GenCon, Days Three and Four

I’ve only now had the chance to post my report on Days Three and Four of GenCon…long drives and short sleep will do that to you, I find. But better late than never, so here goes:

Saturday brought a panel on the small press, on which I presented–and we had a good turnout, particularly considering the ungodly hour at which the panel was held (note for all convention organizers: 8 a.m. is really, really early for a Saturday morning, particularly after two full days of gaming and the like. And particularly when you have a seven month old who still wakes up at 3 a.m. And particularly for me. đŸ™‚ ). My editor John moderated the panel, joined by Don Bingle (whose forthcoming book, Greensword, is a dark comedy about global warming…really. How cool is that?), Dylan Birtolo, and me, and we had an excellent session talking about the pros and cons of small press publishing–and the differences between small presses, which is something I don’t think gets discussed enough. Building a career as an author requires sensible choices, and that means picking the right places to be published as one’s career proceeds…but I’ll get back to that at the end. In any case, the audience had some interesting questions and comments, and in general it was well worth the lack of sleep to be a part of it. And a good friend, Justin Gary, who is the lead designer of the World of Warcraft miniatures game (and yep, he’s awfully good at his job!) came to the panel and got breakfast with us afterwards, which was cool too.

Then it was on to True Dungeon, where I fought a mind flayer.

I really wish I had the guts to leave it just at that line…sigh. Seriously, what actually happened was that I played through a “real” dungeon, kind of a real life maze with monsters, traps and props, with two friends. I’ve done this once before, and this went considerably better–we essentially stormed through the whole thing in record time, leading to a modified Sudoku puzzle at the end (which we solved with time to spare)–and it was a good time, despite not really getting to see the animitronic hill giant in all his glory. (And before you ask what I was doing walking past an animitronic hill giant, let me remind you that this is considerably safer than walking past an actual hill giant. Studies prove this.) A few more panels followed before we headed back to the hotel and bed.

Sunday concluded the convention with a final walk through the exhibition hall; I actually only bought two things while there, a card game which wasn’t worth the money and a board game which I think will be–it’s kind of a literary Balderdash, and it’s designed by Darryl Hannah, so how can it miss?–so on the whole the financial impact wasn’t too bad. Finally we said goodbye to our friends and set off for home, very tired but on the whole very content. There aren’t too many cons to mention about this, er, con, except that it’s a bit pricey to attend and huge–so if you’re looking for a more laid back experience, this probably isn’t for you. But all told GenCon was well worth the trip, and I will definitely be back next year.

One closing comment from my soapbox: there was more than one author I saw at the convention hawking his or her books, which I had certainly expected; what I hadn’t expected was the number of people from the self-publishing or Publish America ranks doing the same, and I have to say the sight saddened me quite a bit, especially in the second category. PA is now well-known as the granddaddy of all scam publishers, but authors continue to get pulled in, and the result–poorly produced, amateurish-looking books without a chance of bookstore or library distribution–is always the same. It costs authors nearly $200 to reserve a table in Authors Alley at GenCon; since they’ll be the ones picking up that cost (and buying copies of their books to sell, of course), they’ll have to make it back with book sales. Assume a $2 royalty per book and an author would have to sell one hundred books to get the table cost back; Jim Hines, by way of comparison, sold forty books at GenCon, which he said was a good weekend for personal book sales. PA authors would be lucky to sell ten.

Now they might argue–and have–that it’s all about investing in your career. But this is one kind of investment you will never recoup: PA makes terrible books, and you’ll never sell enough of their shoddy product to make up for the money you sank into the process. And as you grow more and more desperate, and throw more and more money into promotional schemes which have no chance of bearing fruit, the financial hole just gets deeper and deeper. Even worse, a PA credit is worse than no credit at all; it actively works against authors who went this route when they try to turn to legitimate, mainstream publishers, and the result is a writer blacklisted by all but–you guessed it–PA.

All of this really angers me; PA preys on the desperation of authors who believe they will never be seen in print otherwise, and the result is even greater desperation and financial deprivation. I understand that feeling of desperation, but please, take my advice on at least this point: there are far, far better options out there than the vanity model. It’s not easy to get published by a legitimate publisher–which seems logical, since you would like the best work to be the stuff which makes it on to the shelves–but it is possible. And building a career by working up from the reputable small (not vanity) press is a far better option than shooting yourself in the foot before you ever really get started. Do your homework, consider your options, and please, please avoid vanity presses like PA. The reading public deserves much better…and so do you.