- by Laura Resnick
Over the years, I’ve spoken at science fiction/fantasy conventions, romance conferences, multi-genre conferences, bookstores and libraries, colleges and universities, writers groups and writing workshops, writers retreats, high schools, readers groups, museums, and civic associations. I’ve done panel discussions, chat-with sessions, formal speeches, informal Q&As, I’ve lectured and taught workshops, I’ve done readings, and performed some MC duties. I’ve done public appearances all over the U.S., in Canada, and also in France and Israel.
Many writers are (go figure) shy, bookish, private people, and learning to do public appearances is an adjustment for them. Others are more gregarious and enjoy meeting readers, as well as seeing their colleagues at conventions and other public venues. I’m very gregarious and my original professional aspiration was in acting, so both aspects of public appearances appeal to me: getting out to meet people and working with an audience. I always learn something from my colleagues and from readers at conventions; I always learn something from doing readings, giving formal workshops, and participating in panel discussions; and I always enjoy meeting readers, who are the people who spend their time and money on books–without readers, I wouldn’t have a profession, after all.
There is an unofficial jungle-drum system among writers about which events are worth our time and what the pros-and-cons of various venues are. In general, “worth our time” means that the venue is book-friendly; there are some sf/f conventions, for example, where all the attendees seem to be interested in everything but books (ex. movies, TV shows, video games, comic books, costuming, movie stars, TV stars, etc.), and a novelist winds up completely squandering 2-3 days of writing time and/or her private life by appearing there. There are also conventions that are so disorganized or so clueless that writers who’ve appeared there warn their friends, and word gets out (ex. your workshops or panels are all scheduled to occur before your flight arrives or after your flight leaves; no one ever booked your hotel room; your name appears nowhere in the program book; etc.) And there are v-e-r-y occasional groups that stiff you (ex. the group doesn’t fulfill the fiscal agreements they made with you).
However, writers talk to each other just as much about the terrific venues we’ve attended, the places where we had a wonderful time, the groups that were a hoot to speak to, and the committees that went above-and-beyond the call-of-duty to make us feel welcome and comfortable.
I spent a weekend in Huntsville, Alabama this autumn, as a guest of Con*Stellation, which is certainly one such venue. It’s an annual regional science fiction/fantasy convention hosted by the North Alabama Science Fiction Association (NASFA).
The committee was regularly in touch with me for months before my arrival, making various travel, fiscal, and programming arrangements, and checking on my preferences for scheduling, free time, and food. The whole time I was there, almost everyone connected to the convention took time to introduce themselves to me, make sure I had everything I needed, and ensure that I was having a good time. On our free day, the committee took the speaking guests site-seeing so that we wouldn’t be bored on our own in a strange place. The convention was full of attendees who are enthusiastic readers, so the writer panels I was on had good audiences.
A hospitable committee and enthusiastic attendees go a long way towards making the time worthwhile that a writer spends away from her writing desk and/or away from her private life.