A quick word on gender parity at WFC2013

by Suw on August 28, 2013

There’s been a kerfuffle over World Fantasy Con’s response to an author, Tom Pollockwho stepped down from a panel because of a lack of gender parity and was told by the organisers that he had “just excluded himself from all panels”. The tweeter, Pollock’s wife, quoted WFC’s response in a later tweet:

Actual quote: “As stated… WFC does not subscribe to that policy, so I’m afraid you have excluded yourself from any programming.”

Said Pollock himself:

In practice, in this instance, anyone who knew enough about the topic and wasn’t a dude could take my place.

Indeed, Pollock wrote about the gender parity issue himself last year, and had pledged to step down from any panel that wasn’t 50:50. This is apparently the first time he has been put in a position to have to keep his pledge.

Now, the WFC has an interesting way of scheduling speakers, according to their site:

PROGRAMME PARTICIPANTS

Not Everyone Will Be On a Panel
It’s simple arithmetic. We will have more potential programme participants than slots available for them. And because we are limited by WFC rules as to how many panels non-Guests of Honour can participate in, we will try to take a number of things into consideration. However, the most important factor will be Are You the Best Person to Speak on This Subject. It doesn’t matter how many books you’ve had out, or whether you are a New York Times best-seller or not, our top priority is putting together informative and entertaining panels with the best participants available to us.

What You Need to Do First
• First of all, unless you are a Guest of Honour, you need to be a Registered Member of the convention. You can do that here.
• You need to register earlier than later. If we know you are planning to attend, then we can begin considering you for potential programme slots.

[…]

I know this is a convention and not a conference and that things might well be different with conventions, but it seems like a rather haphazard way of organising one’s speaker roster. Usually with conferences – and I’ve organised and spoken at quite a few so I have some experience here – one thinks about what topics are currently germane, who are the best people to speak on those topics, and then you invite them.

Gender parity becomes an issue in male-dominated areas like science and tech at least in part because, as a conference organiser,  your first instinct is to ask yourself, “Who do I know that would be awesome on this topic?” The answer to that question is usually, “Someone that I already know, have already seen speak, or who has already been recommended to me by someone I know.” That is the wrong answer.

Because a lot of conferences are dominated by men, and men get more coverage in the media, the first people to come to mind will be men. That doesn’t mean that a man is the best person to speak on a particular topic, it means that a man is the first person likely to come to mind as a speaker on a particular topic. The only way to combat this tendency is for conference and convention organisers to deliberately seek speakers from outside of their existing social and professional circles. This means putting some effort into finding women speakers whom you previous did not know about.

I know some people hate gender parity policies because they feel that it’s tokenism, that the women are only chosen because of their gender and that, therefore, objectifies them and devalues their participation. And if all the organisers do play the equivalent of Blind Woman’s Buff or Pin The Tail On The Female Speaker, then it’s fair enough to protest it as tokenism. But if organisers go deeper and seek to empower those women who are expert but who have had little or no exposure or coverage, then the policy is working as it should. It’s not about getting any ol’ woman on stage, it’s about encouraging organisers to look beyond the obvious male contributors and find the slightly more obscure but equally brilliant women.

As with many things, it isn’t the what, it’s the how that is important.

WFC2013′s weird way of programming, which essentially restricts them to either Guests of Honour, who are the big, important names and currently standing at six men and two women, or people who have already paid to attend, does rather limit their choices. I suppose this allows them to have their cake and eat it, in that they can totally over-schedule the convention to make it seem busy and exciting and not lose any money because the speakers have already paid to attend.

In the conference world, if you speak you get free entry. Indeed, when I have been asked to both speak and pay for my own entrance I have always turned the offer down because, frankly, you don’t have an event at all without your speakers, and asking them to pay for the privilege of working for you is rude and greedy. I’m less au fait with conventions, so maybe WFC2013 is normal and I just think it’s weird because I come from another paradigm.

But still, there is not a shortage of great women writers in the fantasy genre, especially if it’s extended out a bit to encompass horror and SF which, the last time I want to a FantasyCon, it was. I can’t see that there would be any significant difficulty in ensuring that women are well represented. But, more than that, I cannot see how it helps WFC2013 to punish a potential speaker because he wanted to see gender parity and decided to give up his spot on a panel so that a woman could take part, which is essentially what he did.

