Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Turn Turn Turn



There was a time Dan and I went to World Fantasy Con every year. I’d go armed with a list: people to meet. People to do business with.

For those of you from other genres/traditions, WFC is THE business con in the scifi side. Oh, other cons are better for connecting with the public: Dragoncon, or even Worldcon. As for connecting with publishers, Comicon probably holds the top now. However, WFC is relatively relaxed, relatively cheap, and it gives you face time with the people you’ve only seen on the other side of guidelines or rejection slips.

I used to go to WFC with an agenda the length of my arm, and come back – usually – having achieved my goals, plus some. In almost every case, the real money, which would trickle in after WFC would come from things I hadn’t planned, anyway: a dinner with a new publisher; a casual talk in the bar; an introduction late at night in a party suite.

About three (two?) years ago, we realized that WFC hadn’t paid for itself for two years, and we backburnered it. We thought “Well, maybe it’s time to let it go.” And frankly, WFC has always come at an inconvenient time. It’s the very last of the winter cons, when I’m getting ready to buckle down and get deadlines done before the New Year; it’s usually a vector for con crud; and, oh, yeah, it interferes with Halloween.

This year, for various reasons, we decided to go again. And perhaps because of our hiatus, I am keenly aware of how both the con and our interaction with it have changed.

First the con – for the last few years we attended, WFC has been looking... well, run down. Out of energy. Fewer parties and a lot of them thrown by tiny outfits who couldn’t throw either a party or make much of an impression. Fewer editors attending. Heck, fewer free books.

I’m glad to report WFC is back to if not its glory days, pretty close to it. The parties were good, (Tor had all the booze!) and the bags of free books overflowed to the point we had to get creative to bring them back and – oh, yeah – editors of various descriptions roamed the Earth, uttering their cries over the meteor-bright... Oh, wait, that’s T-rexes, not editors. But there were plenty of editors there too, and most of them not micro-press. (I do regret the lack of massive multi tier chocolate cake at the Tor party. No, I can’t eat it, but it lent such an air of elegance to our proceedings. Tom Doherty, can you hear me? How much can a chocolate cake cost? Even if it’s the size of a small planet and has its own gravity? :) )

Now to talk about me. Sorry, I mean, my expectations for the con: Because our reasons for going were a mix of personal and professional, my professional goals were simple: I’ve missed seeing my agent all year (as opposed to last year, when we kept meeting at various cons) and I wanted to talk to her about a couple of things best not consigned to email. (No disagreements, just some things are easier to explain in person.) That was pretty much it.

Personally, as far as the con went, I wanted to see old friends I hadn’t seen in years and listen to field gossip.

I met all the professional goals and personal goals for the con easily enough. In addition, I met a couple of people who might or might not mean business in the future, talked to people I only knew from online and whom I liked immensely in person.

So, how did things change? Well, I no longer stay up for the late parties. Most of the people hanging out after say eleven or so are either people I already know or – bluntly – people who are of no help to me. Also this must have been the first con where I found people coming to me, instead of my going to them. An odd feeling, but much more relaxed.

I was neither a newby nor desperate, and my whole attitude had shifted, allowing me to enjoy the con as a social occasion as well as a business opportunity.

So, will we be back next year? Who knows? Depends on which of those contacts come true and whether the con pays for itself this year or not.

How do you measure cons? What do you want, or would want out of them? Have you noticed your goals shifting in cons?

Gauntlet update: Despite con (eh) and insane cat tricks (Miranda-cat swallowed a whole spool of thread and had attendant fun with vets) about 3k words on novel (Not good enough d*mn it! Should be a DAY’s output) and a short story that should be finished by the time you read this.

Spurs for those who need them: three word short story spark– Realm; cap; breach. Phrase spark – to put the kibosh on. character, setting, problem – cat; rainy day; hunger.

25 comments:

twittertales said...

I've been vaguely aware for years that I'm "supposed to make contacts" so I dropped by a con in Sydney, knowing a publisher I'm interested in would be there. Apart from chatting to three publishers (that was my list, plus more), I realised what a difference cons make to publishers. I went crazy and went to two more cons that I really couldn't afford. Now I've had face-to-face contact with 6 of the biggest Australian publishers. I assume that's worth something, but it's too early to tell. I'm mostly just relieved that I don't have any more cons to go to for a while - yet at the same time, I crave more. Hmm. I do know my two best writing buddies are both people I met at cons.

