In my previous open letter to Pagan Convention Organizers I made a commitment that I would no longer present at an event where it was expected that I would pay to present. I also made a request for transparency on the part of the Pagan convention organizers on how they select their guests of honor. I am an author with a small publisher, Immanion Press. I also am the managing non-fiction editor of Immanion Press. I have been a guest of honor and featured presenter in the past at a couple of Pagan conventions. However I had to approach those events and ask if it was possible to become a guest of honor or a featured presenter. So far as I can tell the opposite is usually true. The event approaches the presenter and tells them they are a guest of honor or featured presenter, and more often than not the presenter is with a big publisher.
Here's why I want transparency from you
Each year you select who the guests of honor are at your event, but you don't tell us how it happens. It's treated as a secret and it's time for the secrets to come out. I have queried different conventions about how they select their guests of honor and I usually don't get answers, but what I do notice is that the majority of the guests of honor are with big publishers. I also notice that in some cases you see the same guests of honor each year or every other year at the convention. It's like a revolving door which is accessible only to those presenters. The rest of us are pretty much ignored.
Now we'd like to know what your decision making process is for selecting guests of honor and comping them as well as why you only stick with certain guests of honor. Let us presenters know (and the Pagan community at large) what your process is for selection so that there's no esoteric mystery here. We have plenty enough of those in our spiritual practices.
I know that in some cases, publishers play a role in this process. A fellow presenter recently me that they were selected as a guest of honor for an event in March because their publisher sponsored that event. In other words, the publisher paid to have them become a guest of honor for that event. On the sponsor page of that event, there's nothing mentioned about guests of honor being included in the sponsor package. There's no transparency about how the guests of honor are selected or what criteria is used and because of that lack of transparency, what's created is a system where certain presenters are given priority over others by virtue of who/what they are connected to as opposed to what they bring to the convention (and don't get me wrong these presenters are talented and have a lot to offer...but so do others who aren't getting those benefits). I have a problem with that.
What we have here is a form of Nepotism
In the classic sense of the word nepotism refers to favors being granted to family members by other family members. For example, your uncle is a cardinal in the Catholic church and suddenly your granted lands because he uses his position to pull some strings and get you that land. You got that land because you were related to your Uncle and that's the only reason you got it.
Obviously in the case of conventions we don't have related people pulling strings for each other (so far as I know). But nonetheless something is happening where certain presenters are given priority over others and there's little to no explanation provided for why that is. That lack of transparency creates a dirty secret and most of the convention goers don't question it because they're not involved. They're attending the event and that's it but if you're a presenter you need to question it and demand accountability on the part of the organization.
This nepotism isn't always so blatant. There's a certain convention that occurs every February. At that convention most of the presenters aren't comped, but there's a dirty secret they won't tell you: A few of the presenters are! They aren't labeled as guests of honor, and its all kept very hush hush and swept under the rug, but nonetheless they are comped with flights and hotel rooms and why? Apparently because they're friends with the original organizer or because that was how the organizer got them to present in the early days of the convention. The convention is so big the policy has changed for other presenters, but these presenters still get comped when they come present. And if that's not problematic and indicative of the inequity that occurs with this system, I don't know what is.
What I want from Pagan Convention Organizers
I want you to be transparent about how you select guests of honor and featured presenters and what criteria is used for that selection and I want it written on the website of the convention where any presenter can see it.
If your expectation is that a publisher needs to sponsor your event in order to have a guest of honor into your event, then put that on the page so that we can at least query our publishers to do something (but also keep in mind smaller publishers don't have the same resources the big publishers have).
If your standard for a guest of honor or featured presenter is that they have public/national recognition and impact on the community, define what that actually looks likes so that if we contact you we can present proof to that effect and/or so that we can tailor our activities toward fulfilling those criteria.
Whatever your criteria is, I want you to put it on your convention website for all to see, so that we actually know what you're looking for. Let's stop playing guessing games here and get transparent so that all presenters have the opportunity to become a guest of honor or featured presenter.
I also want you to have consistent standards in terms of how guests of honor and featured presenters are comped. Tell us what a guest of honor actually gets or featured presenter actually gets in return for their contribution. And make sure its the same across the board. If there are choices then tell us what those choices are and make it so that the choices are still equitable across the board. I know this may seem like a lot to ask, but really we're just asking for some consistency and transparency.
And if you insist that presenters have to pay to present, then make that standard apply to all presenters no matter how famous or well known they are. Treat all of us equally.
And to be clear there are a few conventions that do this process right, but only a few. It's time to change that and I'm calling on you to change it.
What I want from Presenters
If you're a presenter, I want you to share this post and the previous one I wrote on your social media accounts and with the Pagan Convention Organizers you know.
I want you to write about your concerns as a presenter as well and make your voice be heard. The changes I'm calling for will not happen unless the convention organizers see we are a united front on this matter and consequently recognize they have no choice but to make changes to how they are running events.
Consider the possibility that in order to make some of these changes, we may need to boycott conventions. Remember they need us to present in order to get people in the door and while its true that other people might step up and do that in our place, if we are willing to show that we will boycott events due to the inequity in the system, we will also show we can impact their bottom line. If there are no presenters, it's a lot harder to have an event.
If you're one of the authors who's regularly a guest of honor at conventions, I want you to advocate for the authors/presenters who aren't getting that opportunity. And if you attend a certain convention that insists that presenters pay to present and you get comped, I want you to speak to the original organizer and tell that person that a change needs to happen and that it's not fair that you get comped while other presenters aren't. I know I'm asking a lot from those of you who get the benefits, but can you really justify to yourself getting those benefits while other presenters don't, especially when in some cases those presenters have written as much if not more books then you? I hope your answer is no you can't justify it and that you want equal treatment for all presenters regardless of who they are published with.
A final thought
I do love conventions. I love presenting at them. And I realize in writing this post and the previous one I may very well deal with consequences that include being banned from presenting at conventions. I'm willing to take that risk because I'm tired of seeing the current systems in place when it comes to how presenters are treated. I'm tired of seeing some people get opportunities on a regular basis and other people rarely if ever get those opportunities. It may not make me very popular with convention organizers, but I can live with that. If we presenters do not advocate for change, we will not get the change we deserve and we will not get the respect we deserve.
And convention organizers I realize that most conventions are non-profits, but regardless of whether its a business or not there needs to be consistency across the board when it comes to how presenters are treated.