FIYAHCON has come and gone for most, but I’m still plugging away, getting videos uploaded to the archives and sending our payments and the remaining Ignyte Award trophies out to finalists. I can’t wait to get my dining room table back.
This started out as a mission, as most things do. It was sort of a nebulous wish for years, something Brent and I talked about as FIYAH the magazine entity grew and developed. But prior to June of this year when it had never been so popular to seek out and support Black creators, we simply didn’t have the money. FIYAH had been juggling roughly the same earnest, dedicated, marvelous core of 350-400 subscribers for our first three years. October, until now, was our annual subscriber push, and with that money, we’d always put it back into the magazine either by publishing additional stories, raising rates for cover artists, or refining our back end processes through this or that upgrade to the nuts and bolts of things. Paying the magazine’s staff was also sort of this pie-in-the-sky dream. To this point, the only people being paid on the magazine’s staff were our slushers and reviewers, none of them even making a fraction of what their labor is worth.
And so when the murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd happened, when everyone decided to be vocal about their position on the mattering of Black lives, when those messages went from hashtags and t-shirts and profile pictures and turned into street protests and donations to bail funds and offerings of mentorship and opportunity in the creative sphere, FIYAH, the magazine of Black Speculative Fiction, received…attention. With that attention came 8,000 new Twitter followers, and over 1,000 new subscribers, enough to take us from the semi-prozine category and allow us for the first time to pay our writers and poets a professional standard of .08/word.
The funding for next year secured, what, then, would we do with our October?
COVID had been ruining our lives for months by the time the Nebulas happened. It was one of many larger conventions having to pivot from a physical presence to a virtual one. And as virtual events became more commonplace, (and more accessible from a budgeting standpoint), I saw our window to achieve one of those first things we’d wanted to achieve. We would do a convention. It would be virtual, it would be inclusive, and it would, as all things FIYAH, prove to the community that such a thing as an inclusive, accessible, diverse, dynamic convention where people and entities have their names properly announced and see more than one brown face on a panel at a time on anything other than a Diversity Panel, could exist. Recognizing that we are not the most oppressed group in terms of this industry, the convention would be a celebration not only of and for Black writers in SFF, but to BIPOC at large, because we couldn’t see denying space to groups already denied elsewhere. And we made it BIPOC”+” to welcome our friends in the publishing industry and community who are white but who are also doing the work where they can to see the rest of us recognized.
SFWA was approached first, and the leadership there was enthusiastic about both funds and mentorship in the “hows” of running a virtual convention after the success of the Nebulas. From there, it was all about setting up the core team (primarily from FIYAH’s NSS Slack space of Black SFF writers), banging out some graphics and setting up the website.
I’d considered the event experimental, and so capped it initially at 500 tickets. That way if we completely fucked it up, it would only be 500 people mad at us. This had the added benefit of keeping us on the same server and I wouldn’t have to worry about crashes caused by excessive traffic. The convention site is a subdomain of the magazine website so we didn’t have to bother with new domain/hosting accounts. I love a good cost-cutting measure.
Well those 500 tickets went… like, immediately. And with enthusiasm picking up especially as offers to gift tickets, we had to expand capacity. This meant upgrading the server, and increased anxiety over, again, fucking this up for more than 500 people. I’d never run a convention before. I have a good head for logistics and execution. But when you’re putting together something like this as a Black woman especially, you know that if it falls apart, if something breaks, if you’ve botched oversight or failed to make sure everyone essentially in your care from the staff to the attendees, is literally cared for, it’s not a reflection of you and your personal failings. Someone somewhere is going to turn it into The Problem With Black/Women/Black Women. Our wiggle room, our margin of error, is non-existent.
Altogether, we released another 300 purchase-able tickets, kept capacity for 150 gift and scholarship tickets, and then comped our award finalists, staffers, panelists, and guests of honor, bringing our total attendance to 1,128 registered. And also the site didn’t crash.
Each of our Guests of Honor were selected for their contributions to the global SFF scene. Rebecca Roanhorse is a prolific, award-winning Black and Indigenous author. Cassie Hart is a Maori writer whose labors on behalf of ConZealand this year went largely unsung by the convention at large. Yasser Bahjatt chaired the Jeddah bid for a future WorldCon and was met with… we’ll call it “substantial resistance” by largely Western fanbases, which saw his government knocking on his door to inquire why they were being dragged in The Guardian. I’ll yell about that later, but all of our GOHs shared a common thread of trying to bring SFF recognition to their communities.
