Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Paying to Be (not See) the Show

On an online discussion group I frequent, there has been some discussion about the relative value (to authors) of attending conferences and conventions. I like them, and I attend them when I can, but the cost of transportation,and the rising cost of attendance at such events has greatly curtailed my attendance for the near future.

One person in the group, who is both an author and a minister, said he was disturbed by the idea of being invited to be a presenter or on a panel at such a gathering, and then being told, "Oh, by the way, you have to pay registration just like everyone else." He compared it to being a visiting or stand-in minister at another church, and not being reimbursed for his expenses, or perhaps even being asked to pay to be there.

In my mind, it's a reasonable statement and I hear you, Reverend! 

I was invited to moderate a panel at a particular crime fiction con last year and was excited about it even though it was going to cost me airfare, hotel and incidentals. I was discussing this with someone else who had attended, and presented, at that conference before, and she asked me about my registration fee. I was surprised, as I thought, as a part of the "attractions" as it were, I wouldn't need to pay a registration fee.  SURPRISE! I was wrong.

I opted not to moderate that panel nor to attend the con.  The registration would have added about $150 to my cost of attendance, but that was not really the point. In large part it was the idea that I had not been told up front that I had to pay registration, even though I was going to be a presenter.  The person to whom I spoke at the con (the organizer) was surprised at my reaction, as though that was the way it is all over.

It's NOT that way all over, and it shouldn't be that way at any con that is well established.  Sure, I understand small cons can't afford to pay the expenses of their presenters or panelists, nor sometimes even their registration fees. (Though why this should be a problem, I'm not sure. A registration fee at a small con usually doesn't purchase any tangibles, so there is no loss as far as I can see.) But large cons such as BoucherCon or LCC are large enough, and cost enough, that they should be able to pay their presenters' registration fees, if not also an honorarium of some sort.  If they can't, maybe they should reexamine whether or not they are popular enough to even continue.

Yes, go ahead and splutter your outrage.  It's alright with me.  It's amazing how often I hear the phrase, "The money must always flow TO the writer," as though it were directly from some sacred tome, yet these cons (who usually disdainfully sneer at authors who stoop to self- or subsidy publish because of the direction of cash flow), don't see it that way when the money is flowing FROM them and TO the writers who are part of the attraction of the con in the first place.

I mean, think about it: if it's a fan convention, the reason the fans are there is to meet, hear, schmooze with and otherwise interact with authors.  If there were no authors present, there would be no fans attending.

If it's a writer's conference, the attendees are there to learn something FROM the authors, editors and agents who are there presenting and on panels.  Again, if those presenters weren't there, the attendees would not swarm the place simply because it's being held in a nice hotel.

In either case, the attraction is primarily because of the presenters.  Why, then, should they have to pay for the privilege of attracting attendees to pay to hear and meet them?  I'm really puzzled by the economics of this!

I haven't seen any sort of event where, with a substantial audience, the entertainers pay to be part of the show (well, unless they have a chance at winning a sizable jackpot, as in a rodeo!)

Someone objected to my statements by saying that "No cons of any kind pay registration fees or expenses for presenters!"

I beg to differ—in the last couple of years I have presented at seven different cons.  Three were for fans, and in no case did I have to pay a registration fee.  Instead, I received free registration and free meals during my attendance.  I had to pay my own transportation  costs, but at least part of the cost was covered.

Four of them were cons for writers, and at two (within driving distance) I had my parking fees reimbursed and did not have to pay registration.  The other two paid my registration, provided me with a nice hotel room and meals and paid a nice stipend to pay for transportation and incidentals.

So, I KNOW it happens.  And it's funny that it doesn't happen with mystery cons, because when I was in a different line of work (computer software) I attended cons quite often, both as an ordinary attendee and as a speaker/presenter.  NEVER when I was a presenter or speaker did I have to pay my registration fee, and most of the time I had my transportation covered.  I certainly don't expect all this generosity from every writing con (for writers or fans) but I don't expect the other extreme, either.

What do you think? Is the laborer worthy of his (or her) hire?

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