The Business of Horror

I attended my first StokerCon over the weekend. StokerCon is the annual convention sponsored by the Horror Writers Association, and this year it was held in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Several fellow writers encouraged me to attend this year, so I decided to take the plunge. One thing that’s consistently made me crazy over these last few years is seeing anthologies being advertised — on Kickstarter and elsewhere — that I would’ve given my left nut to have submitted a story to, but didn’t hear about until they were over and done. Many of these may have been by invitation only, but it occurred to me that if I wanted this trend to stop, I needed to up my networking game.

Most of what I’ve had published — both in fiction and in tabletop role-playing games — has either been horror-themed or included strong horror elements, so a convention of horror writers seemed like a no-brainer for me. I sent in my money a year ago while it was still (relatively) cheap, booked a hotel room, screwed up my courage to the sticking point, and drove to Grand Rapids the Wednesday evening before the convention.

First up on Thursday was a panel on social media for writers. They talked about Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumbler, and blogs, and with very few exceptions I already knew the things to which they were referring. The bottom line of this panel seemed to be, ‘use the platform you are most comfortable with’, which is sound, but probably not the best long-term strategy for attracting readers/followers. Social media is constantly shifting, and younger readers won’t find you on Facebook, which tends to skew older, demographically speaking. It was an interesting discussion, and I came away from it with a lot to think about. I was a bit late to the panel on how to stand out from the rest of the slush pile, but that too gave me much food for thought.

On Friday, the reading slot I had requested was scheduled for 10 AM, and would be shared with two other authors — in this case, Norman Prentiss and John R. Little. My choice for the reading turned out to be bittersweet: I read my story from Sidekicks!, “In the Shadow of His Glory” only a few days after the publisher announced he was closing the business, leaving the anthology fast going out of print and with extremely slim chances of finding a new home elsewhere. I ran a bit over time, but I had two different people — including one of the other authors reading — tell me afterwards that I did a good job. There was a decent-sized audience to read for, and they laughed in the right places as I read. At noon I was on a panel about adapting your fictional world to role-playing games, and it also went well, despite a modest audience. My obligations completed, I could now relax and enjoy more of the convention.

The ice cream social/mass author signing worked out okay; I requested to be removed from the signing because a) virtually no one there knew me or had read anything by me, and b) I’ve done these before, and sitting at a table with everyone passing by me to get someone else to sign their book is a recipe for heartbreak: that’s something I really don’t need right now. However, I wasn’t idle: I got several books that I brought along signed by others. Curiously, they were nearly all by people without lines of would-be autograph seekers, so I was extra glad I brought them to give those folks a boost.

On Saturday afternoon, I bounced back and forth for an hour between a panel on alternate history and a live RPG titled “Bedlam Hall: an All-Female RPG Game. I missed a few things in the morning, as I first was treated to breakfast by Lee and David Murray, then fell asleep for 90 minutes when I got back to my room. I slept more than expected over this weekend; being “on” in a room full of strangers is stressful for me — more stressful than I thought.

I didn’t go to the Stoker Awards banquet: thought of it too late, and besides, tickets were $90 per person. It’s been a while (more than a decade, I’m sure) since I arranged convention food functions at hotels, but $90 a plate seems high. Being on the hook already for $130 ticket, plus $700 worth of hotel room nights , not to mention food, gas, and tolls on the Illinois Toll Road System (twice) for the weekend, I wasn’t feeling terribly flush with cash. Clearly I was in the minority: the room was packed — so much so that there was no seating for people who came in late. Sadly, friends and acquaintances who were nominated for Stoker Awards didn’t win in their categories, which was disappointing.

I had a decent time at StokerCon, and learned a lot. I have no doubt that there is significant value in attending StokerCon if you write or wish to write horror, but I’ll have to think about whether or not it’s worth my investment to attend again in the near future. Next year the convention is in the UK, which is definitely beyond my means. I’ll look at 2021 with a critical eye and see what the situation is then. In the mean time, I’ll keep writing…

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