After the WFC, Reflections and Musings.

he World Fantasy Convention in Salt Lake City is over and done with, life returns to normal. Or as normal as we get these days.

I thought I’d share a few reflections.

First up, I found it really well organized. The web site was clear and easy to navigate, the portal or video conferencing system, was intuitive. I got the hang of it pretty quickly, and despite trepidation, navigated quite easily. I found what I wanted to find without difficulty, and the few times I struggled, the tech crew was understanding and helpful. Apparently they had technical glitches, as with the readings, but they coped, adapted and everything went smoothly.

Not everyone had my experience, a few of the more famous established writers seemed to struggle a little.

But personally, this was great. As far as I’m concerned, this could serve as a blueprint for online conventions.

Programming what I saw of it, was excellent. Programming started Wednesday and ran through Sunday. There was a mix of ‘professional development’ and ‘writing development’ panels. I especially appreciated the ones on finding an agent and on marketing. But all the panels were interesting and imaginative.

The thing with conventions like this is that they’ll have three to five tracks of programming running simultaneously, so sometimes you’ll be in a situation of having to choose, which means having to miss. The nice thing about this online convention is that most of the panels will be up on Youtube for a month, so I’ll be able to see everything I wanted, and re-watch some of the more interesting ones.

There was also a ton of readings. Readings were not recorded for youtube, so I tended to bias towards them, sometimes picking a reading I knew I wouldn’t be able to see later, over a panel that I could catch on youtube later. I usually picked readings more or less randomly, so the results were hit miss. The highlight for me was an hour long reading by Walter John Williams.

So in terms of content and production, absolutely no complaints. It was great.

As to my own participation? I had two panels, moderating one of them, and a reading. SCORE! This is one of the big landmark conventions, it’s the ‘Pro’ convention. So getting to do panels and readings is a huge feather in the cap.

There’s always that possibility that somewhere in the audience, is an Agent or Publisher watching you strut your stuff, and you’ve got a chance to be discovered, like Lana Turner in the drugstore.

At the very least, it’s a potentially significant credit for the resume, and a bit of a status thing for an up and coming writer.

How did I do?

Alternate History – with . That was Thursday evening. Moderator: Gillian Pollack.  Panel:  Charlaine Harris, Madeline Robbins and yours truly. I was a late entry to the panel. They had some spaces, so I jumped right in. It was fun, it was brisk, I was friendly, charming and knowledgeable, and so was everyone else. I think it went realy well.

My Reading – Saturday, early noon. My friend, Dave Keck showed up, along with a small handful of people. I didn’t get any huge number. But then again, my audience was the same as Walter Jon Williams, and he’s a lot more famous than I am. I read two flashback segments from the Luck, put everything I had into it, passion, energy, excitement. I think I brought tears to my audiences eyes. I’m happy with that.

The one that worried me most was Laws of Fairyland on Sunday morning. Panelists: Moi (as moderator no less),  David Drake, J.R.H. Lawless and Mary Thompson. Killer time slot, and not in a good way, and a dry esoteric topic. I was worried about dying on ice on that on, having no one show up, or worse, that as a panel we’d have nothing interesting to say. As moderator, that would be on me. I worked hard, brain stormed a lot, got in touch with the other panellists, and tried to work out a list of ideas. I was lucky, we had really good people, and my fellow panellists picked up and ran with it. I kept it moving. Everyone was happy. We had ninety people attending. Success!

I didn’t fall on my face. I was sharp and on the ball, witty, charming, intelligent, friendly, all that good stuff.

One really nice little surprise was sales. I sold eight books on Amazon during the convention. For the rest of you, that’s no big whoop. But for me, I’m not good at promotion or marketing. I just keep producing books and putting them out into the world. So selling eight? Terrific!

It makes me think I should have pitched or promoted my work a little harder through the panels and readings. I might have gotten nine or ten. They were having Book giveaways, maybe I should have volunteered one of mine to that catalogue. Didn’t think of it. Simply didn’t occur to me.

