Science Fiction Outreach Initiative

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A Successful WonderCon for Science Fiction Outreach

After several months of gathering donated books and other preparations the SFOI went to WonderCon April 1-3. It was an incredibly brilliant experience. We benefited hugely from teamwork and the generosity of fans.

Between a variety of book drives*, donations and even people turning up at WonderCon with small bags, we had between 5500 to 6000 books. Borderlands, Berkshire Books, Locus Magazine, and Half Price Books (in both the Bay Area and Chicagoland) donated books. We had boxes of Locus and Fantasy & Science Fiction to give away as well.

And now, the rest of the story…

We spent some time Monday through Wednesday sorting and collecting a few more books. Thanks to the flexibility of the WonderCon staff (who were helpful and awesome throughout), we were able to collect our badges on Wednesday. At the crack of dawn Thursday we were on our way in a truck filled with books to the Moscone for move-in!  We set up our shelving, and found the arrangements and the Freeman move-in experience were all good.

Friday was interesting, especially because we didn’t know what to expect. When the hall opened just before noon we had about six people in our booth, and from then till close we never had less, and frequently had too many. This was the pattern for the rest of the weekend as well.

We were able to shelve around 1400 books at a time in our booth, and used our two tables to distribute Renovation progress reports as well as stacks of fliers promoting a wide variety of SF/F conventions. Every book contained a special bookmark pointing the readers to local conventions, upcoming Worldcons, and some of our other sponsors.

At least seven volunteers were on hand at opening, and the team grew through the weekend. Attendees talked about what interested them, and volunteers helped them find a book. In many cases we took the time to explain what our conventions are like (I know, but wow – you should have seen their faces when they realized what else is out there!), and also talked about plans for Renovation and Worldcons in general. It was a sort of  continual information dump from volunteers to attendees, and we were almost always busy.

People from the Bay Area, Sacramento, and Reno were especially interested to hear about a nearby World Science Fiction Convention, as well as Westercon and Loscon. Folks from further afield were pointed at cons in their states, and generally anyone who wanted to know about something local to them was satisfied.

The diversity of people calling into the booth was more varied than our experience at book conventions, and yet all folks wanted to do was talk about books, get and give book recommendations, and/or chat about these “book conventions” that we were promoting. Everyone was super friendly (well, the books were free) and the interest in the overall hobby was noticeable.

Also, the knowledge of people was superb. Many of these WonderCon attendees were genuine SF readers who just are not aware of what’s going on in the SF fannish community.

We have people to thank. Helping out our core team in the booth were: Dave Gallaher, Dave Clark, Mike Ward, John O’Halloran, Chris O’Halloran, Kevin Standlee (who brought a Hugo statue for us to display!), Steve Libbey, Tom Becker, Lynda Wentzelberger, “Hitgirl” (a random attendee who decided what we were doing was cool and stayed to help), Jo Mead, and Leane Verhulst.

We had help from Kimm Antell and Meredith Branstad, and thank them for designing bookmarks, postcards and banners for us. Thanks to File 770 and SFSFC for helping us publicize the Initiative, and a BIG thank you to Colin Harris for updating our Facebook page throughout the weekend (in spite of being in Britain, many time zones away from us), which garnered great comments from folks who met us in the booth and then found us on FB later. (Have you “liked” us on FB yet? We are: Science Fiction Outreach Project – USA.)

It was hard work, but it was an incredibly fun thing to engage with people about books and our wider hobby and we are pretty sure we can call it a success. We believe we got our message out and in a good way, and that fandom will benefit from this for sure.

