How Publishers See Worldcon

My following up of Google Alerts on the Seattle bid collapse led me to an author blog where I found this:

My publisher and publicists urged me to go to ComiCon instead this year–the media exposure is much better there and they have some control that they don’t have at WorldCon. The publishers are treated as vendors at San Diego Comicon so they can bring in writers for signings and push for ads and exposure in the program–they’re giving the con money, after all. WorldCon doesn’t have that structure that allows the publishers to push like that.

Mindful of what happens when Neil complains about something, I’d ask you to bear in mind that Kat Richardson is probably only parroting back what the PR people at her publishers have said. The reason I am posting this is that I would like to hear comments from publishers (especially Random House). Do you really think that you are not treated like vendors at Worldcon? If so, what would you like to see changed? I have a sneaking suspicion that publisher PR people often don’t know what they can do at Worldcon because no one sells them on the convention, but the lack of a vendor membership probably doesn’t help.

By the way, I agree entirely about the media exposure being so much better at ComicCon. I think we can all agree on that.

76 thoughts on “How Publishers See Worldcon

  1. Colleen:

    You are making a number of very good points which I will address when I finally get around to writing a “how we can change Worldcon” post. For now I am letting the discussion flow.

  2. Cheryl – It’s a good discussion.

    Kevin – What happened in 1987? Also, consider this: having a set group of people in place who make the decisions and act as professional contacts for vendors and publishers may make it easier in the long run to find a sponsorship that made sense, because again, you would have one or two key people who would be dedicating to developing those long-term professional relationships.

    Reed uses sponsorships to drive down the cost of most of their shows, everything from New York Comic Con to Book Expo. They have multiple sponsors at multiple levels.

    Might it make sense to possibly sit down with a group of the original organizers of San Diego Comic Con and brainstorm about how they were able to grow the show organically and attract good sponsors? It certainly didn’t happen overnight for them.

  3. I should also reiterate that Jenny Rae Rappaport makes two good points about growing the audience of WorldCon, both in age range and in variety.

    WorldCon currently offers no real opportunities for YA authors and publishers to promote their work.

    WorldCon seems to suffer from the SFWA mentality also when it comes to embracing writers who work in paranormal romance / urban fantasy.

    The vast majority of genre’s new readers are reading genre specifically because of YA fantasy and paranormal romance/urban fantasy. Particularly young readers.

    YA fantasy and paranormal romance/urban fantasy are legitimate sub-genres of SF/F and really need to be treated as such.

  4. May I note that if publishers want their authors to sign at their booth there is nothing to stop that from happening, however if they block lots of other publishers booths with line-ups, guess who gets complained to – the committee.
    And why don’t the publishers encourage thier authors to agree to be publicized, so it might help the convention? I know that some authors are real sweeties and say ‘sure use my name’.
    However there are others who don’t want their name used, don’t want to autograph and don’t want to be on panels etc. because they use the Worldcon as a way to meet friends and other authors or agents or publishers, and don’t want to be bothered by autograph seekers. They hope to do some business, not to promote themselves to admirers.
    What is the point of letting people know that ‘Joe Author’ is at the convention if they will only be holed up in the SFWA suite, or their own or an agent’s room.
    Or suppose something happens? I had lots of people checking to see if David Gerrold had picked up his badge all through Denvention, and were complaining as if it were the convention’s fault that he wasn’t there. David had an accident on the way and couldn’t come. It is no ones fault, but the convention gets the flack

    May I say that to some, the 20,000 people (turnstyle count I think?) of SDCC looks only like a media show these days. Much as I love shows like Big Bang Theory, I can’t see being pressed into a hall with even 7000 people to hear them talk about the show, as being fun. Sorry.

  5. @52:

    Hey Colleen – promoting YA publishers and authors is part of what I’d begun to discuss with Simon & Schuster. The fact that my books are YA, and are also illustrated by me makes me at least a credible liason for pulling in support of both the YA artists and authors who would like to participate more extensively at Worldcon.

    My ideal scenario is to have a teen/collegiate age reader who started with something like Spiderwick, whom I could then hand a copy of anything by Robert Holdstock.