Louise Curtis

MataPam said...

::Sigh:: Taking notes for the day I start acting like a professional writer instead of a fan.

Lin W said...

I go to cons as a fan (this *will* change, I do so vow).

Cons are places that I can meet with friends -- and also be reminded (by non-friends!) just how important personal hygiene is on a day to day basis.

Con pong. Is it actually an alien life form that drags itself around the world, feeding and growing ever stronger? And what will World Con pong be like? A whole new level? The granddaddy, as it were, of Con pongs?

Lin

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

twittertales,

I dread cons and am always relieved they're past (Liberty con, my adopted home con excepted) And yeah, the work is incremental. Just remember, it's hard for them to reject you when they know you, so if it comes to a hair trigger decision, you can have that going for you.

Besides what you mention about your best writing buddies is germane. We need to meet our kind, and cons work for that.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Pam,

So, when will that be?

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Lin,

I realized I wasn't in KS anymore when a con welcome sheet said "Shower every day. Remember to use water and soap."

But I have to say the offenders are USUALLY teen gamers.

Brendan said...

I have only been to a couple of cons and still don't have the whole "socialising" thing down yet.

Next time - after getting the autograph of 'Name' author and she says "Do you have anything coming up?" I will say "No"(rather than "I thought I would check out the panel on blah, blah, blah") and see where it goes.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Sarah,

I've been going to cons for 35 years. (Gosh, did I say that aloud?).

First as a fan and Indy Press publisher, then as an artist, then as a writer.

The best part is catching up with old friends. But I like to have hotel room near the con so I can sneak away when all the socializing gets too much for me.

Anonymous said...

Steve and I love going to cons, though we've suffered some monetary setbacks the last few years and haven't chosen to put our money there. It may be a couple more years before we're comfortable spending money on them (maybe not "comfortable" but less like "OMG, the money! How will we pay the dentist?").

But we love them. Steve goes totally as a fan...he's quite the social butterfly. I like the panels and meeting the folks I've only known by name so far. And, frankly, we both love the shopping. Art shows, books, other sff goodies that you can't wear anywhere else. Erica just wore the elf ears she bought at OmegaCon a couple of years ago for Halloween again. Fun!

Linda

Anonymous said...

Whoops, should be "buy anywhere else." Erg.

Linda

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Brendan,

I hope you're not checking the panels for marketing leads. It's not how it's done. You get those in conversation

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Rowena,

I think it's a little different on that side of the ocean... Here a lot of business seems to be done at parties and in dinners and semi-private conversation.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Linda,

I don't like cons mostly because I have to be "on" and watch my tongue. But look, the things you've mentioned are "cons as a fan". Not that there is anything wrong with that. I've never done them, as my first con was after being published. But the thing is I've noticed that fans socializing as fans are okay, writers socializing as writers are okay. Writers socializing as fans... well, won't achieve professional objectives. This is different -- as always -- for Baen, but outside Baen cons, consider the business angle of it.

Brendan said...

Sarah,

I am such a noob I am still going to panels for the contents rather than the compere.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Brendan,

I've attended panels for the contents -- but usually for the people who are talking. However, not for the "market value" or whatever. I mean, hearing PTerry, say, talk about magic (or the ABC, for that matter. Or socks. Or whatever he wants to talk about) absolutely worth the price of admission. Hearing editors say they want something "completely new" not so much. They don't. They want a twist on what sold this year.

Kate said...

The panels can be interesting, but the real gold is in being available to get dragged to anything. Having a more experienced/better known author friend grab you and take you to a private party (as their guest, naturally) and introduce you around is the kind of thing you can't plan, and you can't get any other way.

It won't necessarily sell your work, but it does put you where you can be at "con friend" level with people who are where you want to be. Plus, if you keep mouth mostly shut and ears mostly open, you learn a whole lot more than you would at the panels.

