Category Archives: Events

5 Tips to be a Prepared Panelist at an SFF Convention

So you’re going to attend a genre convention as a panelist. Whoo hoo! If this is your first time, it’s normal to be nervous. If this is your thirtieth time, it’s normal to be nervous.

Here are some tips to get you geared up, regardless of the content of your panel(s).

5) Know your schedule before you get there.
Carry a notebook or Post-It pad. Make sure your entire schedule is in there–panels you’re on, panels you want to attend, or any other important events during the con. Why? The paper-bound con guide can be very unwieldy to carry or poorly organized. Sure, the con may have an app or allow you to save your schedule online, but the internet can and will go down. Some convention centers get absolutely horrid reception.

PostItschedule_smI like to use Post-It notes. If my badge is in a plastic sleeve, I will slip the sticky notes right inside the back so I can reference my schedule at a glance without having to dig into my purse in a big crowd.

4) EAT. Seriously.
Food is kinda important, but the very nature of conventions can make it hard to eat. Your schedule might have you booked solid, or the venue might not have restaurants close by, or you’re on a restricted diet. You need to take care of yourself. The last thing you want is to have low blood sugar in the middle of your panel and be listless or feel faint… or for your stomach to be growling like a caged werewolf.

Bring a stash of snacks–granola or energy bars, nuts, jerky, something safely portable. Use Google Maps or Yelp to map out nearby eateries ahead of time; you can focus the online map and search for places right nearby!

If you’re feeling weak and hungry, don’t be afraid to ask for help, either. I bet someone will have some food on their person or be willing to dash for the nearest snack bar for you.

3) Know the layout of the convention.
Large convention centers were surely designed the same folks who create video games dungeons. There are dead ends, winding corridors, nonsensical room numbers, boss monsters. Sometimes the maps shown online or in the con booklet aren’t that useful, either, because they don’t clearly show where floors connect to different levels or across streets.

Reserve some time right at the start of the convention to walk the grounds. Find where your panel(s) will be, and also where you might find the nearest water fountains or bathrooms.

2) Read up on your fellow panelists.
If you have time, read a book or two by your fellow panelists, or at the very least, read their biography, know where they are from, and where they have been published. Maybe there is someone you want to get to know more, so you want to sit beside them to chat; or maybe there is someone you know you want to sit far, far away from.

(Note: A lot of conventions will have a space in their initial questionnaires about “who I do not want to be on a panel with.” You should also feel free to turn down a panel if you think it’s a poor fit or that you’ll clash with another panelist.)

1) Jot down notes during the panel.
I like to use a pen and paper. Some folks use their phone instead. Whatever the medium, it’s nice to have a way to jot down quick notes during a panel. Why? Sometimes questions are long and convoluted, or maybe a fellow panelist will babble on so long that you forget the original question. Maybe someone will mention a book or author that sounds really good. Maybe you need to keep score of something, or need to preserve a neat tip or research morsel. Don’t trust yourself to remember anything during the low-sleep high-craziness action of a convention.

All of these tips revolve around a central concern: YOU. Take care of yourself. A little work to prepare will make for a less-stressful, happier time during your convention!

Beth CatoBeth Cato hails from Hanford, California, but currently writes and bakes cookies in a lair west of Phoenix, Arizona. She shares the household with a hockey-loving husband, a numbers-obsessed son, and a cat the size of a canned ham.

She’s the author of THE CLOCKWORK DAGGER (a 2015 Locus Award finalist for First Novel) and THE CLOCKWORK CROWN (an RT Reviewers’ Choice Finalist) from Harper Voyager. Her novella WINGS OF SORROW AND BONE was a 2016 Nebula nominee. BREATH OF EARTH begins a new steampunk series set in an alternate history 1906 San Francisco.

Follow her at and on Twitter at @BethCato.

