Readercon 25, July 2014

I went into this convention with reasonably high spirits, but came home subdued. Partly it’s coming down from the high of Pi-Con. They made me feel on top of the world. Readercon made me feel like a mutt at a dog show.

I knew about the kerfuffle in 2012 at Readercon, and the resultant fall-out (briefly, a case of sexual harassment which forced the Con Com to enforce rules they didn’t want to enforce because of who was involved), but I wasn’t aware of details. Like the fact that Eric Van had left and taken the Kirk Poland Bad Prose event with him. Kirk Poland was the best part of Readercon for me. When I realized it wasn’t happening, most of the fun of the con was sucked out.

I hadn’t been able to find anyone to room with me, which was nice in a self-indulgent way, but meant I had to eat the entire cost of the room. I missed being able to hang out with some of the Broads I enjoy being with, because they weren’t there. I met new people, and did get to visit with some other folks I know, although the one person I did want to spend time with I never got a chance to. There was not much to do after programming shut down, just tame open parties with mostly strangers where I would need to make small or professional talk, something I’m not good at. So I ended up back in my room. Not a fun option for someone with insomnia.

I spent most of my time during the day at the Broad Universe book table, selling books. We did all right, although I wasn’t able to match buyers to some of the books I was particularly anxious to sell, ones I was carrying for other folks. I wanted to be able to give them news of success. Traffic in the Dealer’s Room seemed light to me, and another vendor said he thought attendance was down. I didn’t have much to compare to, since I hadn’t been to Readercon in a few years, but the overall consensus seemed to be that this was an off year. It certainly felt that way to me.

There were a few panels I would liked to have attended, but for one reason or another didn’t make it. Somehow, I just couldn’t get excited over the programming. (“The Works and History of Marek Huberath”; “Synchronous and Asynchronous Media Consumption”; “The Shiny, Candy-like Zombie: Commoditizing (sic) the Undead”) I realized I am just not immersed enough in this culture to care about a lot of it. It’s a huge handicap. I went to a couple of readings to support authors I know. But the vast majority were unknown to me. I suppose I should have gone anyway. Maybe I would have discovered somebody new. Or at least, made somebody happy by being another body in the room, so they didn’t feel like they were only reading to their friends in the front row. But a creeping apathy was starting to enervate me.

All around me were authors who had won awards, who were with big publishers or had made a big splash with small publishers. People I recognized. People who wouldn’t know me. People everyone else seemed to know; good people to know. I wouldn’t have the first idea what to say to them. All around me, conversations about trends, market share and algorithms, how to maximize exposure on Amazon, how to score great reviews, jargon I didn’t understand and references to resources I didn’t know. I should have been taking notes, I suppose.

So much of this requires what I don’t have. Money, for one thing, to invest in devices, in travel, in advertising, in publicity. Doing lunch. Schmoozing. Clothes. Style. I have no clue how to make myself look and sound professional even if I had the time and resources to make it so. Most of these people are younger, and have invested years working to get where they are. I invested years writing, producing novel after novel, in isolation. Like I thought some miracle was going to happen and a publisher was going to come knocking at my door. By the time I got out there, it was too late. The market had gotten too crowded, too intense, too complicated, and I was at an age where I was out of touch, unable to keep up, unconnected and baffled. Not glamorous. Socially awkward. Too much time invested in my own work instead of familiarizing myself with who’s who in the industry. Reading science instead of science fiction, leaving me clueless about all the authors and novels everyone else considers classic.

I’m not merely weeping with self-pity into my beer; this is a realistic evaluation of my strengths and weaknesses. On the plus side, the feedback I’ve gotten from what I have put out there reassures me that I am a good writer. Perhaps not brilliant, not a giant in the profession, but damned good nonetheless. And I’ve got a real gift for reading aloud. I just don’t have what it takes to be a successful professional author. I guess I’ve always known this, but I kept trying anyway, hoping that somehow I’d get lucky. Figure it out. Force my squareness into the round hole. After all, what else am I going to do with all this work I’ve amassed over the years? This skill I’ve perfected? This passion I’ve had since I wrote my first epic novel at age thirteen?

I am not alone; of this I’m sure. There are a host of other authors out there who find themselves feeling out-classed and out-gunned by others who, for whatever reason, are hauling themselves up the ladder of fame and fortune with greater success. Damn fools we be; we thought in order to be a writer, all you had to do was write and write well. This is a fiercely competitive industry and the devil take the hindmost.

All this is complicated by what’s going on at home. It’s personal, and there is no pressing need to make it public yet, so suffice to say that I am dealing with a major crisis and have no idea how it’s going to shake down. I’ve been fighting this battle for the past couple of years and it appears that I am losing. Just getting through the day and fulfilling my various and sundry obligations to those depending on me is challenge enough. There’s no way I can keep fighting on the front defined by the social aspect of publishing.

Again, I wonder how many other stars have winked out, their love’s labor lost, because their personal lives demanded all the capital that they might have invested in their work. How many great voices have been silenced due to circumstance, to poverty or personal tragedy? Our society loves stories of those who succeed against all odds. Those of us who lack the strength to fight the tide are dismissed with a shrug. It is our fault; if we’d really tried, we would have made it. So we sit in our cold puddle of obscurity additionally insulted by the implication that we have no one to blame but ourselves. We are not worthy.

Mutts at the dog show.

2 responses

15 07 2014
Mary Jolles

In earlier centuries, artists had patrons who helped support them as they practiced their craft. Nowadays we have publishing companies, and if you get in good with one, it’ll give you an advance to work on your latest opus. But I believe also that there are markets out there for “good” writing (versus Nobel prize-winning, New York Times best selling, latest rage in pulp fiction writing). Without the time and resources, you’re right, it is very hard to find them.

16 07 2014
The Constant Pen

Nice to read your thoughts, Justine. Though I was there some this year and last year, I haven’t really given Readercon a chance–though I’ve liked what I’ve seen. I did think the dealer room was not as well-populated as last year. Till next time–be well.

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