A Third Open Letter to Pagan Convention Organizers and to Pagan Presenters

Copyright Taylor Ellwood 2016 Back in December of 2015 I wrote 2 open letters to Pagan Convention Organizers. In the first letter I explained that I no longer wanted to present at events where I was expected to pay to present and no compensation was offered for my efforts. In the second letter, I called for transparency on how guests of honor and featured presenters are selected, asking organizers to make it clear how a presenter is selected as well as what is offered to the presenter. I also asked my fellow presenters to share those posts and write about their perspectives as a presenter. Below is a list of links, where you can read the perspectives of some presenters and organizers who chose to write and share their insights in response to what I wrote. I want to thank them all for making the effort to write and share their thoughts. If I missed any, feel free to leave a comment with a link to the appropriate post.

Laurelei Black

Jason Miller

Shauna Aura Knight

Jason Mankey


Mike Sententia

Not too many presenters chose to write about this topic and I understand why, because they are potentially putting themselves on the firing line for sharing their own views, and consequently not being invited back to conventions. I was recently told by Jason Mankey that most of the rank and file agreed with what I wrote and I wasn't really sure what to make of that. Whether you agree or disagree, what I really hope you'll do is share your perspectives and thoughts as a presenters and yes as organizers as well, because this is an important conversation that we as a community need to have. And I don't expect that most people entirely do agree with my stance...in fact I know some who don't and I get why they don't.

I just got back from Convocation, which was a great event, well run, with lots of good programming. As I was there this time, there were some moments where I recognized that this really could be the last time I'm ever at that event. By choosing to take a stand and speak out about how presenters are compensated and how they are selected, I shined a light on a topic that can be touchy. I knew what the consequences were when I wrote those letters and I would do it all over again. But even so, I also recognize I might not be back and that I may have burned some bridges with different events I've previously presented at.

If presenters really agree with what I've written then I want to remind you of something. It is not the loudest voice that causes change to occur, but rather the multitude of voices that causes change to occur. One of the reasons I spoke up was because after 13 years of presenting at events, I feel like I've paid my dues and then some. When I first started speaking in 2003, I had co-written a book and I knew I had to pay my way if I wanted people to hear me speak. Even after I wrote Pop Culture Magick, Space/Time Magic, and Inner Alchemy, I still knew I needed to pay my dues, pay my way if I wanted people to hear me speak. That's the reality of presenting, early on...you have to be willing to put in the blood, sweat, tears, and yes money, if you want to reach out to the community at large.

But at some point you also want your efforts recognized and valued. You want to know that what you have to offer is worth something to the people your presenting for and that you'll get some help and compensation for that effort. And that's one reason I wrote those letters (and for that matter this one).

I also wrote those letters because I want all presenters to have a shot at being a featured presenter or guest of honor. I want all presenters to know what the criteria is and what they need to do on their end in order to meet that criteria. I have some further thoughts about that topic below, but first...

Thank you Pagan convention organizers

If' you've done a double take or you're blinking your eyes in confusion, I get it. It must seem odd that this person who has called you out is suddenly thanking you. Let me tell you why I'm thanking all of you (and recognizing a few of you).

I got a couple public responses and private responses to my open letters from people who organize Pagan conventions and festivals and what I took away from those responses is that Pagan convention organizers do a lot of volunteering and hard work to put together events. Now I knew that before I wrote my open letters, but in reading your responses to what I wrote I came away with a deeper appreciation for all the work you do on your end and the sacrifices that you make to make the events happen. It's not easy work and I don't know that you always get recognized or appreciated the way you should. I've always made it a point to thank event organizers that have had me present at their venue, but I know you do a lot of work and whether you believe it or not I do appreciate it. I also want to recognize some of you for taking the time to respond to me.

Laurie Pneumatikos and Typhon Dracos are the organizers for the Left Hand Path Consortium, occurring in April of this year. When they read my open letters, they responded and made a commitment to comp presenters their hotel rooms and registration. I've seen how hard they've been working to put the event together and I'm really appreciative and humbled by their generosity. I appreciate everything they are doing to take care of the presenters and I know my fellow presenters and I will do the same for them. Thank you so much for taking care of us.

David Smith is the con chair of this year's Convocation, which just wrapped up, and Lindsay Moss is one of the organizers. Lindsay initially responded to my questions and then put David in touch with me. David explained in great detail how featured presenters and guests of honor are selected. I really appreciate that both he and Lindsay took the time to respond and address my concerns. Thank you so much for making the time to connect with me.