WFC2013 has also decided to dance around the issue of having a policy on harassment. It’s FAQ says:

World Fantasy Convention 2013, as with any other predominantly adult gathering, will have a number of rules and regulations for the safety of attendees. These will be clearly stated in our Programme Guide, which will be given to each attendee when they register. In the meantime, we refer you to the UK’s Protection from Harassment Act 1997.

Sadly, harassment at cons has come to light as a serious issue and many now have policies that make it very clear that harassment is not acceptable and provide the basis for action to be taken should harassment be reported. By not having an explicit harassment policy and falling back on the all too lame ‘we’re all adults and there’s a law’ position, the organisers of WFC2013 are adding to the perception, right or wrong, that they do not take gender issues seriously.

Recently, author John Scalzi stated that he would not go to a convention that did not have a clear policy on harassment. I admire Scalzi’s stance, especially as he does actually have something to lose by refusing to go to conventions. As an author, appearing at events is a key part of your job and not doing so could have a detrimental effect on your sales, so Scalzi is putting his money where his mouth is.

I wasn’t going to be going to WFC2013 this year anyway as I can’t afford it, but now I’m not going for the additional reason that I simply do not wish to support people who think that it’s OK to effectively punish someone for bringing up the subject of gender parity by banning him from appearing on other panels, and who don’t address the harassment policy issue head on and thereby demonstrate that they take the safety of their female attendees and speakers seriously.

But more to the point, I won’t go to any future WFC2013 or FantasyCon events unless the organisers take a more constructive attitude towards both parity and harassment. They won’t lose out, but I will, as cons are a great place to meet people and network, and at this stage in my career that’s something I really need to be doing, but I’ll find a different way and a different place to do it.

UPDATE: 29/10/13, 10:09. Sarah Pinborough has dropped by and left a comment in which she reassures me that WFC2013 isn’t going to be a massive sausagefest:

There are a huge amount of talented women attending WFC 2013 and having spoken to the Chair ( a woman) there will be absolutely no shortage of woman speakers. It’s the men who will have to keep up.

That’s good to hear, and deals with half my problem with the con. All they need to do now is produce a proper harassment policy and make sure that no other speaker who steps aside to let a woman take their place on a panel gets punished for doing so.

UPDATE: 30/10/13, 10:28. Looks like my upbeat response to Sarah’s insider info may have been premature after it came to light that Kameron Hurley was offered a ‘ladies panel’:

Unsurprised to be offered a “ladies” panel at WFC. About how ladies NEVER used to write fantasy(!?). Where did all these LADIES come from?

Note that this is a FANTASY panel. It’s not even a “Women never used to write SF!!” panel. But FANTASY. Oh lordy lord lord lordy my.

Cheryl Morgan posts the description of the panel:

The Next Generation: Broads with Swords. Once upon a time the heroic fantasy genre was—with a few notable exceptions such as C.L. Moore and Leigh Brackett—the sole domain of male writers like Robert E. Howard, John Jakes and Michael Moorcock. Those days are long gone, and it seems that more & more women writers are having their heroines suit up in chain-mail and wield a broadsword. Who are these new writers embracing a once male-dominated field & how are their books any different from their literary predecessors?

Hurley says on twitter that she emailed WFC2013 to ask them to change the focus and language of the Broads With Swords panel, not least because it seems to ignore a vast swathe of women fantasy writers who’ve been very successful over the last few decades. She also requested that the panel not be made up solely of women. She tweets that she was told her request for a change pas been passed on to the programming committee, but that this is the only panel she’ll be offered.

Blogger A Little Briton, Pollock’s wife, gives us a handy guide to all that is wrong with these sorts of “Women In…” panels. And Jess Haines executes a particularly satisfying takedown. I couldn’t agree more*.

But wait! That’s not the end of it! Morgan also posts the description of a panel that she was asked to be a part of: 

The Next Generation We’re All Bloggers Now. Being a columnist or a critic used to be a skill, combining knowledge and the ability to write with insightful observations. These days it seems that everybody has an opinion and evolving technology has given us numerous platforms through which to make our views known. Have we degraded the true art of criticism to a point where it has lost all value?

There’s so much baggage there it’s hard to see how they’ll get that panel off the ground at all. This sort of thinking does nothing to help either writers or readers, it’s just snobby nonsense. They could have asked how the now complex relationship between traditional reviewers, publishers, writers and bloggers has changed reviewing and what impact that is having on how readers find out about new authors and books. But no, they had to make a judgement first and write the panel description once they’d decided what we should all think.

