Eastercon Genre-fiction X-factor (a proposal) (3/5/2011)

Not exactly a rant, but every Eastercon I find myself on panels about how to be an author, about finding an agent, about what you have to do to get published. Every time, I find myself thinking how unfortunate it is for writers that it’s all such a long, dull, dour process, with a such a long pay-off. There’s nowhere to showcase what you can do in a five-minutes-of-fame sort of way. Imagine it was the X-factor: Show up, perform for a few minutes get judged, vanish into obscurity if you lose, winner is published by Simon Cowell and gets to be a best-seller.

But does it have to be like this? Could we not try to showcase our hidden writing talents? So I’ve been giving it some thought and I’d like to propose the following straw man to be poked at as an attempt to give genre writing a (very) vaguely equivalent platform.

Some pre-selection process occurs to which I’ve given no thought at all, resulting in a maximum of twelve entrants. Each entrant is submits:

  1. A movie-trailer style pitch for whatever they’re writing of no more than 500 words.
  2. A synopsis for whatever they’re writing of no more than 1000 words
  3. An opening chapter or partial chapter of approximately 1500 words

Eastercon (I pick Eastercon because it’s a four-day event and I see this going over three days) – Friday afternoon (say), in a one-hour panel, all pitches are read to whoever shows up as an audience  and a panel of judges. There will be one reader who reads all the entries. Anyone who comes to the readings gets a voting card, allowing them to vote for whichever pitch is their favourite.

The panel of judges (ideally a genre editor, a genre agent and a genre reviewer) get to ask a few questions after each reading if they want to. Afterwards, the judges select the four trailers they like the best. Those four and the two most popular with the audience (probably needs a minimum number of votes) go forward to the next stage. I’m imagining a short panel on Saturday morning to announce the results and take some Q&A on the reasons for the selection.

Saturday afternoon (say), in another one-hour session, repeat the same for the six synopses. Single reader, audience get to vote on which ones they like the best, two synopses go forward selected by the judges, one by the audience.

Sunday afternoon has a final panel. Each of the three surviving entries is introduced with a little about why they’ve made it this far, both the pitch and the synopsis. The opening chapter is read. There is no final ‘winner’, but maybe the audience gets to vote.

And there you go. The Eastercon Genre-Fiction X-factor. Worth trying to make it fly? Or not. Please feel free to comment.


11 Responses to “Eastercon Genre-fiction X-factor (a proposal) (3/5/2011)”

  1. mdlachlan says:

    A great idea Steve, but count me off the panel! In my experience, the worse a writer is, the worse they handle rejection. So, while you undoubtedly could unearth some gems, you could also upset a lot of people. I fear stalkers!

  2. Anne Lyle says:

    There’s also the fact that most writers would rather undergo a root canal without anaesthetic than do a face-to-face pitch to an agent, never mind in front of an audience. Good luck in finding victims, I mean entrants!

  3. Ro Smith says:

    It’s an interesting idea. You’d need to get the backing of the right people to offer the sort of prize that would make it worth people’s while to risk it, though. It’d be a risky thing for the publisher’s too, if they’re offering a good enough prize – such a a contract.

  4. Stephen says:

    Mark: I thought about authors as judges, but decided against – I wouldn’t want to do it either and I don’t see how I’m qualified. Let the panel consist of people who routinely make this sort of judgement, preferably in a professional role.

    Anne: I’d thought to use a dedicated reader, rather than have the author read his/her own work. That was meant to even out any bias caused by good/bad delivery, but it could easily allow an author to remain entirely anonymous. I’ve seen some people do this sort of thing extremely well and others (me) are far less comfortable with it. So yes, authors could be spared having to face their audience. In fact, it seems to me that the authors could be anonymous to the judges & audience too quite easily (if it was set up that way).

    Ro: Publishing contract as a prize? Ha hahahahahaha…. Fat chance. As noted above, anonymity could (should?) be made possible. Possibly mandatory?

  5. Sandra Norval says:

    I think this is a brilliant idea and would certainly be up for giving it a go. Personally I would prefer to read my own work out but understand that many wouldn’t.

    I guess the best prize would be the chance to have the whole MS read by key people, having said that, with the changes going on these days, who knows?

