I’m at the Romantic Times Booklover’s Convention this week, and I had this grand plan of doing quickie interviews of some of the urban fantasy authors here for today’s post (sort of like a “5 questions” format.) Unfortunately, it was harder than I expected to pin down authors when they weren’t busy/eating/inebriated, so in the end I decided instead to talk about the convention itself.
I grew up in SF/F fandom, and have been to more SF/F cons than I can count. In the last decade I’ve mostly limited myself to the “big” ones, i.e. World Fantasy and Worldcon, mostly because, as an up-and-coming author, I figured that those would be the most useful to me in networking, meeting new and fun people, and general enjoyment.
It wasn’t until last year that I learned about the Romantic Times Booklovers Convention, or “RT” as everyone calls it. RT is far more than what the name implies. First off, yes, it’s very heavily populated by people who love reading. And, yes, it’s very heavily slanted toward romance. After all, it’s sponsored by Romantic Times Book Reviews magazine. However, much like the magazine, it has a reach far beyond just that of the romance field. The magazine reviews mostly romance books of every possible shade, but it also carries reviews of science fiction, fantasy, urban fantasy, thriller, mystery, mainstream, and so on.
That diversity is represented by the authors in attendance here as well. Barry Eisler, F. Paul Wilson, Piers Anthony are just a few of the non-romance authors here. And there are absolute scads of urban fantasy authors in attendance (as well as numerous panels devoted to the differences and similarities between urban fantasy and paranormal romance.)
As loyal as I am to my science fiction and fantasy roots, I have to say that for the aspiring author hoping to get a leg up, or for the published author hoping to reach out to fans and new readers, RT kicks some serious ass, and I really and truly hope that SF/F can take a tip or two from how RT operates, because I think that it can only benefit the genre.
First off, the member badges not only have the member’s name on it, but also a designation, i.e. Published Author, Aspiring Author, Reader, Bookseller, Librarian, Press, etc. My first reaction to that was a bit of a mental wince at what seemed like segregation, but as the week progressed I realized that it was incredibly useful for everyone involved when it came to networking and promotion and discovering new writers. Moreover, I never caught a single whiff of snobbery concerning the published vs. aspiring status.
Second, there’s “Promo Alley”: a long row of tables where authors can pay a token fee to rent a portion of a table to display promotional swag. Again, my first reaction to this was that there was just too much swag and too many authors and that the “signal to noise” ratio was way too high. But then I started seeing huge numbers of readers stopping and looking at all of this swag, and picking up the bookmarks, and taking–and wearing–the buttons and stickers, etc. Each member of the convention walked past all of these items several times a day, which, if nothing else, guaranteed that there would later be a flicker of recognition for an author’s name or a book cover. It was well done and nicely organized, as opposed to the one measly swag table at most SF/F cons where people can shove a pile of bookmarks into any empty space they can find.
Third, and this is the number one absolute biggie super duper way that RT kicks the absolute living ass of SF/F cons, especially World Fantasy and Worldcon: The mass author signing is open to members for free, and open to the general public for a nominal fee (I think it was $5 this year.)
I can’t stress enough how much I believe this is a fantastic idea and one that World Fantasy and Worldcon needs to adopt. RT partners with a bookseller (this year it was Barnes & Noble) who procures stacks of books for every author in attendance. Attendees can also bring in their own books to be signed (though they have to be marked with a special sticker before entering to avoid confusion and later problems.) Readers and fans have several hours to wander the hall, chat with authors, get books signed, discover new authors, and then can purchase their signed books at the exit where B&N has several registers set up. It’s a huge win-win scenario for everyone involved, and it has the advantage of reaching out to numerous readers who either have no interest in attending the entire event, or don’t have the financial means to do so.
I’ve heard that there’s resistance to this concept in SF/F because convention organizers want people to purchase memberships, and are afraid that if they throw signing events open to the public then there won’t be incentive for people to buy a membership to the whole thing. But I think that’s a terribly flawed supposition. The readers and fans who want to meet the authors and interact with them beyond the few seconds of face time in a signing will still pay for a membership. (After all, a membership for RT is over $400. And attendance at RT is usually well over a thousand strong, and in times of stronger economy I’ve been told that it’s closer to three thousand.)
Science Fiction and Fantasy needs to reach beyond the walls of its ghetto, and needs to give deep consideration to adopting this methodology as a way to reach out to new readers. By throwing the signing events open to the public, it will increase the opportunity to educate people about what the genre has to offer, as well as give up and coming authors a chance to interact with people who might never consider attending a convention.