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Saturday, August 20, 2011

Thoughts on the World Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention

I admit I am quite the novice in terms of going to "cons". For those of you who might not know (since I sure didn't) "con" is short for convention. There are lots of science fiction and fantasy conventions all around the country. And internationally, too. And, they are quite the extravaganza. There's something for everyone. Fans show up dressed like their favorite characters, or series. There's always a masquerade ball and this con had a Regency ball in addition. Because this is Worldcon, just about every well known SF/F author in creation (at least those who are still alive) are here. They host book signings and coffee klatches where you can sign up to meet with them in small groups and chat. All the major SF/F publishers are here as well. There are workshops on just about every imaginable topic. And there's a Dealer's Room where you can buy anything from a medieval costume to a broad sword.

Now that I've gone to two of these and listened to quite a few authors discuss the future of publishing, I wonder about the current trend of tossing up cheap titles on Amazon or Smashwords. One of the reasons we have publishers (and this includes small presses) is to sort through the slush pile for you, the reader. How many of you are going to keep on buying 99 cent titles, find them unreadable, and reach for another one? Not many, I'll bet. One of the other "problems" with Amazon is that Madame Unknown Author can rustle up a bunch of her friends to write reviews. Of course, they'll all say her prose glows and her characters are scintillating. Except they rarely are.

In traditional publishing, better than 90% of submissions are rejected by publishing houses. And for the best of reasons. The writing is terrible, the characters vapid and the plot either non-existent or so complex you need a notebook to keep track of what's going on. The fact that the traditional "gatekeepers" have been subverted by "do-it-yourselfers" has not helped the state of American literature. At least not in my humble opinion. I still think authors need a publisher standing behind them, be it a small press or a major house, to provide editorial guidance and support.

I do not think that epublishing will ever totally replace books. Currently, if what I heard yesterday is true, one out of three Americans is NOT online. And, the publishing houses I listened to all said that only about 20% of their sales come from ebooks. That actually makes me glad since I love real books. I own a Kindle and I download ebooks, but I still buy real books too. I love how they smell and how they feel in my hands. Plus, an author needs real books to send out review copies to reputable reviewers.

Watching how the next twenty years unfolds should be fascinating. I will be an old woman at the end of that time span. Hopefully still alive, but one never knows. I'm grateful people still love to read, though. So long as they do, there will be a venue for those like me who write because we love to, because the stories roam around in our heads and because we get grumpy if we're away from our word processors for too long.

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