Over the weekend the Nebula awards conference was successfully held online, via zoom and webpage. It was frankly, a tremendous success, and I’m proud I had the opportunity to volunteer and participate.
It can be viewed as practically a case study in how to rapidly convert to an online convention experience with minimall paid staff and still preserve the group interactivity feel.
Since 1965 Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) have given out the Nebula awards, for works of science fiction and fantasy of various lengths. The Nebulas, alongside the Hugos, are among the highest awards given in speculative fiction. But the conference isn’t simply about the awards. A variety of panels, mainly targeted at emerging writers put experts in conversation about issues such as writing multiply-marginalized characters to understand publishing contracts to critique groups.
I was lucky enough to get to volunteer, and thus attend the virtual conference for free. I’m somewhat ashamed to say, I’ve never attended a science fiction convention. I’ve been a reader of, fan, and wannabe writer of, science fiction since I was 12 or so. I remember reading about science fiction conventions and attendant sub-cultures from early on, like in Inferno (the Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle version) and the Time of the Dark by Barbara Hambly. For some reason I assumed at some point I would start going, though I suppose in my heart I hoped to someday be a panelist as opposed to an attendee.
I signed up to go to Norwescon, and then COVID happened. Sadly Norwescon couldn’t make the transition to a virtual convention in time. I’m hoping to go next year.
The Nebulas though were great. People were overwhelmingly positive and supportive. The volunteer slack was near constantly bursting with people ready and willing to help out. The Nebula team built an apparatus almost entirely out of volunteers to host and moderate Zoom meetings which were then broadcast via web pages. Simultaneously Zoom meetings with rooms set up via breakout meetings hosted attendees so they could mingle and chat. You have volunteers reporting to volunteers, organized into teams and schedules, with training organized by and run by volunteers. It exposed the deep love and appreciation that many fans have for speculative fiction and the desire they have to come together in appreciation of the unreal and futurist.
I want to single out Anne Tibbets for somehow corralling multiple herds of cats to coordinate office hours and allow people to chat with writers and agents and ask questions in one on one sessions. I was lucky enough to get to meet and talk to several people, and in fact, it was the first time I ever met a real-life agent. I received a lot of valuable information about how to break into the short story market, publication strategies, and how to manage your work.
All in all, I think the first voyage of the AirShip Nebula was an enormous success, and that other conventions looking to successfully host virtual versions of themselves would be well-advised to seek out SFWA advice and leadership on the issue.