On GenreCon 2017 & Taking Off My Convener Hat For A While

My post-con hair frightens me and refuses to be tamed

ONE

I usually roll in here the day after GenreCon and post my thoughts about the conference, but this year I’m caught between either saying too little or too much and so I’ve left it until after I chatted to my boss.

GenreCon 2017 is my fourth go-around with the conference and it’s easily been the biggest, bringing in 240+ writers over the weekend and selling out the State Library venue. That’s a far cry from the 130 writers who showed up for the first conference in Parramatta back in 2012.

I set out to deliver a 2017 conference that would make the best possible argument for keeping GenreCon around when QWC’s management committee and CEO considered their future projects. The result wasn’t a flawlessly run con – no event this size ever will be – but it is definitely the best possible argument I could set forward. 2017 was a year of phenomenal guests, a year where the volunteers of years past solidified into a core team that most attendees will never truly understand how much the conference owes, and the year where the conference (to my knowledge) delivered on all the key points it needed to deliver on.

It’s not a guarantee there will be another – it’s impossible to do that two years out, when working with a non-profit that has a management board, a reduced funding environment, and a small staff – but I feel like the best possible argument has been made with 2017.

TWO

Every GenreCon, we send out invites to a guests because we’re convinced they will show up and kill it. Every year, the guests who elect to come show up and do exactly that, which has the incredibly benefit that it makes us look good simply because we had the common sense to recognise people who were a) smart, b) talented, and c) willing to give generously of their time and experience to help newer writers. A huge amount of thanks go out to this year’s GenreCon Guests: Nalini Singh, Delilah Dawson, Amy Andrews, Angela Slatter, Claire Coleman, Dan Findlay, Emma Viskic, Garth Nix, and Sean Williams.

Thanks also go out to the numerous writers who volunteered to be part of the program, the editors and agents who took pitches at the conference, and to the enormously hard-working volunteer crew who made up the GenreCon Ninja Team. Few people realise just how essential the latter are in making the weekend work, and they aren’t shouted anywhere near the number of drinks they deserve for the hours they put in on behalf of other writers.

THREE

I’ve made three attempts to write this post and deleted all of them, because I keep dancing around a fact that I haven’t been keen to acknowledge in public: if QWC conference runs in 2019, there is a good chance I won’t be able to step into the role of convenor in the same way I’ve worked on the previous four. The end of 2019 when GenreCon would run coincides with the time I’m meant to be delivering my PhD thesis, and I want that thing delivered before my scholarship runs out. My involvement in a 2019 con would be focused, rather than over-arching, with the goal of passing on things I’ve learned over the past five years so that someone else can carry the conference the rest of the way to the finish line.

On one hand, I do not envy them that job. GenreCon is always hard work, and the logistics of putting everything together takes up a huge amount of mental real estate that means it often spills over the hours set aside to work on it. I’ve always been pretty sanguine when that meant giving up other things, but it’s a trade-off that gets harder and harder over time, and it’s made worse by the fact that the con doesn’t end with the con. There’s still the post-game reports that need to be written, the attendee surveys where we figure out what went right and what went wrong. Paperwork and clean-up and conversations and forward planning.

For all that convening GenreCon is a fantastic gig, I doubt I can give up that mental space and still finish writing a thesis. It’s been hard enough to give up that mental space and keep The Birdcage Heart on track for release at the end of the month, despite the fact that many of the stories in the collection were previously published and there’s a minimal amount of work required to get the book over the line.

On the other hand, I do envy them. There are few things I’ve done in my professional life that have been as satisfying as running GenreCon, and especially building it up to the point where hit this year. It was the gig that kept me at QWC for many years, and the gig that brought me back when I resigned as the manager of the Australian Writers Marketplace last year. There is no doubt, when 2019 rolls around, that I will look back and wonder if perhaps I was a little hasty – perhaps it will be less work than I think, or I could just get more done on the thesis in advance…

I plan on ignoring those thoughts, even if part of me will eel a little selfish for choosing to chase after the title of Doctor over working on something that helps two hundred and fifty writers. The temptation to go back and convene “just one more” is always going to be strong, but there’s a danger to sitting in a role like that too long. You become set in your ways right about the time you want someone to come in and look at things in a new way. .

I think 2017 was a pretty good year for my run to end on. It may not have been a perfect conference – no event of this size ever will be – but it feels like it was the best possible conference I could run and it hit all the goals I wanted it to hit.

Thanks to everyone who made that happen, this year and in all the years prior. You lot are fucking awesome.

  5 comments for “On GenreCon 2017 & Taking Off My Convener Hat For A While

  1. 16/11/2017 at 11:32 AM

    It was the most amazing event, especially with the calibre of international guest that GenreCon attracts in such an intimate setting. All the hat-tipping and kudos to you and the team. Anyone who comes after will have massive shoes to fill, but I have to hope that it will continue. Congrats on another stellar convening job.

  2. 16/11/2017 at 11:41 AM

    Genrecon has been an absolute gift for me as someone trying to break in, the exposure to the people who’ve accomplished my goal, and the professionals in the industry, has enabled massive learning and created connections I could not have made otherwise, living as I do outside the capital. I run event in my professional life, so am only too aware of how much work it entails. I hope Genrecon continues and you’ll be there in the audience next time, with that floppy Dr hat in your back pocket.

  3. 16/11/2017 at 11:48 AM

    It has been a pleasure to help. I am thinking of buying a ticket myself next time though!

  4. staceyclair
    16/11/2017 at 12:43 PM

    It was pretty devastating not to be there for #GCoz this year (as you know) but I know from all the online chatter that you and the Ninjas did a brilliant job, as you have done every single conference. If you decide to step back, we will miss you very much, but you’ve built such an incredible community around #GCoz that it would be well-loved and celebrated even if you were to put it (even slightly) into someone else’s hands. You’ve done amazing work with GenreCon for a very long time, Peter, so take your much-deserved break now and squelch around in all these lovely good feels for a little longer <3

  5. 16/11/2017 at 1:01 PM

    You & your team did a great job Peter. And you’re right, you are going to need the mental space for your PhD especially when it gets to the pointy end. Good decision.

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