[Robert J. Sawyer] Science Fiction Writer
ROBERT J. SAWYER
Hugo and Nebula Winner


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Science Fiction Conventions

by Robert J. Sawyer

Copyright © 1999 by Robert J. Sawyer
All Rights Reserved


First published in The Ottawa Citizen, Sunday, November 14, 1999.


So I'm in a hotel in Los Angeles, being Guest of Honor at a science-fiction convention. It's the middle of January, and Toronto, where I live, is buried under snow, and so who wouldn't want to be in sunny LaLa land? And this kid comes up to me — he's just sixteen or seventeen — and he looks at my name badge, and he says, with all the attitude he can muster, "So, you're an author. Are you any good?"

And I think to myself, What am I doing here? I don't need this. But I just shrug and say, "Well, some people think so — I did win the Science Fiction Writers of America's Nebula Award for Best Novel of the Year."

The kid shuts up, but I figure — what the heck — I'll ask him what he does. And he says, "I'm a clerk at Blockbuster Video."

And I copy the surly tone he used on me, demanding, "Are you any good?"

And he thinks about it, it's clear, for the first time in his life, and he looks at his shoes, and says, absolutely crestfallen, "No, not really."

Flashforward two years: another SF convention, another hotel, another city. I've given up my weekend to be here. Sure, the con (as SF conventions are universally known) is paying for my hotel and meals, but there's nobody here — I mean, man, it's postapocalyptic, just a few survivors left, twenty people all told, rattling around in a big old hotel, and three of those twenty, they've got things that look liked cow patties glued to their foreheads — they're grown men, pretending to be Klingons from Star Trek.

Somehow the organizers have forgotten to promote the convention: the local SF specialty bookstore only heard about it three days before the event, and when I run into the city's biggest-name SF author at another convention in another city the following weekend, he's stunned to hear that there'd just been a con in his town.

But you know . . .

You know, by the end of that weekend in California, the kid from Blockbuster had bought some of my novels in the dealers' room (the place at a con where books and merchandise are sold). And by the end of the weekend at the other con, I'd actually gotten to know the Klingons, and they turned out to be a lot of fun, with a lot of interesting things to say.

Some SF conventions are magnificent — a chance for a writer to meet with his or her existing audience, and to entice new readers. Others are less so — too often these days, a convention committee relies on what I call the Field of Dreams philosophy: they believe that if they hold it, people will come, without the necessity of doing vigorous publicity.

But this year alone, SF conferences have taken me to Melbourne, Australia; Fredericton, New Brunswick; Columbus, Ohio; Providence, Rhode Island; Barcelona, Spain; and, yes, to Ottawa, Ontario. Indeed, traveling to SF conventions either with all expenses paid as Guest of Honor or even just on your own tax-deductible nickel is one of the few real perks of the science-fiction writing game.

Winning over surly teenagers is just an added bonus.


More Good Reading

Why authors attend science-fiction conventions
Rob's upcoming convention appearances
Rob's stints at guest of honor
Comments from convention attendees about Rob
Rob's suggestions for panel topics at conventions
How to make a good impression at an SF convention

(Also see Rob's comments about why authors attend SF conventions in Canada's The National Post newspaper, Monday, February 21, 2000, page A18.)

More Nonfiction about SF
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