The Ignyte Awards were birthed in August, after what was effectively an abysmal 2020 Hugo Awards ceremony. George R.R. Martin butchered names left and right, and to begin with, the convention was… lacking in a number of areas. In a “fuck it, we’ll do it live” DM to Brent, a new award series was born and executed in a number of weeks. A Black artist was commissioned to provide the artwork. We didn’t force teams to limit the number of names allowed to represent them on the ballot. We collected and provided both text-based and audio pronunciations of names. And we didn’t charge finalists to attend their own award ceremony.
Throughout the process, probably the most grating part was anything having to do with emails. We had issues with Mailchimp not sending emails to entire swaths of our newsletter subscribers. I received way too many emails from people who did receive their emails but didn’t read them and asked me to repeat things I already painstakingly explained. No less than 4 people received emails, opened them (newsletter services allow us to track that information, dears), and then emailed me to ask questions that were answered in the email they said they didn’t even receive. And then there were the White Guilt emails, the ones apologizing profusely for taking up space when we told them they were welcome, and offering to cancel their ticket or wishing to transfer it to someone else. I’ve spoken repeatedly on how much work that creates for us, and how there are better uses for my time than assuaging that guilt. I hope that in the future that kind of emotional labor is taken into account before requests like this are made.
There were also a fair number of brusque emails demanding answers to questions found in our FAQ or elsewhere on our site. 100% of these were from white people. There were also a few incidents of Diversity Policing (again, all from white people) who demanded to know why not literally every ethnicity was represented in some aspect of the thing.
What’s often forgotten, particularly in the cases of BIPOC rep, is that these people have autonomy. They have lives. When offered paneling, they are permitted to refuse for any reason. Scheduling conflicts. Zoom fatigue. They’re not into the programming item you’ve pitched, or they live in areas with unstable internet connections. Or in the case of in-person events, securing a visa can be a nightmare. No convention is entitled to a BIPOC’s time and energy for the sake of improving its demographic breakdown. We absolutely reached out to some people who declined participation. I set a policy of no more than one white person on any panel. It couldn’t be upheld 100% of the time because someone of color declined. And that’s okay. The point is that our threshold for BIPOC presence on programming started at 80% (1 moderator + 4 panelists per thing). We knew whose perspective we valued most and we set out intentionally to see them centered.
And then there were the “Oh, Westerners and their Western Westernness not decentralizing Westernly from the West to cater to the Not-West.” These were fun. Yes, loves, the West sucks in very many ways. But when you’re speaking to and of Black and brown people in organizing who just so happen to live in The West, you’ll find that using the same talking points as used to criticize white organizers to not actually be valid. But that’s a diaspora war for another time.
And that’s why we have Fringe, isn’t it? When Vida and Iori reached out about wanting to orchestrate some Fringe content, my first thought was that it needed to be welcomed into our formal line-up. I’ve witnessed volunteers cobbling together supplementary content to offset some dull programming or overlooked or underrepresented groups in existing conventions, only to not be formally recognized for their efforts by the concom in any way. FIYAHCON would be different. We wanted to serve other time zones, but time being what it is, that would have meant asking some segment of our U.S. based team to organize content in the small hours of our mornings. Fringe was able to do that. Vida and Iori also stressed that the $40USD ticket price may be oppressive to people elsewhere in the world. So in the spirit of removing every barrier we could, we made the Fringe tier free. And because we had the money to do it, we extended our resources, our live captioning contract, and our set up to make sure Fringe was as integrated as possible to the convention, and that they wouldn’t have to go to Youtube or something and be forced to use their own set up. This resulted in 12 hours of globally inclusive content that was both free and AMAZING.
As ever, our goal is not to be the ONLY space doing what we do. If you see a lack in the community, it’s within your power, through the grace of the internet and social media, to correct it. And that’s what you should do rather than relying on the unwilling or unequipped existing structures to broaden their own tables after you’ve badgered them for years to do it.
What you should not do, is reach out to FIYAHCON staffers suggesting that either for free or for comped passes to your event, they assist you with the lacking diversity of your space. The goal of this entire thing was to build something organically inclusive. It was not to make additional work for team members by soliciting them retroactively to correct the spaces so committed to their antiquated ways of doing things that we were driven to make FIYAHCON a corrective event in the first place. Threads like these, created by conrunners, are not to be taken as an advertisement of services, but as an invitation to adopt their methods and apply them yourselves so that there are more people capable of doing this work, not just an overworked few BIPOC who would frankly rather be writing. And now that we’ve been able to pay our volunteers, we’re hoping it becomes another industry standard, that the performance of labor is not expected without compensation. “For the love of the community” can’t always be enough.
Below, you’ll find a fairly extensive overview of the costs associated with set-up of our virtual convention, as well as some notes on what worked and what didn’t. Next year, I’m hoping to add a book store and artists’ alley, which shouldn’t be too much of a nightmare with the additional planning time.
