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Posts from the ‘Event Reviews’ Category

Readercon Harassment Debacle


If you haven’t been following the Readercon Harassment Debacle, you can read all about it:

After the Readercon Board’s failure to adhere to their own published harassment policy, I sent them the following e-mail. I am appalled by their hypocrisy, and would have wished better of the convention that first introduced me to genre cons. If you agree with my conclusions, I urge you to show your support by reaching out to the Readercon Board at info@readercon.org.

Dear Readercon Board of Directors,

I am a lifelong speculative fiction reader whose first introduction to genre conventions was Readercon 22. I write a weekly science fiction/fantasy blog, and am deeply passionate about books, literature, and critical analysis, so it should come as no surprise to you that I felt at home at your convention. Last year, and again this year, I found an environment full of intelligent, passionate people eager to dive into the same topics that so fascinate me. After my experiences last year, I sang Readercon’s praises to anyone who would listen and was delighted to see half of my Viable Paradise workshop class come to this year’s Readercon. But despite my appreciation for the excellent convention you organize, I am appalled by the hypocrisy inherent in your selective implementation of your “zero-tolerance” harassment policy.

In your handling of Rene Walling’s admitted harassment of Genevieve Valentine, there are three clear facts:

1. You published an official policy of “zero-tolerance” for harassment, provided this policy in writing, and displayed it prominently to everyone attending Readercon. This policy explicitly stated that the consequence of harassment was the permanent suspension of the harasser.

2. Rene Walling physically and verbally harassed and intimidated Genevieve Valentine. Per your own official statement, this is not in dispute.

3. Per your official statement, the Board decided – based on Walling’s avowals of contrition – to only suspend the guilty party for two years, which decision is in obvious contravention of the Board’s own official policy.

Taken together, these three facts are shameful. Yes, the right to enforce policies lies in the Board’s sole discretion, which means that you have the right to apply whatever sanctions you choose in this situation. But you have a fiduciary duty to safeguard as best you can the safety of your convention’s attendees, and your original policy was laudable both for its clarity and for its fulfillment of that duty. But by deviating from your own policy, you have failed in that duty and have undermined the relationship of trust you have painstakingly built with your attendees.

Quite frankly, you screwed up and now have no good options: if you rescind your decision and permanently ban Walling (as you should have done in the first place), it will not undo your breach of trust. If you do nothing and merely publish a revised policy (presumably one that is no longer “zero-tolerance” or so admirably unambiguous) you will further erode already-damaged trust. From your perspective, neither is a good option and both will harm Readercon.

Nevertheless, you should take the first option.

First, you should publicly admit to your mistake and correct it. Yes, it will be painful. Yes, there will be loss of face. But that acknowledgment is the first step in rebuilding the trust you have already destroyed.

Second, you should articulate a transparent process for the implementation of your harassment policy in the future. The Readercon Board in its current configuration is clearly not the right body to implement your harassment policy. You have shown that you are abjectly unable to do the job. My recommendation would be to appoint an independent “safety czar” with full executive privileges for a three year term. This safety czar would be an ombudsman (ombuds-person?) for Readercon attendees, their mission to apply the convention’s harassment policy, and their decisions final and completely independent of the Readercon Board. This second step would only be of value if the Board found an individual of great integrity who would have the trust of the Readercon community – otherwise, this step would be valueless.

If you do not take these two steps, or significant steps materially similar, I expect that you will see Readercon attendance shrink, and its wonderful community skew in ways inimical to the diverse discussions that Readercon promotes. Restoring trust will not happen overnight: it will take years, and it will be difficult. But it should be done anyway.

If you are serious about making Readercon a safe environment for all attendees, then you should act that way. If you do, then I for one may return in the future. Otherwise, I will skip Readercon in favor of other events that do take attendee safety seriously.

Sincerely,
Chris Modzelewski


BLOG: http://www.elflands2ndcousin.com
TWITTER: http://twitter.com/KgElfland2ndCuz

Fourth Street Fantasy 2012: Thoughts After the Con


As I mentioned in an earlier post, I spent the past weekend at Fourth Street Fantasy, a fantasy/science fiction (and that order does matter) conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota. While I’ve been to plenty of New York Comic-Cons and to BEA, etc. this was only my second genre con (after Readercon last year) and it was my first for both being on some panels and being able to stay for the entire event.

I had been looking forward to the con with a school kid’s mix of eagerness and trepidation. On the one hand, the program looked fascinating: panel after panel discussing thought-provoking subjects immediately relevant to my writing. On the other hand, the program was vaguely terrifying: I’d have to somehow avoid making an utter fool of myself, both on and off stage.

The Writer’s Seminar at Fourth Street

Friday morning featured an optional writer’s seminar not included in the con membership. Each of the seminar speakers gave a brief (thirty to forty-five minute) speech, discussing various facets of writing and storytelling, followed by extensive Q&A.

The presentations were interesting and entertaining, though the one-day format of the event didn’t really allow the speakers to dive deeply into a great many subjects. The two presentations that I found most interesting were Beth Meacham’s discussion of editor attitudes/processes, and Scott Lynch’s practical discussion of the reader/writer relationship. And from the latter, two of Scott’s statements particularly struck me as deserving repetition:

“Readers own their own experience of your book. They own the intensity of it. You provide an experience, but what they do with that is entirely up to them. You don’t dictate – and don’t get to dictate – the emotional keys that it plays.”

