GenreCon 2012 – Sydney (2nd – 4th November 2012)

Last weekend I was fortunate enough to attend the inaugural GenreCon in Sydney. This is only the second convention I’ve attended, the first being this years SF National Convention Continuum 8 (see my earlier series of blog posts for a blow by blow description of my fun and games). There was a remarkably different tone in this event, which was aimed at writing professionals (writers, editors, publishers, book sellers etc). The fan elements of Continuum gave a good community feel, but I must admit that at my stage of writing I think that the GenreCon program was probably better suited to my needs.

The program for GenreCon can be found here.

Unfortunately work kept me away from the opening night drinks on Friday 2nd November and late night panel discussion, although I’m told they went well. I showed up bright and shiny on the Saturday morning. The conference “kit” included a free book (always a good way to start off the morning) and before I knew it I was sitting in the main room waiting for the first keynote speech of the day.

Meg Vann (incoming CEO of the Queensland Writer’s Centre) opened proceedings with an upbeat description of the state of genre fiction and the process by which GenreCon had come together. She was extremely energetic. I personally would have needed a much stronger cup of tea to match those energy levels after my 2 hour public transport trip to reach the wilds of Parramatta. She turned over to Kate Eltham (the outgoing CEO of the QWC) who made some thoughtful comments on the state of the industry, including the concept that the current changes in markets more reflect the move from manuscript scarcity to plenty, rather than any particular technology issue.

The opening address was followed by a community showcase by the Romance Writers of Australia. While I don’t write in the romance genre, I have heard a lot of good things about the professional nature of the RWA. The talk certainly bore this out, it is clear that they provide their members with significant support. It is a shame that the broader speculative fiction genre doesn’t have a similar professional association (I did join the Australian Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers’ Association, but it seems to have vanished without a trace, and my joining fee with it).

Following morning tea, I attended a workshop entitled Kicking Off Your Writing Career by Peter M Ball (one of the conference organisers and a well known speculative fiction author) and Alex Adsett, a copyright and writing contract specialist. This was an excellent session, worth the conference price of admission by itself. Ball spoke articulately about the need to think of your writing career as a business, applying some of the planning techniques that I’m familiar with from my day job into the writing game. It was very thought provoking.

I enjoy my day job, and my goals with writing have never been to quit and have writing as my only profession. However, I have had the impression previously that if you’re not aiming to be a full time writer, some people feel you are not taking your writing seriously enough. Ball’s talk was an excellent antidote to that kind of thinking. His own goals were clearly articulated and combined his desire to seriously experiment with genre forms with the idea that writing would only ever be a part time gig for him (by design). Very interesting.

Adsett’s part of the session focused on copyright and various tips and traps for young players that come from assigning rights for your work. It was a very thought provoking discussion. Sadly I’ve not needed to delve into the wonderful world of writing contracts, but it did make me reflect on the kinds of things I’ll need to keep in mind if my work ever does move to that stage.

After this session we moved through to lunch. I might pause at this point and say this GenreCon was much more like the kind of conferences I would normally attend for work than Continuum 8 was. The morning tea/lunch/afternoon tea breaks were communal – by providing food in a common area it pushed people to mingle more. I found it easier to chat to people than at Continuum 8, perhaps a feature of the conference being relatively new and incorporating quite a few different genres (i.e. less “pre-established” groups of people). I’m still not entirely comfortable breaking into conversations, but the conference felt much more designed to encourage you to talk to new people.

So as a result of this communal eating arrangement I shared lunch with the writing power-couple Jason Nahrung and Kirstyn McDermott, as well as new acquaintance Chris McMahon. Jason and Kirstyn both have books coming out early next year through the relatively new publisher Xoum and it was exciting to hear about their engagement in the marketing and publishing of their books. I’m eagerly waiting to read both books (Blood and Dust by Jason and Perfections by Kirstyn). In conversation with Chris I realised that I had read and enjoyed some of his short fiction, most recently his story in the excellent anthology Anywhere But Earth edited by Keith Stevenson. A very enjoyable lunch where I had less to contribute, but had an excellent time listening.

