The fascinating thing about this conversation, so far, is that a lot of folks are talking about how off-putting it was for them to go to their first convention and sense the distance between themselves and the proceedings. Meanwhile, I think of Sam Moskowitz writing up the first World Science Fiction Convention (and subsequent cons) in The Immortal Storm, and discussing the sense of community that conventions fostered among attendees, both fans and professionals.
I will add only that, like others, I felt isolated and put off by some cons I attended early on, which is why I always advise my students to go with a group. That’s especially true for a big convention such as a Worldcon or a business convention such as World Fantasy, but I think it’s helpful even for a small, regional convention. Take several friends with you, or arrange well in advance to meet several friends once you’re there.
Feeling alone at a convention is no fun; that happened to me a few times, many years ago, and I’ve never forgotten the experience. That’s why I also advise students, once they’re enjoying their own group at the convention, to look for people that seem sort of lost and alone, and invite them to join YOUR group. You generate good karma that way. That’s how I’ve met a number of old friends on the Circuit: I reached out to them, or they reached out to me.
It’s a wonderful feeling to realize, late at night in the lobby after the bar closes, that your group has become the in-crowd, where everyone wants to be. I’ll always be grateful to the folks such as Gardner Dozois, Joe and Gay Haldeman, Nancy Kress, and many others, who routinely waved me over when I was a stranger to the field and said, “Andy! Please join us!” I try to do the same, whenever I can.
Andy speaks directly to my own experience of conventions, which I’ve not gone on about here, as they do not differ in essence from a lot that has been said: the first convention like the worst memories of childhood when you had to go to the new school for the first time, a month or so into the term, because the Canadian Bank of Commerce, for which my dad worked, almost inevitably promoted him just after the school year began; and any later convention, when you don’t have enough to do, and haven’t cleverly pre-sorted-out a group of friends for camouflage and display, so that you go to your room and commit, or almost commit, suicide; and the better times, when you are busy enough not to panic at the vacancy of it all, and even (as Andy does) invite a newbie to join in. C’est la vie, hey.
The first day of conventions I feel like that, always. What am I doing here? Who are all these people? Then I find out.