Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Conferences, Festivals, Conventions

John McFetridge

Should you go or not?

The first convention I ever went to was in Boston in 1977 – NewCon Science Fiction Convention – back when sci fi cons were all about books. Well, almost all about books, they did show that blooper reel from Star Trek that could only be shown a few times a year, some propaganda cartoons (incredibly racist) and I think an episode of The Prisoner.

(this is the part where I feel I should tell you kids to get off my lawn.)

But Star Wars had been released (and there was no talk of a sequel yet) and that was pretty much the beginning of people coming to sci fi conventions who’d never read a book. Okay, I’m trying to make friends with this blog, so I’ll stop right now and let Robert J. Sawyer take over. Here’s his view of how Star Wars ruined science fiction literature:

I was in the audience once when Rob gave that speech (GenreCon in Sarnia, Ontario a few years ago) and he starts it by saying he won't take any questions but, man, some guys just vibrate in their seats trying to hold it together.

Anyway, the question here is should you go to conventions or conferences or festivals, or whatever they're called and I say yes, you should go.


If you’re a writer – even a ‘pre-published’ writer – a book conference like Bouchercon or Left Coast Crime or Bloody Words here in Canada is a great way to feel like a writer and to be around people who feel the same way. These are places for people who love books.

Now, these conventions aren’t very good places to sell books. It’s good to make sure there are copies of your book in the dealers’ room, but I mean they aren’t good places for you to try and sell your book to someone. That’s not really what they’re for and no one wants to put up with hundreds of writers trying to sell them a book.

The thing is, most of the time when you’re a writer you're also something else – a schoolteacher or a stay-at-home-Dad (that was me for years), an insurance salesman or a computer progammer or something. And usually the something takes first place in your life.

So, at something like Bouchercon, for four days you get to be a writer first. In a hotel bar packed with people who understand exactly what that means.

You might even learn something at a panel. At Bouchercon in Madison a few years ago Jim Fusilli was on the panel about music in mysteries and he pointed out that if you can't write a few lines as trite as a pop song and need to actually use real ones you're not working hard enough. That hit me because there are music references all over my books. Now, in the book I'm working on I finally have characters who are musicians and I'm having fun writing their sappy lyrics.

You might even hear someone like Rob Sawyer go off on a tangent that starts a riot.

Or maybe I'm just trying to justify the money I'm spendig to go to Dublin for the Books Fest 2009 where I'll be on a panel with Stuart Neville.

Maybe I'll even sell a couple of books...

(filling out the post option to make this come on line tomorrow I notice that will be 09/09/09 -- spooooky....)


Sophie Littlefield said...

lovely and dead on....will see you there

Scott D. Parker said...

For me, conventions can sometimes feel like excuses to be a fan boy. Not that there's anything wrong with that. And one can learn a lot from certain panels. The History of SF panel chaired by Bill Crider here at Apollocon back in June was wholly interesting and enlightening.

However, for writing conventions, I've found little inspiration (other than the kick in the pants to go home and start writing). No matter how many books you read about writing, it still boils down to the fundamental statement: just do it. Just write. You'll learn. Sure, there are tips and tricks to help you out and those are certainly worthy of learning. But, really, just friggin' write.

Re: Bouchercon - I told some folks last year (who urged me to go) that I wanted to go only when I had a reason to go (book published, etc.). Not sure I'll get there this year but I'll certainly be there in 2011 when our local Murder by the Book folks are the hosts.

BTW, I never saw, until today, the Sawyer piece. Fascinating.

John McFetridge said...

I guess I was trying to say that having a book published isn't a reason to go to Bouchercn. It's really not a good place to try and sell the book, or even talk about the book much.

But it's a great place to hear about other books.

(And after all this, it looks like I won't be making it to Bouchercon this year. Oh well, I'm looking forward to seeing you at the next one).

And yeah, that Sawyer stuff is interesting. He makes some good points, I think.

Jay Stringer said...

I've yet to go to a literary festival, really. I did catch one talk at the Edinburgh festival a few weeks ago.

I've been to a general 'geek' one,an annual event called MEMORABILIA near where i grew up. I was there working as one of the traders. It lead to a fair few fun stories but nothing that made me want to attend as a customer.

But that feeling you've described as 'feeling like a writer' in priceless. Any chance to get that feeling is worth taking, because i think it helps to motivate. I'm already looking at the list of festivals next year and plotting an attack strategy.

That was a very interesting rant about STAR WARS! I think blaming it for the current state of SF is probably overstreching, but he does raise some of the many, many flaws in that film.

I had a moment of clarity last year. I realised that out of six films, i only enjoyed one of them. And even in that one, there was only really one character i liked. So i stopped kidding myself i was a fan. Most of my friends still are though.

Steve Weddle said...

Yeah, I've been thinking about them there fancy conferences you folks have been jawin about.

I was told that the writers with books get together and throw eggs at the writers who don't have book deals and then make them sing college fight songs.

Dave White said...

We're throwing eggs this year? Damn, I can't make it. Can't take off from work... even for the Shamus Awards...