“Literary fiction is – in some respects – the literature of disconnection and alienation and ineffectuality. It is the literature of being a chip upon the flood, unable to affect the world around [you]. Fantasy is the literature of significant personal action, where you can take arms against your sea of troubles and actually do something about them.”

These are some meaty, insightful statements that might brook discussion or arguments and certainly demand exploration. They also set the tone for the rest of Fourth Street’s programming.

The Fourth Street Panels

Each of Fourth Street’s one hour panels featured a few minutes of moderator-directed questions, followed by a moderated discussion with the audience. While there was some variability, the ratio tended to be 25% moderator-generated, and 75% audience-generated questions, which made for a fast-moving, far-ranging, and insightful discussion. From conversations that I had with other attendees, this seems to be a reversal of the panel structure typical at most genre conferences; the emphasis on discussion particularly stood out for me.

The panels themselves tended to skew in the direction of theoretical/philosophical analysis of narrative structure, craft, technique, and current trends, and the exchange of ideas and opinions produced vibrant debate. Many perspectives and insights were exchanged, sometimes in stark disagreement, which left me with many concepts to think about later. Because there were only one hundred twenty or so attendees, anyone who wanted to participate could and did. This made the discussion flow more like a true conversation than a standard Q&A session, which was refreshing.

This was not only my first complete con, but also the first where I got to speak on two panels (respectively Accessibility, Genre, and Depth and Science, Technology, and Fantasy). Whether I made a fool of myself or not I shall leave to others to judge, but I know that from where I sat the conversation was stimulating, and hope that the other attendees and panelists agreed.

After each hour-long panel, Ellen Klages auctioned something off to raise money for next year’s Fourth Street Fantasy. She was engaging and funny and there was broad participation and laughs all around. The auctions made for a perfect segue to the brief coffee/bio breaks between the panels.

The Evening Revels

When the panels were all over, the discussions naturally continued into the evening. And continued into the evening means late into the evening. For me, it was a novel and wonderful experience to discuss – in detail and at depth – narrative structures, historical non-fiction, research processes, biology, and ecology, with much smarter people late into the night.

And the background folk music? Provided by an inordinately talented circle of musicians and singers? Simply amazing. The conversations eventually shifted to hilarious stories, more folk music, jokes: a bonding, entertaining, and thoroughly enjoyable way to spend the evening (PSA: should Scott Lynch ever begin a joke that involves purple ping pong balls, heed my advice and run for the hills).

The only “complaint” I could possibly voice is not really a complaint, and actually had nothing to do with the con itself. Instead, it has to do with Minnesota’s monstrous mosquitoes. Seriously, we’ve got plenty of them in NJ and since my house backs up to a swamp, I thought myself quite familiar with the little blood-suckers. But these Minnesotan vampires are more vicious than any I have ever encountered before. To give some sense of how hardcore they are, one bit my thick-skinned palm while I was slapping it out of the air. These beasts are not to be trifled with, and when I return next year, I am going to bring/buy some bug spray and bathe in it.

Final Conclusions on Fourth Street Fantasy in 2012

Overall, this was an amazing experience for me. Being able to discuss literature, history, art, culture, and fantasy with so many intelligent, erudite, and passionate people was new and energizing. All weekend long, I felt like a kid at a candy store, and I left Minnesota with new friends and many interesting ideas and thoughts floating around in my brain.

I strongly recommend Fourth Street Fantasy to anyone who is looking for in-depth and thought-provoking conversations about fantasy, literature, and culture.

BEA 2012: Wrap-up and Programming Suggestions for 2013


NOTE: This is the fourth (and final, I promise!) post on BEA 2012. Unlike my last three posts (here, here, and here), this doesn’t re-cap the expo’s last day. Instead, I’ll try to collate my thoughts and offer concrete, workable suggestions for how to improve the BEA Blogger Conference and BEA programs for next year. And after this, we’ll back to our regularly scheduled weekly programming, I promise!

Thinking back on BEA 2012, I realize how ultimately disappointing the event was for me. Sure, it was great to see old friends and meet new ones. While that’s the most important part of such events, it isn’t enough to make up for programming that falls flat. Especially, when it didn’t have to: both the BEA Book Blogger Conference and the expo itself could easily have been amazing, insightful, informative experiences. But sour grapes don’t help anyone, and so what I’m going to do is make some concrete, practical, and workable suggestions for how Reed Exhibitions can improve their program for next year.

These suggestions come in two parts: the BEA Book Blogger Conference, and Genre Programming at BEA.

BEA Book Blogger Conference: Get an Advisory Panel of Real Book Bloggers

The biggest complaint I have heard about the BEA Book Blogger Conference is that it evidenced blatant ignorance and disinterest in book blogger needs. Considering that the conference is supposedly aimed right at us, that’s a damning criticism. And while I know that Reed Exhibitions tried to collect insights through both a survey and a focus group before the conference (full disclosure: I participated in that focus group), the fact that they missed the mark so widely suggests that something more concrete is needed.

So here’s my suggestion: Reed Exhibitions should put together a Book Blogger Advisory Panel. A small group of book bloggers, no more than six or seven, who would be able to weigh in and help construct the program for the event. Essentially, let the most qualified and interested people create the program. If such a panel were given actual teeth, if it had real power to affect programming and were more than a rubber-stamp body there to give Reed’s poor programming a measure of legitimacy, it would go a long way to both improving the quality of the BEA Book Blogger Conference and its brand amongst book bloggers.