I’m left thinking that the WFC2013 programming committee really needs to listen to John Scalzi:

Dear WFC 2013: Please stop punching yourself in the face.

For fandom’s sake, please.

* I’ll note that I’m not against “Women In” panels when they provide an accurate and historically aware view of women’s contributions, or if they are focused on addressing the problems that women face in male-dominated fields, because we do need to have those conversations. But this sort of revisionist “Ooh, look at the girlies trying to do what us menz do” bollocks is not helpful in the least.

UPDATE: 30/10/13, 19:09. WFC2013 have responded to criticism via the medium of their FAQ. I’m not hugely impressed, I must say, but it’s time to go out for dinner now, so I’ll do a new blog post with further thoughts in due course.

sarah August 28, 2013 at 9:58 pm

In barely any horror/fantasy/sci-fi conventions do you get a free pass if you do a panel. The panels are made up of the registered attending professionals and have been in my ten years in the business and that works on both sides of the pond. If they don’t know you’re attending, they can’t panel you and if you leave it to the last minute to register of course it’s unlikely you’ll get a panel if you want one. There are a huge amount of talented women attending WFC 2013 and having spoken to the Chair ( a woman) there will be absolutely no shortage of woman speakers. It’s the men who will have to keep up.

Suw August 29, 2013 at 10:08 am

Thanks for dropping by, Sarah. It’s good to hear from someone with inside knowledge that there is going to be a good roster of women speakers. In many ways, that makes it even sadder that they reacted as they did to Pollock, and that they don’t seem committed to the idea of putting up a harassment policy. I know some people may feel the latter is pointless, but I think it’s one of those signifiers that says “We have considered this issue thoroughly and take it seriously”, which is in many ways as important as what the policy itself says.

sarah August 29, 2013 at 10:26 am

I think it was a badly worded response. Basically, they were offering him that one panel in the programming and were basically saying if he turned it down then he wasn’t on any programming. Also it’s interesting that no women (thus far) have asked about panel parity when accepting or declining their panel options, it’s only been men – three of them. I also think that just because panel parity isn’t a policy, it doesn’t mean that they’re not trying to make it as balanced as possible, they just don’t believe in it as a policy. Panelists should be judged on body of work, not body (I stole that line from someone else;-)) I think perhaps everyone is geared up to be angry before knowing if there’s anything to be angry about. It’s very early for programming to be released – normally only a couple of weeks before the con, and they’ll still be sorting out who’s doing what depending on who accepts declines stuff. I declined the panel they asked Tom to do so it’s not that they weren’t trying to get women on it.

sarah August 29, 2013 at 10:26 am

As you can probably tell, I’ve been doing some behind the scenes investigating;-)

sarah August 29, 2013 at 10:28 am

And yes, I think there should be a harrassment policy, even if it is just to say, hey, if you have a problem go to this person and they will deal with it.

Suw August 29, 2013 at 11:03 am

I’m sure that people were geared up to be angry, but I can’t blame them as there’s far too much sexist shit that happens, not just in SF/F but in all sorts of areas, and if you pay attention to it you get primed to see it. However, whenever something like this blows up, even if it’s unwarranted, then one just has to get on the case immediately with an apology and clarification. There’s nothing on the WFC2013′s Twitter feed, nothing that I can find on the website, that addresses what happened. That omission says ‘Hey, we don’t actually care what you think’. It’s a bad look on anyone, worse when it’s an event in a field that’s known to have a few problems with various unpleasant -isms. An apology for the misunderstanding costs nothing and would have been a good idea.

And yes, even if the harassment policy is simple, just having a clear way for people to report problems would be a good start.

Ach, well, I have no dog in this fight, really. Will be sad to miss seeing everyone, but that’s mostly a financial issue. :(

Cheryl Morgan August 30, 2013 at 11:54 am

Your comparison with professional conferences really doesn’t work well here. I don’t want to bore people with lengthy explanations of the differences. Hopefully it will suffice to say that no event of this type has more than a handful of invited speakers, and there are normally plenty of well qualified women amongst the membership.