At $40USD a head + about $14k in sponsorship dollars and $3k in assorted individual donations, we were able to provide honoraria for our staff, cover operating costs, put $10k away for next year’s event, and provide $200/year of service in honoraria to our magazine staff. It’s not a lot, but it’s a start.
I’d like to thank our sponsors SFWA, Uncanny Magazine, Subterranean Press, Scholastic, Elise Matthesen, Viable Paradise, DongWon Song, The Monterey Bay Aquarium, Escape Artists, Tor Dot Com Publishing, and Interstellar Flight Press for their contributions.
Expect announcements surrounding FIYAHCON 2021 in January.
BY THE NUMBERS
FIYAHCON was formally launched July 7th (my birthday!), making for 102 elapsed planning days.
Including staff, Ignyte finalists, panelists, general ticketholders, Fringe, and assorted comped ticket varieties, we had 1,128 registered, and 978 active attendees by close.
The event was staffed by 43 volunteers and 11 (also volunteer) department heads. All staff members were provided the option to receive an honorarium of $50-$200. Contributing booktubers were paid $200 for the “commercials” used particularly during Em-Dash. The Ignyte Awards Host also received an honorarium.
Guests (panelists, GOHs) as well as staff members were comped, meaning that their attendance at the convention was free. They were provided options for refunds in the event that they’d purchased tickets before being added formally to programming or to the team. Options included receiving their ticket refund, foregoing the refund to support the coffers for next year’s event, and having their refund paid forward to either the Monterey Bay Aquarium (who provided our Aquarium Calm Rooms), or to the National Bail Fund Network.
Panels: Zoom – 3 accounts, business tier (one per content stream + tea house)
Broadcast: Dacast* $750 for the year
Live Captions, SRTs for pre-recorded content: ACS Captions – Total roughly 63 hours of content $4889
*We’d originally planned to broadcast through Boxcast, but would have required their Experience tier which offered their two concurrent streams option. That plan ran $199/month but forced annual subscription which we didn’t need for a single annual event. This prompted us to explore other avenues and we landed on Dacast which is $750 for the year. We’re now having issues accessing some of our recordings like our opening ceremonies and the Ignyte Awards, and customer service has been less than helpful, so I would not recommend using them again in the future. As we’re stuck with this annual plan, however, we’re looking forward to using it beginning in 2021 to host monthly Em-Dash games.
Early Bird swag boxes: swagup.com $8056
Qty 200 Boxes included a recycled leatherbound notebook, two Le Pens by Marvy, a sticker, note card, and 8gb flash drive each with the FIYAHCON logo. Shipping was also included.
Digital swag bags: publisher donations
Archives hosting: VideoPress (available with Jetpack subscription)
Tiered Member Access Areas of website: Restrict Content Pro Plugin
Schedule, Guest Profiles: Sched.com $1700
Newsletter/Email Correspondence: Mailchimp**/MooSend
** We had issues with irregular correspondence with attendees, primarily because whatever it is Mailchimp’s got going on in the back end, they weren’t sending our emails to our entire mailing list, or even entire pre-designated segments. As a result, we switched to MooSend, which has proven cheaper, more effective, and without a lot of the junk that’s gummed up MailChimp’s interface as they’ve grown over the last few of years.
Trophy Production: thestudio.com – $1198
Full purchase included qty150 3”x3” challenge coins for both winners and finalists with velvet boxes and rush delivery
Small flat rate boxes (qty 100 with prepaid postage for domestic: $830) + (qty 50 without labels for international: free)
International postage: $686.40 (between $27.90 and $38.60 each)
Collateral printing: MOO.COM – $367.60
Ignyte Award trophies went out with foil printed cards
OFFICE HOURS + WORKSHOPS
Whereby: 50-room Business Plan for $259.99/mo
Whereby is where our four Workshops and one-on-one meetings with 37 Office Hours hosts were held. Office Hours provided face time between aspiring publishing professionals of color and existing publishing professionals for pitch sessions, query critiques, and Q/A’s. To date, we’ve received word of 11 different opportunities resulting from these meetings, from full requests to editorial mentorships.
Discord – free tier
Calm Rooms by Monterey Bay Aquarium: $1500 for the leasing of two live cams
Slack – free tier
Central planning hub
FIYAH already runs its back end processes on Airtable, so a separate subscription purchase wasn’t necessary. Airtable allowed us to store form responses and generate our volunteer, panel proposal, office hours host, programming participant, and Meloscriptorium playlist contributions in a single centralized location.
Google Meet – free tier
Meetings were held every-other-Thursday between July and September, and every Thursday in October.
Google Drive – free tier
Planning documents were hosted in a shared Drive space
Hosting for FIYAHCON digital swag bag