I want to start by making something very clear: I support not just virtual cons but adding virtual components to cons. I attended a few of these in 2020 and found them a great experience.
I do think there are some things we need to talk about.
I’ll start by saying that most of this is from the perspective of a writer doing a reading / Q&A, seminars, or a panel. But there should be crossover with other con activities as well.
I was on a panel at a con a few years ago and it was recorded for a podcast, posted a few weeks afterwards. I found out it was going to be recorded for a podcast when someone who had listened to it messaged me about something I had said.
No one had asked us if this was ok. No one had told us we were being recorded. No one mentioned it was posted directly to us.
(For the record I was not upset, I thought it was cool, but I did have a bit of worry about what I said…)
Which brings me to the first thing we need to talk about, and that’s consent. It needs to be clear to the attendees which part of the show will also be virtual, AND give an opportunity to op out.
Because all the advantages you get for being a virtual attendee, it is the opposite for the presenter.
I’ve been doing theatre since I was little. I’ve done hundreds of shows in all kinds of locations. Been on the stage with nearly 700 people watching me.
When you turn on a video camera the feeling changes. It isn’t this ethereal performance anymore, it is something more permanent.
And a lot of my fellow writers already have nervousness and anxiety about reading to a group. The virtual part can only compound that. The recording part can only compound it.
I know I will be much more reserved, much more carful with my words, especially answers to questions since instead of living in the moment as a part of a discussion, those words are now being recorded.
And someone who doesn’t want to be recorded for any reason should be able to opt out.
Let’s talk about those recordings. What are you doing with them? Are you making money off of them? Are you posting them for a limited time? Forever? If I wanted it taken down, what is the process?
Are you charging for replays? I understand that the virtual infrastructure needs to be paid for, but there is a difference between me doing a reading at a con for free, and me recording a video that you are profiting off of for free.
Which gets to the murky part that I don’t have answers for: what rights are we giving up as writers?
If I read a story aloud and it is posted on YouTube, have I just used the audio rights?
If the video gets a transcription, something we should be doing as good citizens, that is effectively publishing my story, which has implications if it was as of yet unpublished, and, if I have signed a exclusive contract, may be something not allowed.
Do you have a code of conduct? Not just “don’t be a dick” I mean guidance on how I am presenting myself. Can I talk politics? Can I cuss? (I’m going to cuss, sorry about that, I say fuck a lot) do you want a “rating” or content warnings announced?
That’s too much to thing about, too complicated, we should just forget the virtual stuff.
No it isn’t. No you shouldn’t. If my 70 year old aunt can organize a virtual wedding with the characters in my family, cons can provide this.
It means some of your guests are going to turn you down, and that’s ok. It means some things are going to go wrong, and that’s ok. It means you’ll need to plan for these things ahead of time, and that’s ok.
I’m going to end as I began, and say that virtual cons and virtual components to in person conventions are a great thing and I hope we don’t just keep them, but improve them, and expect them.
They allow for attendance above the hotel capacity, they allow for attendance by those who may not otherwise be able to for financial, personal or any other kind of reasons.
They allow guests to attend from distance! You can do a virtual reading from anywhere, so you can participate even if you aren’t able to travel.
We just need to make sure we are all on the same page about some things, lest we find ourselves into a new situation where people are being taken advantage of.