    The fact I’m doing the Visual Arts programming is also a point of credibility for the S&S publicists to at least initiate some involvement with this year’s Worldcon. I know other people at other houses – but the direct involvement just makes the path a bit more clear (to start).

  6. I like WorldCon. I have been to other Cons that I also like. I was recently at the NY ComiCon and enjoyed it, and I have heard that DragonCon is great.

    But when I travel around our great country (and sometimes other countries), I am distressed with the homogeneous-ness of it all. Really, how different is Denver from Seattle from Cincinatti? Same hotels, same restaurants, same big convention center.

    There is something to be said for uniqueness. When all Cons do the same things and are just like all other Cons, then where will we be? I like the differences between Cons, and that’s what attracts me to certain ones.

  7. Linda:

    The argument that we should never change anything because people might complain doesn’t wash with me. People always complain. Every Worldcon gets an earful from disgruntled fans who felt that it wasn’t perfect for them. And there are at least as many people outside the Worldcon community complaining about the way it is as there are inside the Worldcon community who are likely to complain if it changes.

    Let’s judge the issues on their merits, please, and not just dismiss every new idea because “someone might complain”.

  8. Colleen @51:

    Kevin – What happened in 1987?

    The 1987 Brighton Worldcon took on significant sponsorship from L. Ron Hubbard’s publishers, to the extent of using the same artwork as some of Hubbard’s recent books on some convention publications. I wasn’t there, but the story as told to me gave the strong impression that, for instance, it felt like the core event of the Worldcon was the


    hugo awards ceremony

    This left a horrible taste in people’s mouths, but I understand the convention was pretty desperate for money and had to take what it could get.

    Also, consider this: having a set group of people in place who make the decisions and act as professional contacts for vendors and publishers may make it easier in the long run to find a sponsorship that made sense, because again, you would have one or two key people who would be dedicating to developing those long-term professional relationships.

    Yes, you’re right. It seems unlikely to me that you could get that if you did not have permanent, paid staff.

    Might it make sense to possibly sit down with a group of the original organizers of San Diego Comic Con and brainstorm about how they were able to grow the show organically and attract good sponsors? It certainly didn’t happen overnight for them.

    Sure, it wouldn’t be difficult. But the answer also isn’t that much of a secret. Comic-con is an ongoing organization. It has several paid staff, supplemented, of course by an army of volunteers at the conventions themselves. That full-time staff, who make decent but not spectacular livings (based on the organization’s Form 1023 non-profit disclosure forms) from running the organization, have as their job organizing and promoting and getting sponsorship. When you grow an organization to the point where the City of San Diego is Full, you can afford to spend money on salaries.

    The formula is actually pretty easy: Make Worldcon a single organizational entity, focus on heavily-populated areas (better is to just not move at all), and throw away anything that doesn’t grow the convention. In fact, it would be easier in some respects to just toss out most of the people who currently attend the convention because they’re getting in the way of “progress.” Turn it into a pop-culture Expo, hold it in major metro areas, and getting tens of thousands of people to attend should be pretty easy. But again, most of the people who have been loyally attending would go away because it was no longer what they wanted or had been paying for.

    This sounds sarcastic, but I don’t mean it to be. To paraphrase something I heard elsewhere today, Worldcon is like a medical convention organized by the patients, or a World Series organized and run by baseball fans in their spare time.

    Worldcon tends to be the way it is because the major decisions are made by the people who attend most Worldcons, and therefore they tend to vote for “more like that.” Why would they possibly vote against their own perceived best interest?

    The way an individual can try to change a Worldcon is to organize a bid for Worldcon that would be done their way, convince the voters to vote for it, and then try to run it. This is also not sarcastic, because I’ve done it. It went better than I expected, but not as well as I wanted, and of course I was beggared by the experience and am starting at a mountain of debt to this day that I can attribute to expenses run up as a Worldcon bidder/runner. (That’s why I scoff at the people who think conrunners are in this for the Big Bucks.)

  9. @ Linda 53:

    What would stop most publishers from having signings at their vendor space would be layout. At either LACon or D3, if anybody had more than 4 people in front of their table they’d be blocking the aisle. If the people creating the space layout plan differently, that can be alleviated. (The convention center will have suggestions available – they’ve dealt with the problem before.)