  6. Liz says:

    We tried something similar at Eastercon in 2009 – there was an item where you could pitch your work at an agent, Dragon’s Den-style. I didn’t actually see it so I don’t know how well it went down. I’m on the programme team for next year’s Eastercon, and doing something a bit different to the usual round of panels about how to find an agent/how to get published/how to do X in publishing sounds interesting. I need to have a proper think about how you could do it successfully, but I’ll be watching the comments here with interest.

  7. Hayley says:

    I was also going to mention 2009 but I see Liz already has. Unfortunately I didn’t see it either so I have no idea if it worked! It seemed to be popular in advance though (I was managing the website so saw a fair few contacts about it).

    I think your proposal is a nice idea, the main area that worries me about it is people feeling short changed if the audience is considered to be mostly friends of a particular author, or mostly fans of a particular sub-genre, etc. There are ways to manage that of course, just saying that’d be the bit that worried me most. Also anonymity is difficult, as is a dedicated reader. Really you’d want someone familiar with the text to read it out to convey the right meanings.

    One idea I’d wondered about but not sure how it works with copyrights and such is having some sort of ‘1st chapters fanzine’. It was inspired by conventions that have rather more fanfiction than Eastercon who take submissions in advance and publish a ‘zine alongside the normal programme book. But as I said, I don’t know the legalities around that if you’re trying to get your book published, you probably don’t want the first chapter being put out there like that.

  8. Gaspode says:

    The T-Party writers workshops we run do in fact work a little bit like this and we will be doing them again next year. I’m not sure about the fact that someone/someones would have to put a LOT of time in on the reading at con in this format – 3000 words per entrant is a lot of reading to do at con. The T Party group take and read your submissions before the con and then work on them at con. That might be tied in to a more open reading. Liz may have more ideas.

  9. Stephen says:

    The reading thing is going to be a bugger, I can see that. I wanted to get away from the ‘performance’ being what made the different between two readings, but yes, it’s a lot of words and the reader would have to be familiar with the material. And yes, some authors would really, really want to read their own stuff. Even I probably would, and I’m that great a reader.

    I didn’t go to the dragons den thing in 2009 either. I think if such a thing were done again, I probably would.

    Now I think I have a half-made thing sitting on my drawing-board and no time to make it work. Bah!

  10. Alastair says:

    Hi -

    I realise I’ve stumbled across this a bit late, and that the idea may be being developed somewhere else, but I wanted to express my support because I’d also been thinking about how such a competition might be run at Eastercon for the same reasons you’ve laid out, Stephen.

    I hadn’t finalised a model in my head, but a few ideas I’d had were:

    * Throwing the competition open to all comers at the con, but with a limit to the numbers, and on a first come first served basis.
    * Running two sessions – one judged by the audience and the final by the judges.
    * Alternatively, expanding the competition base and running judging panels at different cons, or maybe audience voted ones on online sites or forums. The final is held at Eastercon, where at least the work of the finalists is read out if they can’t make it to the con, so that the burden of judging isn’t left to the same people.
    * Offering a prize of a serious, in depth conversation with a publisher or agent wherever / whenever’s convenient to both (preferably at the Con), about the winner’s writing, presentation and possible career (unless there is some company out there who’d be prepared to take the chance on offering a contract). I was thinking of a more business like discussion than an informal conversation over a pint in the bar (not that there’s anything wrong with those, but it’s a bit more tangible as a prize). Alternatively, perhaps asking Interzone or another magazine if they’d offer to publish the work as a prize – obviously an extract if it’s not a short story.
    * Asking the authors to read an extract of their work as the only test – thinking being that they will have to be able to present their work reasonably if they get any kind of deal.
    * Limiting the reading to a number of words, or a reasonable time limit.

    Obviously, some of these are quite close to ones which have already been mentioned, but perhaps there are variations which might suggest ways ahead.

    If there’s interest in this going ahead in some form, I’d be interested in helping out if help is required.



  11. Stephen says:

    @Alastair: Noted – if I hear of anything, I’ll pass your name on. I’m not happy about authors besing asked to present their own work, though – some people are much much better at reading aloud than others and you’d not normally have to present like that to get a deal.

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