If You Have Been to GenreCon Before, I’d Like To Ask a Favour…

At time of writing there are about 50 49 registrations remaining for GenreCon 2017 before we hit the venue capacity. Basically, the conference is three-quarters full and there are still four months (and one ticket price discount) to go. Obviously, this is incredibly good news, but it’s also incredibly weird. In years gone by GenreCon’s have followed a very specific sales pattern. It may accelerate a little in years like 2013, when a perfect storm of guests and events sent sales into overdrive, but the basic pattern remained the same: sell out 50 Early Bird tickets fast; sales slow to a halt; sales pick up towards the end of the second discount period; then again as we approach the conference.

We’ve changed the business model a little this year. Rather than limiting the early bird tickets to 50 sales, we ran them for a limited time instead. That limited time was about half the usual period it took to sell out the Early Birds at two of the three cons we’ve run so far, and I actually fretted about whether we’d get enough sales to hit budget targets. Instead, we sold as many registrations in our first six weeks as we’d usually have sold in the first five months. Whelp, I thought, time to go into the post-Early Bird slump. I’ll fret about that instead. 

People kept registering. There are now more people registered for GenreCon 2017 than we had at GenreCon 2012, and I’ve allowed myself to entertain the possibility that we may be capable of selling the venue out.

And let me be clear: I dearly, dearly want to sell out this conference.

Two years ago, as we headed into GenreCon, I posted about the Magic Number every event organiser has in the back of their head. What I posted back then can be repeated, verbatim, and applied to this year’s conference:

I’ll be blunt: GenreCon is not a sure thing. It’s a cool thing – a very, very cool thing indeed – and the feedback from writers across the board seems to suggest that it’s also a very useful things, but neither of these things ensures there will be another one. This is the nature of being run by a non-profit.

The thing that ensures that there will be another GenreCon is the magic number – the point where we have enough attendees generating enough income to not only offset the cost of running the conference, but to justify GenreCon’s existence to QWC’s board of directors who are in the tricky position of being, essentially, the folks who volunteer their time and the folks who are ultimately responsible for the organisations finances in the eyes of the law.

Generally speaking, about half of these folks change every year. To keep a thing like GenreCon running, you need to be able to point out the merits of running it to a new crew of people – some of whom may not care for genre at all – every 24 to 36 months.

That’s what the Magic Number represents: the point where I can give the registration details, budget, and other elements to my boss, and she can go to the board and say look, for real, supporting this is a no-brainer. We absolutely have to do it again. 

We inched up on that magic number back in 2015, but we didn’t quite hit it. Two years later the future of GenreCon is just as dependant on a magic number, and we’re probably hovering just shy of that point, but selling out the venue will be a lot more convincing. It puts the conference into the kind of terrain where the risk-to-benefit ratio of running it is worthwhile in an increasingly uncertain funding environment.

And so we come to:

THE FAVOUR I ASK OF YOU

If you’ve been to a GenreCon, and you’ve enjoyed it, write a blog post about why you’re coming back for this year’s conference (or wishing you could come back), and direct people to the GenreCon website.Tell folks who might be interested what they’re missing out on.

I say this fully cognisant of the fact that we’ve been blessed with extraordinary word-of-mouth leading in to this years conference, and that even with the $35 discount between now and August 31, the registration fee is a fair chunk of money.

But, as always with writing events, it needs to be other people saying, this thing, this is worth it, ’cause I’m the guy who puts it all together. My authority on this matter comes tainted by the knowledge that there is a self-interested aspect to my speaking about the con.

You, on the other hand, the people who have gone to the conference before and laid down cash, you are dripping with the authority to recommend it as a worthwhile expenditure for up-and-coming writers.

I asked this very late in the day, two years back, and the extra registrations we picked up were largely the deciding factor about running GenreCon 2017. This year, things aren’t quite so dire, but I’m aiming considerably higher.

Because the reality is simple: Running something like GenreCon is a lot of effort, a lot of resources, and a lot of up-front cost, and the situations for arts non-profits means everything’s a little tighter than it was two years ago. With that in mind I want the case for GenreCon 2019 to be as goddamn convincing as possible, and that means knocking this year out of the park on every level.

The Sunday Circle: What Are You Working On This Week?

Sunday Circle Banner

The Sunday Circle is the weekly check-in where I ask the creative-types who follow this blog to weigh in about their goals, inspirations, and challenges for the coming week. The logic behind it can be found here. Want to be involved? It’s easy – just answer three questions in the comments or on your own blog (with a link in the comments here, so that everyone can find them).

After that, throw some thoughts around about other people’s projects, ask questions if you’re so inclined. Be supportive above all.

Then show up again next Sunday when the circle updates next, letting us know how you did on your weekly project and what you’ve got coming down the pipe in the coming week (if you’d like to part of the circle, without subscribing to the rest of the blog, you can sign-up for reminders via email here).

MY CHECK-IN

What am I working on this week?

Managed to rough out a first act for the novelette I started last week, but there’s a lot of gaps in the narrative. I’m experimenting with a particular approach to workflow at the moment – working quarter by quarter, revising as I go, so I’ve started typing up the hand-written draft and fleshing out the scenes that need it. Probably leaning a little stronger towards novella as a result, and my goal this week is to get the next quarter hand-written and the first act fully typed up.

What’s inspiring me this week?

I’m spending some quality time on the Inhabitat blog again, collating articles like this one and this one about the intersection of algae farming, architecture, and air quality. I’ll be on-deck to start drafting the first instalment of my thesis series next month and there’s an awful lot of space-based settlement involved, so I’m starting to think through the look and feel of the setting alongside the science of keeping humans alive in the vacuum or hostile environments.

What part of my project an I avoiding?

