Con Artist -or- Surly Writer’s Con

It’s amazing what random things inspire a writer. This morning it was a hashtag on Twitter about yet another convention I’ve never heard about, and it made me scowl. I mean…

Conventions (or “cons” for those who aren’t aware of the abbreviated term) used to be for two groups of people – professionals of a trade (doctors, lawyers, etc.) or Star Trek geeks. I realize I’m dating myself here, but no one other than a member of these two groups went to any kind of “con.” They went to seminars or expositions if they went anywhere, not “cons.” Their “cons” were “conferences,” and most people attended them because they either had to for their job or they needed to (usually for their job).

It seems like EVERYTHING these days has a con. Any fandom now has a con, not just the Star Trek Geeks. Dragon*Con in Atlanta (which started out mainly as…you guessed it…a sci-fi convention) has been around for twenty-four years now (inaugural con was in 1987), and it’s expanded to over 40,000 attendees and multiple genres (not just sci-fi). (They also have a writer’s workshop which rocks. Just sayin’.)

Now let’s talk about writing cons. RWA Con (Romance Writers of America) started in 1981. It’s an annual event that showcases panels and speakers and allows writers to interact with each other and with industry professionals.

BookExpo America (BEA) is NOT a convention. It’s a trade show for industry professionals dating back to 1901, when it was “owned” by the American Bookseller’s Association until 1994.

The London Book Fair is a similar show to BEA held every year in London.

These are just to name a few. I can spout off a whole list of writer-centric cons, so let’s just say that writers have plenty of cons to choose from if they feel like attending or are invited to attend.

But what if a writer is antisocial? What if a writer isn’t ready to attend a big event, either anytime soon or just doesn’t feel worthy? What if a writer would like to attend a con, but doesn’t want to go to a genre-specific one, or go to network, or attend panels or do signings? What then?

Well…? How about a writer’s conference designed by a writer, for writers?

I’m proposing Surly Writer Con. There’s already interest in such an idea, and if we want to see this idea go from mere idea to actual PLOTTING, I’m going to need some input and feedback. It will take at least a year to plan the first Surly Writer Con.

What will Surly Writer Con include?

Booze, food, and books. That’s pretty much it. No panels that start before 5PM (if we have any at all, and we should have at least one, because…you know…writer’s convention. I think round-table discussions of current topics and trends counts, so if we’re all sitting around talking about the ebook trend/Kindle/whatever, that counts as a “panel.”). Free booze. Writers will be welcome to bring their books to trade and sign if they want. Registration fees will be exorbitant to deter both trolls and causal looky-loos and to cover the expenses an endeavor of this magnitude will incur. Booze is not cheap!

Basically would be a place for writers to come and bitch about the life and times of being a writer. It’s not easy, and we’re all stressed. It’s a place where people who know what it’s really like can whinge about how it SHOULD be. How it COULD be. And about the people messing it up or making it look bad.

It’s about relaxation and reality. No early morning panels to attend, no signings you have to bring stock for. Just you, your conference, your time. AND you get to write it off on your taxes, as it’s work-related!

We’ll have guests and speakers (again, NOT before 5PM – writers are a surly bunch and it’s not a very relaxing con if you have to get up at 8AM to get to a panel you want to see when you were up until 4AM), booze and food. Think of Surly Writer Con like a giant con suite or living room party. Come in your jammies. Bring your knitting. Hell, if everything goes well, we might even have a Crafter’s Corner where we can have a stitch-and-bitch.

As for the locale, dates, etc. – I’m working on those and open to suggestion. I’m thinking something like late July 2012 – it’s the middle of the year/season for both hemispheres and everyone is sick of their respective seasons by then. I’m also thinking a nice air-conditioned hotel with a pool, jacuuzi and day spa. I’ll see about rounding up a special “Writer’s Retreat” package for those amongst us who really need pampering. (Manicures aren’t just for women, you know. It has MAN right in the name!)

There will be tea (of course!) and an espresso bar. We’ll see about catering/barter deals with local restaurants. No matter what we end up doing, there will be food. (Remember that membership fee I was talking about…it will cover this kind of thing.)

While books and such will be welcome, there will be NO HARD SELL or people waving their books in your face. No dealer’s room (well, maybe a little one with people who sell nice, useful things – not cheap crap, “book packages” or stuff that wastes your hard-earned money with high-pressure sales. Things like, I dunno…BOOKS?). There will be a book swap suite, where you can exchange books with your fellows for free.

Basically this would be an all-inclusive, tax-deductible writer’s retreat-style conference. There would even be a quiet room set aside for those who just want a bit of time to write if they wanted to.

So, now that you know my rough idea for a new writer’s convention, what do you think? What would something like this be worth to you, fee-wise? (Keep in mind that writer’s workshops and seminars cost anywhere from $200+, so I’m looking for reasonable figures here. All-inclusive packages like this don’t come cheap, but I’ve decided that anyone who attends the imagined inaugural Surly Writer Con will get a special piece of swag that will earn them nice things like discount membership packages and free surprise drinks when they display it at subsequent cons. (Like a pin or something.)

