Preachers and Teachers

I am sitting in the lounge on the last day of the Context Convention, trying to get a mental break from the hours and hours of panels. I don’t care how much you love this stuff (and believe me I can be a fiction writing fanatic) there are only so many hours you can sit in a panel.

The experience has been fun. This is my fourth year attending, but only my second doing the Mega Writing Workshop. I like it because it is relatively cheap, small and has phenomenal teachers doing the writing stuff. It is quite a difference from Marcon, which has a lot more fan stuff going on, and even more of a diversion from WorldCon (which is the world fantasy convention). As you can imagine, it has hundreds and hundreds of writers, agents and editors.

They just started playing some swanky jazz over the speakers…and I discovered that I left my iPod in my other bag at home. Oh the humanity.

Anyway, I am supposed to be doing writing. That is the point of bringing my crusty old laptop, which is alive and kicking thanks to my bf. I have a Dell Inspiron 8000. I am pretty sure the 8000 is for the 8000 pounds it weighs, because the thing is a monster. Together we felt very inadequate beside the steely sleek Macs. We have decided they are anorexic.

Now Celine Dion, I think….or maybe Faith Hill…now that I think about it. It sounds a little country to me. I recognize the song. Not sure which is worse.

I digress. I wanted to share a little bit about my experience thus far. So here is my take on Day 1.

1. Trying to decipher the ownership of the major publishing houses and distribution chains is like playing one big game of Kevin Bacon. The running joke is that all the major publishers are tied to Germany. Not sure if that is true.

2. Some people take notes during the panels, others knit. Let’s guess which one is going to make a sale.

3. Returns are stupid. No they aren’t. Yes. They are. No they aren’t. Not one time have I been to a convention with writers and not had this come up. I’ll go into more detail on this later…for those of you who don’t know what returns are or how the publishing industry really works. It’s way too long of a discussion to get into here.

4. At every convention there are Preachers and there are Teachers.

This is a biggie…and it is not exclusive to this convention. It is something that I have seen all over the place and decided that this here is the golden rule. People come to cons for all different reasons. For some it is pure fun. A chance to be a fan, dress in costume, meet their favorite authors and argue about TV shows canceled after a season. For others it is business. Go promote your newest book. Sit on a panel and pretend you know something. Schmooze with every agent or editor within a ten mile radius. Then there are people who actually believe in giving back…who came to “pay it forward” so to speak and share their wisdom with others. The problem is that it is not always easy to distinguish between the two.

The Preachers sit up on panels and never say one thing worthwhile. They are either conning people into believing they are an expert and pushing their books or they are so stuck in their ways that everything they say is law. It isn’t possible that one of the other panelists or audience members has another take on the situation. I have a very low tolerance for people like this.

The Teachers are a different story. Few and far between, their advice is like gold. I owe my status as an amateur writer to these people, who are good at sharing information AND have valuable information to share. They come prepared, they have a topic, they give concrete information that can help you become a better writer and understand the business of publishing. I can name a few of these people, Nancy Kress, Connie Willis, George R.R. Martin, Gary Braunbeck and Charles Coleman Finlay. Now granted, all of these people are authors… I think that is a coincidence. I just remember the authors’ names more. It is the teachers that continue to bring me back to conventions, because it’s the brief moments with these teachers that makes the time spent in a cheesy lounge with fake greenery and paisley carpet worth it.