Business Musings: Conferences

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I am writing while the washing machine chugs and the dryer clinks in the laundry room down the hall. Two cats I’ve barely met hide in my online office upstairs, and one cat—wise to the ways of our personal world—sits on my lap and desperately purrs. He’s a manipulative purrer—the kind of cat who will use purring to get me to do what he wants.

He’s twelve, and has outlived almost a dozen cats. He knows interlopers arrived and have commandeered an upstairs room, just like an interloper arrived in June and commandeered the basement. He and the June interloper have come to a truce, if two nerds being terrified of each other and fleeing can be considered a truce, but he doesn’t want to deal with even more newcomers.

Either that, or the manipulative purring is because I’m in travel prep mode, and he knows it. Excessive laundry. Strange organizational stuff. Too much stress, especially for a laid-back cat who wants everything the same way each and every day.

I’m heading to MileHiCon in Denver, Colorado before this blog post goes live on my site. By the time you read this, I should be puttering around my hotel room, getting ready for Friday’s panels.

I have no idea how many science fiction conventions I’ve attended. I’ve gone to mystery conventions and romance conventions and literary conferences, so many that my head spins considering them.

And even though I’m in a frenzy of preparation tonight, it’s not the kind of frenzy I used to have. I used to go to conventions to get work. I would pitch novels over meals or drinks, get back to the room, and write down everything discussed, ending up with a to-do list a mile long when I got home. Often, at home, I’d have to write a proposal for that three-book series I pitched or follow up with phone calls or let my agent know what I’d sold over the weekend. (It took me a long time to realize I didn’t need an agent. I sold things and negotiated better contracts on my own.)

Twenty-five years ago, when Dean and I ran Pulphouse Publishing, we had a table in the dealer’s room and/or supplied booksellers. When I edited The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, we sold subscriptions at Worldcon, and I had to schedule the autographings, get the signs made, and help the wonderful Christina York, who (wo)manned the booth so I could spend my time dodging flying manuscripts from beginners (many of whom thought it perfectly fine to slip a manuscript underneath a bathroom stall door. I was always so tempted to use the manuscript in place of the hotel-provided paper products…), and going to business meetings galore.

So we had packing to do, book packing, flyers to make, t-shirts to order, boxes to lug, and all of the other business things. We could still do some of that, but it’s not cost effective to have an employee running the table (with the hotel, meals, paycheck, taxes, and dealers fees). Maybe some day. Maybe. After a few test runs.

I’ll be doing some business, because I always end up doing business at conventions. Business that surprises me. Mostly, though, I’m going for the fun of it. I’m a fan girl first, and I happen to love science fiction conventions. The fact that I work at the convention, doing programming and the standard meet-and-greet, seems like gravy to me, like it has from the beginning. I’m honored to be there.

But I don’t go to get jobs any more. I’ll might come home with one, because that’s the nature of conventions. Hey! someone says. Wouldn’t it be fun if… and then an anthology or a novel gets born, right there, over drinks in some hotel bar. But the kind of work I used to get—the selling of novels over dinner—doesn’t really apply any more. No editor has the leeway to buy something just because, without going through the sales force and dozens of meetings. The glory days of that ended about ten years ago.

Now, editors have to have the proposal ahead of time, and if editors and writers meet, it’s because they’ve already worked together and want to put the face with the name. Most of the Hollywood types that used to come to science fiction conventions go to Comic-Con or Dragoncon instead. Same with the big game companies and most of the comic book folk.

Work on that level occurs at different conventions, if it occurs at all.

Because most of the work comes via e-mail or Facebook or (god forbid) phone these days. Over the weekend, I turned down one major nonfiction job—writing a blog for a magazine startup by a well-known publisher, discouraged two others (assuming that if they go away, then they really don’t want to work with me), and organized a project that I hadn’t expected to come my way at all.

I realized that almost every job I’m doing right now came about because I either initiated it myself and will publish it myself, or because of something I’m doing online (that nonfiction job), or because someone likes what I’ve done and wants more of it.

Because my work stays in print now, a potential partner can find a book of mine that relates to his project, and can contact me with the touch of a button. We don’t have to set up a meet-and-greet (will you be at MileHiCon? Oh yeah, me too.) We can research each other on the web before we make any contact at all. We can e-mail back and forth. We can brainstorm over instant message.

It’s a very different world, so different, in fact, that I have to weigh each and every trip for the time it will take away from the connectivity. Conventions often mean that I’ll be slow to respond to business contacts and I’ll get behind on the projects I already have lined up. Instead of being something that generates work, conventions have become something that interfere with work.

Some of that comes with having a mature career. Writers (me included) would sometimes skip convention season if they were booked too solidly. Once that the projects ended though—or the end of the projects loomed on the horizon—those writers would get themselves back into the convention circuit or take a trip to Manhattan.

Most of this change isn’t the mature career. It’s a change in the way that business is done. Major corporations learned this in the middle of the Great Recession when they couldn’t afford to send employees to conference after conference or business meetings in other cities. Instead, the corporations set up conference calls or used Skype or canceled the meetings altogether, and still got more work than they could handle at much less cost.

So, what’s the business point of a convention for me? The point is what I always wanted the point to be in the past.

I get to connect, face to face, with readers. I find myself pointing out that I’ll have an autographing on Friday and I’ll be doing panels all weekend, rather than trying to fill up my schedule with three lunches and five dinners. (Yes, I’ve had conventions like that.) I get to spend some quality time with other hybrid writers, who are trying to build new careers in this new world. We’re groping in the dark together, so we’re going to compare notes to see exactly what it is that we’re all reaching for—and what we’ve figured out so far.

It’s a whole different way of thinking about the convention. And, stressed as I am right now, with two new cats, too much laundry, and a mountain of deadlines that will have to be pushed back one week, it’s basic travel stress. It’s the same kind of stress I would have if I were taking a vacation or planning a research trip.

It’s not the month’s worth of preparation in the hopes that I’ll bring back enough work to fund my next two years of living expenses.

I’ll have reports when I get back, maybe even a few weeks’ worth of blog posts. I also hope for fodder for my Spade/Paladin mystery series.

Mostly, though, this introvert is creeping out of her den to have some social time with like-minded people. And, unlike some conventions past, I’m really looking forward to this one.

See you next week!

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“Business Musings: Conferences,” copyright © 2015 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Image at the top of the blog copyright © Can Stock Photo Inc. / rolffimages

6 thoughts on “Business Musings: Conferences

  1. My husband is telling me to actually talk to you at the con instead of just going to all your panels. So, I might try. Hopefully you’re enjoying Denver!

  2. Does your manipulative purring continue until the luggage is put away? Ours starts with the mewing and pawing and purrring as soon as the luggage comes out, and the neurotic antics don’t cease until the luggage is out of sight, no matter how long we’ve been back.

    By the time you read this, I hope you’ve had a lot of fun and gotten caught up on sleep!

  3. Just a note: Unlike previously, nothing more than a link to the overall title (“Business Musings: Conventions”) is showing up in your RSS feed on Feedly. Not a big deal, but I thought you would want to know about the change in behavior if it wasn’t intentional.

    1. Interesting, my RSS reader (a desktop one) was only showing a link for the past year, and has just recently started showing full posts again.

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