Here’s some examples (all fees via current website information as of today):

RWA conference: Anywhere from $525 to $675 for members depending on registration time (earlier is always better than at-the-door), and $600 to $750 for non-members (of the Romance Writer’s Association). This does not include your hotel (they have a special deal with their host/convention hotel for $219/night, or the cost of the plane ticket to fly from your city to wherever the current convention is being held (RWA moves around – this year it’s in New York City. Last year it was Orlando, FL.)

RWA lasts four days, so if you get there the night before and leave the morning after, that’s 5 nights at $219, plus taxes, etc., so you’re looking at over $1100 JUST for the hotel room. Plane tickets will add. Plus there’s food, sightseeing, tips and extras. All in all, a trip to RWA could cost you upwards of $3000, that that’s if you’re smart about it.

BEA? Pretty much the same deal. For the sake of argument (their price list is done via a badge system/classification) we’ll used the “published author” price. That’s $249 to $349 for a three day pass, and anywhere from $145 to $249 for a one day. This isn’t even to mention all the other events that cost extra, ranging from a $20 class to a $595 dinner. Again, this doesn’t include hotel or travel, and BEA is again in New York City. Let’s just use the previous numbers (as BEA does offer discounts to attendees through their site) and call it $1100 for a hotel. Again, not including plane tickets. So this con can be more or less expensive than RWA, but pretty close. We’ll put a $3000 price tag on this one as well.

How about something local? Okay, I live in Oregon. Let’s look at the Willamette Writer’s Conference. Here, check out this year’s price list: http://www.willamettewriters.com/pdf/Con11RegPages.pdf

Broken down? Depending on days spent and extras purchased? Well, let’s just do a quick sample, shall we?

Let’s say I attend the conference for just one day. I’m not a member of Willamette Writers (but I could be, for $36 a year). As I’m not, let’s go with the non-member price. According to the list, that’s $230-285 depending on how early I register. Let’s say I’m industrious and plan ahead and register early for $230. Let’s say I’m feeling like a professional crit and purchase a $70 advanced MS crit. That brings us to a nice round registration fee of $300. For ONE DAY. That’s a night in a hotel (anywhere from $100-$270 depending), gas for the drive (at today’s prices, and at a tank and a half for me) at about $70, and food (figure $100 on the cheap). So for ONE DAY at WWC, for me, a local, driving, would be about $570 low end, to $700 or so high end. For ONE DAY. Even if I didn’t go for the crit and just did the panels and all that, you’re still looking at over $500.

For a fun convention like Dragon*Con? Just figure on saving up $2000. Just do it. It’s four days in Atlanta and you won’t sleep. Amazing and fun. That’s about the average cost. Probably more now, with everything going up in price, and that doesn’t include food or the dealer’s room. That’s airfare, membership and hotel. Extras are…well…extra!

So, now that the number crunching for other cons is over, how much would you be willing to pay for an all-inclusive writer’s retreat? No pressure, no signings, no nothing. The only thing you’d be responsible for is getting your bad self to the con. Hotel rooms would be paid for (which is why early registration would be a must – no tickets at the door), everything but tips to the staff/bartenders/baristas would be included. I’d even arrange meals. (Also, any extras would be discounted, such as a deal with the day spa for a nice writer’s package for under $150)

Surly Writer Con would be open to all writers, published and unpublished, professional and aspiring, journalists and bloggers. It would NOT be open to fans, dabblers or those just looking to make a buck in writing. (Self-pubbers/scammers, I’m talking to you. If you write “for the money” or are looking to make money off/think you can get a foot in the publishing door by harassing attendees of this con, or just want to rub elbows with writers, BUGGER OFF. We do not want your crap spoiling our fun! That reminds me…we’ll need a couple people working security.)

Surly Writer Con would be a place to just come, decompress, bitch about writing, maybe learn something new and interesting, share your knowledge, tips and tricks, laugh, play games, eat, drink and be merry. Things like a movie room, game room, etc. will be included. Basically it would be like one big, casual slumber party with a bunch of people who write and need a break from everything. A chance for the antisocial to just be themselves while actually interacting with people just as antisocial as they are. A chance for writers to leave the lair.

And you might learn something, too.

Let me know what you think. Comment, @reply me, whatever. If there’s enough serious interest, I’ll actually look into what it will take to get something like this off the ground. I’ve already got a few people interested in volunteering for staff if we get this thing to work!

2 thoughts on “Con Artist -or- Surly Writer’s Con

  1. My local cons aren’t nearly this expensive! Then again, I’m going to the “Star Trek” cons. Ok, they aren’t just Star Trek fandom, but there is a large percentage of those folks in attendance. 😉

    The one in town is $40. There is another one in the next major city (about 3 hours away) that’s $50. Most folks just all stay with each other, but since this is happening in August, I’ll probably just camp out (for $30/night).

  2. I’d be interested, although I’m not sure I could afford it unless I was living in the States at the time. But it sounds like a great idea.

    On the other hand, if I am in the States, I might be interested in volunteering. Keep me posted, for sure.

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