However, at the better conventions programme development is a collaborative process between the members and the programming staff. This year’s WFC is not following that model, and it appears to be deliberately trolling the attendees by putting on panels whose descriptions are likely to offend some of those asked to be on them. I am expecting this to be defended as being “robust”, “provoking discussion” and “not Politically Correct”.

Thankfully, WFC has a long-standing reputation for poor programming. Hardly anyone goes in the expectation of interesting panels. They go there to network. All of the interesting interaction happens in the bar and in restaurants.

Kameron Hurley August 30, 2013 at 11:57 am

Fwiw I did ask them about panel parity yesterday. So it’s not just dudes asking. I think folks are just tired of business as usual. It’s 2013. I’ve only been doing panels for 7 years and *I’m* tired of the same old hackneyed vaguely women-erasing panels. It’s temping to say this stuff doesn’t matter and panelists will say what they want anyway. But when historians look back at what our field was talking about in 2013 the narrative will tell them we thought few women of importance wrote fantasy between 1970 and 2013. And that’s just one of many problematic panel assumptions across hundreds of conventions for what, 80 years? It adds up.

Sarah August 30, 2013 at 12:17 pm

I wish they’d actually respond to what’s being said on Twitter.. I don’t think silence helps anyone. Hmmm…

alittlebriton August 30, 2013 at 12:27 pm

I want to point out I don’t think Tom was being punished, I think they were saying that his stance was going to preclude him from being seen on a panel and therefore being seen as a leader in the genre. Which I still think is shitty behaviour, so I’m still calling them out on it. But I don’t think they were barking ‘no! bad dog!’ at him, just ‘well, joke’s on you mate as you’ll never get heard with that equalitist attitude’.

Does that make sense? It reflects Kameron’s experience with the whole ‘well, you may want equality but it means you won’t get your voice heard as it’s take it or leave it’. And that’s not really a listening approach or a fair choice. It’s still discrimination but it’s not punishment.

Petréa Mitchell August 30, 2013 at 4:25 pm

The WFC program-building model is, in fact, unusual at sf conventions. A more usual one is:

1. You do have to be a registered member first
2. You contact programming to volunteer, giving a brief outline of who you are and the sort of topics you can contribute to.
3. Everyone who passes step #2 gets to fill out a more detailed survey. Some cons will give a list of specific panel topics and let you indicate your interest level for each one; others will ask about general topic areas. You also indicate what hours you’re willing to be on panels, maximum number per day, and so forth.
4. Anywhere from 3 weeks to a couple months before the convention, you get a preliminary schedule. (Or, if they couldn’t find a spot for you, you get a polite note explaining that.) If you’ve been placed on a panel you don’t think you’re a good fit for, or your availability has changed, or have any other issues with it, this is where that gets worked out.
5. If it’s a convention which is held in the same place every year, usually you will then be on their permanent list and will get a notification when the survey is ready the next year.

Many cons do provide free or reduced-rate memberships for panelists, but sometimes it’s handled as a refund rather than a comp. It depends on the stability of the con, economic conditions, local custom, etc.

The one-panel-per-person rule is not common either; at a regional con, if you acquit yourself well your first year as a panelist, you’re likely to wind up scheduled at or close to the maximum you’re willing to handle in subsequent ones.

Suw August 30, 2013 at 7:02 pm

Thanks, everyone, for your comments! Much appreciated!

Cheryl, I know that the conference experience doesn’t directly map, but I do think that conventions could learn a thing or two from them. Primarily, I think that there are some much more robust methodologies for coming up with topics and speakers. There are a whole bunch of options that are better than “See who signs up, and then from that invite as many as possible to do something, anything”. That leads to a horribly messy, over-scheduled con (which was the problem with Fantasy Con when I went). I do agree, though, that WFC seems to be deliberately trolling, but it’s a shame that people have to decide to go for the networking instead of the panels. What a waste.

Kameron, I couldn’t agree more that this ‘business as usual’ is tedious. I think it’s not just that people will look back and be confused by the narrative, it’s also that it doesn’t serve anyone right now. Ignoring women’s contributions doesn’t just sidelines women, it fails readers too, who miss out on some really awesome stuff, and fans, who miss out on seeing their favourite female authors being recognised for their achievements.

Sarah, any response at the moment would be a start. Even acknowledging that there’s a conversation happening. I do hope that they haven’t just gone into a defensive crouch, because that won’t end well at all.

