WorldCon, Part 2

And here’s the rest of my WorldCon, picking up Sunday morning…

Religion and Fandom: This panel looked at the attitudes of fandom towards those fans who are noticeably religious, and it pretty much hit the mark. While SFF fandom has a good reputation for being tolerant of the other, whether that be race, nationality, sexuality, etc., many fans are openly hostile to religious folks. We talked about a few specific examples, including one where the chairman for a WorldCon bid specifically told one fan/priest that he did not want any of “your Christians” voting for his WorldCon bid because he did not want them at his convention. Another panelist, who was a fan long before becoming a pastor, had been asked upon selecting seminary, “You’re so smart – why would you want to be a pastor?” They also gave a few examples of when fandom had been particularly tolerant, including one Jewish panelist who was once assigned a volunteer to help her get around the convention on the Sabbath while still remaining observant of her religious restrictions of not performing work on the Sabbath.

They then talked some about the forces behind this, going all the way back to the catholic church vs. Galileo, but they also spoke about how on a personal level, many fans have been burned by specific actions of religious people outside of fandom. This makes it easy for them to lump religious fans in with the misogynistic, homophobic, anti-science Christian right here in America. Certainly, that particular culture has a lot to answer for, and it’s hard to make the distinctions when their political actions (and IMO, their betrayal of Christ’s teachings) get more and more extreme each year.

In the end, nothing was really resolved, but I suspect this issue is going to get worse over the next decade.

Living with a Creator: I was hoping to hear about strategies for easing the home life with writers and families, but I did not really find much of that here. There was some discussion of spousal health insurance, but mostly it was some reminiscing about how they met their creative spouses. So, it was sweet and all that, but it didn’t have what I had come looking for.

E-Books Nuts and Bolts: This turned out to be a good indie panel, focused on how to make e-books. However, given the wide range of experience in the audience, we could not settle down into the specifics of any particular tasks. However, lots of good information popped out as we flitted from one topic to another.

There was another strong recommendation for Sigil, including the fact that it does have elements of code validation. There was also a solid slam against Smashwords’ Meatgrinder from several panelists, one saying, “Friends don’t let friends use Smashwords.” The Mobile Reads forum was recommended as a good place to ask technical questions.  They also pointed us at the official standards documents for e-pubs and a tool called e-pub validator . But overall, they pushed the KISS mantra (Keep It Simple, Stupid) to avoid incompatibilities across the dozens of different reading platforms.

They also tossed out a lot of other sales platforms beyond the standard Kindle, Nook, and Kobo sites. apparently is a good place to buy ebooks in Australia. is a good place to get your e-books into libraries, though one librarian made it clear that not all libraries were moving towards Overdrive. seemed to be a place to buy Kindle books *not* from Amazon. They also recommended for having something of an SFF focus.

SFWA Membership for Indies: This wasn’t a proper panel, but at one of the panels, the new president of SFWA said a little about SFWA membership. Currently, SFWA membership requires either three short story sales to qualifying markets, one book sale to a qualifying market, or a produced script with acceptable credits/quality. (For the full thing see here ) Under those rules the most successful indies in the world cannot be members of SFWA. However, given that the publishing world is changing, this is under reconsideration. In fact, Gould made that part of his campaign platform. He said in the panel that it was now in committee discussion, looking to define some ways to compare Indie sales to the original professional sales requirements as well as some way of verifying those sales.

I tracked him down a little later and asked him for details, particularly how we might see the committee process in action. He said that at the moment, one of the hold-ups is their bylaws. Apparently, the existing bylaws pretty much make it impossible for Indies to come in. However, they are in the process of reincorporating in California as a 5013c non-profit organization, and the new bylaws should offer them greater flexibility to address the issue. Right now they’re waiting for the IRS to rule on their non-profit application. After that, it will be addressed more publically, but for now it’s just in a closed committee. I asked him where I should be watching for updates on this, and he pointed me towards the main SFWA blog.

How to Extend Your Book Beyond the Page into Social Media: This was something of a disappointment. Three of the four panelists did not show up, and one extra was drafted at the last minute. It turned into more of an interview between the moderator and the draftee. The draftee was mostly a twitter fan, and all the advice was structured around twitter. When I raised the possibility of Google+ I got the standard, “What? Is there anyone even *on* Google?” To which I replied that there were more on G+ than on Twitter. I was pretty much shouted down by the rest of the audience, but I was then saved by the moderator, who said, “Actually, I may need to check Google+ out. Evo Terra swears by it.” I got a big grin out of that, because Evo is in my circles there. But other than that, the panel was not very informative.

Creating Memorable Podcasts: This turned to more of a technical session than a content session, but it was still packed full of good information. There was some discussion of PC vs. Mac – with a moderately strong Mac bias – but they made it clear that it was possible on both. There was a strong recommendation for the Zoom portable digital recorder. For solo or face-to-face interviews, they all agreed that the quality could not be beat. A good condenser microphone could add to that, but they felt strongly that the Zoom recorder was much better than your computer. This matches advice I’ve heard elsewhere, so I’m going to accept this as gospel for now. For such equipment, they suggested checking out pawn shops for cheaper deals. As one panelist said, “Many podcasters built their rigs from the failed dreams of garage bands.”

For non-face-to-face stuff, the general solution seems to be Skype. There was also some discussion about making multiple recordings when interviewing over Skype, i.e. each person record their own voice and mix them together later. There was also a tip on using a program called Levelator to even out different volumes between two speakers in an interview. One person noted that running over a Wifi network made his Skype much choppier, and that he had much better luck when all participants were on physical-cable network connections. They recommended Hijack Pro and Wiretap Pro for recording Skype on the Mac.

