The Gen Con Writer’s Symposium

Gen Con is first and foremost a gaming convention. It is a massive gaming convention. It completely fills the 700,000+ square feet of the Indiana Convention Center and spills over into the event space offered in the six very large hotels connected to it. Last year, over 60,000 people attended Gen Con, and this year’s attendance may be even larger.

If you are interested in writing for any of the many RPG and board gaming companies, this is an ideal place to make new business contacts. Paizo buys a lot of tie-in fiction, and they have a strong presence at Gen Con, as does Margaret Weis Productions and other groups. Many video game companies also send their people to the convention; on Saturday night there was an impromptu bar gathering of video game writers who talked about how to break into the business.

Even if you have no interest whatsoever in media tie-in fiction or game writing, this is still a convention you should consider. Why? Because of the Writer’s Symposium.

The Gen Con Writer’s Symposium was founded by Jean Rabe and is currently run by Marc Tassin. It’s aimed at both beginning and experienced writers and offers panels, workshops, readings, book signings, and critique sessions. The Symposium is a tiny part of the overall Gen Con experience, but it’s bigger than most standalone writing conferences.

I was on three panels the first year I attended — “Dark Fantasy”, “Urban Fantasy” and “Horror” — and my panels at Gen Con had bigger audiences than I’ve had at World Horror or World Fantasy. I even had a decent turnout for my reading, and I was mostly reading to strangers rather than supportive friends. All told, the Symposium offered over 100 hours of programming spread across 65 sessions. Over 50 authors participated.

Writers attending Gen Con also have the option of signing up for space in the Author’s Avenue section of the massive exhibit hall.

So, if you have trouble with huge crowds, obviously this is not an ideal convention for you. Nor is it an ideal choice if you have trouble walking, because you will need to traverse large spaces to get from Point A to Point B. (Fortunately, Marc Tassin and the other organizers of the Writers’ Symposium have made sure that all the writing track panels happen in the same three rooms that are right next to each other and well away from noisier events.)

But if you want to get your work out in front of a huge number of speculative fiction fans, talk to gaming industry editors, and get to see a lot of cool games and media in your free time? This might be the perfect convention for you.

If you want to participate, you need to sign up early. The symposium organizers have their programming set well in advance of the convention — as in six months in advance.  We all know instances in which a pro writer decides to go to a convention at the last minute and is able to slide onto panels. That likely won’t happen at Gen Con unless you’re a very big name. So, contact the organizers as early as you can if you’re interested.

Marc Tassin runs a really good symposium. It is seriously one of the best-organized writing events I’ve ever participated in. This year Marc prepared a special 12-page handbook for Symposium authors to help them navigate the convention. As a participating author, you’ll be able to attend authors-only events like dinners, parties, and game nights. The networking opportunities really are tremendous. I didn’t expect to do much business this year; my energy for schmoozing was at pretty low ebb. But despite myself, I came away from the convention with several new anthology invites — writing invitations I really could not have gotten if I’d stayed home.

I’m definitely going back to Gen Con this August, and I hope I see some of you there!

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