Laurie Froberg of Paganicon also took the time to address my concerns and explained how guests of honor and featured presenters are selected as well as how they are comped. I really appreciated the transparency. Also Paganicon refunded me the admission I paid as a featured presenter a couple years ago, recognizing that they had charged me, when in fact featured presenters get their registration comped. In their defense, I had already submitted workshops and they had already been accepted by the time I became a featured presenter. Thank you so much for making the time to connect with me.

Laurelei Black of Babalon Rising shared the dual perspective of being a presenter and an organizer on her blog (which is linked above). I really appreciated the insights and transparency she brought to the process, when it comes to putting together an event and what the challenges are.

I didn't hear from any other convention organizers at the time I wrote the letters, but if any of you want to reach out you can. However, what I would really like all of you to do is the following:

A Renewed call for Transparency

What I would like to see is a commitment to publish online, and in your program packets, what your criteria is for someone becoming a guest of honor or featured presenter as well as give all of us, presenters and attendees alike, a clear idea as to what compensation, if any, is offered. I don't think this is an unreasonable request. I think, if anything, it will help presenters and attendees know what is actually happening and what their respective roles have to do with this process.

When I have visited various convention websites I haven't seen anything to this effect and I hope that changes, because otherwise it's rather hard for all involved to really know how this process works. I'd like to suggest the following feedback for specific types of events.

Invite only events: Some events are invite only. What I'd like to know is how does a presenter even go about getting noticed so that they get invited. Is their a secret handshake or knock or is their some other criteria that you are looking for from us? And what role do attendees have in this process, if any?

Guest of Honor/Featured Presenter events: With these events it seems that its up to the attendees to indicate that they want a presenter to return as a featured presenter and/or guest of honor (though in some cases the GOH is selected according to a theme). If that's the case, the attendees need to know that. One example I like is that Convocation has a session at the event, (If this is your first time at Convocation), where new attendees are briefed on the fact that what they want has an impact on next year's programming. I think having programming to explain the role of attendees and presenters is a good step to take, along with putting that information on the website and in the program packet.

Presenters I want you to take special notes here. If you want to come back to an event as a featured presenter or a GOH you need to tell the people who are attending your classes to put that information in the feedback forms. Don't expect that simply presenting year after year will get you that opportunity and don't expect that asking organizers to give you that opportunity will make it happen. Tell the people who attend your classes that if they want you back as a featured presenter or Guest of Honor that they need to leave that feedback so organizers see it. It's your responsibility to make sure people attending your class know that their feedback is important and can help get you in as a featured presenter or guest of honor.

Pay to Present events: Fortunately there aren't many of these events around. If you want to run an event like this where you expect presenters to pay to present then I have only piece of advice for you: Pay to present MUST apply to ALL presenters, not just the majority. What this means is that no presenter should be getting comped for registration, hotel or flights, or anything else if you're going to sweep it under the rug and officially pretend that you charge everyone.

Instead I would suggest switching over to a featured guest and guest of honor model AND making sure every presenter knows how it works and consequently has a shot of becoming a featured presenter or guest of honor. That way there's no favoritism and no nepotism at work.

Additionally if you are going to insist presenters pay and present at the least offer them a reduction on their registration dependent on how many workshops they are teaching. Otherwise you're just being greedy and unethical to the very people who are helping to make the event happen.

That's my feedback for all of you and I hope you will do something with it that makes this process transparent for all involved.

A slight revision on my stance

When I wrote the first two letters I said I wouldn't accept going to an event if my room or flight wasn't comped. I'm making a slight revision, which is this: If an event wants me as a featured presenter where they comp my registration and provide a table where my books are vended and sold and I'm given some marketing in the program book, I can work with that. And if you want to cover my flight or hotel room, I'd appreciate it, but I know that not every event can afford that. I know you have expenses and I accept that. What I want is opportunities to cover my expenses and perhaps even leave an event with some profit. And I do want a crack at the Guest of Honor at some point.

And lest someone accuse me of selling out...I'm not...I'm just accepting that there are certain realities to putting an event together that involves a lot of expense and moving parts. I get that and I know I won't always be a guest of honor, but I want what I have to offer acknowledged and valued and I have paid my dues, so I don't think its unreasonable to revise my stance a bit, but still make it clear that some form of compensation needs to happen.

And Finally an Announcement

I've always felt that a person can and should speak out on whatever issues is of concern to them. But I also think if you're going to speak up, you ought to have something to offer as a solution as well. So my fellows presenters this is what I'm offering you:

I am in the process of researching and putting together the various moving parts to putting on a virtual conference. It's going to take a while for me to do it, but I will do it and I will keep you appraised of it. More importantly, I promise that you will have the potential to make money. Note the word potential, because some effort on your part will be needed. I will be transparent about every aspect of this event, so keep your eyes peeled for more details down the line.