It is not difficult to identify experienced, knowledgeable book bloggers. Coordinating communication is a snap: they are all very well connected through their blogs, Twitter, Facebook, etc. In fact, they are right now using those (public) platforms to loudly criticize the Book Blogger Conference. To set up conference calls, an e-mail group, etc. is the work of several minutes. And even though I can’t speak for everyone, I suspect that many book bloggers would – given real influence – be happy to take part in such an advisory panel in exchange for a free pass to BEA and perhaps a nice dinner in NYC during the event itself. Essentially negligible cost.

Such a panel would also have an added advantage for Reed Exhibitions: it would give them the opportunity to make their programming decisions transparent. The most significant and dangerous criticism I’ve seen (and offered myself, actually) is that Reed Exhibitions puts the interests of their exhibitors above those of their paying conference attendees. By getting an advisory panel and giving it real influence, Reed can better communicate to the community the practical constraints within which the Book Blogger Conference operates. That kind of transparency mitigates the long-term threat of such criticism, and would earn a far greater degree of trust and respect within the community.

If you think this kind of Advisory Panel is a decent idea, then here’s what I suggest: let Reed Exhibitions know. Reach out to them:

Community/BlogWorld & BEA Bloggers Conference Joe Vella
Community Manager/BlogWorld and BEA Bloggers Conference
jvella@reedexpo.com
Twitter @beabloggers
Event Management Steve Rosato
Event Director
srosato@reedexpo.com

Courtney Muller
Senior Vice President
cmuller@reedexpo.com

BEA Conference/Education Programming: Add a Genre Track

For the BEA programming itself, my major suggestion is to add a genre track, with programming profiled around the particular issues of different categories of fiction. Speculative fiction wasn’t the only genre poorly represented on the program: mystery, romance, basically anything that wasn’t YA got ignored. So my suggestion would be to take a look at the least popular (least attended) parts of the program, and replace them next year with a track modeled on this year’s graphic novel programming.

Offering 3 – 4 sessions focusing on each genre over the course of a three day trade show is perfectly manageable. Every year, speculative fiction puts on several multi-day professional (i.e. without fan features such as cosplay and the like) conferences devoted exclusively to the genre. I think BEA can manage something interesting, particularly in that it attracts a large audience that most genre cons don’t: booksellers and librarians. There are many topics that can be addressed and which would be of practical interest to booksellers and librarians, and which would definitely appeal to Reed’s exhibitors. Consider these off-the-cuff suggestions:

The Hottest Science Fiction and Fantasy in 2013 Modeled on Graphic Novel Reporter’s excellent graphic novel panel, I see no reason why this format couldn’t be extended to other genres. This one would appeal to booksellers and librarians because it gives them compact insight into what to stock and what to focus on in their handselling. And it would appeal to publishers for the exact same reason.
Not Just for Boys: Women and Science Fiction This one could be a panel discussion by booksellers, librarians, and authors devoted to the subject of how to get women into science fiction. Apart from doing some good (i.e. promoting women in speculative fiction, and speculative fiction to women), it’d also be useful to booksellers and librarians because it gives insight into how to actually sell speculative fiction to their statistically largest audience. What’s not to like about that?
Engaging Fandom: Getting Science Fiction/Fantasy Buyers to Come in the Door This one could be a panel discussion devoted to in-store events designed around bringing speculative fiction fans into the bookstore/library. Whether it’s “gaming nights” or signing practices, or any other type of event, there are lots of interesting techniques that people are using to attract this audience of frequent buyers (who, BTW, also tend to be heavy Amazon users). Since it again would offer practical advice to booksellers/librarians, I think it would be very valuable.
Small Is Beautiful: Exciting Books in Science Fiction/Fantasy Small Press I understand why BEA is not traditionally a good event for small press (it costs too much), but it would be great to give small press publishers a chance to talk about what they are doing with booksellers and librarians. And if BEA were to put together a panel of small press publishers talking about what they’re doing, and how booksellers and librarians can get value out of it, it would not only be interesting, but might net Reed Exhibitions at least one or two new exhibitors.

Smarter people than me can come up with many more topics like these (this year’s Tor panel was good, for example). From a practical standpoint, they offer value to BEA’s attendee audience (booksellers, librarians, the press, etc.) and they support the primary goal of BEA’s publisher exhibitors: selling more books. Over the past several years I have seen the genre exhibitors gradually dwindle at BEA, and when I ask people why, they tell me that “BEA is no longer really relevant”. This might be a method for Reed to rebuild that relevance.

If this is the kind of programming you’d like to see at BEA, what I suggest is that you reach out to BEA to let them know:

Conference/Education Programming Sally Dedecker
Director of Education
sdedecker@aol.com

Maggie Donovan
Conference Coordinator
mdonovan@reedexpo.com

Twitter @BookExpoAmerica
Event Management Steve Rosato
Event Director
srosato@reedexpo.com

Courtney Muller
Senior Vice President
cmuller@reedexpo.com

Hopefully, the programming of both events will improve next year. In the meantime, that concludes my BEA reporting. It’s been a busy week, and I’m off to get a desperately needed cup of coffee.

