Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Conferences and Conventions - by Debbie Bennett

After a few years out, I'm back on the conference/convention scene again - starting with the British Fantasy Society's FantasyCon later this month. I haven't been to a FantasyCon for a long time - I used to run them back in the day, which was a huge amount of fun, but also a huge amount of work co-ordinating a weekend for 300+ people. But since I went to the dark side and started writing crime, I've been out of the fantasy loop - that and a lack of funds - but I thought I'd venture back to sunny Nottingham this time. At least it's cheaper than London! 

Back in the day - way, way back - I'd do conventions on about three hours sleep. Over the entire weekend. I have fond memories of a London Con, still drinking while the cleaners were hoovering around us; an hour's sleep and then we'd be down to breakfast at eight ... The Cons I was involved in running - I'd meet with the conference manager and the conversation would go something like this:

Them: "So there will be about 300 people? And you want the hotel bar open until the last man falls over?"
Me: "Yes. That will be about 5am. Maybe."
Them: "And the drink?"
Me: "What would you normally have for an event? Treble it. Add some more. And that will do you for the first half of Friday evening..."

And they never believed me. And we invariably ran out of alcohol.

But this time, I'm going to FantasyCon as a writer. A published writer. (Hold onto that thought - this becomes important in a minute ...) And I've been invited to be on a panel about cross-genre writing, so clearly the programme-manager looked me up online. I'm hugely chuffed that I get to chat with authors like John Connolly on a stage! And it will be good to catch up with people I've not seen for a while.

I've also signed up for CrimeFest 2016 as well. But despite the fact that I have five crimes novels out there, selling, and a sixth due out this year, I can't sign up for CrimeFest as a writer. Because I'm not commercially published. The form is very specific - you have to be commercially published to be a writer (the definition apparently being that you were paid an advance). Otherwise you are an attendee.

So why does that matter? Well, if there's going to be a distinction between writers and non-writers in the first place - and I'm not sure why there even is one - then what does it matter how we got there? What about writers like Rachel Abbott, who in 2015 was named Amazon's number one ebook seller in crime and thriller writing and Amazon's most popular independent author. The extreme end of the scale, granted, but there's still a principle here. Why does an advance make you an author, but sales don't? An advance by it's very name is money in advance of sales!

I really did think the stigma of independent publishing was on the way out in 2015, but apparently not just yet ...

14 comments:

Chris Longmuir said...

The stigma is alive and well I'm afraid, Debbie, and congratulations for getting on a panel with John Connolly, maybe you should rub Crimefest's nose in that. My own experience in getting on panels at Crimefest has been good until this year. The first year I went they gave me a Spotlight, then I had a panel every year after that until last year when I went on the Indie panel, and boy, did that stigmatise me. Not that I regret it, I loved being on the Indie panel it was one of the best ones I've ever been on. But this year, a shake of the head and a refusal because I'm self-published! It doesn't seem to make a difference that I have a history of traditional publishing, I'm a member of CWA (no self-publishers allowed to join), I'm a committee member of the Society of Authors in Scotland. None of that makes any difference because I'm now "self-published". Blah! But I'll still be attending because it gives me a chance to catch up with my family in Bristol, as well as the many friends I've made at Crimefest.

Catherine Czerkawska said...

Chris, Debbie, that is outrageous. And Chris, it's doubly outrageous for them to change their minds. Sometimes, I really do despair of this business. They are like King Canute, except that he knew he really couldn't turn the tide and was only proving the point, whereas they think they can change things by throwing a hissy fit at the incoming indie authors! Surely they are going to have to change their ways? And yet whenever any of us does a panel talking about self publishing, the response is overwhelmingly positive. I'm well and truly hybrid right now, and that completely blows their minds.

Mari Biella said...

This surprises me, Debbie, because I too thought that the stigma was dying in front of our eyes. Perhaps it is, but it's dying very slowly in some quarters...

Good luck with FantasyCon and CrimeFest, though!

Katherine Roberts said...

I hope you have a great time at Fantasycon, Debbie! I used to go quite regularly before I was published on a children's list and some young readers wandered into the bar one year to find me... but I reconnected at World Fantasycon two years ago (when it was in Brighton) and had a great time.

One of the things I love about the Fantasycons is how everyone mixes... guests of honour, other writers, and fans whether published or not. Am surprised about the self-published snobbery in the crime world, though - didn't JK Rowling self-publish a crime novel?

Andrew Crofts said...

I guess that as long as there is a generation of writers who struggled to be traditionally published and who, once they had achieved that, believed they had "arrived" and proved themselves, there will always be a residual whiff of snobbery towards those who are content simply to create a book and who do not need the validation of a big name publisher on the spine.

Nick Green said...

Obviously the reason is that all traditionally published authors are brilliant, and all self-published authors are crap. What's to discuss?


But seriously... sounds like a labour-saving device to me. Otherwise they'd have huge T&Cs, saying, 'You can come as an author if you're self-published and have sold at least X books in Y months in any given timeframe...' It would be a nightmare. And one might still be a decent enough indie author and yet not have sold very many books (*cough*).

Nick Green said...

@Catherine - they are indeed like King Canute, although possibly closer to the original spelling.

Debbie Bennett said...

What I don't get is why it even matters at all. The panels are all full - so what does it matter who calls themselves an author? Or will the trad authors get different coloured badges to show they are "real" authors and not playing at it like we are....

Debbie Bennett said...

@Katherine - we first met at FantasyCons of old. Way back!

Lydia Bennet said...

Enjoy your con! :) there is much discussion in the CWA about whether and how to admit self-pub authors. They have discussed having a minimum sales income, which seems a bit unfair as anyone who's ever had a book published traditionally can join regardless of sales. However it amounts to whether they just let in anyone who's written a crime novel or whether they have some criterion to help ensure standards and if so, what that should be. I remember the indie panel at Crimefest and thought it was a straw in the wind for future change,not a way of editing out anyone who was on it! Shocked to hear that and puzzled, as Chris has a very distinguished publishing record trad-pubbed and is eligible (I assume has joined) for the CWA.

Reb MacRath said...

Just realized I haven't been to a con since 1991. I don't have pleasant memories of them: mainly, scurrilous and high-handed treatment of new or aspiring writers by those who were safely ensconced.

Debbie Bennett said...

That's what I've always loved about FantasyCon. There *are* cliques, yes, but by and large they're a friendly bunch, and the guests and "big-name" authors usually mingle happily at the bar with us plebs! And clearly they'll take anyone on a panel ...

Debbie Bennett said...

@Lydia - that kind of depends on the what the purpose (aims & objectives?) or the CWA actually are? It's not like they issue stamps saying CWA-approved, is it? Or maybe they do? I'd hope that being long-listed for the Debut Dagger might count, but I've never tried to join.

Catherine Czerkawska said...

It actually strikes me, Chris, that you should flag this up to the SoA. Raise it at the next committee meeting. After all - it's a bit insulting to the SoA, given that you're actually on one of their committees as well. The fact that you've won a major trad book award - but are now successfully self publishing must have sent their heads into a spin. 'Does not compute!'