I could just leave it at the title, but seriously. If you go to a con, whether as an attendee or as a pro, don’t avoid panels. Programming exists for actual logical reasons.
- To help you connect with people making work you love.
- To provide you with information you might not know.
- To expose you to the work of people you don’t know.
- To explore things you’re intrigued about.
Panels are an opportunity to pick up new information, meet people, find out what many of your friends look like in person, and feed your imagination. With luck, you also pick up new professional information. When many of us were starting out as writers and editors or artists, or whatever role(s) we inhabit in publishing, lots of folks starting out devoured panels. Made the effort to meet people and introduce themselves. Raised hands even when anxiously awaiting some sort of verbal tongue lashing just for asking a question. When new to our craft, we put out incredible effort to build our skills and our networks.
I see a number of folks I know, myself included, not always carrying that same energy to cons further down the line in their careers. Cons lose all sense of joy, fun, mystery or appeal. They become a daunting chore, full of travel and meetings and an abundance of stress. You don’t have to try to approach cons again with a sense of childlike glee or even the flavor of newcomer’s terror. But getting more out of cons starts with something simple, like hitting some panels. Though the beginner panels may seem less interesting to you now, even panels for new writers and editors can be worth going to. So many problems we have in our careers are about that phase of our work, but some of them are eternal. Communication, getting past anxiety, becoming better at tracking our tax info.
You might not feel like you need a panel on getting out of a slush pile, but practical intro panels may hold information you never got the chance to learn. The people running those panels? Fellow publishing professionals, who are either in your peer group, or likely great people to meet if you’re unfamiliar. Attending those panels? It’s possible those bright, sometimes anxious faces are future writers, editors, agents and art directors. We’re a social industry, and it doesn’t hurt to mix with people at every phase of their career path, as well as yours. New friends, co-workers and audience members are inside those panel room doors. Information you don’t know yet is behind that long table, lined with microphones. We’re not wasting time if we go to panels, we’re spending our time in pursuit of new knowledge and experience, things we can’t grow our careers or our lives without. So don’t skip the panels, and consider being on some in the future. Whole new worlds might open for you if you open that conference room door.