I got a lot better at hitting a work/life balance over the last week, but I’m rapidly coming up against the problem of too-many-tasks, not-enough-time. There are currently three things I’m trying to cram into the 9-5 work day: GenreCon work, creative work, reading and annotating theory for the thesis. Getting the right balance is tough, and I still haven’t quite got it down yet.

Pantser

I never really got the knack of outlining books, but I keep trying to do it. Notebooks are filled with rough sketches and scene ideas, documents pile up on my hard drive. I’ll boot up scrivener and diligently create file cards that work out my plot, step by step, along with the details about what will happen in the scene.

The logic of outlining makes sense to me, and I have the kind of obsession with story structure that makes the planning and deconstruction fun, but it isn’t the way my story brain works. I blame it on too many years of running RPGs, where your approach to narrative is 30% replicating the feel of big, iconic genre moments and 70% responding to the immediate input of player choices that complicate things.

I work better when I’m in the middle of things, looking for hooks to latch onto and take things in a new direction.

And yet, it’s time to start writing a new novella, and I’m sitting down to plan. Filling notebooks, sketching out ideas, figuring it out as I go along. The goal is to be done by the end of July, ’cause I want to compress some work habits while figuring out how my writing will work while accounting for someone else’s schedule alongside my own.

Places You Should Be: Angela Slatter’s Corpselight Launch on July 14

Angela Slatter’s second novel, Corpselight, is on my table alongside a fresh cup of coffee. I get to read this week, ahead of it’s official launch on July 14, because one of the perks of being writer is befriending other writers who give you advanced copies of their books.

If you’re in Brisbane on July 14 at 6:00 PM and interested in good speculative fiction, you should totally be at that launch BTW. There will be books and smart writers talking to smart writers, and a considerable amount of cupcakes.

If you’re not in Brisbane on that date, at that time, you should hie yourself off to a bookshop and pick up a copy of Corpselight as soon as humanly possible. ‘Cause it’s a great book, by a great writer, and we need more visions of a supernatural Brisbane out there in the world.

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Addendum to “You Had One Job” at Writerly Scrawls

The nice thing about being a writer is that you do things and you send them off and they frequently appear in the world at unexpected times. Case in point, my guest-post-turned-essay about writing processes and mental illness went live at Kylie Thompson’s blog over the weekend, giving me a little snapshot into the way my life was running a few months back.

So, here’s an addendum to that essay: I wrote You Had One Job back in April. At the time I was writing a novella that didn’t quite come together the way I wanted, and I’m not sure whether that was because it was actually bad or because anxiety got its hooks into me and started me obsessively rewriting the opening scenes over and over.

And despite ending my guest post on a relatively positive note, the days that followed writing that post were all kinds of not-good.

I knew this was coming, to some extent. Back when I was blogging for Queensland Health, I discovered that writing about depression and anxiety frequently caused me to become depressed and anxious. I thought I’d prepared for that, but I hadn’t.  I sank. I flailed. I panicked.

This is the challenge of writing about mental health. Stories and essays and blog posts end, because they have a structure. Life…it just keeps going. Good days turn into bad ones, and bad days turn into dark periods before you’ve noticed what’s going on.

Towards the end of April I finally pulled my shit together and called the psychologist my GP had recommended way back in January, which I’d been putting off for months because I kept getting an answering machine (I hate answering machine. They make me incredibly anxious. Making this call meant spending a week writing a script I could follow, even if I ended up ignoring it, and keeping a lid on the anxiety that then told me I should call back consistently until I got an actual person on the line).

Things got better, after that.

It’s been a familiar rhythm over the twelve months since I first went to my GP and said there’s something wrong.  It’s rebuilding stage by stage, fixing things as they crop up. And so the pattern continues: Things are okay, then things get worse, then steps are taken and things get better. Where I once felt broken, I started feeling merely cracked. Then, where I once felt cracked, I started feeling merely dented.

I’m remarkably okay with being dented, given where I was last year.

To Solve That Particular Problem

At the start of this year, when everyone was flush with New Year Energy and optimism, I had a bunch of conversations with various peeps about the way I used whiteboards and bullet journals and generally planned my life.

At the same time this was happening, I was basically packing in all of those habits and letting them lie fallow for the summer. Not because they were bad habits, but because they were responses to specific situations where conflicting priorities and time-crunch made my natural workflow untenable and inefficient.

Basically, once the scholarship kicked in and my thesis was underway, I didn’t need to plan so heavily because a) I rarely needed to be anywhere, b) most of what I was doing was reading things and noodling with ideas, and c) it didn’t matter if I destroyed my sleep schedule by staying awake and working until 5 AM, because it wasn’t like I needed to get up at a specific time. I could get away with a monthly plan, a list of upcoming deadline, and a quick whiteboard schedule on the busy weeks when I had a lot on.

The needle swings back the other way this week. Quarterly checkpoints, monthly checkpoints, weekly checkpoints, daily plans in the bujo. Detailed project lists where I adequately scope out what needs to happen and why. Partially this is because it’s July, when my commitments ramp up a bit due to book launches and writing events. Partially this is ’cause I’m a relationship, and I find myself syncing in with someone else’s schedule – I want to be free when they are free, and I do not want to be distracted by a nagging feeling that I should be working.

Mostly, it’s because the mandatory classes associated with my PhD ended and I am largely left to my own devices again, which means I am more likely to waste time if I am not mindful of it.

The temptation with any organisational or time management system, when you first come across it, is to embrace every aspect of it in the hopes it will make you suddenly superhuman. A dynamo of getting shit done, buoyed up by the glorious certainty of your to-do list.

I’ve done that in the past. And things rapidly fell apart.

Any productivity system I trail is there to solve a particular problem. Productivity systems are a tool, not a superpower.