BEA 2012 (Day 2): Speculative Fiction Programming Rationale and the Death of a Teacher


NOTE: This is a recap post of the second day of BEA 2012 (Wednesday, June 6th). You can find my earlier review of the BEA Blogger Conference here, and my comments on the first day here.

Wednesday was definitely a light day at the expo. The crowds – which had already seemed thinner than in previous years – had thinned further, making it much easier to cross the show floor. I had visited most of the booths I had meant to visit the day before, so Wednesday became the day when I got to focus on programming, even though most of Wednesday’s programming was on topics entirely unrelated to speculative fiction.

Graphic Novels and Speculative Fiction

One of the aspects of BEA that I appreciate every year is that its graphic novel programming consistently focuses on graphic novels outside of the super-hero genre. Don’t get me wrong, I like well-written super hero stories, but I find they are rare and quite difficult to pull off well. The fact that the Graphic Novel Reporter’s panel on the “hottest graphic novels for 2012” featured only two super hero stories was much appreciated.

Yet, in looking at Wednesday’s programming I was a tad confused. Much as I love graphic novels, their sales across all outlets (let alone bookstores) are dwarfed by sales of speculative fiction. In 2010, graphic novels had sales of only $340 million (according to ICv2, via Publisher Weekly), while science fiction and fantasy had sales of $559 million (according to Simba Information, via the Romance Writers of America). Since 2010, I don’t believe these proportions have really changed. So why, then, does BEA feature three graphic novel events on its program to its one science fiction/fantasy event?

Consider: on Tuesday, BEA featured a Tor panel of speculative fiction authors (see my write up yesterday). And yes, there were a number of speculative fiction signings in-booth and at the signing tables. But that was it in terms of speculative fiction programming. By contrast, graphic novels had three events on Wednesday in addition to their signings: a session on hosting great graphic novel events, a “meet graphic novel authors” session, and an excellent review of the best graphic novels in 2012. Why don’t other genres – like speculative fiction, or romance, or mystery – get this kind of programming love?

Featuring this kind of programming for other genres would, I think, be just plain smart for BEA. It would give speculative fiction publishers (read: potential exhibitors) a chance to get in front of booksellers and librarians to better communicate how to move their titles. Even longstanding genres like speculative fiction have to educate the marketplace. And many of the booksellers and librarians who I spoke to at BEA are looking for exactly that kind of education: they might cite galleys and autographs as their cynical motivation, but everyone is there to learn.

The Death of a Teacher

While Wednesday was a light day in terms of the expo itself, the entire day was clouded by the announcement of Ray Bradbury’s death. I remember very clearly the book that got me into speculative fiction (in fact, I still have it). I was eight years old, and I had walked one and a half miles into town (an intimidating distance for an eight year old even in a small, safe town) to pick up some books with the change I’d gotten out of my piggy bank. I went to the little used bookstore we had in town, and wandered into darkened corners that smelled of cobwebs. And that’s where I found a small battered paperback for seventy five cents, face-out and with an awesome cover:

The Illustrated Man is what got me into speculative fiction. I begged my parents to stay up late so that I could scare myself reading it. It was darker, more serious, more magical than anything I’d read previously, and I was probably too young to really appreciate it. But it showed me what writing could be, showed me how words could open infinite reaches of imagination. Ray Bradbury is the writer who got me into speculative fiction, and his control of language got me into writing. Though I never met him, I feel a deep sense of loss to know that he has died.

Ray Bradbury’s greatest gift to us was to expose the sublime dark side of innocence, and in doing so to show us that the scary grown-up world remains magical. We have lost one of the greatest writers of the past hundred years, and I am sad.

BEA 2012 (Day 1): The Relationship of Speculative Fiction to Mainstream


NOTE: This is a brief write-up of Tuesday, June 5th, the first full day of BEA. You can find my write-up of the pre-BEA Book Bloggers Conference here, and I’ll do a write-up of the second day (Wednesday) tomorrow.

Overall Impressions of BEA 2012 and its Relationship to Speculative Fiction

Last year, speculative fiction was omnipresent at BEA, though subsumed by other genres (see my write-up here). This year, I got the impression that outside of YA, that trend has slowed. Yet that is not all bad: YA strikes me as the most vibrant category here at BEA, and it seems like half of the YA titles at BEA are speculative to some degree (take that, folks who claim YA has no SF!). But outside of YA, adult fiction publishers seem to be focusing on more mainstream titles.

Even the large houses (almost all of which have SF/F imprints) seem to be soft-selling their speculative lines at BEA year, with fewer signings and fewer galley giveaways than I’ve seen in the past. Of course, there are plenty of genre publisher parties and the like, but the official / formal presence at the expo is muted. I’m sure there are many solid economic reasons for this, and I’m also sure that it was carefully discussed and considered by the various publishers. Since I’m not privy to those discussions, I’m curious as to what they might be, and why adult speculative fiction is becoming increasingly sidelined at BEA.

The Tor Panel: Was It Preaching to the Choir?

The highlight of Tuesday’s speculative fiction programming, at least for me, was the panel of Tor authors who spoke to genre’s crossing into the mainstream. The panel featured Walter Mosley, Ann and Jeff VanderMeer, and John Scalzi and was moderated by Ryan Britt (of Tor.com). The discussion was definitely interesting, and as erudite and thoughtful as anything we could have heard from mainstream authors.

