Saturday, July 6, 2013

Convention Etiquette for Fans, Pros AND Exhibitors! REVISED FOR 2013

Nerd prom San Diego Comic-Con International is fast approaching and that means it's time for me to update and re-post my tips on con etiquette for the masses. Likewise, with the very real and legitimate concerns being voiced lately on rampant harassment at cons, it seems prudent to repost this again.

July 17th is SDCCI Preview Night, basically a nice way of opening up the floor to exhibitors, pros, and the press for a less-crowded few hours of exploring the floor. But on July 18th the con opens its doors to the general public, setting loose about 150,000 rabid pop culture fans with disposable income.

Hidden among those 150,000 fans are a handful of folks who don't understand the rules of  convention etiquette, and their behavior can make it difficult for exhibitors to do their jobs. Because let's not forget: the people you see manning those booths are actually working, whether for a large company like DC Comics or simply for themselves, like the intrepid folks you'll meet in Artists' Alley.

So here are a few basic rules of thumb for con etiquette for fans, pro guests AND exhibitors. Feel free to pass these along to anyone you know who may be attending SDCCI for the very first time!

If you are attending as a fan: 
  • Don't assume that anything at an exhibitor's booth is for the taking and don't take anything without asking. Most exhibitors are actually selling product, which means you have to pay for it.  
  • Say thank you! If an exhibitor offers you something for free (aka, SWAG!), whether it's a book, t-shirt, or drawing, take a moment to actively engage that exhibitor, listen to his or her product pitch and say thank you. You'd be surprised how far a thank you will go.  
  • Don't hover around the booths on Sunday morning, asking if the exhibitors will be giving away leftover product at the end of the day. It's tacky and annoying. Most exhibitors actually DO give away a lot of product at the end of the con, particularly if the alternative is to ship it a great distance. However, they're more likely to offer something to you if you've been by the booth previously and engaged them in genuine conversation about a book, product, etc... (See above re saying thank you!) You may even want to hit up some of the smaller booths that are understaffed and offer to bring the booth workers coffee or soda; trust me when I say they'll appreciate it and remember you later. 
  • Don't be a booth groupie. What's a booth groupie? A booth groupie is a fan who comes by an exhibitor's booth several times in the course of a day in the hopes of scoring additional swag. Don't be this person.
  • Let the celebrity guests pee in peace. I mean, really, do I need to say anything more about this rule? I think not.
If you are attending as a pro or as an aspiring pro:   
  • If you are a writer or an artist, don't try to pitch your work to the booth staff. There's a time and a place for that, and an enormous pop culture convention is not that place. (Again, see above re engaging exhibitors in genuine conversation.) If in the course of a conversation with a booth worker you happen to mention that you are a manga creator or a novelist, and then the person to whom you are speaking asks to see your work, THIS IS TOTALLY OKAY! 
  • If you are a writer or an artist, don't try to pitch your work to the celebrity guests and attending pros. Trust me when I say that the people standing in line behind you waiting to meet their favorite artist or writer will NOT appreciate your whipping out your screenplay/portfolio/manuscript, and it will make the guest feel awkward as hell when they have to say no to your request. 
  • If you are a writer or an artist who has been asked to do a signing in an exhibitor's booth, arrive on time, be gracious with the fans who come to meet you and then leave the booth when the signing is over. I know it's tempting to hang out with the exhibitors afterward or to treat their booth as your own private resting spot on the floor, but really, don't do this. The booths are small, the exhibitors have work to do and you will be in the way. Some of the exhibitors will be too polite to say this to you, so I'm saying it for them: Don't be a diva.
If you are attending as an exhibitor:
  • Be a good booth-neighbor! If you're an exhibitor holding an event with a popular personality, or you are giving away or selling a show special that is likely to draw a huge line, make sure you're not blocking access to your neighbor's booths. Also, if you're near a booth that seems really understaffed, offer to send one of your people over to spell them for a bathroom break. You'd be surprised how many small companies exhibit with just one employee!
The following rules apply to EVERYONE attending a con: 
  • DO NOT hit on the booth staff! Especially if they are female staff members! This may seem like common sense, but I've been to too many pop culture cons where some of my female colleagues were made to feel extremely uncomfortable by the persistent unwanted attentions of a fan or an attending professional. It's never cool to make someone feel uncomfortable. And if you find yourself the recipient of unwanted sexual advances, let someone in security know ASAP. 
