Apex Magazine Mediates a Conrunning Crisis

The furor over harassment and policies against it provoked by events at this year’s Readercon also opened the floodgates for pros to express a general resentment about their treatment at many other fan-run conventions. It’s made for depressing reading.

Would-be peacemakers Lynne Thomas and Steven H Silver have each written an article for the current Apex Magazine hoping that open communication, and educating writers and conrunners about each other’s roles in convention programming, will help improve the atmosphere.

In “The 21st Century SF/F Professional at Conventions” Lynne Thomas tells what she expects as a pro participating in convention programs, and what cons should expect of her.

This is a symbiotic relationship between two groups of volunteers. We need each other to make a great convention. And that is the goal, right?

All her points are good, especially this often-overlooked fact of life:

4. Recognize that I, too, am paying to be at this convention.  Unless I’m one of the Guests of Honor, I’m spending money to be here: on travel, lodging, food, and registration if I’m not eligible to have it reimbursed or comped. Writers and editors are often freelancers. When I’m attending conventions, here’s what I’m not doing: billable writing or editing to earn money. Nor am I doing any of the following: relaxing, spending time with my family, or performing upkeep on my house and yard. Travel, logistics, and being away from home take their toll.

Steven H Silver explains the pressures that program organizers work under in his piece  “Behind the Convention Curtain: Programming”:

Earlier, I mentioned that programming invites scrutiny at a time when it is in major flux. Sometime shortly before the convention, always later than programming participants, webmasters, social media, publications, and members want, the Programming Team will send out a preliminary schedule. The key to remember is that these schedules are preliminary. When I began running Programming, if a panelist was disappointed with their schedule or had a conflict, they would call, write, or e-mail me and I could work to fix it. Now, the disappointed panelist is just as likely to post their issues on Facebook, Twitter, or a blog, often without first letting Programming know there is an issue. Because this is a very busy time for the Programming team, the team is unlikely to stumble across the online complaint. It is also probably the worst way to handle the situation because merely mentioning it online doesn’t provide an opportunity for Programming to fix the problem and essentially calls them incompetent in a public forum.

I agree that everyone should make Steven’s suggested plan their default setting, however, to be perfectly frank there are situations every year where corrective action would never be taken without the encouragement of a public kick in the ass. I don’t know how a writer is supposed to guess in advance which kind of crew they’re dealing with if they have no previous experience, so if they tell the program organizers there’s a problem and ask them to fix it by some specific point in time, I would think  it’s fair to say something online if the problem hasn’t been addressed by then.

10 thoughts on “Apex Magazine Mediates a Conrunning Crisis

  1. I wonder if its possible that the whole issue of how wide our con’s reach should be and how large they ought to grow is irrelevent? Thinking about this story leads me to think it’s possible that, long before size and reach become a critical issue, there might befall fandom a more devastating change. Is it possible that, with more and more professional writers having no roots in fandom and no contact with it until they see them for the first time in a panel audience, they will have no empathy with fandom as an institution, and simply abandon fan run conventions for “expert” run cons that pay them to attend, comp them rooms, perhaps pick up the tab for travel, and have large paid staffs to cater to the guests every whim? At that point, fandom would have to reinvent itself in such a way it can continue without the presence of pros. Oh, sure a few pros would probably choose to keep some fan-run cons on their itinerary, but would they be enough? Can it be done, or would fan run cons inevitably dwindle down to the size of Corflu without pros to writers at?

  2. 1) I bow to Steven Silver’s subtle and sophisticated presentation of ideas most of which I’ve figured out and applied myself when running convention programming, but I am a little puzzled by his concern over program participants who complain in public about the preliminary schedule. Doesn’t he disarm most of that by sending at least the personal part of the schedule to the program participants, to confirm they’re OK with it, _before_ publishing the entire preliminary schedule online? That’s what I do. All that’s left for complaint then is attendees who find that the two items they most want to see are on opposite each other, to which I cheerfully reply, “If that didn’t happen, we wouldn’t be doing our job.”