There are other bonuses, too, like being able to ambush editors at cons with messages from their author who couldn't make it (particularly fun when "message" consists of a big hug).

It's taken me a while to get certain members of my family to see that I treat conventions as work - often fun, but it's still work: I'm there aiming to project "author" and an image that will be remembered. That means I dress "author", and I hang - mostly - with authors. Doesn't mean I don't have fan-fun as well, but it's not the main reason I'm there.

Amanda Green said...

I think the biggest change has been the mindset I've had to force on myself. A con now is business. Sure, it's okay to have fun and to go a bit fannish for a few minutes. But that's not the reason for going now. Cons are to make contacts and network. They are to put faces with names and to, hopefully, be in the right place at the right time to be pulled into a conversation with and editor or agent that might, sometime later, lead to a professional relationship.

It's also meant a change in mindset about the parties. I'm more aware of what I'm doing, how much I'm eating or drinking and, most especially, what I'm saying. I am also more aware of what is going on around me.

That's not to say I don't have fun. I just try to remember why I've gone to the con. It is, perhaps unfortunately, no longer a day or weekend to geek and gawk. It's a time for work and meeting folks and putting my best foot forward. Of course, I do find time to geek and gawk as well, just not as much as before.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Kate,
of course it doesn't garantee they'll buy your book, but it does help if they know you. There's more chance they'll read it. At least if they like you. :)

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Amanda,

Oy, yeah. A lot of newbies drink too much. Mind you, I had a little blue moon at the Tor party, but only because I know I can hold two beers with no issues. My agent was drinking seltzer water, though, and so was Tom Doherty.

As for fan... eh, the only con I attended purely as a fan -- ever -- was Discworld con. It was wonderful, like a vacation. I'm going to try to do it again next year. Mind you, some of my fans and colleagues were there, so I was still on best behavior, but since it was PTerry's con, I could pretend to be a Seamstress in a corset and not feel bad. (YAY.)

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Linda,

when my writers group was very new and broke, one of our number managed to make it to Worldcon. She came back with the "exciting" news that elephants might be sentient. At the time I assumed she'd just figured out something above my head. Of course, no. She was just attending panels and this is what caught her attention. She made no contacts, gleaned nothing about the field. Back then I didn't even know I should be disappointed. Now, I look back at how excited she was and how much she spent to make it there and all I can think is "What a wasted opportunity." (Mind you, Worldcon is not very good if you are a newby or a new author. Too many people at most of them, and you get lost in the noise. For new people, I highly recommend WFC. World con is great to connect with FANS.)

Brendan said...

Amanda, did you go prepared with the needle?

Dave Freer said...

Eh, always having lived on the far end of the world, Cons have been rarities. I've been to 7 (well 7 if you count a little one in Rochester). But the first 3 all made me substantial profit on investment - paid themselves. The next 4 - well, the one in NZ got some business done with Eric, and my migration to Australia came out of the one in Melbourne (so that was a good investment). Lunacon was the first con I say I went to... and sold nada. nothing. zip. The buying climate that year sucked. Aussiecon... too early to tell, but it might lead to more sales to Baen. Work was discussed, clarity reached. But I really failed at much contact with the Australian industry, and I want that. The international contingent there was small, and the chances for socialising less good than I hoped, as the con hotel botched the room party thing.

I'm really not a natural crowd person.

I am pleased some steam is coming back to world fantasy.

Michele Lang said...

Well, this was my first WFC so I have no basis for comparison. But from my dewy-eyed newbie perspective, it was well worth the trip.

I didn't make as many connections with editors as I might have liked, but I talked with many, many wonderful new writers, and authors too (including you and your husband! it was great to spend some time with you).

The few panels I attended sparked some ideas, which is always good. But best of all was the bar con, where I met the most people and had the most intense, thought provoking discussions.

All in all, a great experience. Hope I can do it next year.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Dave,

Actually the con in Rochester is fairly large for a "local con".

I think a lot of the "socializing" is moving on line, but there is still something to be said for meeting people face to face.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Hi Michelle,
(it was great meeting you.) WFC is a great con for starting professionals to make contacts and friends in the field! For more experienced ones, too. I just have to ballance money/con. If money and family weren't considerations I'd go every year.