ALittleBriton, thank you for clarifying your position. Maybe I should have used the word ‘penalise’ instead of ‘punish’. But whatever words we use to describe what they did, it’s shitty, absolutely, and they deserve to be called out on it.

Petréa, thanks for explaining how things work elsewhere! As an outsider to these things, it was illuminating to hear how it usually works!

Debbie August 30, 2013 at 7:29 pm

Speaking from too many years of organising FantasyCons… Petréa’s summary is pretty much how it works, though I’ve always been more involved in admin/logistics than programming. I do know that in most cases it’d be impossible to provide comp memberships to panellists up front, as there simply isn’t the money. Several years we’ve trod a fine line with cancellation, just trying to balance the books as many people don’t register until late in the day! As far as I can recall, we’d think up interesting topics for discussion and then see who we had on the list who might be able/willing to contribute. Or we’d look at the membership lists and think person A would be great talking about something or other. I don’t recall gender ever coming into it at all.

Cheryl Morgan August 30, 2013 at 11:29 pm

Suw: given that this convention has been happening for many years, and almost always sells out, I suspect that going for the networking is exactly what the attendees want from it.

Of course any convention could be better with better programming, but you’d have to think fairly carefully about who your expected audience is, and how you will pay for it. Things like the Hay Lecture at Eastercon are a good example of bringing in an outsider who will give an interesting presentation, but at the same time you have to deal with a lot of pro writers who want to be on panels, and who are offended if they don’t get them. I’d be interested to know what sort of people you think ought to be on programming at conventions, and what they should talk about.

Suw August 31, 2013 at 10:30 am

Isn’t it a shame, though, that a convention sells out despite the programming, rather than because of it?

I organise Ada Lovelace Day, so I’m well aware of the struggles of volunteer-led, minimal budget (in our case, a budget of £0) events, but that’s the same as many, many events organised around the world. It’s not an excuse for acting the way WFC have.

I think the major difference between conferences and conventions is outlined in your second paragraph: big egos who think they should be on stage and who get sniffy if they aren’t invited. Conferences don’t have to deal with that so much, because the way that they are programmed is so completely different. There isn’t an expectation that if you’re a name and you buy a ticket that you’ll end up on stage. The big names still go, though.

As for the kinds of programming I’d like to see, well, this isn’t a reaction to WFC’s programming as we don’t know what the full schedule is yet, but when I work on Ada Lovelace Day, I try to get a couple of big names that people will come for almost no matter what, and then a bunch of people with interesting things to say, including at least one person who’s pretty new on the circuit. We have 8-10 speakers, but our event is very particular – a sort of nerd cabaret, if you like – so finding the right performers is actually quite hard.

I’ve only been to two writer events, FantasyCon a few years back and Write The Future. The former was mostly boring in terms of panels, and the latter was fantastic, except for the panel with writers bibbling on about their books. Most of the other speakers were writers with presentations about fiction trends or scientists/technologists talking about what they are working on. It was absolutely fantastic to have my mind blown by the idea that someone is actually working on a ‘world ship’, a project expected to take 100 yrs. (When I’m back on my laptop, I’ll add links.)

So I’d want to see a few big names – the Guests of Honour that WFC has look pretty good – but I’d also want to bring in domain experts from outside of writing, eg. get a couple of pro swordfighters to demo how realistic swordfights go down, or get a good paramedic to talk about how to write injuries or illness, or get a historian to talk about period dress. There are loads of things one could do that would require getting people in from outside the convention membership that would make the event utterly awesome and completely unmissable. That doesn’t mean no writer panels where the egos get to prattle on about whatever the hell they want, but that that isn’t the whole of the program.

But that’s just my view, and it’s clear that I’m neither the target audience nor ever likely to be so for something like WFC. I obviously come from a different world, and I can’t say that WFC’s world looks at all attractive to me.

Cheryl Morgan August 31, 2013 at 11:21 am

We’ve had expert talks at BristolCon before. The ones on writing fight scenes and archery went down really well. On the other hand, we had the guy who wrote Scrivener to come and talk. I figured it was geek heaven: software and writing together in one talk, but the room was almost empty. What was the difference? The other two talks were given by people who were experts, but were also well-known writers.

That shouldn’t be an issue with WFC as it is supposedly a professional event. Unfortunately the WF Board usually micromanages programming and insists on really dull stuff. For fan conventions, on the other hand, the general membership comes to see their favourite authors, and the authors come to get exposure in front of fans. The sort of programming that goes down really well are things like celebrity game shows featuring famous writers. That may not be your cup of tea, but it works.

