The Worldcon Youth Problem

I don’t have any great thoughts here, but I wanted to introduce the discussion:

At Worldcon / LoneStarCon, the age felt… older. Youthful vigor was not on display like it seems to be every year at DragonCon. That’s worrisome because as a community, you don’t want to cleave so completely to an older generation because you can age out your genre work and your audience — right? I mean, one could argue that it serves as counterprogramming to DragonCon and PAX, but is that really the way you want to counterprogram? By hewing more (only?) to an older generation of fans and authors, though, I have to wonder if that’s healthy in terms of overall genre and industry. Don’t get me wrong, I had a blast at Worldcon, but for me it served as more of a professional connection and less so a fan connection, which is not necessarily ideal in terms of the monetary output I have to spend to get there. (Which is another issue: Worldcon ain’t cheap. DragonCon is cheaper. Younger fans have smaller income, so, there you go.)

Plus: YA Lit isn’t supported by the Hugos.

Which is sad and a little screwy.

Some of the best and bravest storytelling in the genre space is happening right now under our feet in Young Adult fiction. And it’s huge in terms of sales and audience. I met a great many writers at Worldcon who were YA writers or who were moving into that space. I met a lot of YA readers, too. And librarians. And booksellers. And our YA panel was packed. And yet, no YA on the Hugos. The argument against it is of course that YAs are not excluded from the Hugos and some YAs have won, so you don’t need a separate category, but for my mileage, the older audience of Worldcon will likely keep most YA held away from the competition for the most part. I say the Hugos already have a few curious redundancies and bringing YA to the table will open the accolades up to more books which means more book sales which means including younger fans. How can that be a bad thing? Is there something I’m missing?

(Gwenda Bond pointed out on Twitter that “Sexism’s in the mix, too — ‘not serious’ because it often contains romance, written/read by lots of women/girls.”)

Don’t get me wrong — some of this is very much selfishly driven. My fans seem to skew younger. Some of my books are YA. But from a community standpoint it also pains me that there is a larger swath of fans — younger readers who have that great vigor and enthusiasm I’m talking about — who maybe aren’t being invited to the table. Or, at least, are being kept away from it with higher costs and a lack of recognition for what they love.

Worldcon is in London next year, which I’d love to attend to but I’m honestly not sure I can afford that kind of trip. As such, with DragonCon now disentangled from that heinous pedophile, I think I may have to try that, instead.

Happy to hear more thoughts on all this crazy stuff.

Did you go to Worldcon? Did you see the same things or am I just not looking hard enough? Did you dig on DragonCon (or PAX?) this year, instead?

105 comments

  • Seems to me that WorldCon has ALWAYS been more of a professional conference than a fan convention. That’s what the old-timers told me to expect old-times ago, and it’s still true now. Dragon*Con is where you go to meet lots of fans and readers, and WorldCon is where you go to do business and meet lots of colleagues (with only minimal vice-versa happening).

  • Last year I went to worldcon instead of dragoncon like i normally do because it was in town and I thought I’d save a few bucks in travel expenses. I mean I had a good time but this year there wasn’t even a question of which I would go to. I’m a mid-twenties queer woman of colour and at worldcon I felt like I stood out in a room for every one of those things, at dragoncon I just felt like another fan.

    • SF fandom (meaning those of us who run/attend fannish non-profit science fiction and fantasy conventions) are increasingly aware there’s a big issue in terms of our cons skewing way too white and rather too old for folks such as yourself to not stand out as you describe, yet it also seems a catch-22. If we go out of our way to invite folks like you to come to our cons and yet fail to achieve a better overall vibe and minimum diversity, you’ll likely just get turned off and not come back. (And it doesn’t help that a lot of the older white fen and pros are at the same time truly clueless about how alienating it can be to feel stared at or exoticised when you’re just there to be a fan Like You Do). In SE Michigan we have fairly large young and queer populations at our cons, but for events held around *Detroit*, of all places, our attendees are depressingly monochromatic in relation to the surrounding population. The anime con and comic cons here attract more teens and young people, and are also more racially diverse, and we’re hoping to tap into some of that for the Detroit NASFiC next year, as well as doing directed outreach to Detroit (as opposed to just suburban) fans. We welcome suggestions at http://detcon1.org/contact-us/

  • I have not had the pleasure of PAX Prime, but a couple years now, my husband and I have attended PAX East in Boston. Next year, we plan on attending GenCon in Indy which is the same weekend as WorldCon in London.

