Friday, August 29, 2008

Another Spin on the How I Came to Fandom Story

I somehow failed to find out that MileHiCon, the regional science fiction convention in the city I've lived near all my life, existed until I was nearly 21 years old. I knew about the local Star Trek/media convention, I knew about gaming conventions, but somehow I had completely failed to find out about the local SF book convention even though I was a dedicated reader with 1,500 books in my collection at that time. I remember once in high school hearing about the Critter Crunch, a sort of small scale robot wars, second hand from a friend and I had ideas about checking that out but I didn't actually do it. Why? I didn't know I needed it.

What got me going to conventions initially was the stars of things like Star Trek: TNG. Going to see a star is an easy sell, or at least an easier sell, to a young fan. If I had somehow heard that Arthur C. Clarke was going to be at a local convention when I was a teen you bet I would have been there. But I cannot think of many other authors that would have had that star power to draw me in. And I would have had to have heard about it. I honestly did not know a thing about it until I got drawn in by a group of fans at the art show of a gaming convention. And I went to the gaming convention specifically looking to volunteer to make friends because I was horrendously lonely living on my own. I don't think it would have occurred to me had that not been the case. A volunteer ethos for conventions was not instilled in me by things like Starfest.

And given the way that many fans are so damn off putting when talking about fandom I'm not sure I would have stayed going to MileHiCon except that I had fallen into the orbit of the Denver Area SF Association and made one of my great friendships. Rose Beetem is the reason I am in fandom. Period. Without her I likely would have wandered away long ago.

To draw in new people star power is needed. Plus advertising. And I can think of only a few name in SF and fantasy with enough star power to draw in fans at any price. Much less the typical $200 at the door price of a Worldcon. Why would a fan shell out even $40 for some big important author that they're not a fan of? When I was a teen I would have gone to a convention (if I heard about it) if the author had been Piers Anthony, Michael Crichton, or maybe Stephen King. But MileHiCon actually had Sheri S. Tepper, Steven Brust, Emma Bull, Will Shetterly, George R.R. Martin Connie Willis, SP Somtow, and Ellen Datlow in my HS years. Not that they aren't great authors (or editors), but I'm only someone who knows who they are now after I've been in fandom for many years. The only one I might have heard of was George R.R. Martin in connection with Wild Cards. And I did not come across that metaphorical handbill when I was in high school.

I probably prefer the mix of authors that our convention actually has rather than going after the sort of thing that appealed to me as a teen and still appeals to teens today. But if you want young people you need someone they've heard of and to actually tell them. Having a webpage isn't enough because no one is searching for your convention if they don't already know that such a thing exists. And I'm not the right person to answer where young people go online when they're readers... Maybe conventions need to advertise on author's blogs? I don't know.

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