I’m with you on the subject of egos, but the culture that has grown up over the decades it is very hard to break. Many writers won’t attend a convention unless they think they are going to be on programme. It’s tempting to say that you don’t need them there, but what tends to happen with membership is that each writer draws in a few people who wouldn’t go otherwise.

So yeah, there’s much that could be done, and much that many conventions are doing. But not WFC. It is a very odd beast, and deeply conservative.

Suw August 31, 2013 at 11:53 am

Debbie, I think gender should come into it, if only to do a sense check before invitations go out to make sure that women are represented. Same with other minorities. The problem is that only too often the default is ‘straight white male’, and sometimes even the best of us need to double check that we’re not going for the obvious choices instead of giving others a voice. That’s no slur on any organiser, it should just be standard practice. Because how do you know that you’re not subconsciously discriminating if you don’t even check?

Suw August 31, 2013 at 12:03 pm

Cheryl, I’m not surprised that the dude from Scrivener didn’t go down well. I doubt that it’s because he’s not a writer, but because he’s tackling what is essentially a process problem, ie how physically do you write. That’s probably not a very attractive theme for most writers because they’ll mostly have settled on an existing process, and hearing someone say that there something better out there is not going to be top on their list of fun times to have. For context, a while back I worked with a start-up that wanted to change how writers proofread. The resistance to any sort of change to the actual writing process from the very people who stood to benefit most from such a change was really surprising to me.

On the other hand, fight scenes and archery are more interesting and less threatening to writers’ sense of self. (You’d be surprised how many people in all walks of life identify themselves through the processes they go through in the course of their work, rather than the end product that they create. Trying to change the process, which is what most of my professional life involves, is often seen as an attack on their very being. Weird but true.)

I totally understand that cultures are hard to change. It’s a shame that WFC is so set in its ways, but that just means that there is an opportunity for someone else to step in and do something more interesting! By the way, I’d love to know which conventions you’d recommend. I’d really like to go to some next year, if I can (though it all depends on my budget, which is currently similar to that of Ada Lovelace Day. :( )

Cheryl Morgan August 31, 2013 at 12:24 pm

Good point re Scrivener, though most of my writer friends swear by it these days. Many of them are geeks and committed early adopters.

As to recommendations, you might try Nine Worlds. It is fairly new so might have organizational issues, but they are much more of a popular culture event than a book-fan event. Last year they had Laurie Penny as a speaker. And they are at Heathrow so I think you could avoid the hotel bill.

Alternatively you might try a day at Worldcon. It’s in London next year, but the full 5 days is quite expensive. I’d like to see a programme item about ALD, but I have no influence over what they choose to do and you have to be a pretty big name for them to bring you just for programming. Nine Worlds would be much more open to that as they have a whole Geek Feminism programme track.

I’ll be going to Eurocon in Dublin as part of a commitment to making the SF&F world less Anglo-centric, but I don’t think it will be your sort of thing as it is very much community building rather than entertainment.

And all of those will be in August. Exhausting.

Suw August 31, 2013 at 12:37 pm

I love Scrivener to bits, absolutely. Couldn’t do without it. Everything gets written in Scrivener now, from client reports to Forbes blog posts to my fiction. I’m a huge fan! I’m also a massive geek, but I’m not sure even I would go to a Scrivener session… ;)

Thanks for the recommendations! Nine Worlds sounds good, and I do like the popular culture stuff too. And Heathrow is very close to Woking so very easy to get to for me – 25 mins to Terminal 5! Worldcon also sounds good. I will investigate. I did go to Story once, but it wasn’t quite what I’d hoped it would be. A bit too much performance, not enough nitty gritty.

I will say, one of the reasons I’m not doing WFC is because it’s in Brighton, which is awkward to get to from here and I can’t afford the travel, hotel and conference fee at this point in time. I’d rather spend the money on a new foil blocking machine or, frankly, a new pair of shoes!

I’ve also considered running my own writing conference, but ALD is enough for me right now! That eats up a good chunk of my time (when I should be working!!) Aug-Oct, so it’s pretty heavy going, even with some awesome volunteers. I certainly don’t envy con organisers, as I know how much work it is, especially when you’re only doing it for the love of it. But the sacrifice doesn’t make you infallible or excuse self-righteousness, a point I fear WFC may possibly have missed.

