub. It can really help the whole thing from becoming overwhelming.
If you are getting books signed that you bring from home, I've found that it's best to keep the numbers down a bit. If I know authors will be in my home town, I wait until they come around again. Generally we bring books by those authors we don't see often. My first Bouchercon, I missed out on some cool things because I got caught up in the signing room.
Even if you aren't an author, it might be a good idea to make up some business cards. If you meet people you will want to keep in touch. Trading business cards is the easiest way. And it's easy enough to do on your own computer: just your name and email address is enough. Plus they
don't get lost like a bar napkin might.
A number of people have asked how to dress. One word: Comfortable. This is supposed to be fun, a vacation of sorts, though a crazy active one. There are no dress codes. Even to the Anthony Awards, I've seen people in t-shirts sitting next to people in a tux. Wear what feels good for you. I will suggest something with pockets :)
A couple quick points about authors:
Generally speaking, if an author is out and about in the convention area or bar, they are more than happy to talk to you and usually sign things. But be reasonable. Sliding a manuscript under a bathroom stall door is a bad idea. (And yes, it's been done.) Also, if people are eating, wait till they finish. If an author is talking to someone and you'd like to join in, if you wait for them to notice you, they will be more than happy to converse, but try not to interrupt a conversation in midpoint. (I've seen people interrupt a discussion between author and agent/editor.) It's really just basic courtesies.
To wrap up, my two biggest convention rules for myself are:
a) Eat a big breakfast.
b) I can sleep when I get home.
Our goal is for people to leave Bouchercon St. Louis tired and happy.
Jon Jordan is the publisher of Crimespree Magazine and the host of Bouchercon 2011. In the coming months, he will be "Blogging Bouchercon" on the SinC blog. For more information on Bouchercon, see http://bouchercon2011.com/.