Tag Archives: Fantasycon

Not The Fox News: Panel Beaten

Special thanks this month to Den Patrick and James Smythe, who helped shape the central idea in this column. Go buy their books, they’re ace.midamericon-2

Convention season is (mostly) over for me for the year. I’m incredibly lucky in that my job takes me to shows like WorldCon (Which was in Kansas City or, as I like to call it, the Beef Singularity), EdgeLit, Nine Worlds and FantasyCon. Being able to see how both sides of the Atlantic, and every scale of show, do things is a really interesting experience. Especially as there’s one thing none of those shows managed to do;

Got out of their panelist’s way.

I’m not slamming the organizers here. I’ve worked that side of the fence, I know how hard and how utterly thankless a task it is. What I am criticizing is the culture they’re having to work inside, one inherited from decades of calcifiied and at times no longer relevant experience. Experience that actively stops authors doing their jobs.

Here’s an example, which demonstrates both how conventions and authors need to change; Fantasycon 2009/10, I sat in the audience for that year’s ‘YA? To Be Viewed With Fear? Or Merely Suspicion?‘ Panel. One of the panelists was an American author whose debut novel had just come out. He had a copy with him and, inevitably, referenced it a lot during the panel. Not only is this fine, but he also managed to make a running gag out of it.

Given that other panel members were snarktweeting about him as the panel was happening, I’m guessing it didn’t go down as well with them as it did with me.

I’ve thought about that day a lot recently. It was a miserable convention as everything I attended from that particular era of the BFS was, but that’s not why it’s been playing on my mind. Rather, it’s been coming up a lot more because I’ve now seen four conventions in a row where authors haven’t just not promoted their work, they’ve blithely accepted that they shouldn’t really have to. There’s a feeling, and I’ve heard a real human say this, with words, in the 21st century, that it should be the publishers’ job.

In an ideal world, yeah it probably should.

Take a look outside.

There was a clown out there wearing a DRUMPF 2016 t-shirt and crying about Harambe wasn’t there?

Thought so.

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Ugly Truth time. Authors have to promote their own work right now. You just do. You can complain about it all you want but every time you don’t bother promoting your work, fifteen other people are promoting their’s. You can turn in the best work you’ve ever done, you can actually write the Great American Novel or the next Girl With A Pearl Earring Tattoo On The Train and I PROMISE you absolutely no one will give shit one unless you tell people about it.

Feel awkward? Feel like it’s not good enough? Feel like you’re bothering people?

Good.

In order:

1) Suck it up, you’re a ghost buster.

2) Everyone feels that way about everything ever.

3) YOU ARE NOT BOTHERING PEOPLE.

Seriously the moment you hit that unease, stay there because you’re probably talking about your stuff just the right amount. Case in point; we interact with kickstarter campaigns three times before we decide whether or not to pledge. In order to do that we need to be reminded that the campaign exists twice. Same goes for every form of retail interaction ever. So, you need to be talking about your work at least three times during the lifetime of a project. And by ‘lifetime’ I mean three times a day until your next project comes out.

A quick aside; it is absolutely possible to over promote. Automated DMs on twitter and using 3-35 hashtags in a tweet are really good ways to over promote and annoy people. Don’t do those.  Instead do what works for you and what makes you feel just a little frightened. That fear is your friend. Shows you’re pushing yourself.

fantasycon-by-the-seaSo that’s ‘Should authors self-promote?’ Answered. And oddly without using the word YES in 72 point block capitals. This time.

Now, conventions!

For some reason, the panel format has become both the default and a blanket to smother authors’ own priorities beneath. It’s not intentional and is clearly one of those dusty pieces of ancestral wisdom that’s been around so long none of us can tell whether or not it’s bad because it’s what we’ve always done.

Here’s the thing; it’s really bad and, crucially, unfair.

We need to stop doing it. Here’s how.

Encourage authors to talk about their books on the panel. If they want copies up there, so much the better! These are people who, odds are, have paid hundreds of pounds to attend the event and who are so conditioned by the industry wide inferiority complex we labor under that they’re not going to promote their work without being told they’re allowed.

TELL THEM THEY’RE ALLOWED.

Be prepared for some of them to hug you when you do.