In the afternoon there were three streams of panel discussions running. First up I attended What Writers Get Wrong chaired by Aimee Lindorff and featuring Simon Higgins, PM Newton and Charlotte Nash Stewart. The discussion focused on medical and crime related fiction (not my usual writing), but it was good to hear people with expertise talking about where fiction writing diverges (jarringly) from reality. Everyone always has problems with how their occupation is depicted in stories. What I took away from the discussion was that the amount of research required to give your work verisimilitude when dealing with modern occupations is large and perhaps beyond my attention span. I may have to stick with genres that allow me to make up occupations.

The second session of the afternoon was After the First Draft chaired by Irina Dunn and featuring Jodi Cleghorn, Sarah JH Fletcher and Bernadette Foley. This discussion focused on the rewriting portion of the writing experience, including the use of beta readers and how to keep an editor on side. There were some excellent suggestions for books to read to help make your work as polished as possible. I am getting close to the point where I’ll want to start seriously polishing some long and short fiction, so it was a timely discussion for me.

There were a lot of parallel sessions I would have loved to attend, as this was true of most of the GenreCon program.

Just before afternoon tea, the community showcase was for Conflux – the national speculative fiction convention for 2013. It was a great showcase which encouraged me to sign up for the convention, which is held in Canberra around Anzac Day next year.

After afternoon tea (where I caught up with Lynda R Young – a much more developed than me author who is excitingly on the edge of publishing in an anthology and has some advanced manuscripts just waiting to find a home), the last session of the day was the international author guest Joe Abercrombie in conversation with Jason Nahrung. I’ve read and enjoyed several of Abercrombie’s books, which I tend to think of as epic fantasy for adults – very gritty with flawed characters. I’ve drifted a little away from epic fantasy over the years, but Abercrombie’s work appeals in a way that shiny hero fantasy just doesn’t anymore. The interview was excellent – Jason had done his homework and kept the conversation moving smoothly. Abercrombie was funny and self deprecating and gave some interesting insight into his own writing journey as well as some good thoughts on what the modern writing and publishing scene looks like.

After the last session finished up, I stayed behind and had a great series of conversations. I don’t know that I added any stunning insights to any of these discussions, but is was fantastic listening to people in the industry talk and being able to ask questions. In particular I thought Jodi Cleghorn had some great thoughts on the current online writing community scene and how it could be improved. I hadn’t signed up for the banquet (always difficult to know whether to sign up for something like that when you could be sitting on your own in the corner) but there were a few people that similarly hadn’t booked in, so a group of us went for dinner at a local Indian restaurant. It was interesting and varied conversation, where I heard everything from the unorthodox way that Wollongong based author Alan Baxter used to prepare for rugby games in his youth through to the fact that author Martin Livings was launching his new collection Living with the Dead at the convention the next day. Good times.

Unfortunately, I had another event on Sunday which limited how much of the convention I could attend. I made it over for the first session of the day, a keynote talk by Curtis Brown agent Ginger Clark who was over from the US as the other international guest of the convention. It was a fascinating discussion about the state of the publishing industry in particular in the US, UK and Australia (a bit depressing at times, but still very interesting). I think if I was trying to make my writing a full time career it would have been even more depressing – things seem a bit dire at the moment. Clark also gave some insights into the changing role of the agent, the impact of the rise of self publishing, the changing nature of writing contracts and the difficulties of getting publishers to focus on mid list authors. She also spoke about the importance of understanding contracts and which rights you have sold or retained.

The community partner session before morning tea was by Sisters in Crime, which sounds like an extremely supportive and successful organisation made up primarily of women either writing or reading crime.

I had to leave after morning tea, so I missed the workshop (would have gone to Get Your Characters Moving with Karen Miller) and the afternoon panel discussions (absolutely spoiled for choice here – possibly would have attended Practical Worldbuilding and Text/Sub-Text but would have loved to attend several others as well). I also missed the Great Debate: Plotters vs Pansters which was by all account hilarious.

All in all this was an excellent convention. I understand they will run it again next year, this time in Brisbane. If I can at all make it up there I will be looking to attend (hopefully with some slightly more advanced writing under my belt next time!). If you attended I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments or any musings on conventions in general.

Author: mark

A writer of speculative fiction and all round good egg. Well, mostly good. OK, sometimes good.

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