  • No means NO. Period. This shouldn't need a lot of explanation but apparently there are still entitled idiots in the world who don't grasp the meaning of a simple two-letter word.
  • A special note about cosplay and cosplayers: lot of the attendees at big pop culture cons engage in elaborate cosplay and they're extraordinarily proud of their costume crafting skills. However, understand that someone wearing a costume is NOT THE SAME THING as that person giving you consent to touch them, no matter how cool or how provocative you may feel the costume is. Additionally, if you would like to have your photo taken with a cosplayer, ask them first and don't put your arm around them or touch the costume unless you have gotten verbal consent. Remember that some of them may have spent weeks or months preparing that costume; please don't paw at it!
  • Be nice to the show organizers, the volunteers, the show managers and the convention center staff (electricians, carpenters, etc.). These folks are all there to help make the show run smoothly, they have your best interests at heart and I know from experience that they'll do everything they can to fix whatever might go wrong as long as you treat them with respect.
  • Be gracious about letting those attendees using wheelchairs/canes/crutches move to the front of the line. This applies whether you're waiting to use the bathroom, waiting in line for food or waiting to get something signed at a booth. Also, most exhibitors have an unofficial policy of letting disabled fans or fans who may need a little extra help move to the front of the line at their booth; this actually expedites the process for everyone and keeps the line moving quickly.
  • Consider letting those with exhibitor badges cut ahead of you in bathroom and food lines. Most of the time the people working booths have limited time to relieve themselves and grab something to eat (which they usually have to wolf down behind the booth while they're working); they'll appreciate the kindness. 
  • When walking the convention floor, remember to pay attention to what is happening below your eye level. It's all too easy to accidentally trample a child, a small person or someone in a wheelchair if you aren't paying attention to where you're walking or how fast you're moving. Try to get in the habit of looking slightly downward as you walk; it helps!
A special note for parents attending with children:
  • If you're bringing kids, keep an eye on them and don't let them run loose on the floor. Far too many people bring young children to these conventions and assume that the con staff (or booth staff) will act as babysitters for your kids. That's YOUR job, not theirs. The convention floor is a big place, there are a LOT of booths selling objects that are potentially dangerous to kids (knives, swords, etc) and there are any number of ways a child could get hurt or lost if you aren't paying close attention. Additionally, many of the exhibitors have valuable items on display; if your child breaks something, you'll be obligated to make restitution to that exhibitor.
  • While the con organizers are happy to have you bring your children, please bear in mind that this is an event geared primarily toward adults. This means that there will be a number of booths displaying risqué materials (or in some cases, actual helf-nekkid human beings). By tradition, the final day of most pop culture conventions is designated as Kids Day, with events and programming targeted to younger fans. Additionally, most booth exhibitors take the time to cover up potentially offensive materials on this day. If you're really concerned about protecting the younger members of your family, wait to bring them until Kids Day.  
A special note for book dealers:
  • If you insist on dragging your entire collection of books for a particular writer/artist so you can have them signed? Well, my first piece of advice here is simply: DON'T. Seriously. The guests have tight time slots for signings, and your holding up the line because you have all 472 different editions of someone's book in every languages and format that ever existed and YOU SIMPLY MUST HAVE THEM ALL SIGNED NOW DAMMIT?! Incredibly rude, dude. The guest, the other attendees in line and the very annoyed media escort/guest handler all know you're doing it only to resell the items and make a boatload of extra cash. And worse, it's cash that the guest certainly isn't going to see a dime of, BY THE WAY. But if you absolutely insist on bringing all of your books to be signed, may I suggest that you do these two simple things so as to make it easier on everyone and show your gratitude to the guest for his or her time? A.) Purchase a copy of whatever the writer/creator has for sale at that particular event and B.) be gracious and let the line manager know that you would be happy to move to the end of the line to have your books signed. Okay?
Although I'm using San Diego Comic-Con International as my example in this post, the truth is that you should apply these etiquette suggestions equally to all conventions, trade shows and conferences you attend.

Okay, everyone clear on the rules? AWESOME! Now go out there and have some fun!