One statement from early in the panel struck me as particularly interesting: Walter Mosely said that “For a hundred and fifty years [weird] fiction has been preparing us for the world [we live in],” which the panelists suggested is why speculative fiction is and will remain relevant for readers and our culture. I cannot agree more.

Yet despite the panelist’s erudition and intelligence, I walked away with a worrying impression: looking around the audience, I saw many faces I recognized from the SF/F community. That’s not a bad thing, of course, since I love that community. But were the panelists preaching to the choir? I fear that in some ways, much of the rhetoric about speculative fiction’s relationship to mainstream fiction is isolated within the confines of the genre. Are we just marinating in our own sauces? Or are we in fact engaging and educating booksellers, librarians, and consumers outside of our existing fanbase?

As I walk the aisles of BEA, the relative invisibility of speculative fiction makes me worry that we have been isolated in our ghetto for so long that we have become acclimated to its confines. Our narrative devices have escaped to live free and exciting lives across all genres. But as a component of the broader publishing industry, perhaps the creators, editors, salespeople, and booksellers who created and popularized those narrative devices in the first place should break out themselves.

Audiences love speculative fiction, which means booksellers and librarians should, too. Speculative fiction is all about powerful stories, and the genre itself has one. So why do we tell it so quietly?

BEA 2012 (Day 0): The Book Blogger Conference


NOTE: Since I’m spending this week at BEA, my plan is to post a daily recap of my perceptions of this year’s event. Today – Tuesday – is the first day of the expo itself, so here is my review of yesterday’s Book Blogger Conference.

Several weeks ago, I wrote (here and here) about Reed Exhibitions’ stumbles and strategic missteps in the run-up to the 2012 Book Blogger Conference. Now that the event is over, a brief follow-up might be helpful.

The Weaknesses of BEA Book Blogger Con

On the whole, I was quite disappointed. I can look past communications screw ups (provided they get fixed). I can shrug off logistical blunders the day of an event. I can even tune out the occaisional poor speaker. But, as feared, Reed’s earlier missteps have proven where the organization’s priorities lie…and book bloggers do not make the cut.

The day started with an author/blogger networking breakfast. Tables were set up, and authors went on a “speed dating” trip…rotating between each table every fifteen or so minutes. The same setup was repeated for lunch. Speculative fiction – and generally fiction beyond YA – was woefully underrepresented. The morning literally had none, while the afternoon offered only two speculative fiction authors. While I was personally disappointed by SF’s absence, this part of the program did not bother me. It worked reasonably well, and likely provided value for the conference’s other attendees. I don’t mind being pitched when I expect it, and when the rest of my conference is goign to be full of insight into blogging practice.

But then we got to the keynote, which was presented by Jennifer Weiner, author of The Next Best Thing: A Novel. Weiner was an interesting (and for many book bloggers surprising) choice of keynote speaker: she is a popular author first, and a blogger second. What could she have to say that is both relevant to book bloggers and significant? In fairness, Weiner gave a good speech, and she made a herculean effort to focus on blogging. Yet it was clear to everyone in the room that she was there for one reason: to promote her upcoming book. The closing speaker, Jenny Lawson (a.k.a. the Bloggess), at least had a closer connection to the community…but she, too, was there to promote her recent book Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: (A Mostly True Memoir).

This was a common theme in much of the Book Bloggers Conference’s programming: it was skewed to align with the interests of authors/publishers in promoting their books to the book blogging community. I understand the motivation, and I understand the temptation: after all, publishers spend a lot of money on booths at BEA. The breakfast, the keynote, (to a lesser extent) the panel which followed, lunch, and the closing presentations all were oriented around pitching to the book blogging community. I for one regret having – apparently – spent $135 to be not-so-subtly pitched.

The Good amidst the Bad

Yet that being said, the day was not without value. Out of seven elements of the program, there were two which actually focused on the audience’s interest. The afternoon featured two breakout sessions, where we could each choose panels to sit in on that addressed either monetizing blogs, engaging community, critical review craft, or the publisher/blogger relationship. I sat in on the panels on monetizing and engaging community, and both were actually on-topic, interesting, and insightful. I walked away with at least one significant insight from each of these two panels. Had this ratio been maintained for the other program features, I would have been quite satisfied.

The Verdict: Reed Exhibitions Either Doesn’t Care About or Understand Book Bloggers

Unfortunately, $135 is a lot to spend for two insightful hours out of nine total. What I hoped for from the event was an in-depth discussion of blogging practice, offering relevant expertise from people who know whereof they speak. There was plenty of such expertise in the room. But – with the exception of the two panels I mentioned – there was terribly little on the program itself.

If this were an isolated incident – a programming snafu – it would be unfortunate, but reasonably acceptale. But this was not an isolated mistake: it is yet another indication of the conference organizer’s condescending attitude towards book bloggers. It leaves me to wonder: would critics for national news organizations get such treatment? Somehow, I think it unlikely. Other book bloggers, notably Read React Review and The Reading Ape, saw this coming. And I am sad to say that their fears were proven prescient.

If you are a book blogger, and if you were at the 2012 BEA Blogger Conference, you might have a different opinion. I know some people thought the conference was a valuable and enjoyable experience. But for me, it failed to provide the concrete insights I was looking for, and unless I see a dramatic improvement in Reed’s communications and programming, then I will skip it next year. Better to save my time and treasure for BEA itself.

