*Sorry to post so late. I kept telling myself I needed to finish this before caffeine and… well…*
Years ago I woke up prissy and wrote a post for this blog called Wither Conventions. (Which attracts more spam than any other post on this blog, I guess because the title sounds so important and businesslike.)
Part of the reason I wrote that post is that I had a weird feeling, and part of the reason that post is kind of wishy washy is that I couldn’t say what I wanted to say. I couldn’t say it, because I had nothing to base it on, except my strong gut feeling.
Now I do.
The proof came in a weird way. I don’t know how many of you are aware that engineering students, at least in Colorado, have to take business courses. So, younger son is stuck with business courses and needed to write an article on a business development. Being who he is, he went with indie writing. He needed an article to take of from, though, and Cedar Sanderson was kind enough to give me a link to the WSJ Article on Hugh Howey and Wool.
I skimmed the article before I gave it to kid, but it wasn’t until kid asked me to check his assignment for typos (he makes as many as I do, and of the “autocomplete” type and this was the FIRST time in his life he asked me check) that it jumped out at me – the point I’d wanted to make in “Whither conventions”.
The money quote is this:
Mr. Howey recalls feeling anonymous at a science fiction conference last summer in Chicago. He got excited for a moment when a woman approached him—he thought she wanted his autograph—but she was looking for the bathroom.
Nearby, fantasy writer George R.R. Martin, author of the best-selling series “A Song of Ice and Fire,” was signing hundreds of books. Mr. Howey went up and introduced himself. When it became clear that Mr. Martin had never heard of him, Mr. Howey told him his novel was No. 6 on Amazon’s list of science-fiction and fantasy best sellers, behind Mr. Martin’s five books. Mr. Martin gamely signed a book for Mr. Howey, inscribing it “To # 6—Keep trying!”
A few months later, Mr. Howey landed at the top of the list, just ahead of Mr. Martin.
I know they thought they were being pithy or ironic or something. What they are actually exposing is something else. Cons and publicity through cons have become an arm of the “official publishing” complex. The people who stayed in cons, run cons, are part of organized fandom, are the people who were content with the directions traditional publishing was going in.
Yes, part of it is political, though it’s not even easy to define the politics as either of the two parties. If anything they’re to the left of any party in the US, including the Greens. They’re usually trendy, oikophobic, hyper feminist, pagan, etc, etc.
The people they take to their bosom are usually, like any other human group, either people like them, or people more like them than they are – i.e. people who stake out an even more extreme position.
But because they’re human and aspire to trendy it’s also possible to gain massive popularity in the con circuit by having a movie made about your book. Or a T.V. series.
If you fall into either of these categories, then cons are a good way to amplify your reach, increase your fandom and their fervor and, generally, make your career better. If you don’t, it’s always been doubtful whether it would do you any good. There was a method of publicity – the con blitz – where you went to a con a weekend for a couple of years, which could help even otherwise total unknowns. Provided you could carry yourself with an air, and had the ability to make the normal con people like you, either by being somewhat like them, or just by being really, really nice. There’s also the thing that if people meet you everywhere they start thinking you’re someone special.
I confess I was always prejudiced against that method. First, because we didn’t have the money. Second, because we didn’t have the time. Third because I’m not very fond of being out in public that much. I can enjoy it in small doses but every weekend seemed like a form of torture I didn’t want to endure.
When I wrote that first post about conventions, I was already iffy on whether what I was doing – going to a few cons, because that’s all I could do – did any good. Part of it was how the game was set up, and part of it was my realizing cons were changing. On panels I was as likely to share space with a NYT bestseller traditional means, as with a self published author who’d brought her book out last week.
This made the audience and the panels fluid – ie. Who were the fans who were there for the authors, when the authors had been fans last week and were still completely unknown?
I also noticed – everyone here has, right? – the steady drift towards media/costuming/gaming of cons, which were less and less INTERESTED in writing. It was possible to attend a massive con and find the panels for books attracted two people.
So I was wondering how worth it they were.
The quote above tells you – they’re not. Not unless you are the type of writer who would naturally have done well in the con environment. If you are, and particularly if you’ve long been involved in fandom, they will give you a boost. But if you’re not, then…
Then you have to ask yourself why you’re aiming at the center of traditional fandom. It is clear the two don’t mesh.
Look, guys, the man who was selling almost as much as George R. R. Martin was a non event at a con.
That means the fandom Hugh Howey was selling to doesn’t attend cons, vote for awards or, in general, belong to the whole dog-and-pony show circuit.
So, if you’re an atypical SF writer? Ignore the cons if you want to. Go to the ones you want to. (I’ll always go to Liberty con, because I and my family enjoy it.)
I’d recommend either belonging to a writer’s group or hitting a largish con a year, just so you can talk to or see other writers. But that’s me. You don’t even have to do that.
Cons are expensive, and if you’re going out of a sense of obligation don’t do it. That said, if you always wanted to be on a panel and all, do it. If you love cons, go.
But don’t do it for marketing. It might help a little on the margins, but you neither need it – i.e. there’s a whole audience you can reach out of it – nor will it be especially good for you unless you fit a certain profile.
And meanwhile, let’s work on reaching that massive fandom, which like the submerged portion of an iceberg looks to be much, much bigger.