Mix the format up a little bit. Here are a few ideas:

 

Podcast Everything

A few years ago, our esteemed leader at Fox Spirit very successfully ran a podcast track of every single panel at Fantasycon and Alt Fiction. The fact this has never been followed up on mystifies me. Yes you need to get releases from people but that’s the sort of legal boilerplate that takes very little research. From a technical point of view you can go old school and just record panels with a voice memo app and a smartphone from the desk the panelists are sitting behind. Feeling fancy? Talk to the hotel about using the built in audio system, get a mixer, and you’re away. None of this stuff is hard, it’s just new. And if you do decide to do this? Please get in touch. If we can’t help, then we know podcasters who can.

 

Magazine Showcases

Panels are fine but there are lots of other ways you can present guests. MidAmericon II did really interesting work with Magazine Showcases this year. They had each publication attending (Or publisher in my company, Escape Artists’,  case) present a panel featuring some of their authors and staff. I attended all these panels and it was a brilliant way to cover a lot of ground, and a lot of authors, in a small space of time.

 

TED Talks!

Or perhaps TOD talks just in case their lawyers are present! I tried this on the Comics track at Nine Worlds this year and it worked really well. Extended, 10-15 minute presentations by individual authors on something close to their heart and related to their work. We were able to get Paul Cornell and Laurie Penny in to talk about the history and symbology of UFO incidents and John Constantine respectively and it was great. Both subjects were tied back to their own work, both went far more in depth normal and the twin needs of self-promotion and added information value for the convention were met brilliantly.

 

Kill The Trade Hall, Save The Trade Hall

Nine Worlds’ Expo and MidAmericon II’s shopping section were the only two conventions this year I’ve seen do retail close to right. Far too often, publishers’ and booksellers’ tables are crammed away in a corner or, worse still, split across multiple locations. Don’t do that. Instead, do this:

 

-Put a book table in every room you have book events. Make sure they have a cash float or if you’re feeling fancy, electronic sales facilities. If you aren’t feeling fancy? A cash float of 50 to 70 pounds and a hand written receipt ledger will sort you out. You have a volunteer in there anyway so give them something to do other than hold up a 5 MINUTES LEFT sign.

-Pre load the table, that morning, with stock written by every author who will be in the room that day.

-As each new panel begins, load the table with books by the new set of panelists.

-At the end of the panel, use the 15 minute inter-room shuffle to give people a chance to buy books by the folks they’ve just spent an hour listening to.

Every single author in that room over the course of your show will sell books. Every single trader will thank you for putting their work directly in front of interested authors. You will be lauded as brilliant, maverick innovators in a field that still sometimes sighs nostalgically about the terrible hotels it decided it deserved in the early ’00s. This is a universally good thing, a moment of Ecclestonian joy

Everyone Lives

Look at him! Look at his little pointy face! You could elicit that joy in authors, publishers and convention goers! All you have to do is try something new and when it works, which it will, other people will follow your example. Then? We can finally start making panels a way of building the future instead of endless cover versions of the past.

FantasyCon 2015

Books and Fox Field Bag packed we headed off to Nottingham and the East Midlands Conference Centre for another FantasyCon.

The Event

I arrived on the Saturday morning just as the Friday nighters were emerging for breakfast and in good time to drop some books off with Pendragon Press who I owe a huge thanks to for hosting homeless books, along with Alchemy for taking some copies of Wicked Women, which two of their editors had done under FS. I then headed to my first panel Monster Mash Up with Carrie Buchanan, Cassandra Khaw, Tim Lebbon, Will Macmillan Jones and Moderated by Jon Oliver who had karaoke throat. There was an examination of popular monsters, consideration as to whether there is anything new or we are just looking now to the very old, whether the real monsters are modern politicians, serial killers or every day scumbags and some thoughtful comments on the need for sensitivity when delving into other cultures for exciting new monsters.

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In the afternoon I moderated a panel on Marketing ‘Turn up the volume’ with Sophie Calder, Jo Fletcher, Matt Shaw, Graeme Reynolds and Danie Ware, which started with a fire alarm. Sadly we lost 15 minutes of what was a really interesting panel which meant I only asked about half my questions and the audience were cut a little short to. There were some excellent insights about how publishing has changed in terms of online presence and also in store behaviour, the need for authors to be willing to do a lot themselves and what publishers can offer in terms of guidance and support. In the audience questions we touched on where writers can go for support and advice, some of the well established writing groups that can offer advice, regional writing communities or organisations that offer courses and advice. Many courses run by Creative Leicestershire are completely free.

