Eastercon is usually a time for me to get enthused for the months ahead. It’s the start of the convention season and usually a time when I’m working toward completing things. Two years ago, when I was last here, I was promoting The Four Realms with a massive hole in my leg. Last year, I missed Eastercon to go on my big storm chasing adventure, telling everyone that I was in Scotland with the day job.
This year, I came prepared.
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.