    Honestly, I have to plead ignorance when it comes to WorldCon. I was under the impression that it is a convention for professional writers, not for fans. At PAX and GenCon and DragonCon, you buy convention passes. WorldCon is a society membership that allows you entrance to the con. If they want to open this up to more and younger folks, they need to assess that. Reading further into website, I see they mention fans, and day passes but it’s still catered to the society membership. I didn’t think I could just join the WSFS. Their website is weird and old and everything sounds so severe. It’s rather discouraging to try and research it and WorldCon. A bad online presence in this day is really not doing it any favors.

    Plus, it’s expensive. $240 is a lot of money to spend on a con event just for one person. The day passes for the weekend days were $75 per day and that’s what I paid for 3 days of PAX East.

    I don’t know what was presented at WorldCon, but I know what to expect at PAX. There aren’t just video games. There are video games, but there are card games and tabletops and phone apps and graphic novels and artists and web comics who are all competing with each other to get you interested in the story they are trying to tell. If you want a good story in certain media, you will find it there.

    Now these are just my rambling opinions, I understand that I’m commenting on something I have never experienced. But if you want to know why WorldCon isn’t getting the numbers, then at least you have my reasons for skipping it.

  • I was there, but it was my first time, so I’m not sure I have much to compare it to. I have also been to DragonCon.

    As an aspiring writer, I find DragonCon a bit overwhelming. There are so many people. At first glance, WorldCon seems to be more professional, less fan based. If I were published I’m sure I would see things differently.

  • I can’t speak for other people, but for me a huge problem with getting out to cons is the lack of money and I can’t possibly be the only other young person who is strapped for cash. So for me that thing you listed as a parenthetical is THE key issue.

  • “As regards the YA Hugo. It got tried back in 1989 or so. There weren’t enough nominations of individual books in sufficient quantity per book to get five or even four or three books on a final ballot.”

    In 1989 there was barely a YA genre compared to today, particularly where speculative fiction was concerned. Harry Potter hadn’t happened, Twilight hadn’t happened, The Hunger Games hadn’t happened — and many fantasy and SF novels that would be considered definitely YA today were being published as adult (Ender’s Game, The Belgariad, The Hero and the Crown) because “juveniles” were meant for readers under the age of twelve. But all that has changed drastically in the past 25 years, adults are reading YA in droves, and it’s high time Worldcon and the Hugos took another look at the category. A YA novel like David McGinnis Gill’s BLACK HOLE SUN would appeal to even the crustiest fans of the Asimov-and-Heinlein persuasion, I think — if only they’d stop dismissing YA as inferior and immature and all about girls dating vampires, and actually take a LOOK at what’s being done in the field.

    • There have also been attempts to establish a YA Hugo for the past 3 years. So far as I know one of the biggest barriers raised has not been any sort of disregard for the YA literature but rather a lack of clear definition as to what should qualify as YA and how it should be defined.

  • I’ve never been to any of these, so I don’t have much to add to this conversation except that I AM going to DragonCon next year. So I say that as a 28 year old, who heard from my 26 and 30-year-old friends that DragonCon is the ONE to go to.

    And re: young adult lit, hells yes. Most of my favorite books among new literature is YA these days. They are driving and addictive in ways that a lot of adult fiction I find just isn’t. Sometimes it feels like adult fiction writers just are not as concerned with ensuring their plots are gripping and sacrifice it for being literary or “serious” sometimes (even though plenty of YA is both gripping and literary). I’m writing adult fantasy, but I’m styling my plot development more like my favorite YA lit because of this.

  • to those who complain about programming at WorldCon: Yes, there were terrible problems with programming this year. This happens for various reasons, and the fact that the convention is run by different groups in different cities every year is a major factor. Some of us experienced attendees were concerned about this issue with LSC3 months before the con, some jumped in at the last moment to try to fix the worst messes, and did better than I thought possible, but it wasn’t all it should or could be if the concerns expressed months before the con had been dealt with in, say, April.

    But think of this, several well-known authors, multiple award winners, best-selling authors, weren’t given programming at all, or were hastily added at the last minute. Meanwhile, I, who didn’t ask to be on any programming, was given 6, that’s right 6, programming items. I declined all but two, then had to cancel out of those two because I had other commitments. I’ve know people who patiently explained multiple times to programming 6 weeks before a con that they weren’t getting in until Friday night, only to find that their reading was scheduled for Thursday afternoon. Screw-ups happen.

    Some cons have a ‘theme’ to the their main programming, and maybe what you’d like to see didn’t fit those themes. Maybe nobody involved with the programming thought of the interest in X fandom, arranging for a reading new young writer who was attending. Despite there being multi-multi tracks of programming, no programming dept can fit everything into the space and time they have. So who are you going to give that space/time to? A writer you know will have 50-100 people come to a reading or use the same room for a panel on a subject that isn’t part of yr stated theme, and that you have no idea just how many attendees it will draw?