Highlights for us included:

  • The looks on people’s faces when they realized the books really were free;
  • People recommending books to each other, including parents helping their kids find books;
  • Faces lighting up as our team talked about SF conventions;
  • Excitement from folks when they realized they could be part of the Hugo Awards process;
  • Overhearing one of us suggesting a particular book, someone said “Yup, it’s great. I was going to take it but you have it.”  (This happened more than once, including adults giving some stuff over to teenagers just getting into the genre.)
  • Enthusiastic response of folks from the Reno area, as they heard about Renovation for the first time;
  • Real interest from young people in hearing more about Renovation’s YA discount, volunteering, and other ways to make Worldcon affordable;
  • Writers and publishers (thanks, Archaia Publishing!) working the show, stopped by and donated books and comics for kids;

It was quite honestly one of the most amazing experiences some of us have ever had in fandom. Thanks to our sponsors: RCFI/Renovation, Chicon 7, London in 2014, CanSMOF, SFSFC, LASFS, MCFI, NESFA, SCIFI, and a very special private donor.

There’s more to the story! WonderCon 2011 is over, but we’re already gearing up for what comes next. We have a few ideas of what we would like to do, and will keep the fannish community updated as we go.

– The Science Fiction Outreach Project Team (James, Chris, Helen & Spike)
Contact us at:  sfoutreach@renovationsf.org

*You Were There!

Thanks to everyone who donated books, and to the conventions that hosted book drives:

Outreach Initiative Invites Comics and Media Fans to Read a Book

SFSFC Inc. joins other fan organizations in supporting a new initiative to introduce comics and media fans to science fiction fandom, especially Worldcons. The calling card? Books!

A team of science fiction fans is planning to go to WonderCon, April 1-3, 2011, and give away six pallets of FREE BOOKS!

WonderCon, held annually in San Francisco, attracts 34,000 people to a celebration of comics and fantasy media. A group of fans affiliated with the World Science Fiction Convention intend to establish an outpost at WonderCon, and reach out to the potential science fiction and fantasy readers who pass through the exhibit hall. Along with a free book, these readers will be given information about the amazing things going on in the “fannish” community, including Worldcons and regional conventions.

The theory behind the initiative is simple. “As a book reader and comic reader, if I saw free sf/f books, would I be attracted to that booth, and perhaps listen to the folks giving them away? Of course I would,” says James Bacon who is coordinating the initiative.

Experience from similar events in London has shown that book fans do attend these comics events. Bacon says, “At London Film and Comic Con and Collectormania, we have given away books and seen the returns in convention memberships. We want the book readers. We want the potential fans that like books and want to talk about them, and will appreciate meeting like minded folks. We have found a way to attract and talk to the book readers: giving away science fiction and fantasy books.”

Flyers and brochures about conventions and other fan-sponsored events will be distributed in the booth. Renovation, Chicon 7 and Worldcons in general will be a focus. Each book will contain a bookmark listing upcoming Worldcons and other conventions. Volunteers from Renovation will be on hand to answer questions about the 69th World Science Fiction Convention and sell memberships.

“We have been pleased with the response from the staff of WonderCon, and we have booked two booths for the event. Our hope now is to reach out to the incredible fannish community and ask for help in making this a successful event” said Helen Montgomery, another member of the team organizing the initiative.

How You Can Help

Many fans have often contemplated a trimming of their book collections. Don’t just recycle your books — donate them to this project so they can be the lure for new fans! The team will be carrying out book drives at area conventions, beginning with Loscon in late November. Check this page — and check back often — to find out about which conventions will be hosting a book drive. If you are a sf/f publisher and are willing to donate new books to our cause, please contact us.

Folks putting together this initiative would like to hear from fans who can provide temporary storage or transportation of books to the Bay Area, Volunteers are sought to help out at WonderCon — meet new fans, match them with a book they will love and welcome them to the community. This is just the beginning. Please get in touch if you think you can help.

Thanks to SFSFC, RCFI, Chicon 7, the London in 2014 Worldcon bid, CanSMOF Inc., LASFS and a very generous private donor, the Science Fiction Outreach Initiative is under way. We need additional funding and volunteers! Please contact us at reno-sfoutreach@renovationsf.org.

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