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.


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?


In order:

1) Suck it up, you’re a ghost buster.

2) Everyone feels that way about everything ever.


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.


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.

Not the Fox News: The Reader’s Duty

Hi! How’ve you been?

Since last we spoke I’ve:

-Attended Nine Worlds 2016 and run their comics programming.

-Attended MidAmericon II where I ran two panels, was on several more and attended a whole bunch.

-Eaten a lot of barbecue.

-Spent four days in Atlanta talking to the various Escape Artists staff we have out there.

-Seriously, it was a LOT of barbecue.

-Come back to the UK where we moved house and town and met the movers at the new place about four hours after getting off the plane.

-Done two podcast interviews.

It’s been a bit intense.

Also great.

Also it was a LOT of barbecue.


The upshot of this is I’m just about back into the groove and, in returning to said groove, I’ve been thinking about what the next NTFN should be. It was nearly a piece on panel etiquette for audience, panellists and moderators alike and that one may still be coming. At present it’s a page of notes orbiting the phrase ‘DON’T BE AN ASSHOLE’ so I’m guessing there’s some work still to do there.

Instead I find myself thinking more and more about one of the conclusions every panel I saw seemed to either articulate or come close to articulating;

This is the age of the Reader. More specifically, The age of the reader’s duty.

Here’s the thing. Whether talking about tabletop RPGs, computer games, board games, novels, comics or any one of a dozen other art forms there are three truths that keep coming up; there’s more signal than noise, it’s hard to find an audience and that places a very different, very positive obligation on readers.

It’s traditional to think of the cultural atmosphere we move through as being predominantly noise. In a lot of cases it still is; go take a look at Twitter moments or what the trending topics are. Better still, click on any trending hashtag and see how quickly it’s infested with people desperate to get eyes on what they want to talk about, regardless of whether or not it’s relevant. That, right there? Noise.

But it’s noise that we need. Or at least we can work through. Life, as the great philosopher Bueller once put it, moves pretty fast. However he didn’t have a smartphone and the ability to see just how fast life is moving or to understand where it’s going. We do. We’re assailed by so much signal it becomes noise and while that’s a definite improvement it’s also an immense challenge for creators. It’s no longer enough to be better than most people around you or to stick around long enough. Now you have to be unique enough to stand out from a field that’s, by default, orders of magnitude bigger and better than it’s ever been before.


Want proof? Awesome, here you go. The Omega Men is a short lived comic series written by Tom King with art by Barnaby Bagenda, Toby Cypress, ig Guara and Jose Marzan Jr. It was inked by Romulo Fajardo Jr, Tomeu Morey and Hi-Fi and was lettered by Pat Brosseau with covers by Trevor Hutchison. It’s a great series, a Guardians of the Galaxy with blood on its knuckles that explores what happens when the high-handed, naïve optimism of the Lantern Corps is dragged down to ground level. Smart, nasty, complicated fun.

And it got cancelled.

Now it’s a New York Times bestseller.

What does this teach us? A bunch of stuff. That comics are a team sport, that single issues are a brutally unforgiving format for mainstream experimentation and that the audience that waits for collections is in some cases much bigger than the people who buy individual issues.

Most importantly, it shows us that great projects can get read as noise when they’re really signal and that, in order to save them, sometimes creators have to shift format to get noticed. The Omega Men is a perfect example of this, a complex, novelistic story better suited to being read in one chunk. Likewise Matt Wallace’s excellent Rencor: Life in Grudge City which started life as a TV show pitch and has ended up as a novella. In each case the story was a near miss in its original format. In each case the story shines in its new format.

And that brings us to the reader. Which in this context could also mean ‘viewer’, ‘player’ and any other name for ‘person interacting with culture’.

There’s more noise than signal. There are countless projects that deserve audiences and never quite get them. That’s partially on the creators or distributors. The rest?

That’s on us.

We have never lived in more signal than we do now. We have never been surrounded by more inspiring, brilliant art in every single form than we are now. If you are at least a little invested in modern culture than its almost impossible not to run around like a caffeine-addled child in the biggest candy store in human history trying to get as much awesome into your brain as possible.

The thing is, faced with a choice that huge, human nature says we default to what we know. We don’t take risks, we don’t take chances. We just watch the same things and read the same things and play the same things because they’re known quantities.