I did take advantage of the Book giveaway – I downloaded something like fifty of the eighty books available. These literary conventions are great for high quality freebies.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t ‘discovered.’ So… back to the drawing board, step by step, doing the hard work. No shortcuts for me.

I’m not really an established or a name writer in any sense of the word. I don’t think the panels advanced or really did anything for my career one way or the other.

But you know, they were worth doing. No regret. Let’s put it this way – I would a thousand times rather be doing panels and readings at WFC than not doing them at all, and rather a hundred times do them at WFC than anywhere else. At the very least, it gives me much credibility to participate in panels and activities at other literary or professional conventions like Can-Con in Ottawa, or When Words Collide in Alberta. And that may pay dividends, you never know.

Yes, it’s all a giant hamster wheel. But I’m a hamster with gumption and grit and plenty of horsepower.

The downsides of the convention….

Well, life kept intruding. I ended up working, Wednesday through Friday. Clients call, life intrudes. In the middle of the evening a friend calls up while I’m trying to watch a panel, and he decides he wants to have a chat. That made me a little crazy. That’s wouldn’t happen if I was travelling to another city.

That wasn’t just me, in the post conference discussions, people talked about the intrusions of life, having to feed the cat, taking care of chores, phone calls, all that kind of thing.

The other downside? A schmoozing deficit. The World Fantasy Convention is the grand prize because this is one of the conventions where the Industry congregates, where you can meet socially with writers and artists, editors, publishers, agents. Meet the right person, make the right connection, arrange an appointment in advance, or get a friendly chat and a business card to follow up later, and hey you’ve got a career. Or a shot at one.

Schmoozing, or professional socializing is a huge part of the World Fantasy Convention. Possibly the Raison D’ Etre. Panels are nice, but the most important forum at most of these things is the bar.

I keep missing that boat. The thing is, I’m not especially good at schmoozing. Sometimes I am. Sometimes I’m just on, radiating charisma. But often not. Still, an essential part of the game is people to shmooze at.  Doesn’t matter if I’m blazing with charisma, if there’s no one to blaze at.

I didn’t really see a lot of that. Attendance was almost 600 people, so I imagine there were business folk around. Anne Groelle was a guest of honour. Ellen Datlow did a panel or two.

But there wasn’t really a lot of heavy socializing going on. Not the fault of the conference. They’d set up about twenty electronic ‘lounge’ spaces, little islands where people could gather online and have round robin conversations. Mostly, they were unoccupied. At any given time, there was just a few of them, numbers of participants weren’t huge, and nothing terribly exciting went on.

The most dynamic ‘lounge’ was actually the ‘lobby’ a sort of grand central that everyone passed through to get to the lounges. A lot of people just stopped in the lobby and a rolling discussion went on. The highlight was a young woman who worked with a Raptor shelter, bringing a couple of her birds – A red tailed hawk, and a great horned owl. It was just cool to see them.

Usually, the parties, and the bar scene goes on all night. But I was shocked at how fast it all seemed to wind up, and how few were participating.

Well, that’s life in Covid land, I guess. The lounges didn’t come with alcohol, and as nice as an ersatz lounge of people filling your video screen is, I don’t think it’s a full substitute. People, if they were meeting up or talking for deals did it privately, by direct phones and video-conference. I don’t know how much, if any business actually happened through the convention, if anyone made any contacts, or what. I suspect not much.

I suspect that’s going to be the paradigm for the Covid era, however long it lasts. We’re all on this ongoing voyage of figuring out ways to do business and deal with each other at arms length, and the old comfortable ways are set aside, at least for now.

Maybe Montreal will be different next year. If it’s live, rather than memorex, it should be a real hive of activity.

For now?

Meh.