Representing Genres at BookExpoAmerica 2011


So last week was pretty fun, what with BEA 2011 and the Book Bloggers Convention (BBC) both taking place in New York. This was my second year attending BEA, although my first as a blogger. While I did manage to post some brief thoughts last week, I wanted to take a little time to discuss a disconnect I noticed during both events.

Genre, Genre Everywhere…

Everywhere I turned at BEA and at the BBC, genre was plainly visible. Whether it was mystery, thrillers, horror, science fiction, fantasy, paranormal romance, steampunk – every major publisher was promoting the heck out of genre titles. Even those who traditionally keep their toes out of genre waters seemed to dabbling, with “magical realism” or “magical romance” offerings.

Particularly noticeable was the degree to which young adult and middle-grade publishers were aligning their publicity machines with speculative sensibilities. While there are few YA/MG publishers who specialize within science fiction, fantasy, or horror, almost all of the galleys handed out at BEA had some fantastical element – however sleight. Many of these galleys were riding the post-apocalyptic/dystopian wave currently cresting, but nonetheless it was clear that publishers feel that kids read books about monsters, fairies, and ghosts.

…and Not a Home for It

Despite the ubiquity of science fiction, fantasy, and horror titles, there was a noticeable absence of niche booths. The major publishers had consolidated their imprints’ such that niche-market imprints were exhibited under their corporate umbrella. This trend was universal across the major publishers, and I would argue that it failed to serve the niche imprints well. As a general rule, it made it harder (though not impossible) to find people at the booths who could cogently discuss either the galleys being handed out, or the niche imprint’s other speculative titles. Don’t get me wrong – the Javitz floor was full of niche imprint editors, publicists, salespeople, and authors. But they had other things to do there than man their imprints’ booths, and so the folks stuck “back at base” ended up getting mobbed.

There are – of course – notable exceptions. Prometheus Books in particular stands out for how they handled their PYR imprint. Not only was the PYR side of the booth well-supported, but even PYR’s non-fiction cousins were well-prepared to talk about PYR’s list. That ability to cross-promote books across imprint lines was unique on the Javitz floor, at least from what I could see.

A Lack of Genre Programming…

Equally startling – from my perspective – was the lack of science fiction, fantasy, and horror programming. While there were some “author buzz” sessions, outside of the YA and middle-grade segment, there was a startling lack of BEA sessions devoted to discussing trends in SF/F/H. Instead, just about every session focused on one aspect or another of digital publishing.

Are booksellers and librarians no longer interested in learning about trends in particular genres? Or has BEA gone astray by focusing too heavily on promoting individual books and particular authors? I for one suspect the latter: while it’s great to hear about author X and their new genre book Y, there is clearly a place for a discussion of the aisles that by some counts, are the most frequented in any bookstore/library. Is BEA that place? Judged by the conversations on the floor with booksellers and librarians: certainly. Judged by the programming set up by BEA’s organizers? Not so much.

…Especially at the Book Blogger Convention

Even more startling was the paucity of niche programming at the second-annual Book Blogger Convention. Don’t get me wrong, this was an excellent event – and one which I cannot recommend strongly enough to anyone who wishes to attend next year. As a relative newcomer to the world of book blogging, I walked away from the one-day BBC with insights and relationships just as valuable as those I developed during the four-day BEA. But the genres represented at the BBC both within the audience and on the BBC’s programming were surprising.

First, the BBC’s audience struck me as primarily focused on romance and YA. That probably shouldn’t come as a big surprise, considering the size of the romance and kidlit blogospheres respectively. And while my own speculative predilections might bias me, I think the SF/F/H genres generally don’t slouch when it comes to online representation. Heck, just a couple of weeks ago I mentioned the awesome list of SF/F review blogs curated by Grasping for the Wind. Were so few speculative bloggers able to attend BBC? For whatever reason, we were thin on the ground in the audience on Friday. Perhaps as a consequence of this skewing of the BBC’s audience, speculative fiction didn’t get much representation in the programming. For example, the “niche blogging” panel had one speculative fiction representative, compared to four YA bloggers. And during the (incredibly valuable) publicist panels, only mainstream or YA publishers were represented.

Representing Speculative Fiction at BEA and the BBC

Despite all of this, both BEA and the BBC were useful for different reasons. BEA remains a great place to get new galleys and chat with industry professionals about books and the industry. Plus, it’s always fun to meet authors and get books signed. The BBC was useful because it allowed me to learn more about book blogging, to share techniques and best practices with other book bloggers who’ve been at it for longer than I have. Would both events have been better for more speculative programming? Overall, yes. Consolidating for cost purposes makes sense, but ultimately it’s a balancing act between being penny wise and pound foolish. Hopefully, they’ll nail the balancing act next year.

Tuesday at BEA11


Sorry for the brevity of this post, but I’m drafting it on my phone at the moment.

