I actually had that conversation on several occasions throughout Worldcon, in person and on Twitter. The population of Worldcon does seem generally a bit long in the tooth. And this is coming from me, Miss 32-year-old McAuthorpants, who has not been close to the cutting edge of Kids These Days for something like ten years. I felt incredibly young compared to the general age of the con. (I wonder if this is a statistic that is tracked in any way.)
(And for the love of all that is holy, this is not a slam against older people.
Some of my best friends are older people. The point is, if you want to keep what you love rolling along, young and invigorated, you kind of need some people in it who are young and vigorous both.)
The first Worldcon I ever attended was Denvention 3, because it was in Denver. I was also an undergrad at that point, and despite the fact that my then-boyfriend was working full time for decent pay and I had a ridiculously well-paid summer job, the cost of the convention almost made me pass out from stress. Worldcons are shockingly expensive when you’re a student. I can’t imagine I would have been able to cough up the money to attend when I’d been a teenager unless I’d been able to literally talk my parents out of that kind of money if Worldcon had even been in my neighborhood at the time. (Now, considering my parents are both nerds and my mom is huge into reading, I might have been able to do so, but it’s not like I can travel into the past and find out.)
So yeah, then on top of the scary You Want Me To Pay How Much To Go To A Convention You Realize SDCC and AX Are Both Like One Half This Price cost of membership, there’s really a question of just how welcome the genres that tend to cater to that demographic are—I’m talking YA specifically. Now, I actually feel encouraged that at the WSFS Business Meeting, we at least got a committee going on the idea of the YA Hugo. But I also don’t blame other people for feeling discouraged either since the level of resistance to the very idea can’t feel so great. Sure, YA books have been nominated for Hugos before—but looking at the list, I’d also argue that generally happens when the YA book is written by an author who normally focuses on adult novels, so kind of pulls their fan base in to it. Not a comforting thought for those who write YA as the rule rather than the exception.
Then you consider the other committee that was formed, regarding the Worldcon membership issues that were up for a vote. One angle of that was the fact that the cost of participating in Worldcon is really prohibitive for anyone under a certain age or under a certain level of income. Seeing those issues coming up for votes (before they were sent to committee), particularly since they purported to address problems that had not yet occurred, came across as a little hostile toward *hypothetical* efforts to bring in fresh blood.
I remember my first SF/F convention—a Mile Hi Con sometime when I was in my early twenties. I felt pretty awkward and out of place at times because I was new to it, and felt very young compared to everyone else. And that one, I attended with a friend and we cosplayed as anime characters, which got us some very strange looks. (This was like ten years ago, please remember.) I honestly didn’t feel like I belonged there, like I wasn’t quite the right kind of nerd, and very little of the programming had any relevance to me at the time because those weren’t the books I was reading. I didn’t go back for years, and then I went because I was friends with gamers at the convention, and then because I began to write seriously. (It also helped that I’d lost interest in anime fandom completely at that point and needed somewhere else to get my nerd on.)
Feeling welcome at a convention is a major factor in getting someone to come back, year after year after year. And this is true whether we’re talking about young people or any other group that may be underrepresented. It’s easy to point out that, say, people can suggest new programming, but keep in mind a lot of young attendees will have no idea what they can and cannot do; they just come and fumble their way through and hoped they have a good time. Hell, I wasn’t a young attendee last year at Worldcon and I had no idea I could or should go to the WSFS meetings until Mur told me, for example.
A convention is an investment of time and money, and if you don’t have a good time and don’t find things that interest you, you’ll go elsewhere. Worldcon is a *huge* investment of money particularly. You have to feel like you’re getting something pretty special out of it to want to spend that much on a convention on top of travel and hotel expenses. If there isn’t programming of interest, people will go where they can find it. And from the Twitter chatter, I’m getting the impression that YA writers (our at least the ones talking to me) feel that Worldcon isn’t worth it, which then leads to the question of if their fans would think it was worth it.
I did meet some younger people there, though I’m total shit at judging ages and I can’t really come up with much beyond a nebulous sort of “appreciably younger than me” as a guess. And they were all writers—and being a writer in Scifi or Fantasy is a darn good reason to go to Worldcon no matter what age you are. I’m just wondering how many fans of, say, age 25 or below we had in attendance, and how they felt with the experience. If you’re out there, I’d love to hear from you.
Personally, I want more people of all ages because first, I love Worldcon, and second, I want more people to potentially buy my darn books. Get ’em young and keep ’em reading, right? Thoughts?