Selecting Guests of Honor

Foolscap's Clever Scheme

What Category of Guest of Honor?

We talked about having two or three guest of honor positions, but deliberately not having categories. Traditionally, conventions have a "[Literary] Guest of Honor," an "Art Guest of Honor," a "Fan Guest of Honor," and so on. Some cons have started just saying "Guests of Honor: name, name, name." If we do that, then we could have an editor, an artist, and a comic book author one year, and have an (ordinary) author, an art director, and a game designer the next. Or whatever. To support "Business," having editors and art directors attend would be great, but to accomplish that will probably require GoH-invite-type pull. It also opens up our choices far beyond what most cons look at in GoHs. I find this flexibility in being able to bring out pretty much anybody we want to very exciting.

The Object of Honor

We should think about the possibilities in an "Object of Honor" as being the 'lead name,' selecting a specific book or a comic series or painting as a focus for that year's convention. Ideally, one or more of the GoHs would be related to the object: if we get a book, we bring out the author of the book, for example. Some time at the May meeting was spent tossing out possibilities, and even expanding to have two or all three GoHs be related. Maybe we can get an author of a book, the book/author's editor, and the art director for it. There were concerns about the cost if all three people were from outside the region, and that the first batch of Honors will strongly affect how Foolscap is positioned in people's minds, so we can't get too far afield from our stated turf the first year. [Editor's Note: We had Octavia Butler's short work "Blood Child" as the Work of Honor for Foolscap I, and have not selected one since, although I don't think we had any negative issues with it that first year.]

How We Pick Our GoHs

Step One: What Makes a Good GoH

Criteria we used one year was this:

At the beginning of the process, the concom should take time to just talk about what they're looking for for a GoH for the con in question. Currently, the convention committee for Fn will be involved in picking GoHs for Fn+1 or better; so be it.

Step Two: First List

At a subsequent meeting, we sit around and brainstorm like crazy, just adding names to the preliminary list of anybody that anybody thinks might make a good GoH. Then people go home, and email even more names to whoever's collecting them.

Step Three: Group Ratings

A surprisingly useful technique we've used for the next step is, at the next meeting, somebody reads off each name on the list, and everybody in the room, in turn, gives that potential GoH a 1, 2, or 3 rating.

  1. I think so-and-so would be a good GoH this year.
  2. I don't have a strong opinion
  3. I think so-and-so is not suitable as a GoH this year.

If somebody is unfamiliar with a particular name, they should vote "two." The group is not allowed to discuss or argue with anybody's vote, even if they're horrified by it.

When it's all done, then the totals are added up, and the names re-arranged by score, in ascending order. Names with the lowest scores would appear to be the strongest candidates for being a GoH.

This isn't some kind of binding vote, so it's important not to get too panicked by how it goes. It's just a way to get some idea of what the group mind thinks about specific people. Every year, everybody's surprised by at least one name ending up higher or lower than they expected.

Then the list is handed off to the Secret Cabal

Step Four: The Secret Cabal

The Secret Cabal is a committee of three people who will actually pick and invite the GoHs. Strictly speaking, it's appointed by the Board of Directors of Little Cat Z, since the Cabal is picking for a convention that does not yet have a committee. In practice, everybody looks around, some people announce that they'd like to be on the Cabal, and everybody sort of just agrees on the roster. The BoD's policy is that one of the members should have served on a previous Cabal, to provide some continuity, and the other two should not have, or at least not recently. Also, the Cabal should strive to include people with contrasting points of view, for balance.

The reason to have a Cabal is to reduce the potential for insult or hurt feelings. The Cabal is likely to get turned down by at least one or two of their picks, and it can be rather dismaying as a GoH to learn that you were the convention's third or fourth choice, instead of their first.

Many conventions just let the con chair pick the GoHs. Foolscap's founders felt this wasn't the best approach. First of all, we're picking guests so far ahead, we don't know who the chair for that con will be yet. Second, particularly during the early years of the con, the GoHs are critical to setting the tone and success of the convention, and we're "pushing the envelope" more than a bit. Having more than one person involved means checks and balances that should generally ensure some of the best possible GoHs without being too biased by one person's specific preferences.

It is the Cabal's job to pick GoHs, and, theoretically and practically, they can pick whoever they jolly well wish. It is expected that they'll have paid close attention to what other members of the current concom have expressed regarding GoHs. This is also what the list in Step Three is for; the Secret Cabal will probably start with the top twenty or thirty names on that list when getting down to the business of picking a GoH.

Based on the list of criteria presented in Step One, the Secret Cabal for Foolscap I and II collected the following information on each potential GoH on their "short list."

The Cabal has to find two (and, one day, three) GoHs that balance each other as well as the GoHs of the preceeding and following (if known) Foolscaps. Having both GoHs be older white male writers is not serving the Mission Statement or intended audience of Foolscap, for example. It's not that unusual for the top four or five names on the Short List to be rejected because there's nobody else available that would balance them well.

Once the Cabal's got a potential set, they contact that person or persons, and extend an invitation. If they say "sorry, can't," then it's back to the drawing board for a different pair/set. If they say "yes," then the Cabal can reveal the names of the guest(s) chosen.

Past Lists

This was our Step Two list from, um, Foolscap II, I think.