That’s fine. In a lot of cases, that’s great. I’m playing Uncharted 4 right now because the first 3 were so great. There’s nothing wrong with returning to wells you’ve drunk from before. There’s everything wrong with only going to those wells. You may not risk as much but after a while that’s all you do, the only places you go. Your world shrinks to nothing but routine when that routine should instead be the foundation of something new. And that something doesn’t have to cost money either. Try a podcast. They’re free, there are countless thousands of them and oddly, I know a thing or two about what’s good there.

It doesn’t have to cost anything but time, but the Reader’s Duty is one we all have. It’s a duty to find new things, to talk about them and…actually you know what? I know someone who can articulate this way better.


Thanks Captain. Couldn’t have said it better myself. See you next month, folks.

Not The Fox News: Nine Worlds 2015


I was at Nine Worlds over the weekend. It’s my second time at the Con, and it remains very nearly everything every con promises and very few deliver. It’s enthusiastic, incredibly varied in subject matter and refreshingly clear of the endless, dust-covered turf wars and bad history that tends to infect cons that have been around for a while.

The reason for that is that Nine Worlds isn’t so much a convention as a convention superstructure. Each content track is in essence a miniature convention in its own right and it’s entirely possible to attend one and not see any of the rest of them. You want to attend a small, extremely enthusiastic and critically nuanced comics convention? You can. Want to sprinkle some book panels, podcast stuff and Doctor Who on that? You can. I did.

In the space of three days I sat on two comics panels, one Doctor Who one, moderated a Books panel, helped win a trivia contest and was on standby to accept a Gemmell as a proxy if required. It was intensive, busy and fun. It was also a noticeably different experience from last year, in a way that’s worth unpacking. So here are three thoughts I brought home:


Take Some Time for Yourself

Tony, chill. Get some water. Sit down. You’ll make the panel in time. And if not, dude, Repulsor rays.

First and most important thing I learned this year; The best way to be at a Convention is to make sure you’re sometimes not at a convention. The Radisson Blu is a ridiculous, non-Euclidean venue that means you are always under everyone else’s feet if you’re in any space outside the guest rooms. As a result, it’s very easy to feel like I’m under foot. The fact the Radisson’s non bar public spaces were the lobby and the surprisingly tiny atrium didn’t help matters, nor did the 15 year Tube ride out to the hotel in the first place. So, a couple of times over the weekend, I slipped a gear. I was out of tune with myself and my surroundings so went somewhere quiet and reset for a bit. It really helped.

So, you are not going to see everything. Do not try. Take time alone when you need it.




Be Early If You Can

Defeat the razor sharp boomerangs of missing a panel you want to be on with the good natured, puppy-like super speedster of being a little early.

 Be there with at least half a day before the first thing you want to see or are on. I rolled up an hour before my first panel on Friday and felt like I was running to catch up for most of the day. That in turn tied into feeling a little disassociated which, in turn, tied into not wanting to be around people.

That applies to panels too. I saw a lot more ROOM FULL signs this year than last and that, coupled with the lack of social spaces, could make you feel a bit shut out. So arrive early to avoid disappointment. Or going ‘Oh COME ON!’ a lot.




Control Your Diet

The Radisson Blu’s customer care philosophy in one apathetic yet somehow still belligerent shrug.

The Radisson Blu is a very, very awful hotel that seems to actively resent the conventions that pay to happen inside it. There were a host of issues this year including but not limited to rooms being full, the terrible layout of the hotel and the two venue monte you played every morning to see which room they’d herd the nerds into for breakfast so as not to frighten the other guests.

Then there were the vast wait times for food, the incredible (And not in the good way) prices and several incidents which honestly looked like con goers were being actively messed with. Case in point; we were told there was no need to make a reservation at one of the restaurants. When we arrived later that night for food, we were told that without a reservation it would take an hour or more to be seated. I’ve also seen other accounts of guests being treated far better if they took their convention lanyards off…

All this, plus so much more boils down to two things. Firstly, this needs to be the last year Nine Worlds is at the Radisson Blu. Secondly, you will blow £100 minimum on food and alcohol if you’re not extremely careful. And take it from me, a diet of cardboard sandwiches from the filling station up the road is not going to work for you.  Likewise, our food load out last year was basically ‘Cakes! Pie! Crisps! Chocolate! An Apple!’