    Turnstyle count at CCI is 125,000 these days – that’s the maximum number of people allowed in the building, per the San Diego Fire Marshal. The largest programming room holds about 7,000, though there are plenty of smaller specialized programs in much smaller rooms with more typical con-size audiences. The last couple of years, a few mega-programs have spilled across the street to the baseball stadium, which seats forty-some thousand. Haven’t quite filled that yet…

  10. What would happen (probably grand horror) if, despite moving from place to place, we promoted referring to the thing as “Worldcon”?

    We’ve had LACon, Denvention, Anticipation, Aussiecon – and that’s how these things are promoted. Using WorldCon as the name for the convention rather than these regional names would help promote the idea that this is a continuing thing. [Anticipation does note it’s the 67th World Science Fiction Convention, but it’s still not “worldcon”)

    It need not be rigid – Westercon does a pretty good balancing act.

    Most people I know speak of “Westercon” rather than “Fiestacon” – while most people seem to be going to Anticipation rather than Worldcon this year. But Fiestacon will have a very local flavor, probably more so than Anticipation.

    Like my early suggestion, this is not meant to restrict the annual committees, but to promote the thing overall.

    How many Colorado locals who aren’t plugged in to our network, are looking for Denvention 4 this year? Not realizing it’s in Montreal.

  11. Bob @59:

    I can’t argue with that. SFSFC has decided that, should we win our Westercon bid, we will be Westercon 64 and will not have an independent name. (Westercons historically have not always had a separate name; in fact, until fairly recently, it was unusual for a Westercon to adopt a name of its own.) This is in no small part due to our desire to rebuild Westercon’s brand recognition in an area that had pretty much forgotten the convention existed on account of there having been a 20-year drought.

    Whether you could convince individual Worldcon committees that they should market “Worldcon” first is another matter. The tradition there is so much stronger. As far as I can tell, there were only a couple of Worldcons — the first and eleventh — that were “World Science Fiction Convention” first and only had names applied to them retrospectively.

    ConJose (the 2002 Worldcon) still has a few e-mail addresses active, one of which is the general-interest one that mostly gets spam; however, I did indeed receive queries for people wanting to attend the 2003 ConJose and who were mystified about why it wasn’t happening. I don’t think anyone actually attended ConJose without even realizing that it was the World Science Fiction Convention, but I suppose it was possible.

    When I spent a weekend behind a fan table at FanimeCon 2002 promoting ConJose, I made a special version of the convention banner that put WORLD SCIENCE FICTION CONVENTION in bid print, relegating the convention specific name to the logo and smaller type. Even so, I only sold five memberships, all of which were to people we probably would have caught at BayCon.

    An active central marketing committee is not a bad idea. Finding people willing to do the work, and getting individual Worldcons to actually cooperate, is another. For all that the events are all part of a series, I’ve encountered more than one committee whose attitude could be described as “Who cares about ‘Worldcon?’ I have [SpecificCon] to run!” So even the individual organizers may have little “brand loyalty” to Worldcon. This is one reason it’s pretty difficult to get individual Worldcons to do any publicity that doesn’t have a direct effect on their own convention. They don’t see any reason to spend resources to generate goodwill that doesn’t immediately translate into more bodies through the door for that particular convention, because goodwill toward other Worldcons does nothing for their local one.

  12. Kevin @61,

    (I apologize that this wanders a bit – all on the one topic, but I’ve managed to throw a lot in here, mostly to get it on “paper”)

    One datapoint makes a trend? (re: Fanime). And yes, I say that with a big grin. But. “World Science Fiction Convention” is not currently a recognized brand and wasn’t in 2002. If the same thing had been done in 2003, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 it might be recognized by now (at least at Fanime). Except at the Superbowl, the first commercial rarely works for brand recognition.

