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On community

I have a fairly typical science fiction writer's conversation at least once a week:

"Oooh, you're a writer. That's exciting. I must look you up. What do you write?"

"Science fiction."

And there's the odd little scuffle of feet, and a murmured admission that science fiction isn't something that person reads. (Either that, or there's a "Cool. Where, where, where?")

I have no problem with that. There are some forms of fiction I'm not into - crime, apart from the odd writer, leaves me fairly uninspired and I've never got into mysteries at all. People read what they like, and for many that isn't sci-fi (although, I'll just put it out there that sf has a huge fan base. In fact, here, sf accounted for 6.6% of the fiction market. As it's a genre that has thrived on indie sales on Amazon, I expect this number to have grown somewhat.)

Where I struggle, much, much harder is with the writing community. I don't care what a writer writes. We all go through the same journey - the learning the craft, how to build a story, how to keep it engaging, how to network, how to sell the blinking things. Writing is solitary and community is important. And yet, frankly, too often I find I'm not involved with that writing community as much as I'd like. This has led to an odd dicotomy where I have massive community support online (from the sf people) and not that much around me - and I'm one of those odd extrovert-type writers who quite likes to get involved.

Which led me to muse on why, and I think there are a couple of things going on.

Firstly, on the part of the science fiction community (and the fantasy guys. Hi! I'm joining you lot next year, as well - which is very normal, a lot of genre writers write both sf and  fantasy. George Martin was a sf writer way before Game of Thrones.)

How can I break this to my lovely SF friends. Um. We do geek. I mean, I'm far from the geekiest out there (meet me at the school gates and I probably won't start discussing SF). In fact, often, I'm left a bit behind in geeky conversations because it's only one component of my reading/TV/film interests. Nonetheless, ask me about all things SF and .... I know most of the episodes of Blake's 7 to refer to. I've read a fair amount of sf/fantasy and can hold my own in conversations at any table. In fact, at a recent ComicCon I was, apparently, the only person in 4 years to register the stall selling little vials of metal as necklaces had a Mistborn vibe. So, my geek credentials are out there.

Frankly, to the rest of society, that makes us a bit weird. (Sorry, live with it, embrace your inner geekness etc etc). It also has the effect that people worry if they start chatting to us, we'll go all SFF on them and leave the conversation a bit one-sided.

So, what sff has done - and done very well - is create its own communities. I'm on forums where the subject matter is sff. I go to conventions about sff. I am in facebook groups devoted to various subgenres of sff.

They're great fun but they don't connect me to the wider writing world.

Now, I live in Northern Ireland. We are not a sff mecca. We have a small network of local writers and an even smaller network of sf writers. But I'm a sociable person. I like other writers. I like to give back. So, it seemed logical to try to get to know the wider writing community.

Now, firstly, those writers I have met are fantastic, and supportive and fun to be around. The majority of the local Belfast stores have been fantastically supportive of me, taking my titles and promoting them. so, when a local writing festival took place, and was looking for authors to be involved, I contacted them.

I've been writing professionally for a year. In that time, I've had three books published (one self published) and two more with publishers coming out over the next 12 months. I have multiple short stories published, with four more coming out this year. I'm now out in audio. I'm eligible for the leading award for debut professional sf authors. One of my books was mentioned in the Hugo nominations - the leading award for sf books. I have a well followed blog on writing (here it is, you're here!) I've been a guest writer for some of the leading sf sites around.

In short, I thought my voice would be relevant. I didn't get a reply to my emails but I did later send a facebook message and got a very lovely reply that the festival was full up and a discussion about helping in other ways in the future. Now, I'm not complaining. Festivals are over-subscribed to. I'm very much a new kid on the block.

But when I looked at the events ran of the some 80 or so events, only 2 had any link to Science fiction. That's 1.78%. For a genre encompassing almost 7% of readers. As far as I can see, this is similar to the experiences of other sf writers - a vibrant genre community and a sense of being closed out of conventional writing communities.

Mark Yon, a reviewer for SFFWorld, shared this on a post seeking experiences of this:

"One of the reasons for the creation of SF/Fantasy/Horror conventions was the reaction of others to them. It was (and still is to a degree!) a case of 'us' against 'them', 'them' being the mainstream genres like Crime who looked down on 'us'. Early genre Conventions were a case of like minded individuals wanting to meet and share and not be mocked by others. Of course, what that can lead to is isolationism and a feeling that we don't want to belong.'"

This, I think is the crux of the situation. It's not simply a case of genre writers being frozen out - if it was, this would be an easier blog to write. I'd just rant. It's also a case of genre writers embracing their own community to the extent that they're happy to be frozen out. 

To be honest, had I appeared at an event the likelihood of my picking up many sales would be mimimal (because my readers are on forums and at SFF conventions.) Sales aren't the point, though. What is important is inclusion in communities. For someone like myself, outgoing and liking people's company, it's important to get the sense that I can belong, and not be seen as the crazy lady sf writer, but as the professional author of books who has established herself in one of the hardest genres she could have chosen. 

It's that sense of recognising that writing SFF is just as hard as any other genre (some argue harder - we've got that awkward old world-building to get on with. And the pesky laws of physics to tackle). 

What way forwards? Well, for me, this is an important issue. I want to be part of the local community of writers. Most of what I write is concerned with characters and feelings and emotions - and that's in common with writers across all genres. I want to open the doors to other writers who may have chosen sff and need support, and examples, and people to aspire to. I don't want them having to learn in a vacuum because they can't find local writers. But I also want to write science fiction. I don't want to feel I have to put my feet on my ground and change from my passion just to belong. 

For me, then, I'll continue to establish networks beyond the SFF community. I'll continue to apply for places at mainstream events and, perhaps, give hope to some young person that you can write SF and be respectable. And I'll continue to go to my much loved SFF conventions (because every geek does need somewhere to geek out, frankly.) I hope, perhaps, that in doing so inclusion grows and I bring more people to try my genre, just as I reach out to read more of their work - because it's all stories, and writing after all.

Lots of info about my weird sf work can be found here:



Anya Kimlin said…
I so get this post. I often feel left out because I'm not really sff/fantasy person. I'm a great book/film/TV person. If you produce a great or intriguing story with great characters that resonate me then I'm going to love it. As a reader I probably gravitate towards crime but my favourite book is a sort historical realism fantasy type story. As a writer there is no contest for genre because fantasy gives a freedom that no other genre does.
wichael said…
Cool that you go to many SciFi conventions. I've only been to one con that is WorldCom last year in Spokane & would like to go to every single con at least once. I enjoyed this blog about you experience at other con's. Keep writing 🌟🌟🌟🌟
Joanne Zebedee said…
Wichael - I don't get to nearly as many as I'd like to. But I think this year I'll get to three and, I hope, one non-sff event. Going to each one sounds like it should be on my bucket list (Spokane sounded like huge fun - if Ireland get 2019 I think we'll all party!)

Anya - there's no other genre like fantasy. Except sf with the added bonus of sexy pilots. :p