The Nobody Brigade

An acquaintance of mine from sci-fi fandom recently posted what I term a rant on Facebook. She was responding to a blog post by an author I respect, Theodora Goss, about how Ms. Goss is re-evaluating how she spends her time. The main sticking point was conventions: Ms. Goss describes how many conventions don’t routinely pay authors to attend. It’s unclear whether she’s referring to invited guests or merely people who attend and participate in programming. You can read Ms. Goss’s post at this link: https://theodoragoss.com/2019/08/04/reevaluating-your-values/?fbclid=IwAR0g1Y6uppvRLabhq13zvAp8YbEFdOg_GvnB6yqQ5THTcpy8OfBpuTsyaeI

That was only a small part of the blog post, but seems meant to emphasize that Ms. Goss is finding it difficult to have much time to herself. She is prioritizing her time, and wanting to cut out the things with no particular gain for her, whether material or emotional.

That small bit seems to have done it. My acquaintance goes off a little, the implication being that this blog post is somewhat entitled in nature. She (my acquaintance) comes from a long tradition of fandom where fans attended conventions to meet other fans — that, in fact, was the whole reason WorldCons (World Science Fiction conventions) started in the first place. I discovered fandom through that very tradition, but am one of those author-fan hybrid creatures now, and so I understand both sides.

She goes on, in the comments, to mention that she knows many people who are authors and also fans, and they are lovely people. Suddenly, I have a disconnect in all of this. I’m a nobody author — before you say anything, oh dear and supportive friends, yes, I am. I’ve had two short stories published, and a fair amount of gaming material, yet my name recognition outside of my circle of friends and acquaintances is zero. In this, I am far from alone: legions of authors – I call them ‘the Nobody Brigade’ – who are desperately trying to sell their work are in the same boat as I, and one of the ways many choose to reach more and new fans is by attending conventions and a) being panelists on panel discussions, b) performing readings of one’s own work, and c) schmoozing with other authors : in other words, networking.

As an author, I NEED to spend time promoting myself and my work. In the writing business, no one else will do that for you, unless you happen to be Stephen King or Charlaine Harris. It’s the nature of the beast these days, and everyone with more than a passing knowledge of publishing recognizes that. Conventions are concentrations of people who are more likely to be interested in the stuff I write, so I try to get to as many as I can, and am branching out, going to conventions and places I haven’t visited before in the hope of spreading the good word about Bill. Would I like to be paid to attend conventions? ABSOLUTELY! It’s no small amount of time and effort to prepare for a convention, not to mention travel time. Most conventions necessitate acquiring a hotel room for the duration, which is pricey. Even if you do food on the cheap by bringing your own and eating in your room, it still represents an expense you wouldn’t otherwise have.

My acquaintance’s main point of contention seems to be the fear that her type of conventions – mostly fan-run, not-for-profit ad-hoc groups trying to promote fantasy and science fiction and its various fandoms – will become more like media cons, where people stand in line for hours to get an autograph or a selfie with the “famous” person so they can say they “met” someone famous whose work they enjoy. It’s all about the cult of celebrity. I understand this irritation: I’ve enjoyed many a convention, both before and since becoming an author, and I know well how much emotional value there is in spending time meeting people and forming new friendships at conventions. However, it comes across as ‘This is mine!’ and ‘Change is bad!’ kind of ranting.

Having volunteered on many conventions – including several WorldCons – I also understand how the business end of conventions work, and that there is only so much money to go around. The conventions invites guests in the hopes that those guests will attract additional attendees. And there you have it. As someone with zero name recognition, the chances of me being invited to a convention as a paid guest are slim indeed. Oh it’s happened – most recently I was a guest at Great Falls Gaming Rendezvous (http://gfgr.org/ ) in Montana in 2018 – but it’s very rare.

Conventions are many things to many people, and it pains me to see the convention scene balkanizing more and more. I guess I don’t understand why she was so annoyed by Ms. Goss’s post; the point of the post was that she may step back from attending as many conventions as she has in the past in order to focus on what makes her happy: this should make my acquaintance happy, so clearly it’s a win-win. I can’t attend many conventions because of the expense; the jury is still out on how my acquaintance might feel about that.

7 thoughts on “The Nobody Brigade

  1. Wow. I can’t even. I haven’t read the rant in question, but if people don’t understand that writers sometimes treat cons as WORK, they need to. Writers can’t always just please themselves by going to events, they have to go sometimes. And it’s work they aren’t directly paid for. And they have to act friendly and approachable when they don’t feel like it, et cetera…. Obviously some events are also fun. Thank goodness.

