Cons are fun there is no doubt about that. They are collections of people who all love the same thing and are willing to talk about it or play it or act it out. They really are a great way to spend weekends. If you look online there are a lot of guides to attending cons, or enjoying cons, or what is great about cons. Many of them are really good resources but they also tend to gloss over or just ignore a few of the misconceptions that people have about conventions. That's what I'm here for, to give you a heads up about a few of the misconceptions about cons, where they came from, and how to deal with them.
Pre-registration is faster than registering at the door
Wooh, this is a big one. Pre-registration is one of those things that is always recommended both because it is cheaper and because you can pick your badge up a day early and in a dedicated line. Now, price wise, pre-reg is indeed cheaper, and if the con has a cap on attendance then pre-reg is the way to go otherwise you may not get a ticket at all. The misconception is with the speed of collecting your badge. This always depends on the con and if you are attending the bigger cons then expect to stand in a line those same 2 or three hours that you would in a regular registration line. This is because everyone and their mother have pre-registered and are picking up their passes at the same time. Even if you have ten volunteers working the check-in desk they still won't be able to go fast enough to process a thousand people or more without taking a few hours. And this is just for early pick-up. If you come the day of the con expect waiting times of two hours at least because all the rest of the people who pre-registered are getting their badges at the same time. Sometimes you'll look over at the regular line and become envious as its moving a lot faster and is quite a bit shorter.
That said, here are some tips to minimize the pain.
1) Come a few hours early. I've been known to start waiting in the pick up line three hours before pick up starts. You still have to wait all that time but a) you can sit since you won't be moving anyway, b) you can go grab lunch while someone holds your spot in line, c) if you are there with friends or have a laptop or tablet then you can entertain yourself for all that time. The greatest thing about coming that early is that you will probably be one of the first twenty people in line. Check the forums, just to be sure, because depending on the con the line may normally start earlier or pick up may be a much faster process.
2) Become an event host or run a panel or try for any kind of "special" status like a vendor or artist in artists alley. Many cons will have dedicated lines for these attendees and they are usually a lot shorter simply because of numbers. Same thing on being staff, we usually have our own check in line and Depending on what you are staff for you may be able to put off picking up your badge until the con actually starts or your department head may pick up all the badges for his team in one go so you won't need to wait in line at all.
3) Join a group registration. Most cons will have a special price and a dedicated pick up lane for those attendees who register as a group of 10 or more or 15 or more, however many that a con designates as a group. In that case it is upon the group leader to pick up all the group's tickets and then distribute them. No lines at all, unless you decide to be the leader. Just remember to have the leader's contact info and agree on a time and place to all gather and pick up your badges.
The dealers room offers great discounts
This misconception is very dependant on where you live. Who the dealers are, what you wish to buy and how much you are spending. Dealers WILL often offer a discount on certain products. Manga will usually be US cover price no tax and buy ten get one free or buy ten get 10%off. Boxed anime will have deals on certain titles or have bundles of a whole series at a reduced price. Merchandise tends to be reduced but by how much depends on the dealer. What I'm trying to say, in a roundabout way, is that the deals aren't really that great on most things.
If you live in a big city you will probably find better deals on anime and manga at your local comic book store or even on Amazon. My local store has a quarterly sale where manga is 20% off US cover price and anime is 25%. For manga and anime Amazon will most likely have better deals than a con and will deliver for free to your house if you spend $25 or more. A lot of merchandise vendors don't do discounts at all, especially on merchandise from Japan, and it can get pretty pricey.
Where did this idea of deals come from? Well, in times gone by, when such conventions were a lot rarer it was probably the best deal that we lovers of alternative entertainment of the more marginalized sort would get on comics, figurines, art, merchandise, etc. and if you live in a small town still it's probably the best that you will find. And indeed there are a few very good deals that can be found in the dealers room but they are usually on old or unpopular material and on Sunday when all the vendors want to get rid of things. Here you can find the whole of Orphina for $12 which is great if that's what you want but if you're looking for the latest volume of attack on Titan or a Miyazaki film or The Long Halloween then don't expect much of a discount.
Cons are sort of notorious for long lines. Lines to get your pass, lines to get into the venue, lines for the dealers room, lines to events, lines to the bathroom and ATM, there are probably lines to get into lines but reality isn't that bleak. San Diego Comicon is of course going to be full of lines, there is no getting away from that but the medium and small sized cons will be pretty fine. What it really seems to boil down to is the layout of the venue. Anime North is a giant con with a cap of 35000 attendees but it doesn't have too many lines simply because it is really spread out. It has events in four hotels and the Toronto Congress Centre. The lines that do occur during the con move fairly quickly and are more to do with how many people can safely fit through a set of doors than with capacity. Fan Expo, in Toronto, on the other hand, has atrocious lines because they stick all of their events into one area and quickly reach capacity.
Certain lines you won't be able to avoid. Registration, the line into the dealers hall on opening day, lines for autographs, mainly things where a bottleneck forms. The best way to avoid them is to see if your event is held in a different area. Many panels, for example, are not in the same place as the dealers room and therefore have fewer or shorter lines. As for ATMs, just see if there are any banks around you, they may have shorter lines and will probably carry a lot more cash on hand, or look for small shops. The best way to avoid ATM lines, though, is to bring all your cash with you, that way you can set a hard limit on spending and also avoid wasting time in lines to get money.
Cosplay is fantastic. It's amazing to look at, especially if its done well, and every con has some cosplay in it. What I want new con goers to realise, though, is that cosplay is not the be all and end all of conventions. It's a very showy part of cons and something that is fun to post online about but you don't have to participate if you don't want to. You don't have to take photos of people in cosplay if its not your thing. Cosplay has become so big that it almost seems to have taken over conventions but people need to remember that cons still have so many other events and activities.
Another point to remember is that you don't have to dress up if you don't want to or don't feel comfortable doing so. If you aren't into cosplay, or only into seeing it on others then jeans and a t-shirt are the best con clothes as they are practical and easy. Pins or something related to the genre of the con is perfectly fine if you want to fit in and even if you have nothing don't sweat it. You're there to enjoy yourself, not to re-hash high school clothing drama, no one will judge you if you don't dress up. And if you do dress up, don't feel bad if you don't have the perfect cosplay. Everyone started out from the bottom, just enjoy yourself and if you want to get better then look up tips online for sewing cosplay or ask people you meet at the con.
This little misconception is more for the media out there. For some reason the tv and movie industry still thinks that cons are populated by stereotypical nerds and geeks who are stuck in the 80s. Now, don't get me wrong, there are people like that at cons and you can usually tell them apart by their smell but they aren't the only ones at cons, not by a long shot. Cons attract people of different ages for different reasons. There are the aforementioned cosplayers who do it for the love of their craft. There are vendors who make a living catering to those who like niche products. Many cons are also attracting Japanese alternative fashion followers, most notably Lolitas who are the furthest thing from a stereotypical nerd. Many cons are also very welcoming to younger children and have areas dedicated for them and programming aimed at the elementary and middle school crowd. You will see adults who are there with their kids and also adults who are there on their own. You may even see senior citizens who love whatever the con is about.
What I'm trying to say here is that everyone is welcome at a con and most of the time people are very welcoming. Don't be shy about going because you think you won't fit in, most likely you will find people there just like you. I'm going to end by saying that though cons can be very different depending on their content, organizers, location, etc. but they all have one thing in common: they are places to meet people who have the same interests as you so just do a bit of research, find one that suits you and go, have fun, you won't regret it.
Do and of you have any other misconceptions about cons that I haven't mentioned? Are there things that I've written about that you don't agree with? Tell by by commenting below.