The Confabule Expeditionary Force—Amanda Kimmerly and yours truly—journeyed the reverse of ancient wisdom, traveling a thousand miles in order to make a single step. We saved up credit for extra steps in the process, rolling 4800+ miles onto the odometer in a road trip to Seattle and back for Norwescon 35, April 5-8. The single step we’ll take as a consequence of this journey—at least, the single largest step—is to immediately cease going to cons as a tactic for promoting The Hidden Lands of Nod and Confabule.
First, Norwescon is a fine event, well organized with interesting guests, a well-run dealer room and great attendees. The table next to ours belonged to the Northwest Independent Writers Association, a group based in Portland, Oregon, with members in Oregon, Washington and Idaho. We could not have asked for better neighbors. Novels by NIWA members Cynthia Robbins (The Light Warrior) and Brad Wheeler (Fugitives from Earth) have joined the library here at Stikmantic HQ.
Norwescon provided great conversation in abundance, both with people who know about many things and, richer but less often, with people who also understand things. Costuming showed a pronounced shift to ever more cursory steampunk. Fewer Klingons, fewer Star Fleet officers, fewer bounty hunters, fewer Jedi attended, about the same percentage vampires as always and a pronounced dearth of original concepts created from scratch by the costumer. There was also a pronounced dearth of book and art sales.
At the end of the day (or con, as it were), book and art sales are what the process is about for Robert Stikmanz, The Hidden Lands of Nod and Confabule. It doesn’t matter so much if the sales are from hours at the table we staff in a dealer room, or if the sales are downstream from the event in the form of web orders for books and e-books. What matters is that there are sales as a result of the activity. Science fiction/fantasy conventions are entertaining events at which one meets many wonderful, delightful, fascinating people. Unfortunately, in this latter day most of them are people who do not buy books and art.
Rolling home from Seattle, mile after mile through stunning landscapes of Oregon, Idaho, Utah and Wyoming, and across the numbing expanse of Kansas, Kansas, Kansas, Amanda and I examined our experience. One conclusion we have reached is that, regardless of obvious thematic connections, genre labels are not productive for Stikmanz or Confabule, and genre-themed events are not a fertile source of potential audience. This may be cold comfort to other authors and artists selling no copies of demonstrably genre-oriented work, but it indicates a clear direction for Stikmanz & Co.
Much discussion with Ms. Kimmerly brought me to realize that my voice contrasts sharply from that of the bulk of science fiction and fantasy around issues of intentionality. The intentional difference—my work’s agenda— likely poisons its market at events targeted to an audience looking primarily for abeyance from the reality of their lives. This is one of those obvious, practical-joking truths that sits half an inch in front of one’s face, waiting to laugh riotously at the startle effect when its presence finally registers. The Stikmantic imagination may embrace magic and surreality, but for a public for whom its accurate description must ever more hyphenate, it fails one of the primary aims for which genre fiction is now marketed: escape from the real world we are making.
I speculate from anecdote, always risky. Whether this or other reasons lie behind the steep fall-off in sales, an 800 pound gorilla at the bargaining table is that participating in science fiction/fantasy conventions is not an effective strategy for reaching those likely to purchase my work. Fun though events may be, every con I have attended in the past two years has been a money-losing activity. There is no more resource to spare for the experiment; we turn immediately toward an entirely different tack. Right now, this month, the Confabule expeditionary force launches on a virtual journey. Our attention for the next few months will be website development. Beyond that, who knows? Irons are in the fire, and ideas are welcome. Vast changes are in the offing. Allons, enfants!