Posted by Sari
Fan organised SF cons – I am especially talking about those that have a literary focus - are odd things in the modern world. They started as something from the fans (or fen, as the silly insider jargon would have it) to the fans: lets get together, maybe invite a guest and talk about the thing we love, SF. Generations of authors grew up in the fan culture, they were part of it before they became “filthy pros”, and though there were always tension between the two as the old nickname suggests, all were part of the same community. At least ideally.
But things have changed. Firstly, commercial cons are now way bigger than any fan-run convention, and that influences audience expectations. When we were selling memberships to Worldcon75 explaining that a membership was conceptually different from a ticket was a hurdle, and I don’t think all our members really got or maybe more importantly, cared about that distinction. This was an event and they were there as audience instead of participants.
On the other hand, publishing industry has changed radically in the past decades. Even authors who are signed with a major publisher are expected to promote their work in a way that was unheard of earlier and getting a contract for your next novel is far from certain. Authors publishing with small presses or self-publishing have to fight even harder for exposure to reading publics. It is less and less possible for authors to attend cons on their own dime and just enjoy talking about stuff they like, they have to think about them as marketing opportunities.
So instead of people who just love SF and want to discuss and listen to panels about their favourite literature, we have audiences who want to see their favourite author on stage or find new stuff to read, and authors who want or need exposure. I am sure that to a certain extent this has always been the case, and I admit my view is influenced by the fact that I grew up in a con culture where there were very few authors present at cons, but at least to me, the division has become sharper in recent years. It is nobody’s fault, it is what it is.
And thus we get to my point. It took only four paragraphs. I actively dislike prioritising authors over readers in conversations about literature. I don’t necessarily want to see or hear my favourite authors at a con. I have met many by now, almost all of them wonderful, clever and passionate people, and I am more than happy to listen to them if they have interesting things to say about SF – as readers. But I know many more wonderful, clever and passionate fans, readers and researchers who have interesting things to say about SF, and their perspective as readers is to me on average more interesting. I also want to feel I am a part of the conversation, not just the audience, not just a potential book-buyer, not just a ticket-buyer.
And that is why Åcon is the best con. It is small enough to generate that feeling of community, there are only few authors around and apart from guest of honour their status as an author does not mean they are prioritised in the programme. It is relaxed enough that conversations that were begun at a panel actually can be continued at the bar or over ice cream. It is about Us. And SF. And that is the good stuff.