  2. I hear that. I’m always torn between wanting to attend these things and knowing that it will do me far more fiscal harm than good. Anytime I attend a convention, I basically have to go in understanding that I’m going to eat the cost of gas, time, and food that day. If I’m lucky, I’ll sell a book or two, maybe meet someone who might help me down the line (or, in turn, maybe I can help them). But as someone in the Nobody Brigade, I’ve stopped attending conventions unless I’m invited. I tried really hard to do them for years, but it ended up being a black hole of time and money, and I never really saw a major uptick in return. You can’t force people to support you.

    It’s hard to do readings or a panel where four or five people show up to see you. It’s hard to sit at a table all day and not sell books. It’s hard to take time away from jobs, family, and things I’d like to do in my precious spare time. I know that sometimes it’s necessary, but it does not make it easy. It’s even harder when the Con wants money from you to even show up. That’s where I draw the line.

  3. I’m happy to own my opinions! I wasn’t all that irritated by Goss’s article overall (and I hope it didn’t come off that way), though I was irritated by her painting the view as “people are often surprised to hear that SF cons don’t pay”. That formulation, where you want to say something controversial “I believe x” so put it into the mouths of shadowy lurkers “people are surprised that not x”, does wind me up and I’m happy to call it out.

    I have run quite a few cons, and have never, ever selected a guest on the basis that that choice of guest might increase attendance. It’s literally not been remotely a factor when choosing who to honour, and the implication that it ought to be makes me feel a little queasy. Having guests at all, of course, does say something about the sort of con you are and sets attendance expectations. If Goss writes books that excite people enough, the actual expenses-paid trips will follow in time; expenses-paid is still not quite as good as ‘paid’, of course, but it’s still pretty good (and good enough for most people in most fields).

    I’m sorry that my friends and acquaintances can’t attend more conventions because of the cost, but of course that’s also true for me; the last time I attended a non-European Worldcon was 2009 and it doesn’t seem likely to happen again too. Whether or not they are authors or other professionals is immaterial in this.

    I’m also trading at Dublin, but as a nano-business there’s no possible way (even if I traded full time, which I don’t want to do because it’s my summer holiday) that I could possibly recoup the costs of attending. Similarly, my guess is that for most beginning authors, the expense of attending a convention could be put into paid marketing and social media support and deliver about a hundred times the bang for the buck.

    Finally, I prefer small conventions to large ones as a rule, and I prefer conventions that programme on the basis of how interesting people are rather than whether or not they’re professionals. So I think I’m up for the balkanisation you’re worried about; I’m not remotely anti-change, I just prefer things not to get worse.

  4. One way in which conventions have blurred the line for writers (and let’s include artists, editors, agents, etc) between attending because they like conventions and are part of fan culture, and attending because it’s good for their careers in terms of networking, self-promotion, and so forth, is the common practice (and for the sake of argument, I’ll assume it’s still part of many convention programmers’ toolkit) is the mass offering of free memberships if the recipients will agree to being on program items. I think this started in the late 1970s; I saw it used by Norwescon and other conventions in the Pacific Northwest. Because of that, many writers would think of themselves as “invited guests,” even if they weren’t “Guests of Honor,” the folks most of us assume will have all expenses paid and maybe a per diem as well.

    • I can’t recall the last time I was a panelist at a convention and had my badge comped because of it. I think that practice became (out of fiscal necessity) a thing of the past.

      • I think the last time I got a free membership for being on program was five or six years ago at Portland convention Orycon. I decided to decline because I was only on fan-oriented items with micro-audiences. So I can’t say if that convention, Norwescon, or others in the area still do give such.

  5. I’m also a “nobody” author, much better known among fans for my fanac than my handful of published science fiction stories. I know a lot of bigger-name pros, though, and yes, sometimes schmoozing face-to-face with editors and colleagues is of use to them. However, in this online era, anyone who believes that attending sf cons is the best way to promote fiction sales is delusional.

    I’m with Alison on this. I go to cons to see my friends. Some of them are pros. But if everyone who’s now attending cons because they believe it promotes their career and think of doing so as “work” stopped showing up, I would cheer. I could happily attend a full Worldcon program with no pros on it at all.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.