    Speaking of space – you do realize that one way or another the convention has to pay for all those function rooms that are used, right? If you think WorldCon is expensive now – and $250 over a five-day event ain’t that high a cost – adding program items willy-nilly that may or not appeal to enough people to fill a 20 seat room will raise the costs even more, and it splits the possible attendees even more into smaller and small groups of people who might want to attend a panel on romcom SF webcasts and still go to see a favorite author doing a reading but both are scheduled at the same time in different parts of the con space.

    I still remember my 2nd WorldCon – Big Mac in ’76. It had three, count ‘em three, tracks of programming. We weren’t sure they could even fill out three tracks of programming for an entire WorldCon. My husband wasn’t invited to be on a panel at a WorldCon until after he had won his first Hugo, and the field was much much smaller in terms of pro writers/editors/artists/fans than it is now.

    Lastly, did any of you folks who found the programming at LSC3 so lacking even offer some ideas to the programming people? I know they asked for suggestions months before the program was put to bed. Did you offer to be on programming? Have you ever worked on programming a convention? Here, take this bucket full of names, this stack of programming ideas, an hour by hour breakdown of the rooms available and get back to me when you”ve created the perfect over all program theme, schedule, panelist combinations and room assignments.

    If you want to play the game, they put your chips on the table. Do the work. Become involved, don’t just sit and bitch, because telling people they’re doing it all wrong and not offer to help make it better doesn’t win you any points, or attention from people who are working to make 3-5K people happy with out the resources or volunteers with a diversity of experiences and interests to make it so.

    • I know this is hijacking your post, “Parris”, but I’m trying to reconnect with you. We were running buddies in the DuPont Circle area in the late 60s. You would remember me as Dee Ann O’Keefe. The last time we saw each other was around ’81 when I was living in Broken Bow, OK. We first met in Montrose Park in Georgetown (at night) when we both were attracted to a lamp post and thought of Narnia. deeanncooper@yahoo.com or (409) 651-7619

  • Hi Chuck!! It was awesome to meet you and get my copy of The Blue Blazes signed. This was my first, and probably last, World Con. I have been to many cons in Texas and I have never seen a more insular group of people in my life. No one wants to talk to you… if I did not bring my husband and friends I may not have spoken a word!! Also… what was the deal with NO FORMAL SIGNINGS with fantastic young authors such as Kevin Hearne and Jason Hough??!! If it weren’t for Twitter I probably would not have gotten to meet and get a book signed by him and later, you.
    My point is that for this TEXAS fan, this was no different than ArmadilloCon, ConDFW and a few other cons run by these same people.
    On a positive note… they had a really great and enjoyable children’s programming track that my friend’s 11 & 9 year old kids loved.
    For me… getting to meet you and Kevin and the amazing Tanya Huff made it worthwhile but I was still underwhelmed.

    • It was great to meet you, Laura! I was a little disappointed that a lot of us didn’t get the range of programming (which we all seemed to get okay at ChiCon), but I do understand that putting a con together is difficult. (For the record, Hough and I had signings, but the same signing time — and it fell late on Monday, when I was already gone.) Hope you dig THE BLUE BLAZES. :)

      • Putting a con together is difficult, but it’s also something a ton of people have done over and over again. And a lot of us would argue that there shouldn’t be any signings on Monday (or shall we say, past noon on Monday) because of how many people are leaving that day. And of course you should have a schedule appropriate to the travel schedules of your participants. A number of people have developed different program planning software that to varying degrees helps track and identify these issues, specifically for worldcon even, but I don’t know if this year’s group were using any of them.

  • As someone who loves the literature I find WorldCon great from a fan perspective – When I went to my first WorldCon in the 80s I was able to listen to, and meet, some of my favorite authors at the time including C.J. Cherryh, Terry Prachett, Phillip Jose Farmer, Larry Niven, Pat Cadigan, George R.R. Martin, David Brin, Clive Barker, Joe Haldeman, Gene Wolfe, Nancy Kress, Fred Pohl and it went on and on!

  • In the 1980′s, WorldCons tended to have more sprawling programming and involved more film/t.v./anime/comics/gaming material with the books. And the people running them determinedly started jettisoning most of it over that decade and the next, on the belief that those things would kill interest in books, rather than what actually happens, which is that they expand interest in books. (Despite their best efforts, though, the media still always covers the masquerade costumes and the gamers who may be there as if that was the whole WorldCon.) That’s why publishers are spending more money to send some of their authors to ComicCons and mixed media cons. (But it can be harder for authors who can’t front the cost of trying to sell on their own at such cons when their publisher has no space rented or they self-pubbed. So for authors, those media cons are mostly a meet and greet with fans.)