Novella the Sloth Goes to Nebula Weekend in Chicago

Beth Cato here with a report on the 50th Nebula Conference, which took place May 12-15th at Palmer House in Chicago, Illinois. I attended as a novella nominee and only had the chance to sample a small part of the overall event, but wow, what a grand time. I don’t like to travel alone, so I did what any reasonable adult does: I brought along a small plush sloth named Novella.NebSloth1

See, my publisher, Harper Voyager, has a space-faring, sword-bearing sloth named Nova as its mascot. Novella is like the mini-me of the great Nova.

I flew from Phoenix to Chicago and soon enough found myself embedded in the awesomeness of the Nebula Weekend. The awards are the big event, but there’s a whole lot more to the con than that. SFWA has made a big effort to restructure the event and make it a professional-level informational resource for writers and those in the publishing industry. The programming addressed a range of topics from literary estates to medicine after the apocalypse to handling online harassment. The subject of diversity was a central theme, with talks on historical research from the margins to language as rebellion.

Meanwhile, there were constant opportunities to socialize in hallways nearby, in the hospitality suite a floor above, or at the ever-reliable and on-going bar-con in the lobby.

Palmer House itself is a famous institution in downtown Chicago. Its central location made it readily accessible by several mass transit lines, and there were abundant restaurants and places of interest within short walking distance.


[Novella found the Cloud Gate aka Chicago Bean a few blocks away from Palmer House.]

Friday night included an introduction of the Nebula nominees and a booksigning event that featured over 60 authors. The whole thing was open to the public and was a grand success, as it continued for almost two hours with a constant stream of book-lovers passing through. Book Expo America was also taking place in Chicago over the weekend, and this booksigning offered an opportunity for BEA folks to join in the sci-fi/fantasy festivities.


[There is no sloth in this picture, not unless I count, but it shows the opulent room for the booksigning soon before it opened to the public.]

I didn’t get to take part in many of the Palmer House activities on Saturday, as I had a tour of duty at Book Con down at McCormick Place. Book Con is like a Comicon-inspired extension of BEA that offers readers–not just publishing pros–a chance to meet their favorite authors and score free copies of brand new books. The space was busy but not overwhelming (especially compared to San Diego Comicon). I signed and gave away a plethora of copies of The Clockwork Dagger and advanced copies of my book out in August, Breath of Earth.

[Signed and gave away all of those books in 25 minutes! Craziness!]

[Signed and gave away all of those books in 25 minutes! Craziness!]

Saturday night brought the reception, banquet, and Nebula Awards ceremony. Just as anyone does when attending a fairly formal event, I brought my sloth.


[We shared a meringue with fruit. ]

Novelocity members were big winners, too. Lawrence M. Schoen was the recipient of the Kevin O’Donnell Service to SFWA Award, and Fran Wilde won the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy! Yay!

[Novella felt very sophisticated and metropolitan while awaiting the subway.]

[Novella felt very sophisticated and metropolitan while awaiting the subway.]

After the tremendous highs of the weekend, reality was cruel and brutal. I didn’t get to attend any Sunday programming, as I had to scamper back toward home. Or tried to. TSA lines made scampering into a full hour and fifteen minute slow-motion trudge, but I arrived extra early so I had plenty of time before my flight.

[Everyone in this picture is moving like a sloth.]

The Nebula Conference will be in Pittsburgh in 2017 and 2018. No matter where you are in your writing career, do consider attending. This is an event where you can make and renew friendships, learn at panels, and spend days geeking out over books, all in a sloth-friendly environment. That’s my idea of paradise.

Free Booksigning Event – Chicago May 13th

SFWA Nebula Conference is coming up in Chicago May 12th-15th. If you are in the vicinity but the conference itself won’t work for you, fear not–there is a huge booksigning event that Friday night. This event is free and open to the public. Books will be available for sale, or you can bring in your own copies to have signed.

Novelocity will be well-represented. Look for Lawrence M. Schoen, Tina Connolly, Beth Cato, Michael R. Underwood, and Fran Wilde! Check out the full list of attending authors.