The big thing that I didn't expect was that the WorldCon is small, about 3000 people or so. What this means if you're a fan is access! You've got access to nearly every author who shows up, including some small group meetings (called "Kaffee Klatsches" or Literary Beer") that approach a small intimate experience. I signed up for Bill Willingham, Alastair Reynolds, Glen Cook, Michael Swanwick, and David Brin. I got to ask Willingham how far ahead he plotted (24 months!), discussed the Drake equation with David Brin. Reynolds gave us a preview of his next book (not a Revelation Space novel). Glen Cook told us stories about how he wrote. He worked on the assembly line and had a one minute thirty second cycle, could complete his task in 45 seconds, and wrote in the other 45 seconds, because it was all muscle memory and he had all that time to think about wha the wanted to write. (Incidentally, the Black Company RPG rights sold for $8,000) This was by far the best part of the con for me. One Kaffee Klatcsh was with Patrick & Teresa Nielsen Hayden, who provided some insights as to how editors and publishers think.
Secondarily, I got to attend several panels, and since this was a multi-track program, I actually had to triage. As a self-publisher, I attended several panels on publishing, writing, pitching, and contracts. Some were useful, others not so. By far the most helpful one was a panel on publishing. There turned out to be another self-publisher on the panel, Sandra Tayler of Schlock Mercenary. Everyone else on the panel was either an author who had gone through the traditional process or was a literary agent. Tayler was a lot more diplomatic than I would have been. Essentially, she was the only one who'd ever run a business, and actually understood what authors were giving up by going with a traditional publisher. "You have to decide what your goals are. Do you want to be read and put food on the table, or is it more important for you to see your books in a bookstore and do author signings an so on." Afterwards she gave me some time and helped out by providing numbers for color printing a book very similar to Independent Cycle Touring, and gave me an idea for an experiment that I should run. I also used the time to make contact with several other self-publishers. Fundamentally, we're at an interesting point where the large traditional publishers still have no clue about the ebook tidal wave and think that they can make it go away by over-pricing ebooks. An independent, self-published author has a window of about another year or two to make a splash by not making those mistakes, and it was gratifying to see that the ebook panels at least were composed of people who understood that.
I was surprised by how accessible the "big-name" authors were. Gardner Dozois, Robert Silverberg, Lois Bujold, Jo Walton, and John Scalzi were all walking around without entourages and you could easily grab a person to sign your book, take a photo, or even chat. Many of these authors did start out as fans.
The big ceremonies like the Hugo Awards or the Masquerade were OK, but also the lease personal part of the con. In any case, time management was crucial, as at any given point I had to triage my time and figure out what to do, where to go, who to meet, or whether to actually go get something to eat.
I'm not sure if I'd go to another con any time soon. I suspect that something like once a decade is about the right interval for these, but if you've never been to one and are thinking of going, I'd recommend at least going to one, and the WorldCon is exactly the right size. Small enough that your favorite authors would be accessible, but large enough to have plenty of choices as to what to do and what interests you. My friend Ellie, for instance, turned it into essentially a long seminar about costumes and costume making, while I made it into a seminar about self-publishing/publishing/contracts, with a little bit about ancillary fields like comic books and fiction. If you enjoy reading, and like science fiction or fantasy, maybe 5 days of it might be a bit much, but 3 or 4 days would be just about right. Recommended.
P.S. None of my votes for the Hugo awards panned out. I guess my tastes are very different from anyone else's!
I'll be busy the next few days working on my next book, but expect the Tour of the Alps trip reports to continue after that.