Figured I’d talk about CanCon 2023 since there’s a lot of business stuff I learnt about while going here. And it might be a nice view into the other kind of conventions available.

So, CanCon is a weird scifi/fantasy convention that reminds me a lot of Discon or the World Fantasy Con. It’s mostly filled with writers, even the programming is more geared towards writers rather than readers. In that sense, I guess, it’s not particularly useful for meeting new readers, unlike something like Dragoncon where the panels are meant more to introduce new readers to specific topics or just discuss interesting aspects of a genre

While there were some programming items like that, most of it was focused on writing. However, unlike a writer conference like 20booksto50k or NinC or Inkerscon, CanCon is an old school con whose main focus is traditional publishing (whether small or medium press). In that sense, it’s closer to Superstars but even less focused on indie writing.

However that is not necessarily a bad thing for there were a LOT of traditional authors, editors and agents who are tapped into big 5 and traditional publishing. That’s quite useful (as we’ll see below); but don’t discount cons just because you’re an indie writer.

The other aspect of CanCon that really surprised me was the number of game writers (TTRPG, video games, etc.) that were present. i was pleasantly surprised at the huge number of such writers, many who worked for companies as writers.

Alright, let’s talk about the Con and what I did.

Seminars and Panels

I was on a few panels, as usual and had a signing. Not much of a busy signing, which wasn’t surprising once I realised that it was mostly writers. Going to such events and making myself known to the general Canadian author community is important, and one of the major points of coming to such conventions, but for the most part – I’m an unknown. Not a big issue, but it does mean something like the signing is going to be quiet.

The panels were on ‘the problems of success’ and ‘writing for games to prose and back’ (I might be summarising the actual panel names). Fun to be on, especially the second, though I could only offer a little bit of advice or discussion in there being, well, not an actual game writer. Though I got to offer a few tidbits of potential projects that have fallen through…

Anyway.

Outside of my own seminars, the fun bit was going to other panels. I actually went to quite a few seminars, partly because the topics were of interest to me. Short story markets, writing with poems and poetry, trad pub stories and history, working with editors and agents, that kind of thing.

It was a ton of fun really, learnt a lot. Mostly about trad publishing and short fiction, but the second does interest me greatly since I do have a bunch of a shorts I need to keep sending out in hopes of getting them taken. And well, the trad publishing angle offered a few insights.

Traditional Publishing

Let’s talk about this. Because there were a few things that cropped up in the discussions that made me curious, and that explained partly why LitRPG hasn’t seen any movement from trad pub so far. Now, I’m just reporting what was said, not putting any value judgments on any of this.

Firstly, it’s worth realising that trad pub (in this case, defined as Big 5 or anyone who can distribute through them and has big sales forces to help push books) really is focused on the physical book. Their goal is to sell as many as possible, and their final offer is very much based off how many copies of the physical book they can sell. Now, while they MIGHT be able to sell audiobook rights, and thus they do take them; the actual advance seems mostly dependent on the physical book.

Depending on genre (and there was details about how YA sells more into library and schools so they can see up to 60% of their sales come from that source); and comparables, the advance can bounce around. Something interesting – 5-10k books were considered middle of the road, 60k was what they’d expect someone like NK Jemisin or George R.R. Martin to sell (for a new series I’d assume for George). So, their kind of offers would be based on that.

In addition, because their main focus and customer was the bookseller, they really are intent on the buy orders from people like B&N and (to some lesser extent); indie bookstores. More than that, this focus on booksellers is WHY their ebooks are so expensive (to not harm their customers). And also why, they might consider a self-published author with an extensive backlist a bad bet (because then, these new readers are bypassing the bookstores and buying online).

But also, because they are focused on what booksellers might buy – and the bookseller is focused on what previous books like they sold might sell – breaking in a new genre or sub-genre is HARD. If you’re even a mildly successful indie author, a $5-15k advance (or even $50k advance) might not interest you, not when the timeline for publishing is 2 years out and might stop you from writing/ publishing further works.

At the same time, it’s hard for tradpub to make an offer that would interest bigger indie authors. Not just because our audiences might not translate over (see that $15 ebook pricing); but also because there is no guarantee of good book sales. So we’re now looking at a weird in-between world till an agent and an editor and author, willing to work together gives it a shot.

Or indie publishers come in, pushing their own books and sales and being willing to take the losses in the initial stage.

Short Stories

Shouldn’t be a big thing to say, even in trad pub (or traditional short story markets); there’s a period of readjustment going on. With AI and Amazon making changes, things have grown harder for these short story markets. Perhaps the hardest part for these markets it seems is that they’re caught between being stuck in ‘traditional’ modes of sales, in traditional formats and the costing required, and the sizze of the market.

And, I think, to some extent a lack of time or ability to really try new promotional methods. Personally, I feel they should be working on that, they should be trying things like Facebook Ads or other forms of marketing or formats to reach more readers, but it’s hard too when you’re an older press.

Community

Perhaps the biggest thing I found with CanCon that was a surprise was how vibrant and large the community was for writers in Ottawa. I’m sure Toronto (not GTA but Toronto itself) has some of that, but it feels like Ottawa just has a closer knit community. It’s rather frustrating, though I must admit, I also met a bunch of Toronto writers while there.

Hopefully, with time, we’ll see an increase in size and vibrancy of the community. Certainly, I know of a few people now and we’ve got the Toronto Indie Author Conference coming up, so we’ll see how that plays out. But I’d certainly love to see more of the event show up.

Final Thoughts

Anyway, that’s my CanCon. Had a lot of fun, met some (trad) authors, new writers, agents and editors and booksellers. Overall, a fun time and I certainly think I’ll likely swing back. Perhaps not next year, depending on timing of 20books (and I am going to that!) but it’s on my radar at least.

Oooh, and I found out that WorldCon is in Niagara Falls (US) next year. So I’ll likely go to that since it’s so close!


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