    2) Lynne Thomas’s principles all seem so obvious and straightforward that I have to wonder where and how and why they ever came into question. You link to her and Steven’s articles, but you refer to floods of pros complaining about their treatment at cons without linking us to places where such floods, which I haven’t seen, may be found.

  3. Well, thanks for the names; now I can go look those ones up, but “more examples would be easy to find” is a rather bogus thought. The web is a very big place; people wander around different parts of it; what’s “easy to find” because it happens to be common in the particular part where you wander is not necessarily going to be so for anyone else without a few links or directions.

  4. “Bogus thought” is an unaffectionate expression that makes it almost certain the rest of your point will be lost in the noise…

    Having posted some of these links over the past couple months it is easy for me to fallibly assume everyone read and clcked through. I really should know better. How many read blogs that way?

    You can use B.C. Holmes’ prolific collection of Readercon comments as the spine of an investigation into the topic though you will need to look at comment chains and some follow-up posts by the writers to get it all.

  5. DB,

    As much as I would also like to think that my points are “obvious and straightforward,” every convention and every pro have different experiences. Not every pro behaves well. Some conventions (as Mike has indicated in other places) really drop the ball on treating their professionals even with the most common courtesy.

    Of course, other conventions do a spectacular job. Those are the experiences that make me happy to think of myself as both a pro and a fan. I just wish that everyone defaulted to the same level of awesome. 🙂

  6. Mike,

    Sorry. I just react badly to perceived condescension.

    I remember your posts on the Readercon frazzle. What I don’t remember is reports of pros chiming in with reports of being treated badly at cons, in response to this. Occasional such comments have surfaced in the past from time to time (remember Ellison’s “Xenogenesis”?), but I was curious as to what that sort of thing had to do with the Readercon matter, as pros qua pros were not the victims there.

    Lynne: Oh, I believe you. I just wondered what the problems were. Most complaints I’ve seen by pros about cons have been either about the fans behaving badly, not the committee, or about committee incompetence that affects all the attendees, not just the pro guests. Apart from a few very scattered old stories, like the one about the GoH who was expected to pay his own expenses. If there was a recent flurry of problems of the kind that your and Steven’s articles address by implication, I’ve missed the discussion entirely.

  7. I’ve been to more than a hundred conventions since 1978 including about a dozen WorldCons and NASFICs. I actually try to prepare for the panels I’m on and do a little research. In recent years my enthusiasm for doing these events , or even attending them has been greatly diminished by a few people with their own agendas who seek to shape and manage the presentation of what should be a free-flowing dialog between the panelists. This is not just a disservice to those who are on the stage but those in the audience. Sf/F fans are relentlessly conventional in their outlook, but trying to get the professionals in the field to drink the Kool-Aid that the organizers want to serve just kills the experience for everyone. I have been treated badly by some program organizers in the past, but I never blamed the entire committee for that. On the other hand, I’m really too old and too tired to put up with BS, so my inclination these days is to just go and try to remember why I got into this nonsense in the first place. I can do that maybe once a year.

  8. I don’t see Taral’s scenario happening; fans with more general interests like to talk to pros, but they also like to talk to each other. (There are some large conventions where AFAICT there are no name writers other than the guests, or where a large fraction of the attendees never see a pro writer.) And I’m not convinced that we’re running out of pros connected to fandom; what I see on the shelves of Pandemonium (Boston-area SF shop) is that the number of authors is still rising, so the fraction of unconnected authors may be rising without displacing the absolute numbers who either have fannish connections or are interested in meeting fans on a level field.

  9. DB: Yes, the idea is to send people their schedules before anything is posted publicly. Unfortunately, these days, when that schedule is sent, even noting that it is preliminary and changes can be made before a public posting, there are some people who complain publicly rather than contact the people responsible.

    Mike: Unfortunately, there are con runners who don’t respond until being kicked in public. However when dealing with conrunners whose response is unknown, I’d still recommend contacting them first, as you suggest in your last paragraph, before going public. Of course, if you find yourself having to go public multiple times with the same concom/runners, it may be the right time to just cut than con loose.

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