    Regarding finding people to do the work: Has anyone ever asked for volunteers? Asking only at a MPC meeting doesn’t count. Otherwise – how is it known it’s difficult to find them? [my current museum complained of never getting volunteers. I made them ASK and they just told me to quit asking because they were getting too many – one datapoint, I know. But then you have some idea that my recent computer loss has now turned into the sixth computer coming in the door next week, because I put it out there that I was looking]

    Also, I have it on pretty good authority that advertising and promotions companies often look for pro bono work for non-profits. They do this because it looks good on their resume and they can be more creative and “fun” in their approach. This is a potential World Wide audience. I’m told San Francisco is one place to look (but not expect) to find such a company – NY and LA are better, but companies in S.Fr. might be a place to start for some logistical reasons. [my authority is someone in the industry, though no longer a “contact”]

    Getting the local committees to cooperate is a puzzlement. Unless and until it could be shown to reduce the load on the local committee and not infringe on their “joy”.

    It could be just simple stuff – requiring the word “WorldCon” to be in a certain font, color and font size (relative to the local Con-name). And maybe requiring always using it on signs, flyers and publications (instead of only sometimes). Maybe instead of a very flexible “x&x&x are service marks…”, making it a less flexible logo with the words surrounded by a box.

    Some care would need to be used because of the non-profit and local status of the conventions, especially the non-U.S. cons. But that’s similar to general relationship of WSFS to the local cons.

    And yeah. It may not do a lot for the first and maybe second convention to do it. The SJ Westercon won’t get as big a benefit from the name as the next one, or the next one.

    But. If the Hugos were promoted for 12 months (instead of zero months) starting now, it would be a benefit to Aussiecon. After 24 months of promotion, it would be even more a benefit to Reno.

    In fact, this might be the perfect time to start (for this country)…because after two years of Hugo Promotions, press releases for Reno can say “after an absence of two years, WorldCon comes back to the US…”

    Then, that could be shown to 2012 and beyond.

    And of course, NO advertiser can show directly “this brand building thing brought in this number dollars”. But it does.

    [and please no one one think this is meant in anything but support and encouragement and public brainstorming. I know pretty well how much Kevin has to do with the success of fandom and Worldcons in general]

  13. Bob:

    You’re on the right track. Whether the individual Worldcons (note the lack of an intercap, per our house style) would stand for such things is another question. It’s a hard sell and no mistake.

  14. There’s been other sponsorship since. I was House Manager for the Hugos at Torcon in 2003. The day of the ceremony, I was asked to talk to someone who wanted their spouse to be able to attend the ceremony despite not being a member.

    I started to explain why I didn’t think I could allow that on general principles, when, in a very non-threatening manner, the person pointed out that they’d sponsored the con for what struck me as a significant amount (and I had no reason to think they were lying or exaggerating; the person was known to me by reputation if not personally). Being pragmatic, I immediately congratulated them on having bought the most expensive one-day membership in Worldcon history and made arrangements for their spouse to get in sans official membership.

    Nowhere near the 250K amount Kevin proposed, but there has been not insignificant and reasonably discreet sponsorship since 1987.

  15. @ Kevin 63

    It might be a hard sell to the seated cons, but once bids were being made in fulll knowledge of the requirement there shouldn’t be that much grousing.

    (Okay, it’s fandom. There’ll be some grousing. But you know what I mean.)

  16. This is one reason it’s pretty difficult to get individual Worldcons to do any publicity that doesn’t have a direct effect on their own convention. They don’t see any reason to spend resources to generate goodwill that doesn’t immediately translate into more bodies through the door for that particular convention, because goodwill toward other Worldcons does nothing for their local one.

    That is a bad attitude, and one that should be discovered and fought against during the bid process (and things like the Fannish Inquisition).

  17. Andy @66:

    That’s a very good point. The way we keep the Pass-Along Funds program* going is to make it very clear to bids that failing to commit to participate in the program when they are bidding is equivalent to folding their bid. If we as conrunners had a decent joint-marketing system in place (which we do not have), and gave conventions positive incentives (enhanced joint publicity) and bids negative ones (if you don’t promise to participate while you’re bidding, the voters will hear about it and say you’re not a team player, and not vote for you), it might just work.