Right now, it’s just not a big deal. The Publishing industry at the best of times is a capricious Rube Goldberg game of Snakes and Ladders, even for the people who are supposed to know what they’re doing. Right now? It’s an unmitigated shit show. Covid has been a kick in the balls for the mainstream book industry.

Printers have shut down for extended periods. Which meant that they weren’t filling orders to print books. Which means that everything is backlogged. Not only were printers not printing books, but the few books in warehouses didn’t have trucks shipping them to bookstores, which in turn weren’t open, or were on reduced hours or reduced occupancy.

But that’s not the end of it. Publishing is this thing of multiple processes, multiple schedules. There’s a schedule for printing, another for getting printed books to the stores, another for marketing, yet another for promotion. And provided that everything goes right, everything lines up, so that books are printed, marketed into bookstores, promoted to retail and commercial buyers.

Well, all that’s gone to shit. There’s marketing for books that aren’t in print. There’s books in print in the stores without marketing. There’s orders going unfilled. There’s product no one is ordering. Bookstores are closed, then they’re open, or half open. They can sell, they can’t sell. No one knows what’s going on, or what the rules will be next month or in six months, and the rules can vary by state. Publishing companies are working from home, but with the industry in disarray and sales bottoming out, people are getting laid off, or moving around, or trying to find new niches, which means that all the orderly processes are upended, which is disastrous for books in process, or book lines or editors.

This in an industry which already lives on thin margins, which has evolved a really complicated and counterintuitive set of business models. The publishing industry doesn’t cope well with shocks of any kind. Hell, they’re still struggling to come to grips with the impact of ebooks, of audiobooks, of self publishing and small presses and alternative marketing. So I don’t imagine that they’re coping well with this at all, or that this is a good time to have a book in process.

Pity the poor bastard writers who were starting their careers, publishing their first or second books, getting their big push this year… They’re so fucked. Their books and their careers are on the line, and they’re going to bear the brunt.

The computer systems that track authors and sales don’t take into account circumstances. At the best of times, there’s a hundred capricious things, publishers closing, lines discontinued, a change of editor that hates your book, book showing up without promotion, or promotion without the book, that utterly wreck a writers career. If you hang around and listen, you hear one horror story after another of writers getting their careers randomly fucked by capricious events.

So, these are career catastrophe days.

Actually, thinking out loud, maybe this is something that the WFC Salt Lake City should have been addressing. A series of panels wrestling with the impact of Covid-19, something along the lines of “Wow, Covid is kicking the whole publishing industry in the groin, how’s it affecting us?”

Or “Trying to figure out how to function and have a working business model in the Covid era AKA Excuse us while we curl into a fetal ball and have a good cry.”

Or “What to expect post Covid – short, medium and long term.”

Now that I’ve thought of it, I’m surprised that they missed it. I almost feel that they’d be shocked and embarrassed if I pointed it out now. ‘Oops! How did we miss that!’ The thing is, that sometimes, when something this big and overwhelming hits, we try and blot it out, and insist on normality. Like English folk having dinner parties during the blitz. It’s a coping mechanism. A clinging to the sane world we know, and aggressively shutting out the world altering event.

Personally, it’s hard to ignore, and whether they admit it or not, it’s turning things inside out.

Maybe that’s for the best. Maybe the Publishing Industry will come through, refine, improve, redevelop their business models, maybe stop being such a Rube Goldberg clown show. Or maybe it’ll just eventually fall back into it’s old ways.

In the meantime, I’ll keep slowly looking for an Agent. More than ever, Agents are the gatekeepers to the majors, that’s a fact of life. The publishing industry operates on glacial time frames, so I figure that by the time I get an Agent (if), and by the time the Agent sells a book (if), the Covid-19 thing will have stabilized or been resolved, and I’ll be entering the market as it normalizes.

I’ll keep self publishing, personal projects, but I’d like to think I’m slowly developing a grasp of how to market through that venue.

I guess that’s it for now.

I’ll tell ya, not quitting the day job any time.

 

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