I thoroughly enjoyed participating in both and I hope everyone else enjoyed them too. A warning to future panel planners, if you put Carrie and I together again and please do, we may continue to riff on the most tasteless news items we can find. 😉

After that I was free to attend some panels which I did and I have to say the standard this year was excellent. Well done to Richard Webb for a huge amount of work and thought!

The Non Humans panels was entertaining and interested and I particularly enjoyed Ren going super dark about AI and people and love and Adrian and Ren discussing ethics and science. Some interesting thoughts generally on what makes something human and writing the alien from all the panel members which included Janet Edwards and Deborah Install and some very nice one liners from Gareth Powell.

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The screenwriting panel proved fascinating even as a non screen writer Stephen Volk, Jason Arnopp, Ellen Gallagher, Stephen Gallagher and Gavin Williams were lead through a fascinating discussion by Catherine Hill. Ellen’s passion and knowledge were a stand out for me in that panel.

On Sunday I attended the Audio panel lead by the incomparable Alasdair Stuart and featuring Chris Barnes, James Goss and Emma Newman who covered getting into it in the first place (various kinds of accident seem to feature heavily), what it involves, why they love it and numerous other things including a number of wonderful resources that had us all scribbling or typing away. A very funny, insightful and smart panel and perfect for the more general audience.

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It sounds as though readings, launches and other things all went well, several of our writers were involved over the weekend and I was glad to hear Jo Thomas had a good and well attended panel, Ruth Booth’s readings, including her Winter Tales poem were well recieved, Chloe rocked the Poetry Slam, Steve Poore had a good launch with his title for Kristell Ink and I hope everything went well for the everyone else. While we were there we got some stock signed and even sold a few books.

Of course one of the great joys of any convention is seeing old friends, making new ones, finally meeting people you’ve known online for ages, talking to people who actually understand what you are saying and get the references and are all excited about the same things! Learning new things, having better brains than yours to pick for advice and being around so many incredible inspiring people. The collective levels of creativity at FantasyCon are mind blowing.

The whole event was well organised, ran smoothly and the teams behind it and running it all on the ground did an amazing job. The panelists were wonderful and I heard good things from everyone who attended panels. A huge thanks to the FantasyCon team and good luck to the 2016 FCon the T’sea team!

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The Awards

We were on three shortlists Best Short Story for Gaie Sebold’s story in Wicked Women, Best Fantasy Novel with Breed by K.T. Davies and Best Indie Press for the second year running. I thought in spite of very stiff competition Breed was in with a chance so was pretty nervous.

Juliet McKenna did a sterling job, noting the loss of Graham Joyce which got a strong and emotional response from the community and neatly rounding up the sad puppies saga and moving on from it very nicely indeed. There was a standing ovation when Juliet was very deservingly awarded the Karl Edward Wagner Award.

It seemed to be a night for people being caught off guard and speechless. Literally, most of the winners had prepared nothing! Those that had sometimes did so on the back of a menu as a just in case. I think it was all the lovelier for it. I thoroughly enjoyed the delighted and flabberghasted responses of people unused to accepting awards, of which somehow I found myself one!

Breed lost to the marvellous Frances Harding who is a worthy winner so huge congratulations to Francis. Best Short went to Emma Newman which again is a great winner and I am delighted! But Fox Spirit Books did get Best Indie Press and I was shaking so much with shock of it I had to hold the podium with both hands while I stumbled out something about the skulk being an amazing group to wok with and a wonderful community and a shout out to Alasdair Stuart for being integral in conning me into it in the first place. Also thanks to the judges for ploughing through a stack of material on usb sticks (we published 18 titles in 2014, I don’t know how).

If you will all indulge me I will now go on to repeat my sentiments a little more coherently:

Fox Spirit is barely over three years old, we have over 30 titles out and have worked with a huge number of incredible writers and artists in that time. I am deeply proud of everything we have done both in terms of books and the community the Skulk have built for themselves through shared TOC’s and events like Fcon. It is an honour to help these stories get out there and to watch you all support and encourage each other.

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I want to say as well that behind the scenes Daz (our copy editor), Gav (our formatter) and Vince who picks up a lot of layouts and things last minute, do a tremendous amount to help make FS work. I would be lost, utterly without their hard work and support. There are many others who help at various times in various ways and I am utterly grateful to them too.