So I’m now after my first day here at BEA and I’ve got some thoughts and observations:

  • If there’s a single word on everybody’s lips here it is digital. With new eReaders and new digital distribution platforms, everyone’s discussing the shifting economics of the book industry. Much of the focus was on self-publishing platforms, marketing, and practices – which doubtless worries booksellers and traditional publishers.
  • Genre only counts if it’s YA (at least today – tomorrow might be better). With token panels for thrillers, I thought there was precious little core sf/f/horror programming.
  • Genre in every booth. While today’s programming was light on genre, I found it at just about every exhibitor’s booth. There are fewer genre specialists exhibiting this year, but they are offset by the number of non-genre imprints/publishers who are dabbling on the edges of genres. I’ll write more about this in a separate post later.
  • Small press publishers have – it seems – vanished from the floor. Independent or self-publishing outfits are springing up like mushrooms after the rain, but small-press exhibitors aren’t here. The economics are understandable, but it is curious considering the buyers wandering around in this crowd.

Okay, since they’re closing the press room and I’ve got another event to get to, I’ll wrap up for today. More to come tomorrow.

REVIEW: New York Comic Con


Whew…I’d forgotten how exhausting Comic Con can be. This weekend saw Comic Con return to New York City for the first time in 18 months, and this triumphant return saw several improvements over the previous show:

  • The floor space was doubled. Artist Alley and Autograph Alley seemed significantly larger, and there were more exhibitors.
  • Comic Con was held parallel to the New York Anime Festival. What could be more fun than comics, science fiction, fantasy, video games and anime?
  • Massive gaming stations (for multiplayer computer games as well as tabletop gaming)  were added if you were so inclined.

Unfortunately, I think the organizers underestimated the number of people interested in comics, video games and speculative fiction. This has been a chronic problem with the NYCC, dating back to several years ago when the fire marshal had to kick people out. By Saturday afternoon, this year’s show had sold out, and crossing from one end to the other was a 45 minute battle against a rising tide of costumed humanity. Next time, rather than squeeze another booth into every last square inch the organizers just drop one row of exhibitors and expand the traffic aisles so that the crowd can have better flow. It will make the experience a lot more pleasant for everyone.

That being said, there was a lot to do at Comic Con. Between walking the booths, talking to people, demo’ing upcoming video games and trying to grab a couple of panels it was a wild and exhausting couple of days. I tried to divide my explorations into some specific categories, and so here are the highlights that I walked away from the event with:

Literary (books, as opposed to comics)

I spent quite a bit of time wandering around the book publisher aisles. I had some general observations and some specific comments:

General Observations

  • The expanded floor space gave the publishers the opportunity to really stretch their space. Most of the big publishers had large booths (double, triple or quadruple booths seemed the norm).
  • The publishers relied less on ARC’s (advanced reader copies) and galleys to pimp their titles: most (even the big houses) were making visitors purchase their books to a far greater degree than I remembered.
  • I saw far more mass-market titles than trade, which while not terribly surprising was a little disappointing.
  • Most publishers (large and small) offered good author signings. Standard practice was for an author with a new title out to be signing copies of a previous book that the publisher was giving away. A handful of publishers dropped the free give-aways and instead made people buy the books.
  • There were several significant genre publishers whose absence was notable for me:
    • Scholastic. This is a shame considering their excellent line-up of middle-grade and YA books (especially strong in the paranormal teen romance and quirky science fiction). While the other publishers there were all pimping their YA lists/imprints, Scholastic’s absence really stood out.
    • Pyr did not have a booth. Considering the impressive list that they have put together and their excellent blend of commercial and literary appeal, I was really surprised. This audience would have eaten their stuff up like there was no tomorrow.
    • Night Shade Books did not have a booth. This is not really surprising, considering their size: NYCC would have been an expensive proposition. But there were a bunch of other smaller-press publishers doing a brisk trade at the event, and considering what Night Shade’s list looks like, I’m sure they would have benefited from a presence.
    • Genre magazine publishers were completely absent. Again, not a surprise considering the cost of exhibiting. But I can guarantee that most of the people on that floor are completely unaware of the existence of magazines like F&SF, Asimov’s Science Fiction, Strange Horizons, Apex, etc. I’m not sure if it’ll ever happen, but they may want to consider banding together and sharing a booth in the future if for no other reason than for mutual promotion. Couldn’t hurt and may help expand the audience.

Specific Observations

  • Tom Doherty Associates (Tor/Forge) had the best-organized booth layout, keeping it simple and classic and always having it manned by well-informed publicists, marketing reps and the occasional editor. The booth itself wasn’t terribly large, but the displays were thoughtfully set up and very well managed. On display were a handful of books from their 2010 lineup and book plates for titles on their 2011 list. I was a little disappointed by the paucity of their author signings however, as they only had a handful of authors there (their major headliner being Brandon Sanderson).
  • HarperCollins had the weakest booth of the lot. That’s not to say that they have weak books – but their event management just sucked. They had some interesting looking books displayed, but the booth was so understaffed that I couldn’t ask anyone about them. I was there all day on Friday and Saturday and spent quite a lot of time in the vicinity of their booth, but only saw one (rather beleaguered) person manning it both days. The displays themselves were not terribly well done, typically displaying only a handful of copies of select titles. The impression I had was that they were not really serious about marketing to the NYCC crowd, which is somewhat surprising considering the popularity of their competitors’ booths.
  • Penguin Group had a rather sizable showing. The staff were generally knowledgeable, friendly, and had decent displays. Their primary strength was their large number of author signings (including Jim Butcher, Seanan McGuire/Mira Grant, etc.) but the downside was that you either had to bring the authors’ books to the signing or buy them beforehand on the other side of the booth…about 30 feet away. That might not seem bad, but it’s really crappy event management: traveling 30 feet at Comic Con is a challenge, and having to do so after spending 15 minutes in line and then spending another 15 minutes in line after the purchase is quite annoying. It wouldn’t have been that hard to have a stack of books at the signing and tell people to pay for them after they’ve been signed. First Second Books (a smaller graphic novel press) managed that type of setup quite well and if Penguin had tried it, things would have flowed smoother and far fewer people would have been frustrated.
  • Random House had by far the biggest showing of the lot. They practically took up two whole sections of one aisle, although all of their imprints were basically doing their own thing. I didn’t have too many notable comments on the Random House crowd, other than a general observation that they seemed to have fewer author signings than the other publishers.