    *Pass-Along funds has been in place for so long now — since 1990, and every Worldcon between 1989 and now except 1991 has participated — that many people who know it exists think it’s some sort of WSFS requirement written into the WSFS Constitution. It’s not. WSFS doesn’t regulate it at all. It’s an ongoing multi-lateral agreement between individual Worldcon committees, enforced entirely by persuasion.

  18. Oh dear, I’ve read way too many posts in too short a time to remember exactly who I’m replying to, but apologies…

    Tom G.

    I was the one who threw out the BSG cast because it’s the end of the show and they could bring in a big fan base. I realize that it’s a fiscally risky idea, and hard to bring about to boot. That said, I ADORED that we got Ron Moore to speak at the 2007 Nebula Awards, and if you brought in the writers of BSG, like you suggested? That would be almost as cool.

    Colleen Lindsay:

    I like all your points. I don’t think I disagree with you on any of them. And I’m being educated as to the costs of publicity, which is an area I don’t know the most about. (There is only so much I can learn at once, and I’ve only been around for ~28 years so far. =)


    I adore the idea of branding it as “Worldcon”. I came into this game in 2005, which is when I first heard of Worldcon. I have never ever thought of the convention as anything other than “Worldcon”.

    Other thoughts:

    I think sponsorship would be neat, but I’ve also been to plain writer’s conferences where it takes over the conference. I like the idea of getting sponsorship from Amazon though, as I think of any one, they’ve got the money to pony up right now. It’s a thought for the 2011 Worldcon.

    I like that Worldcon moves too, in the sense that I get to visit different locales. On the other hand, I know for a fact that unless I win the lottery before then, I can’t ever get to 2010 in Melbourne because I simply don’t have the funds. Picking one or two or three “base cities” and rotating between them, might not be a terrible idea. Have some in the US/Canada and some outside it.

  19. Jenny Rae:

    Actually we pretty much have a collection of base cities by default. Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago, the Bay Area, Melbourne and Toronto have all had at least 3 Worldcons. You can count the UK as a base, though the con moves between cities as convention center facilities change. These are all places where there is a large local fan base and suitable facilities for holding the convention. We can’t move much beyond that, but equally we can’t reduce it much further or the various local groups would get burned out very quickly.

  20. @44 Barry Short

    There were other actors at LACon; I had quite a nice, long chat with Walter Koenig, and I know Bob Picardo was also there. Most were annoyed at the lack of line for themselves, and the immense line for, say, Cory Doctorow. (My friend and I were the only ones interested in Koenig for the 20 minutes we talked to him; Doctorow’s line was 200 deep.)

    The simple truth is that Worldcon fans aren’t big actor fans. I’ll bet they’d have stood in line for Peter Jackson or Joss Whedon. We care more about the creation than the execution.

  21. @52 Colleen Lindsay

    I’m in charge of the kids’ programm & YA track for Anticipation. What or whom would you like to see on it? Please email me at–I’m open to all suggestions.

  22. @ Lisa 70

    Thanks for the correction – I’m not surprised that Walter would have been there, I think he had a book out around that time. I know Richard Herd was there, too – he had art in the art show, but I did not see him in the autograph area at any time.

    I’m not surprised that that the lines for actors weren’t long. I would expect that no more than maybe 5 to 10% of Worldcon attendees would be interested – but at LAConIV that would have been 2-300 people or so, and the con could have done something extra for them, and filled those empty tables, for no cost. (The lines probably would have been a little longer if there weren’t all those empty tables – it was visually uninviting.)

    In general I agree – I can’t imagine Worldcon getting its money’s worth out of paying travel expenses or appearance fees for any contemporary actor. But the near-complete absence, at a Worldcon in southern California, felt odd.

  23. @46 Colleen Lindsay

    Changing the Worldcon committee every year is causing publishers some problems, so can we do something to make the job easier? One way would be for the publishers to post a message to the SMOFS mailing list which would certainly get their message to the right person but it’s not an elegant solution. Maybe the better answer is a mail reflector or a mailing list that at least provides a consistent interface, even if the mail ends up with a different person each time. From the technical viewpoint it’s easy to set up, but you need someone to do the administration. How much work that would be depends on just what its terms of reference are. Should it just cover Worldcons, SF cons, US cons, for-profit expos?

Comments are closed.