For posting, there was a strong recommendation to explore dedicated podcast hosts because most blog hosting accounts can’t handle the bandwidth for a popular podcast . I’m currently on Dreamhost with an unlimited download service, which I think I snagged on a limited-time deal, so I might be ok. They also recommended as a good podcast host. They also recommended using the WordPress blog with the Blueberry Power plug-in for managing the podcast release, since it ties in nicely to iTunes and other podcast-broadcast services.

They did say a few things on content. Notably, for narrative, don’t focus so much on the voices of characters as on cadence, rhythm, and accents. These come off better than an attempt to disguise your voice. You can do varying amounts of show prep, but a certain level of spontaneity sounds better than the sound of you reading off a teleprompter. Length varies quite a bit. Twenty minutes seems to be a sweet spot, but 45 minutes is also good. One longer podcaster said she tried to stay under 90 minutes, but that she set a hard limit at two hours. The best advice, though came from someone who does a lot of interviews, and he said his three rules are: “No politics, no religion, and no BBQ, because these are the three most divisive issues in America.”

Writers, Their Fans and Flame Wars, Oh My!: This was a good panel. I had been hoping to see Chuck Wendig on it, but he was unable to make it. However, I thought Hugh Howey made an excellent replacement, and the rest of the panelists were quite good. The general sense of the panel is that flame wars suck, and that there are lots of things you can do to make them worse and precious few things you can to do make them better. Some of this is because griefers and trolls like to generate drama, so you’re often battling against people dead-set against civilized conversations. Other times, however, you run into trolls who are true believers in their cause, and you can make some headway with them – not pulling them out of their belief but in correcting their drama-generating practices.

A few quotes: “Most people are posting in good faith, even if it doesn’t sound like it. Try to remember that.” “The greatest shortcoming of HTML is that it has no <sarcasm> tag.” “A lot of folks pile on because their friends are piling on, not because they really feel strongly about it.”

Several of the panelists pointed to John Scalzi as someone who has dealt beautifully with some flame wars. Notably, he has turned his greatest detractor into a fundraising drive, where he is donating $5 to appropriate causes every time this detractor mentions him by name. Enough people have pledged to match the donation that by years’ end, this detractor will have effectively raised tens of thousands of dollars for causes he detests.

And finally, they recommended two books: The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense by Suzette Elgin, and Crucial Conversations by Kerry Patterson (and others). I’m going to toss in one of my own favorites, The Usual Error by some friends of mine Pace & Kyeli Smith.

The Hugos: I confess I did not actually attend. Dinner ran late with my wife, and by the time we got back to the hotel, it seemed to be standing room only, and we weren’t exactly dressed for the event. We had hoped to catch it on closed-circuit TV in the hotel, like we did years ago, but now we have to rely on UStream. Apparently they had their own problems with it (but not as bad as last year), but the internet connection in our room was not up to the task of watching it. So instead, we caught the play-by-play reporting made by several others in attendance.

I didn’t have much riding on any of the awards, since I had not read or seen many of the nominees. However, I was glad to see SF Signal get their second Hugo for best Fanzine. I also thought it was very classy of them to recuse themselves from future nominations so that other deserving fanzines could have a shot at it. I was frankly ecstatic to see Mur Lafferty win the Campbell for Best New Writer. Her “I Should Be Writing” podcast helped get me moving on my own writing career all the way back in 2007.

I was not at all surprised to see Game of Thrones win for Best Dramatic Presentation Short Form. The Whovians had managed to nominate three different episodes, and that effectively split their vote. Babylon 5 suffered a similar problem early on, and they solved it by asking Straczynski to choose which episode to nominate. I have to say I was a little surprised to see Avengers beat out The Hobbit. I think Avengers was a better film, but I had expected the more literary Hugo voters to go for the Tolkien favorite.

I’m glad Scalzi won Best Novel for Red Shirts. I had not actually read any of the other nominees, so I can’t say that it was the better novel. In my opinion, it’s certainly not the best work Scalzi has ever done, but I think the fans may have done a little bit of “lifetime achievement award” for him here. He has set down the mantle of the SFWA presidency, and I think he’s done a lot for the field in that capacity, so I don’t mind seeing a little extra weight being thrown his way for literary recognition. Then again, it was something of a fun take on the Star Trek tropes, just like Galaxy Quest was thirteen years earlier, and it may have just won enough fans’ hearts in the same way.

Marketing: I did not really do much in the way of marketing at the convention. While I focused enough on the writing end to make my tax write-off believable (I hope), I was there more as a fan than as a writer selling books. However, I did find a giveaway table that was quite happy taking the last of my ARCs for Ships of My Fathers. They went like crazy. Two things may have helped: First, I only put out six or seven at a time, and people seemed drawn to the shorter stacks on the scarcity principle. Second, I was next to the other trade paperbacks, and my cover was IMHO much better than the other covers there. I also tried some little cards with the cover on one side and a description on the other side. The back also included a QR code linking them to the Amazon buy page. About sixty of those were picked up. I don’t know how many readers I’m going to gain from these efforts, but I figure WorldCon attendees are the alpha dogs of SF/F readers, and if they like something, they’re more likely than most to tell their friends.

So, that’s it for my 2013 WorldCon. It’s going to be in London next year, but I’m unlikely to go. More likely, I may finally make the trek to DragonCon and see if I can take it all in. Just remember folks, fandom is vast, and there are plenty of smaller regional cons to check out. You don’t need pointed ears to attend, but don’t be surprised when you see them.

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