I spent this last weekend at NorWesCon. It's the Pacific Northwest's largest Science Fiction & Fantasy convention, and it usually pulls in just over 3000 people. I've attended off-and-on since about 1991 or so.
Literary conventions like this are generally very different in tone from gaming conventions like GenCon - it's more than just a size thing. While NorWes has a bunch of gaming panels, they tend to be a bit more generalized compared to the equivalent panels at GenCon - for example, I just got out of a Kickstarter panel which included a couple of RPG publishers, a novelist, and an artist. At GenCon, that panel would probably have been split into multiple panels, with each one more focused. There would have been "Kickstarting Board Games" and "Kickstarting Your RPG" and so on.
I love GenCon. And I enjoy NorWes. But I also spend a fair amount of NorWes sitting somewhere and reading - at GenCon, there is always something going on that I am interested in. At NorWes, there are gaps in coverage, as it were.
Part of that is the setting. NorWesCon has outgrown its hotel. In fact, it outgrew it a decade ago. But there's not really anywhere else for them to go, partly because of the culture of the convention itself. For example: Any new location would require 24/7 access to convention-goers. NorWes has events and TV rooms running all night. If I wanted to, I could go play laser tag at 3am.
The convention doesn't want to give up their all-night events - and I don't blame them. I really enjoyed the late-night activities when I was younger, and I have no desire to deprive younger con-goers of that same fun. But that closes access to a number of possible venues.
The hotel here is right on the public transit lines, and is less than a mile from the airport. This is very convenient for out-of-town guests and panelists. And is a definite point in the hotel's favor.
There are several other hotels nearby. This is also good for con-goers, because if the Doubletree is sold out (like it usually is), they can hurry to find a spot elsewhere.
There aren't enough panel rooms to grow right now. As it is, the convention is using every available room at all times during the day. So the number of scheduled panels and events hasn't changed significantly since I was much younger. The content of the panels has fluctuated over the years I've attended (and is actually a large part of why I took a few years off). Unless the hotel grows (or the convention adds panels and events at another of the nearby hotels), the convention isn't going to grow by much.
The content of the panels has shifted over the years. When I first started attending, it was very focused on literature. Books and magazines. Tips on how to get published. A few panels about art or the science behind the latest bestsellers. Over time, there were more and more "lifestyle" panels and fewer and fewer science fiction and fantasy panels. It, combined with the issues my wife and I had with the hotel (two bad experiences in two years was enough to sour us), meant it was time for us to walk away for a bit.
We're back this year. The hotel still has issues, but I'm beginning it always will. And this year's hotel issues appear to be frustrating but non-critical. As opposed to the year the hotel double-charged us (they did eventually refund us). The parking is still terrible, but short of the hotel spending time to build its own parking garage instead of relying on a lot, it's not going to change.
Panel-wise, I attended more panels last weekend than I did in my previous two con attendances combined - there were more on-target panels and fewer lifestyle panels.
Let me talk - just for a moment - about those lifestyle panels. Because I will inevitably be asked about them. They are panels about polyamory, BDSM, and other "alternative" lifestyles. Let me get this out first: I don't mind that these panels exist. I don't. I have dear friends who are into each of these various lifestyles.
They're not for me, but I won't judge you based on your membership in one of the various communities. What bothers me about these panels is that it seemed like there were more panels about BDSM and fetish art than there were about science fiction and fantasy. At a convention that was - ostensibly - all about science fiction and fantasy. I don't think the panels should be abolished - realistically, they tend to be run by adults and they are for people who are curious. And a convention should be a safe place to ask questions about this sort of thing. That it sometimes isn't is a question for another time and place ...
But the worm has turned. There are more science fiction and fantasy and hard science and art and writing panels than there have been in previous years. There are panels for filkers and cosplayers. There is a good diversity of panels again. This is - to my mind - a good thing. There are still dozens of panels that don't interest me - but there should be. I'm only part of the convention's target audience.
Next year, the Writer Guest of Honor is George R.R. Martin. And the artists are Boris Vallejo and Julie Bell. So all of the growing pains they've been suffering the last decade will be exacerbated, because it's going to be a zoo. I'm ... I'm almost looking forward to it.