Video Games

Video games seemed to occupy a third of the floor space (that’s not a complaint). There were far too many upcoming games for me to comment on all of them, so instead I’ll just focus on the ones that most appealed to me:

  • James Bond 007: GoldenEye for the Wii. I loved the original Goldeneye game on the N64, and they have made an awesome new version of it for the Wii. Gameplay will be instantly recognizable to anyone who played the N64 version. The graphics have been updated (though seeing this on an Xbox-360 or PS3 would be even cooler), and the multiplayer is awesome as it ever was. Don’t know how the single-player mode runs, but multiplayer was great.
  • Disney Epic Mickey for the Wii. This game looks awesome. Set in a dark and twisted world of rejected cartoons, you play as Mickey trying to bring some brightness with a magic paint brush. The graphics are great, the gameplay looks fun (I didn’t get a chance to play myself, alas), and the story is just dark and twisted enough to be awesome.
  • Captain America: Super Soldier for every system out there. If you loved Batman: Arkham Asylum, odds are you’ll love Captain America: Super Solider. The gameplay looks very similar (they weren’t letting anyone play the demo, but the videos and the in-person demo’s by the reps looked identical). I loved Arkham Asylum and I’m definitely buying the new Cap game as soon as it hits the shelves.
  • Dead Space 2 for all the major systems. Looks like the original, only with some cool new gameplay features thrown in (jetpack!). The fun part seems to be what they’re doing with the story, basically giving Isaac a little more character and initiative than he had in the first game.

Manga/Anime

It is incredibly unfortunate that the New York Anime Festival was relegated to a single room in the deep underbelly of the Javitz Center. I found it near the end of my second day at the Comic Con, when I only had the strength to dash through the aisles pretty quickly. It seemed to be primarily full of anime artists and cosplay fans – which on the whole seemed neat – but its location was unfortunate. I wanted to find more dark, interesting anime/manga (Naruto is not my scene) but I was too late getting there to have the patience to find any. Maybe if it were better positioned, I would have thought to spend more time there sooner and found something cool. Maybe next time.

Panels

I attended (or tried to attend) several panels that I thought might be cool, but again the organizers let me down. The first panel I tried to attend had a neat title: “The Search for Humanity through Utopias and Dystopias”. Just the kind of dorky little panel that I find fascinating and fun. The panel started thirty five minutes late because of technical blunders. By that point, boredom had set in and the presentation didn’t help. Maybe I’m spoiled by corporate presentations and research papers from my day job, but I know people in the comic book industry can present well. Unfortunately, the organization of this panel was atrocious and the content ended up uninteresting.

The second panel I went to – “Editors on Editing Comic Books” – actually came off without a hitch. I found it really interesting and informative. On stage were veteran editors from the three big houses (DC, Marvel and IDW) and they basically told the audience the truth about breaking into the business. It was refreshing to see the editors pull no punches. They told the packed room that each editor has writers, pencillers, letterers, inkers and colorists who they have worked with successfully in the past, and that these colleagues are looking for work. Translation: if you want to break into the business, you need to be technically better than the current professionals, and overcome the “relationship advantage” that your entrenched competition already has. That’s a tall order, and I saw a lot of disappointed faces in the crowd. But hey, that’s the truth of it. Probably the truth of it in any medium. Those creators who internalize that message will do better work because of it, and invest the time (often years) needed to build relationship in the industry.

The organizers dropped the ball on the third panel I tried to attend as well. It was the fantasy writers’ panel, and it sounded like it would be a lot of fun with Joe Abercrombie, Brandon Sanderson, Naomi Novik and Peter V. Brett. But alas, the organizers shoehorned the event into a tiny room far off in a distant corner. By the time I got there (fifteen minutes before the panel was due to start) it was standing room only. I was three people away from the door when the organizers said “No one else! Get out of here!” and shut the door. Did the organizers think that comic book fans wouldn’t be interested in fantasy? They should have given this panel one of the larger rooms available.

Comics

I have become so disillusioned over the writing in comic books over the years, that I have to admit they’re last on my list. That’s ironic, considering that I spent about twenty hours wandering amidst the crowd of the New York Comic Con. But it was really telling that when listening to comics editors speak about their work, they openly admit to focusing entirely on the art and not caring so much for the writing. That’s understandable, considering that good art is a must-have for a decent comic book, but it’s still sad to hear editors (editors!) say “I’m in comics so I don’t have to deal with words.” There are a few exceptionally-well-written comics out there (Fables?). I tried to find some more, but alas no luck. Oh well.

I’ll definitely be looking forward to NYCC next year. Mark your calendars for October 14 – 16, 2011!

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