    Consequently, the interest of younger generations in WorldCon has been limited, compared to the more youth oriented memberships in the golden 50′s-70′s period. WorldCon has youth programming and does still show movies and such, but the older people who are willing to do the volunteer work to run the con and go to it wherever it is, seem to have little interest in attracting younger fans. The idea of WorldCon as a professional trade convention rather than a fan convention seems to have developed around that time. SFF doesn’t really need a trade convention where authors sit around talking about how better to sell to fans who could be right there, and the book publishing industry already has numerous trade shows where wares are presented to booksellers, like BookExpo and Frankfurt. I managed to get to the WorldCon in Montreal a few years ago and the publishers largely weren’t there as a presence, nor were their books. It can be a great place to go for a party with your pals, and it may still be a good place to sign and sell books, which is not small potatoes as the big chains vanish. It still has the vibrancy of cons, I think, but there’s not a lot of drive to reach out and connect, or to properly market to the public about all the authors who are going to be there.

    Part of that is because it moves from place to place, and from set of volunteers to set of volunteers. It hasn’t really shrunk as a con, but it can’t really grow much because how many volunteers they can get to help depends on the locale. Most attendees of WorldCon don’t want a crowded con, with a lot of folk noisily running around and so again, while young people are welcomed, they aren’t sought out. Locale is also the big factor for how many younger folk you get. If they can all carpool with each other or ride the train together to the place within a day, you get more attendees on day passes. Some place like Chicago is going to attract more young people, whereas a smaller city like San Antonio is not. Better to save up to get to something like DragonCon or just hit your nearest city ComicCon and get to see Nathan Filion. I went to a comic con with lots of mixed media that was in its second year of existence — 20,000 people and thousands of teens and kids with their families, including grandparents. And there were some authors there and likely will be more in the future. (Of course, the comic writers and artists want to keep all the non-comic stuff out of their cons now too, so eventually it will be the Sharks and the Jets, I guess. Old reference!)

    As for a YA Hugo, the contempt for YA fiction shown here by those objecting to the idea, the weird notion of YA (which contains paranormal romance, urban fantasy, military SF, and every stripe just like the adult market) as being equivalent to one sub-category of the adult market, the incorrect assumption that SFF fans don’t read YA and so won’t be knowledgeable to vote — these attitudes show why YA authors know that their chances are slim to none of getting on the Hugo ballet unless you’re someone like Neil Gaiman with a large adult following already. So eventually there is likely to be a Hugo YA, but currently there seems to be a drive to cut the number of awards down further on fears of it all being too unwieldy. Given that the Hugos are one of the main draws of WorldCon, this seems like a bad idea to me. What is likely to happen also is that there will be more youth dedicated cons — if they aren’t welcome, they go elsewhere.

  • I went to the Reno WorldCon 2 years ago and DragonCon this year. I’m 33, white female, a book nerd and costumer/cosplayer. I am on the board of my local costumers guild and very much understand con-organizing as I’ve particiapted in it before. I enjoyed both WC and DC and think that they are very different events. I felt welcome at both events despite being a somewhat shy introvert. I would say that membership + hotel + travel + food they were about the same in cost.

    At Renovation the panels were fantastic, interesting, full of experts and the majority of what I attended. At DragonCon I barely made it to two panels a day. Not because the lines were too long, but because there was so much else to do and it takes a while to get between the various hotels. Also, costume changes take time and I think at DragonCon I wore more than one per day. The whole thing was endlessly crowded. Dragoncon is much more TV/Media/movie/game oriented with the stars and creators and honestly those are the panels that I’m going for. I can discuss fan stuff with other fans on the internet, it is much more fun to see John Barrowman be John Barrowman live than to hear many of the fan-panelled tracks. I think where DC is more successful in this than San Diego Comic Con is that they clear the auditoriums between panels and don’t allow lines more than 1 hour before. Most of my friends no longer go to SDCC because all they do is wait in line. I don’t think I’ve every really waited in line for a panel at Worldcon or my local cons.

    One thing I found that is different for WC and DC, and that I think might be part of what may make WC a little unfriendlier, is room parties vs. giant con-organized parties. If there is a party hotel at DC I have no idea where it is because I saw no fliers or any comments related to room parties on any social media. Instead there are multiple giant themed parties in all the hotels every night. Despite the larger size this actually felt a lot more inclusive to me than the room parties I attended at WC and some local cons. Room parties always seem a bit more awkward to me bacause you are invading someone’s space. Also, for ones that aren’t necessarily advertised, they do create exclusivity rather than a shared experience.

    Anyway, all said I would attend both Worldcon and DragonCon again, but I’m not going there for the same experiences and I do not have the same expectations for both events.

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