As I write this, I’m on a bus from Boston to New York*, heading back from Readercon. I should have been blogging from the con, but have been balking at the enormity of singling out the takeaway lesson of a convention as full and rewarding as this one. In the end, I’ve decided to take advantage of the relative newness of tor.com and report on a more general topic: that is, after Alison Scott’s fan’s-eye perspective on the convention circuit, I figured it might be a worthwhile follow-up to provide one specific account for the What Goes On At a Convention file, and talk a bit about the mysterious issue of what it means when it’s your job to attend such a convention.
[More–including footnotes–behind the cut…]
The first thing to point out about Readercon is that it’s not exactly your typical convention–one need only consider their patient reminders that the “three things you can do while at Readercon [are to] talk to friends, browse and patronize the Bookshop, or attend the program” and that they “feature a near-total focus on the written word. No art show, no costumes, no gaming, almost no media” to be assured of that. And, indeed, all of these claims are true, which impacts the environment considerably, and is such a strong appeal to professionals in the field that the fan-to-pro ratio hovers around 3:1 (though we acknowledge that the terms are fuzzy).
Like most conventions worth going to, it’s impossible for any one person to experience everything at a con because one must spend each hour choosing from between the two or six or ten options available during that time slot. This means that an attendee’s convention experience can be as unique as the individual themselves. My own pathway involved me taking part in discussions about breaking out of the genre ghetto, SF podcasts, and steampunk aesthetics; attending panels on “Generation Dark”, the Interstitial Arts Foundation, “Economics as the S in SF,” the “‘Unnecessary’ Rewrite,” the impossibility of communication with aliens, ‘The Ecstasy of Influence,’ and extreme editorial intrusion; going to the Meet the Pros(e) party and the Jonathan Lethem interview; listening to readings by Jonathan Lethem, Paolo Bacigalupi, Christopher Rowe, and the authors in John Joseph Adams’ Wastelands anthology; and having drinks, meals, and hot tub visits with a variety of genre luminaries, upstarts, and brilliant minds. One also frequently encounters the phenomenon where a convention settles down into a group of conversational topics that rattle around at a higher-than-average rate, though the topics vary depending on which subset of the population you’re spending most of your time with. For whatever reasons, the perennial topics at this con seemed to be the efficacy of writing workshops and MFA programs, whether editors still edit, and which SF folks we could most likely goad into getting into fights with each other. (Obviously, being a serious professional, there’s no chance I exerted any undue influence on any of those. Especially that last one.)
You would not be remiss, of course, in remaining unsure why any of this qualifies as work, given that the generalities of the paragraph above are practically interchangeable with any fan’s experience**. An editor’s mission statement for a con is a weird hybrid of tasks that you can’t even necessarily justify while you’re doing them. That includes some combination of concrete goals like taking our authors out to dinner, listening to pitches, and contributing one’s expertise (such as it is) to the programming; and considerably more nebulous ones like forging and deepening friendships with authors and other figures of import in the field, scoping out the landscape for trends and developments, and demonstrating the company’s commitment to participating in SF culture. Understandably, these directives lead to different solutions for different people: for example, two of my coworkers and a number of editors from small press/independent publishers were also at Readercon, but our plans varied so significantly that there were some people in this category that I barely even saw, let alone got to talk to.
One thing is universal: congoing can be an exhausting process if you’re doing it right. My typical day at a con (at least while I’ve got the stamina to survive it) involves staying up until 2 or 3:30 or 6 with the night owls, then getting up at 9 to eat breakfast before the morning panels. And of course I must remain scintillating, clever, and cheerful for every one of those waking hours. Don’t get me wrong: conventions are fun 95% of the time, and I consider myself absurdly lucky that it’s part of my job to spend quality time with so many wonderful people. But I will nonetheless refer back to Patrick’s immortal line on the subject: “Anyone who thinks working a convention is not work is invited to try it.”
And as my bus starts to wind through the Bronx, I’m reminded of a final amusing aspect of this whole going-to-cons-professionally thing: that, in the end, even after we spend two work days and a weekend traveling and congoing, tomorrow morning we’ll still get up and go to our normal jobs just like anyone else, catching up on the things we’ve missed during our days out of the office or trying to get ahead on the things that must get done before we need to head out on our next trip. In my case, that next trip is on…Tuesday.
But that, as they say, is why publishing pays the big bucks.
* Using the free WiFi on said bus, a capability that’s been variously identified as excessively science-fictional and excessively east coast.
** Or, possibly, interchangeable save for program participation. But that’s only because Readercon is particularly insistent on its participants having some kind of credentials. At many conventions it’s quite common for the “pros” on programming to be outnumbered by people who just do it for the love.
(Photo credit: Ernest Lilley, from the SFRevu photostream)