Alasdair Stuart, Kate Laity and Steven Savile were all instrumental in the great small press con job, for which I love them all the more.

In the last year my business partner and also Mr Fox have provided a huge amount of support in a variety of ways to help keep FS going strong.

Our readers, reviewers, retweeters, likers, sharers etc are amazing and we value you all and everyone in the BFS who nominated, voted, judged on any award (I’ve done it, it’s hard!) you are all hugely important to us and thank you.

So 2016 is another busy year and this one isn’t over, so I better get back to work but this lovely wooden thing is truly a credit to the whole skulk!

IMG_1624A full list of the Winners for this year can be found here. A wonderful crowd I am honoured to have been part of!

 

Signings at FantasyCon

Lots of the skulk are going to be at FantasyCon this year and many of them are on panels, but we also have a few signings going on!

fox spirit - logo - large - signed copy

K.T. Davies will be signing Breed at the mass signing on Sunday, we will have some copies available but feel free to buy in advance and bring it with you to avoid disappointment. Breed is on the shortlist for Best Fantasy Novel so we will be chewing our nails at the awards ceremony!

Breed Final Digital Cover for Upload

 

Additionally Steven Savile will be signing King Wolf and Steve Lockley will be signing Always a Dancer & Other Stories over at the Pendragon Press table at 4pm on Saturday. There might even be cake!

Pendragon have kindly agreed to host a small number of Fox Spirit titles for the weekend which will be available from Saturday morning. The Lonely Dark by Ren Warom, The Elkie Bernstein novels by Jo Thomas and European Monsters will also be available in limited numbers.

 

Fantasy Con gets Foxy

In addition to masses of skulk members being attendees and panelists and having some shortlisters at this years FantasyCon, Aunty Fox is on a couple of panels.

Saturday

Room: Suite 1
11.00am Monster Mash-Up: Were-vamp-zomb-zilla…With Wings!
Moderator: Jon Oliver
Panelists: Carrie Buchanan, Cassandra Khaw, Tim Lebbon, Will Macmillan Jones, Adele Wearing

Room: Suite 2
2.00pm Turn Up the Volumes: Marketing & Selling Books
Moderator: Adele Wearing
Panelists: Sophie Calder, Jo Fletcher, Graeme Reynolds, Matt Shaw, Danie Ware

Please pop along and ask your questions or just find me to say hi.

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FantasyCon 2014

A number of FS authors will be at FantasyCon in York this September.

Aunty Fox will be attending that and doing the following:

FRIDAY
4.00pm – Rejectamentalist Manifesto
The gory details of building an anthology and why stuff gets rejected
Terry Grimwood (m), Jonathan Oliver, Adele Wearing, Ian Whates, Peter Coleborn
8:20pm Joan De La Haye Reading from ‘Burning’
 
and 
 
SATURDAY
11:00am – BREED LAUNCH with K.T.Davies
Breed Poster
12.00 Noon – Charlaine Harris in Conversation
Adele Wearing interviews one of our literary Guests of Honour
6.00pm – We’ve Got It Covered
What are the elements of great cover design? From artwork and design, through to cover copy and author blurbs.
Larry Rostant, Jim Pitts, Marc Gascoigne, Helen Marshall, Adele Wearing (m)

A number of the skulk will also be attending the awards ceremony as we have been shortlisted for Best Small Press and Best Anthology.

Shortlisted for Best Small Press & Best Anth 2014

Shortlisted for Best Small Press & Best Anth 2014

 

 

Not The Fox News: The Long Con 1: Nine Worlds

For the longest time, conventions were Valhalla for me. Growing up on a small island in the middle of the Irish sea meant that culture, certainly pop culture, was something that washed up on the shore in fits and starts. The closest we had to a multiplex was two whole screens, there were three bookshops, a couple of video shops and every year the same four metal bands would play during TT week. Nothing wrong with a bit of The Almighty, or even Status Quo, but when your cultural options are as bounded as your geographical location, it can get old.

So, conventions, for me, were the place I would eventually end up. It would be like Cheers, I’d walk through the door into an infinite, yet somehow intimate, room full of fellow geeks and they’d all say my name and the audience would cheer and then Kelsey Grammer would get a spinoff show. It would be easy. It would be GREAT. It would happen as soon as I went to the mainland.

None of those things turned out to be true.

 

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