Cheryl Morgan August 31, 2013 at 12:50 pm

I’m going to WFC because a bunch of my US and Australian friends will be there, and I haven’t seem them for ages. Also I have a publishing company and bookstore so there are business opportunities. It is not a convention that I’d recommend to writers unless you have at least started selling short fiction at pro rates.

If it is all the same to you, I’d prefer you to concentrate on ALD. It is a very important initiative, and I know to my cost what happens when you spread yourself too thin. Then again, I’m the last person to be able to criticize anyone for going off to do new and interesting things.

Tony Keen August 31, 2013 at 1:14 pm

I pretty much agree with everything you say here, but do want to make one minor clarification: “In the conference world, if you speak you get free entry” is not, in my experience, the case in academic conferences, at least not in the subjects I specialise in (Classical Studies and science fiction). It does happen, but it’s very much the exception rather than the norm (though many speakers get their fees paid by other bodies).

Suw August 31, 2013 at 1:21 pm

Cheryl, I suspect a bunch of my mates will be there too. I’ll be sad to miss them! Fwiw, I entirely understand why other people go, and that the networking and opportunity to hang out in the bar is important and fun. That’s mostly what I did at FantasyCon!

And thank you for the kind words about ALD. I have an exciting announcement coming up soon, which will marry my passion for ALD with my passion for writerly things… ;) That will breathe new life into it for me, I think.

Suw August 31, 2013 at 1:23 pm

Hi Tony, thanks for dropping by! That’s very interesting to know about academic conferences! Maybe tech conferences are the odd ones out? I suspect I might also be self-selecting a little bit, though, because as a freelance there’s simply no way I can speak at a conference unless my expenses are covered, ie entry, flights, hotel, as I have no employer or institution to pay for me. But even so, in the nearly 10 years I’ve been speaking, I’ve only been asked to pay once and that was an opportunity I turned down.

Cheryl Morgan August 31, 2013 at 1:58 pm

I’ve spoken at, and arranged, business conferences before. Whether speakers have to pay depends a) on how high profile they are – a CEO won’t have to pay but a low-level technical expert might; and b) on how much the conference can charge the businesses who send delegates. High powered consultancies are prepared to pay a lot more to send staff to conferences than universities. And yes, since I have been freelance I won’t go to a business conference if I have to pay. But I have just paid to go to an academic conference that I’m speaking at next month.

Kevin Marks August 31, 2013 at 3:32 pm

The other kind of conference we have in the tech world is the unconference. This is an extension of the “only attendees speak” model to the edge of chaos, where the sessions are proposed by attendees on the day, and scheduled by sticking then on a grid on the wall. Many of the conferences I get the most out of either are run wholly this way, or have a component of it (even Internet Identity Workshop, Indiewebcamp, food camp, bar camps).
I wonder if writing con organisers have tried this?

Suw August 31, 2013 at 3:35 pm

Kevin, Ooh yes! I had forgotten about the unconference! I wonder if I could persuade Penguin or Hachette to provide space? That could be a lot of fun!

Cheryl Morgan August 31, 2013 at 4:02 pm

Kevin: yes, we are familiar with that idea. Many science fiction fans are also programmers, after all. Many conventions allow members to propose programming topics, though mainly in advance rather than on the day. I don’t know of any that are wholly run on the unconference pattern, but there are several that provide space for additional programme items that can be developed by members on the day. WisCon, the feminist SF convention, is the first place where I saw this happen.

Daniel Johnston September 1, 2013 at 3:07 pm

Suw,
I’m one of the organisers of Nine Worlds. We *may* have already met through Jen & Owen / OpenTech / ALD stuff, but it would be good to talk more sometime. Anyhoo, you should feel free to poke us about speaking at next year’s event if you’re interested. ALD, social technology and the future of journalism are all really good fits to what we’re doing.
Cheers,
Daniel

Brian Turner September 30, 2013 at 10:30 pm

I’m curious why Kameron Hurley was asked to speak on a panel about women fantasy writers. I thought she wrote science fiction? Surely there are a lot of women writing in the fantasy genre available to speak about their experiences of the fantasy genre?

Suw October 1, 2013 at 8:22 am

You’d have to ask the organisers that!

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