I’m going to the Nebula Conference in Anaheim next week and I’m so excited. This was the conference I was most excited about when the pandemic rolled in and wrecked everything. It’s finally back in person, and gol dangit I’m going. This is the first time I’ll be on a plane since *waves hands* all that, and I’m, to be honest, a little nervous.
What About Virtual?
SFWA is taking a hybrid model for the 2023 conference. This is great! A virtual ticket gets you access to the panels, online places to chat, and a whole year of writing dates. This is a top-notch professional con for speculative fiction authors of all stripes, and the panels and presentations scheduled are going to be amazing.
There are other advantages to virtual conferences. Accessibility is a complicated topic, but a con that you can attend from your home is a big step in the right direction. It’s an option many people have needed for a very long time. It also helps SFWA, a presumably worldwide organization, break free of its USA-only roots. People from anywhere can join this year’s Nebula Conference. People from all over will join, and the organization will be better for it.
Why Not Ditch Physical Conference?
There’s been some discussion about the cost of the in-person Nebula Conference. SFWA released a statement yesterday regarding the struggles of the event, including an offer of scholarship opportunities for this year’s con. (If you’re considering taking advantage of that opportunity, DO IT.) The truth is, running a physical conference is expensive. Hotels are pushing back on every concession, jacking up prices, and making every aspect of planning the event tougher. Running it as a hybrid event makes things even more complicated.
We don’t know what future Nebula Conferences will look like, just as we don’t know what any future conference will look like. These challenges aren’t specific to SFWA, and things might get better, but they might not. With these struggles, both organizationally and financially, the idea has been floated of skipping the physical con entirely. After all, the main event of the Nebula Conference (the Nebula Award Ceremony) has been shown to be pretty damn cool in the last couple of virtual years. It’s the one nice consolation prize for not being able to actually go to a con.
So, yeah. We could get rid of the in-person Nebula Conference. That would be fine.
But here’s the thing: I don’t want a virtual-only conference.
There, I said it. Twenty-one years of working on tech left me with a serious distaste for virtual meetings. Let’s face it, panels are great, awards are great, but I go to a conference to network. I’m there to meet people. Virtually meeting people isn’t the same for me, and I don’t like it.
Is that a selfish reason to want an extremely expensive conference to still exist?
Yes. Yes, it is.
But I still want it, and I don’t think I’m alone.
I’m not going to go into a lot of details, but the chats around the SFWA channels are a tornado of ideas regarding how to save this conference. We could split virtual and in-person cons into separate events, thus simplifying each. Location can change. Location, traditionally, does change. This isn’t new. Scaling down would help. More sponsors. More donations. There are tons of ways we could save a wonderful con.
What will the Nebula Conference look like next year? I have no idea.
I’m too focused on flying on a real airplane for the first time in years. It’s, um, probably going to be uncomfortable. Because I’m tall.
But the conference is going to be great.