TO THE READERS: UTOPiA 2016 has had more than a handful of invited guests cancel their appearances at the con this year. Most within the past week or month. This letter is not necessarily directed at those people. Some of them had uncontrollable reasons to withdraw, and a few are even trying to pull off coming for at least a day. It is, however, to all who back out of events at the last minute. It’s a trend I’ve seen on the rise as I talk to other event organizers, and we need to hold ourselves to higher standards (event organizers included). The fans deserve that.
Thank you for letting us know that you will not be able to fulfill your commitment to participate in UTOPiAcon 2016. While we understand that things happen, sometimes uncontrollable things, we want you to take into consideration the following:
It is not me, or the UTOPiA team that you should worry about disappointing (though we are profoundly bummed). It is rather, the attendees and readers, possibly and probably your fans, who have been saving money, booking rooms and flights, and buying books, that you are letting down.
For ten-plus months, we have been promoting your attendance. Some of you have also been promoting your attendance. When you cancel after the March 30th refund date, none of your fans can get reimbursed for their purchases.
And when you cancel less than a month from the event, you leave us, the organizers, in a situation where we are left scrambling to update panels, exhibitor tables, and other details. But I don’t even care about that — that’s our job. What I do care about, though, is this –> Not only do you leave fellow moderators and panelists in a bind, but we do not have the adequate time to invite other authors to attend in your absence. There are loads and loads of authors I am dying to invite to UTOPiA. That my team is dying to invite. Each year, we agonize over who to invite back, what new authors we should invite, who do we have to say no to this year. To discover that we could have filled those spots if we’d had more time, it rubs me wrong.
While I understand that things happen because, well, life happens, I am slightly shocked at the way some of these notices are handled. While, as a friend to some of you, I can sympathize with your situation, as a business owner, I do not understand how or why some of you wait until the last minute to inform us or your fans (and sometimes fans only find out through us). I get that some of you are working angles up to the 11th hour trying to pull it off. But, if that’s the case, again, I encourage you to talk with us sooner, inform us what is going on. We will be better prepared, and might even be able to help.
I get notices that say it is not a reflection on UTOPiA, and that you love our event. But I have to wonder, would you so easily cancel on a “bigger” or “more reputable” event? It’s been my experience that when you want something bad enough, when it’s important to you, when it truly matters and is prioritized, there is nothing that can stand in your way. “Where there’s a will…” and all that. Because, for every person who has a valid reason for backing out, there is someone else with just as valid a reason who could, but who shows up.
However, while that stings personally to think about, I know in my heart that it is not a reflection of UTOPiA because I work with a team of dedicated book lovers who are tenacious, brilliant, generous, and kind. I also know it because of the hundreds of attendees and bloggers who, over the past five years, have consistently said in blogs posts, in person, on social media, in personal emails, and more, that we are one of the best events out there — that our community is one of the most passionate and inclusive and encouraging. So, ultimately, it is not UTOPiA’s “reflection” I am worried about. It’s yours.
While “reputation” is what others think of you, integrity is your own. And while it may be easy for you to excuse away yet another signing event commitment with a passionate “I’m sorry” that I have no doubt you mean, I encourage you to look deeper at how you are handling your business and your fans.
“The show must go on” is a testament to the commitment you show to your fans, to your own career. Yes, there will be other events they can see you at, but for those who have already paid for flights, rooms, books and more to this or other events, please consider what that means for them.
I get that this letter might not be well received by some — that I might ruffle feathers. However, I will not apologize for wanting to protect this event. My team and I work our butts off for this event all year long, and this week I suffered an anxiety attack so bad I did not open the curtains or leave my house for two days trying to figure out how I was going to tell the attendees. In an industry where I see some questionable event organizers literally take the money and run, leaving authors and fans fending for themselves, I take the high standards I set for UTOPiA and this community seriously.
I’m also not going to apologize for getting all Mama Bear for this community. I will go to the mat for this tribe if I feel like they are being dismissed or overlooked or undervalued.
Look, I’m not calling out anyone in particular, and you know whether you are a repeat offender or not. I truly understand that sometimes HUGE things happen, and you have to take a step back. What I am trying to call out here and hopefully trigger — is how you handle your commitments. Let event managers and fans know with adequate time if you know that things aren’t looking good. Do not say “yes” to everything if you know in your heart that you are burnt out, or tired, or have “been there, done that.” Do not say “maybe” and leave organizers in a holding pattern for weeks or months. Do not say “yes,” and then when something better comes along, back out of one for the other. I say this so that when you do get blindsided with the unimaginable, or uncontrollable events at the last minute, you will have already established yourself as someone who is known for honoring commitments, and these types of things are way easier to move on from.
And I’m talking to organizers too — do what you say you’re going to do. If you can’t deliver, own your responsibility, be honest, and work like hell to fix it.
UTOPiA’s promise is and will continue to be to push boundaries in the industry, encourage collaboration, spark productive discourse, champion indies, include everyone, promote the hell out of your participation, bring in the best and brightest speakers and panelists, and to create an inspiring and tribal atmosphere where dreams can become reality and where you can always find a friendly face in the crowd. We are committed to success for all — if we can help you, we will. Just keep the lines of communication open.
READERS: There are still over 100+ excited authors who will be there. And, some of those who had to withdraw had beyond reasonable reasons to do so. I just felt the need to write this because I have noticed a trend of this as I talk with other organizers, and I wanted to speak up not only for us, but for YOU.
I have disabled comments on this post. I will not be listing who backed out or their reasons. That is for them to share with their fans. We have updated the panelist and exhibitor pages, as well as the sched to reflect, but this post is not to disparage anyone, and I won’t let the comments section become a killing fields toward this organization, my team, or toward the guests who have had to cancel. It is to call attention to a trend in the industry, and to offer possible solutions.
If anyone — author, fan, attendee, organizer — has a question or concern please email us at info @ utopiacon . com.
EDIT: The opinions express in this post are my own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the UTOPiA team or community at large.