Not a good plan. You will feel as fuzzy and weirdly damp as the carpet beneath your room’s AC.

This year we went for:

-The Adoration of the Baby Cheeses. Or Babybels to be more accurate but less whimsical.


-Hovis digestives

Nakd bars. Fun to say, funner to eat. Basically 100 calorie or so protein grenades and, unlike so many other things of their ilk, they do not like taste like reconstituted failure and dust. I can particularly recommend the Cashew ones.

-Water. So much water. Seriously. That’s a good rule of thumb for any con but given the Radisson Blu’s internal temperature was never less than swampy, it was particularly necessary at Nine Worlds.


So that was what I learned about how to be at cons. Self care of every sort is absolutely vital at events like this so make sure you do it. Nine Worlds is a brilliant event that does a lot of stuff incredibly well but one of the ways they’ll get even better is if you feed back to them about your con experience and make sure you’re looking after yourself while you’re there.

Now, I’m off to Spokane next week for WorldCon so I really should get some laundry done…

World Book Day

It’s world book day today. All over the place kids are going to school dressed as their favourite characters. Aunty Fox has even loaned out her tail for the event. World Book Day makes me think of sitting in the space under my bunk bed (behind the inbuilt cupboards) with a lamp and a book as a kid, or reading a novel inside a science text book when I was supposed to be revising. It makes me think of the table of indie books I had the honour of manning at NineWorlds last year. Most importantly it makes me think of stories and the pleasure they bring.



There are people who believe that fiction must try to be improving to have value. I disagree. I think we cannot help but be improved and enriched by the sharing of stories, so in fiction writers should be trying to tell the best story they can. What we are trying to do at Fox Spirit is share some of the stories that capture our imagination, that enrich us, with everyone out there.

So this world book day eat cake for breakfast, read something you enjoy and tell someone about a book you love!



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.


Continue reading “Not The Fox News: The Long Con 1: Nine Worlds”

Not the Fox News: The First State of the Union

I’ve been thinking a lot about the future recently. It’s sort of my job, but it’s also something that we can’t avoid at this time of year. 2013 is calling time and putting the chairs on the tables whilst 2014 is trying not to look too nervous as it takes its tracksuit off and warms up. This is a time of year where reflection isn’t just expected it’s almost compulsory.

That leads to some really kick ass writing by the way. Paul Cornell’s 12 Blogs of Christmas are always really good value but this year he’s been on exceptional form. 2013 has been what my amazing girlfriend would call ‘burly’, an intense, bruiser of a year that’s worked hard for all 365 days and is only reluctantly showing signs of slowing down. There have been times, and anyone who was reading my blog in the top six months of the year would know exactly what times they were, when it’s been deeply, profoundly unpleasant.

Thanks for having my back this year, Phil.

That lack of pleasant hasn’t just stemmed from the profound professional frustration I’ve felt for a good chunk of this year. A lot of it has stemmed from the realization that a lot of the time, geek culture enables and encourages misery. The whole concept of geek/nerd/counter culture is so wrapped up in being the underdog that even when we aren’t, we’re conditioned to act like we are.

It’s not just that there’s always something wrong with a movie or a book or a comic or someone’s blog post either, although God knows that sort of stuff has been endemic this year. When we’re not complaining that something’s been done wrong, we’re complaining it’s been done at all and we absolutely will not stop until the same nine people agree with us, argue with us or passive aggressively block us on Twitter.


I’ve seen things, to misquote Roy Batty, that would make you go ‘…Wait, you’re supposed to be a grown up? You’re the industry leaders whose standards we all have to aspire to? SERIOUSLY?’

I’ve seen authors ignore some of the first people to beta read their first book as they pass in convention hallways. I’ve seen authors pick fights they had no business being anywhere near or comport themselves on Twitter in a manner that suggests their ASSHAT UNION membership card has arrived and they’re just so pleased they can’t wait to show it to everyone.

It’s not just authors either. Bloggers who’ve picked fights for no reason other than they can, journalists who’ve started fights they can’t finish then played the victim card and run. I’ve seen celebrity authors pampered and sucked up to by the same editors who let out streams of invective as high pitched as they were ineffectual at people who they thought beneath them. I’ve seen ‘fans’ race to pour scorn on anyone who dared to like something they didn’t, or sneak pictures of an old, tired, ill man because it might be the last time they were in the same room as him and God forbid they should treat him like a human.

