So let’s be honest here, rather than pretend this to be some massive act of fandom. After a week of getting miserable under edits and real life stressing me out, I really needed to get out the house. So on Saturday morning, I jumped in the car and drove a hundred and fifty miles to Derby for the one-day Alt.Fiction event, Other Worlds. This, my brain told me, wasn’t a form of procrastination because it was still linked to writing.
The idea of these one day events is to try and capture those people who never go to cons; to give them a taste of what to expect. And I have to be honest, and say that whilst I’ve thought a lot since about how the event can be improved, it wasn’t because Other Worlds did anything wrong.
The event kicked off with some optional SF or Fantasy workshops in the morning. I didn’t go for a number of reasons but I heard from people who did go who said it was well-attended and very beneficial.
The panels started with a discussion on the landscape of SF and Fantasy with panellists Adrian Tchaikovsky, Mark Charan Newton, Peter F Hamilton and Tony Ballantyne.. What was clever about this was that they introduced some friendly SF v Fantasy banter into the debate. This really helped ensure the conversation flowed from side to side, became a bit animated and engaged the crowd.
From there people followed their allegiance either into a panel on SF or (in the case of myself) the discussion on Fantasy. If you’ve ever been to a con before then you kinda knew what to expect, but both Mark and Adrian made it an interesting panel.
A signing there followed, but if I’m honest (and it may be because I wasn’t queuing up to have anything signed) it felt the event had ended and we were just hanging on for the raffle. I’d prefer the event ended with a bang rather than a whimper.
Are these events suited to your average con-goer? I think some will find them deliberately light on panels, so unless you’re supporting a favourite author, it might not be worth doing hundreds of miles. But I think if you’ve never been to a con before and are nervous about committing to a whole weekend, then these are perfect.
The thing I’ve been thinking a lot about since is the goodie bag. A lot of people seemed genuinely excited about getting King Rat by China Mieville in their bags. I got a SF book. A free book is a free book and I think most regular con-goers would agree. But if these one-day events are outreach programmes, I found myself wondering if there should be a separate fantasy or SF goodie bag. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining about what was done, but instead wondering if the event is catering to those people who are just entering fandom, whether the goodie bag could be changed to better suit that slightly different audience. I’m sure if I had wanted I could have swapped the book (although I do own King Rat), but if this is possibly someone’s first con experience and we’re looking to try and engage them with fandom, do we have to offer something slightly different in the goodie bag? What about a book by one of the authors present? Maybe even play around with the entrance fee to budget for it. It’s something I offer as a point of debate not a criticism.
One thing they did include which I thought was a great idea, was a sampler from Tor. A lot of people were very excited to see that the little booklet included samples from Embassytown and The Sea Watch. Now you can be cynical and say it’s just Tor promo material, but I think giving the fans an early taste of things to come gave the event weight. I know hardcore fans who were excited about an extract of Embassytown, so to a casual first-timer, I think it would have been a big deal.
These one-day events are definitely a good thing, and there’s another in the form of Conjour being planned for next year in Leeds. It would be great if there was a way these smaller events could filter out to places that never get any form of fandom events, maybe even more rural areas. Hardcore fans seem to be willing to travel, so they should ensure events are well attended. If this is a form of outreach programme I think we as a community still have more to do, things to still experiment with.
All this might sound like I’m being slightly negative about the event. I’m not. It tried something slightly different and I think it worked. It was brilliantly organised and a very good event. I had a great day out and I think those who were experiencing their first con, did so too.
There had initially been some doubt about going to Alt.Fiction. Derby is a long way from home and the event was only one day long. However, I have to say that it proved to be one of the most beneficial events I’ve been to.
I like to go to panels but I tend to put them into one of three categories: Essential, Interesting, and Bar. Essential panels are one I cannot afford to miss, Interesting are ones I would like to go to but it’s no big deal if I miss, and Bar is where I should be instead of the panel. At most conventions the split between Essential / Interesting / Bar is about 20% / 40% / 40% but I was surprised when the programme for Alt.Fiction was published. More like 80% / 10% / 10%
Alt.Fiction isn’t a convention celebrating genre in all its different forms. It’s about books, and more specifically, writing them.
The big problem is that a lot of writing panels usually cover the basics: submission formats, the writers and artists yearbook, Duotrope and Ralan… that sort of thing. But Alt.Fiction felt a lot more professional. No more was this clear than in the Social Media panel. There had been one of these at Eastercon, and whilst I’d enjoyed it and thought it very good, it was arguing the case for promoting authors through Facebook, Twitter, etc. It was nothing I didn’t really know. However the Social Media panel at Alt.Fiction was so good, I stayed instead of leaving half-way through to go to the Steven Erikson Q&A. Yes, I blew out Steven Erikson for the social media panel.
Why? Because now we were talking about how and when writers should be using these tools and the impact they have. It was a much more detailed and intelligent panel (and I’m not saying the Eastercon wasn’t intelligent) and had me coming away with a decision that I need to start marketing myself now, instead of waiting for if I ever get an agent or book deal.
And for me, that panel seemed to be the culmination of a day of tightly focused panels. I’d heard some complaints that some thought the panels to generic, but I didn’t find that at all. My only disappointment was the fantasy panel where they seemed to avoid a look at the current market from the point fo people wanting to break in, for something more generic which seemed to take pot shots at Sparkly Vampires. Had this been an Eastercon panel, I would have thought it very good, but compared to the excellent “New Writers & Breaking In” (which I thought came across very honest), it felt slightly sub-standard.
As a result of the excellent panels I didn’t have a lot of time for socialising, which was a shame, but did manage to catch a word with Julie Crisp, Mark Newton, M D Lachlan and a few other professionals. There were questions I would have liked to have asked a few people, a few people I’d liked to have introduced myself to, but never got time. I didn’t even get much time to chat to the bloggers.
But before I knew it, it was 11pm and I had a three and a half hour drive back home. Even though it had been a 4am start, and a long drive, I really believe the day was worth it. It’s not just motivation I’ve come back with but a better professional outlook on the business that I need to act upon. There’s months of work on top of the writing and revising I need to do, and I’ve come away from Alt.Fiction not only with the motivation but some of the know-how as well.