To con or not
Conventions – what are they, and what are they worth to me (and my writing career). This is principally a writer’s advocacy and support site, but most of us got into sf/fantasy because we liked to read it, or at least some of it. The line between writer and fan is blurred one – which is a good thing.
Let me start by saying as marketing tool for most noobs and even midlisters Cons are singly useless. If – for all the expense and hassle and stress you get to breaking triple digits worth of extra sales… you’ve done exceptionally well. Of course one can achieve that with a single Bookbub or even a Kindle countdown. Unless you’re a flamboyant extravert with self-promoting skill at the Scalzi level, it’s not going to – in financial terms – break even, unless the con is in your home town, and entry is exceptionally cheap.
To a reasonably successful author the purpose of a con is limited to rewarding loyal fans, and introducing your existence to people who don’t read you.
Even in terms of raising your profile – the same requirement to be an extravert exists. Oddly, many great writers are not known for being rabid extraverts. It’s not a job requirement.
And yes, I’ve met the lonely wannabe desperately wondering around a convention with his manuscript in his backpack. It never was a great place to schmooze with potential buyers as a noob, and let’s be honest in an environment where publishers bought 1 manuscript in 3000… it was always a tough sell. In some cases it work for a few people. Once for me. Call it less than 5% of my sales.
Unless you’re one of those extroverts: a con is… not for your benefit. Cons really… are for the benefit of fans. That’s why fans pay to attend.
On the other hand one of the largest reasons fans have to attend is that this is their change to see, hear, and maybe meet and talk with authors of whom they are fans. That’s why authors with a lot of readers tend to get invited by cons as guests. The cons pay for them to attend.
In the midrange there are noobs and minor authors and low-level midlisters. Cons usually don’t pay for them to attend, or only comp minor expenses (because they have few fans if any). They hope to benefit by getting noticed by the people who are there to see the authors with a lot more fans. They’re keen to be on panels (especially with popular authors) and keen for a chance to schmooze and make contacts. If they’re extroverts and good at being popular or even noticed, it might work. They’re –let’s be blunt – of no particular value and can be replaced easily. They want to be there, and you don’t have to attract them. They’ll come. But popular authors and fans won’t bother if they’re all you’ve got.
The second major reason fans go to cons is social: they are able to interact with people who share their interests.
Look, a lot of sf-fans find themselves fitting badly into the wider world and revel in finding a group of fellow ‘misfits’. For that alone a con can be fun. For that to work, however, the environment (and the people attending) have to be tolerant of a wide range of ‘misfit’. The minute you start regulating people who came to escape being regulated by society… well, let’s say it’s the thin edge of the wedge, and pretty soon it tends becomes a place where many misfits don’t find any different to the society they don’t fit. Yes, I know. Peanut butter is not a ‘costume’.
Con organizing is labor of love, and like herding cats. A few people do a lot of the work –and there is a lot of work. Sadly there is an element who see anything like this as a great opportunity to play organization (office) politics – which almost always spills over into actual politics. And one the basic rules of life is those who devote their effort to playing organization politics, have little energy or desire to actually do any of that work. So, many great and credible organizations find themselves with all the senior positions taken over by those who like to and are skilled at playing politics, and do bloody little, and what they do do, they do badly –while demanding the respect earned by the hardworking types they displaced. The worker-types get tired of doing the work that does get done, with constant interference and no support – and no real credit… and leave.
What we’re seeing at the moment with many of cons in the US and elsewhere, is that because of an attempt to de-platform and silence anyone who doesn’t agree 110% with fairly extreme (and growing more extreme and doctrinaire by the hour) left-wing doctrine in its entirety, is a very toxic combination that is likely to kill many cons, let alone remove any value of them to authors
We’ve had the exclusion of authors for ‘pre-crime’. Two that I can think of, so far. One has sued – win or lose, the cost in time, money and extra stress will I hope discourage something that any rational person and even those who think if they buy kippers it will not rain can see is dumber than rocks. The rationale behind this sort of thing is the assumption it will never be applied to you. That you and yours will always be in control. Aside from the recent US elections proving that wrong, it doesn’t even have to be an ‘opponent’. Ask Trotsky or Bernie Sanders.
The newest trick in the culture war is epitomized by the attack on John Ringo as a special guest at Con Carolinas. It’s his local Con, he’s attended for years with nary an incident, nary a raised eyebrow. Magically this year the shrieking chorus of internet ‘heroes’ or so-called ‘SJW’ (you know, people who wouldn’t lift a finger to help a poor person injured and in trouble ten yards from them – but will raise a twitter mob and devote thousands of hours to virtue signaling to the world how ‘woke’ they are.) started one of their fits of histrionics – managing to claim that one hand John was a danger and on the other that they were going to confront and physically assault him – secure in their armor of ‘righteous wokeness’ using all the magic words of SJW power, ‘racisss-sexisss-homophobe’
Now John has attended the same con for years. I’ve known him for about twenty years. We’ve had our differences – but this is one of the guys running towards the sound of the guns. This one of the people who stepped up to defend – not just people they liked and agreed with, but those who were 100% the opposite. There’s a hysterical idiot claiming discrimination is just fine – because people like John want her/it/whatever dead. That’s about as logical as claiming I’m the magic words, because when I get an Ambulance call-out I don’t ask the race, sex or orientation of the person I am going to help.
If you can tolerate this – Cons are dead. Look at the reasons they exist, what authors get out of them, and shrinking pool of ‘misfits’ who are ‘acceptable’.