No, that's not a typo, just a really bad pun.
So I just returned from RT. You all need to go, especially if you've never been (and if you've never been, I might be paying your way!), because it's an amazing con. I wouldn't fly across an ocean for it if it wasn't.
Over the course of the week, while sitting with some friends (likely during a game of Cards Against Humanity), something occurred to me that I wanted to share here. Many conventions and conferences have been described as "cliquey." Authors who've never attended are unsure about going because they've heard about the cliques. Specifically, that everyone seems to join these little groups and stick close to them for the duration of the con. And that definitely concerned me the first time I went to RT -- here's this giant con, and I had met precisely one person who would be attending. Everyone already had their cliques and groups, so was I going to spend the whole thing alone?
No, I wasn't. Why? Because those little groups everyone talks about -- they're real. And they're necessary. You've got 2,000+ people (a great many of them introverts) shoved into one building and expected to be "on" for a large portion of the time. This seems to trigger our herd instinct. We band together, sometimes for company, sometimes because the only way to deal with being overwhelmed is to have someone there who can distract you from the chaos or drag you outside when it's obviously too much. The best way for many of us to deal with giant groups is apparently to find a smaller group. Break the herd into smaller herds, and suddenly we can all breathe a little easier.
The result is the convention being broken down into little clusters of people. They sometimes get bigger throughout the week, too -- you can tell by the growing number of tables that suddenly have three, four, five extra chairs pulled up so everyone can sit together. People band together with their own tribes, and those tribes can be anything -- people who read/write the same genre, people who've met on a forum, fellow authors at a publisher or with a particular agent....even people who came to the hotel on the same airport shuttle. Anything goes. The minute you've got something in common with someone at a con like RT, you've got a tribe.
But we all know how cliques work in high school, right? They're exclusive. They're full of mean girls. They look down their noses at others. And I'm sure there are some like that at cons because, well, people are people.
For the most part, though, the "cliques" at places like RT aren't like that. My observation over the last four RTs (and several other cons) is that the secret password to join virtually any group is either "Is anyone sitting here?" or "Is it okay if I join you?" By and large, people are friendly and warm.
And besides, EVERYONE at RT knows what it's like to be at their first RT. We all know what it's like to get there and realize just how big this thing really is. (hehe, that's what she--*cough* Sorry) Everyone's been there, done that, and sooner or later, one group or another will pull you in with their tractor beam, and you'll be part of them so fast you'll wonder if you ever weren't a part of it. Seriously. If I did a poll of everyone at RT, and asked them to tell me where they met everyone in their con tribe, I would bet money that everyone would have at least one person they met at a previous RT, and quite likely one they met at the current one. A good many of them probably couldn't imagine RT *without* those people. They've all assimilated. Because resistance is futile and stuff. So I guess I could've just shortened this whole post by saying RT is like the Borg, etc etc etc.
If you have a hard time approaching or interacting with people you don't know in person, do some pre-gaming -- find people on social media or forums who are going, and approach them online. Chances are, you'll have a bunch of folks looking forward to meeting you before your plane even touches down.
Also, if you do find yourself knee-deep in a tribe at a con, and you get overwhelmed, it is okay to bow out and take a breather. Trust me -- there are very, very few people at conventions who don't disappear to their room at least once just to catch their breath and decompress. (Guess where I am for a solid hour after every book signing) It's okay to spend time alone. Everyone does it, and everyone will understand if you need to do it (if they don't understand, and they give you a hard time for needing to be by yourself for a bit, tell them L.A. Witt said they're a butthead because that's exactly what they are).
So if you're attending or getting ready to attend a con, and you're concerned that everyone will break off into little groups, you're right. If you're worried that you won't be able to find a tribe that will accept you, trust me -- you will. Maybe it'll be a small group who prefers the quiet coffee shop to the deafening bar. Maybe it'll be authors from your publisher or people with the same agent. Maybe it'll be people with whom you have nothing in common except a love of silly T-shirts and snark (ask me how I know).
But for every person who attends a con like RT, there is a tribe. And if you really struggle with finding that tribe -- or even if you don't -- there is always a group playing Cards Against Humanity and eating pizza in the lobby on Saturday night. You don't even need to know the password -- it's okay if you join us.