I have so much more. I have an amount you wouldn’t believe of stories of people being dicks. Objectification by both genders, high school cliquery, bullying, the sort of cult of personality bullshit that makes you want to not just leave these people’s company but shower and not stop until you feel clean again.   Fandom, and I actually cringed writing that word, has shown the world it’s ass over and over in 2013.

It’s been pretty depressing at times. You may be able to tell.

Here’s the thing. I have an outsider complex the size of a small moon at the best of times and there’ve been months this year that I’ve felt like a man without a country. Times where I’ve looked around at the conversation and the people leading it and frankly wondered if it wasn’t too late to learn enough about football and soap operas that I could fit effortlessly back into the general population, sort of like Bruce Campbell at the end of Darkman.

I didn’t for three reasons. Firstly because simply making that comparison tells me this is where I should be, secondly because Bruce Campbell already had that exit sewn up and thirdly because when it comes down to it, I’ve seen what comes next. And it’s BRILLIANT.

Seriously, the dusty cults of personality, the grudges held for years, the ludditery and celebration of the past at the endless, endless expense of the present and the future? It’s being replaced, person by person, con by con. What’s replacing it, Commander Bowman?

See, Dave knows.

But surely publishing is dying? I pretend to hear you cry. Publishing isn’t dying. Or rather it is in the same way that comics publishing was dying a decade ago when I ran a comic store. Numbers are down, prices are up, electronic retail is squeezing it dry and the sky is falling.

But the sky is always falling.

Comics endure. Books endure. We endure and survive and, ultimately, evolve. Look at the indie press scene in this country and don’t use small press as a term, please. It belittles the hard work of everyone involved in companies like Anachron, Jurassic and Fox Spirit. These are groups of people whose invention is matched only by their lunacy at working so hard for so little financial gain. Colin Barnes, Jared Shurin and Anne C. Perry, Aunty Fox, all the others have stepped up and MADE something whilst everyone else has been busy doomsaying and remembering how drunk they got at We Like A-Line Flares and The Bay City Fucking Rollerscon back in 197aeons ago.

Authors, editors and agents are the same. Lou Morgan, Andrew Reid, Joan De La Haye, Jennifer Williams, Liz De Jager, Alec McQuay, Dan Sawyer, Vincent Holland Keen, Adam Christopher, Colin Barnes again, Steven Saus, Scott Roche, Jared Shurin and Anne C. Perry again, Tim Maughan, Kate Laity, Mhairi Simpson, David Barnett, Nayad Monroe, Sarah Hans, Mur Lafferty, Lee Harris, Amanda Rutter, Den Patrick, Will Hill, Kim Curran, Guy Adams, Tom PollockDjibril al-Ayad, Matt Wallace, Jacqueline Koyanagi, Juliet Mushens and all the others have built their careers from the ground up. Brick by brick by author by book these people have hand sold, promoted, represented appeared on podcasts, written blogs, submitted work, read slush and slowly and surely they’ve made ground. Slowly and surely they’ve changed the game. Slowly and surely they’ve won .

You know the coolest thing about that list? I added to it twice and I know it’s not complete, even now. These people, and the legions I missed, are building the future with a combination of grim determination and total empathy. The con organizers are the same, and anyone who thinks different hasn’t looked at Nine Worlds, the plans LonCon 3 have or what Lee Harris and Sophia McDougall are building at FantasyCon ’14.

It won’t be overnight, because it never is, but the change that’s coming isn’t just one of talent, it’s one of atmosphere. At every level of every element of genre fiction publishing, the culture is changing from one of tradition and exclusion to one of individuality and inclusion. Yes the support structures are smaller, yes the work is harder to do but the rewards are all the sweeter if you can do it. Like the man says, it’s a good life if you don’t weaken and everyone I mention here can attest to that. These people love what they do so much they teach other people to love it too. No whining, no backbiting, no psychological games. Just the agent, the editor, the publisher, the writer, the reader and the text and, yes, they’re all walking into a bar.

This is a wonderful time to be anywhere near fiction. The step change that’s coming will echo up and down for decades to come and it’ll be so much more positive and interesting than so much of what we’ve had to put up with in recent years.

What do you think, Josh?

Good boy.

What’s next? That’s easy. It’s the future. And this time everyone’s invited.

Happy New Year


Jacqueline Koyanagi