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.