Over the years since Worldcons were invented, and especially as they have grown larger, there've increasingly been questions about who is and isn't scheduled on the program, what the program is for, what kind of participants programmers are looking for, and so forth and so on. The program is the heart of the Worldcon, so we want to make sure that Noreascon Four's attendees and potential program participants know what we're planning.

If you’re a professional writer, think of us as an editor. It’s our job to select from all of the myriad ideas and program possibilities to build the best program we can. Like an editor, we strive for an interesting balance of ideas and people, that will allow us to make our visions of Noreascon 4 into realities. (And, like an editor, we might even make the wrong choices. So it goes….)

Teresa Nielsen Hayden once described the job of the Program Department as "programming the conversation of the convention" and we think that's a great short summary. Program is about creating and stimulating conversations, two-way (or multi-way) interactions between people. The conversation is between and among the members of the convention — all of them at one time or another if we do the job well. A really great program is one whose ideas are still being discussed days later by people who didn’t even attend the original program item!

The main job of the Program Division is to put together a schedule of interesting program topics staffed with interesting people who'll talk about them. Our primary focus is on good conversation. The issue of who's scheduled to have that conversation is also important, but it's not our starting point.

So what makes a good conversation? In a nutshell: lively, knowledgeable, articulate people talking to each other, interactively, about some interesting subject.

Sounds good. So who'll be on this program?

A very good question, but we haven't decided yet. What we do know is that the N4 program will be big, diverse, and inclusive, and that it will include writers, artists, editors, fans, scientists, singers...you get the picture.

We want the participants in this program to be the best we can find for what we want to present. Our overriding priority is to create the best possible program for the members of Noreascon 4. Period.

Let’s cut to the chase: how can I be on program?

If you believe you’re already known to the people running Program, then the first big thing you need to do is to let us know that you’re interested and buy your membership (see sidebar). But the SF/F field is a big place these days — too big for anybody to know everybody who has something interesting to say. If it happens that we aren't yet acquainted with you, we need you to tell us about yourself.

What do we want to know about you?

If you're a writer, we'd certainly like to know what you've written and where it was published; and the same goes for artists, filkers, fan publishers, film makers, etc. We’re looking for people — writers and non-writers; professionals and non-professionals — who'll make interesting contributions to the convention’s conversations. So, it's also important for us to know what else you do (or have done) and what else you care about. What are you interested in? In what fields are you an expert? What engages your passions? What are your hobbies? Got any powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal fen? Do please let us know.

Look at some good examples of how to write to programming.

Show us that you have something interesting to say. Suggest program topics we may not have thought about and people who are interesting whom we may not know about. Tell us about yourself. (Listing your professional associations and memberships doesn't tell us much about you. Telling us which subjects and areas of interest you're personally involved with in those organizations is far more pertinent. You're welcome to send us the URL of your website, but please don't just send us the URL and expect us to figure out the relevant bits on our own — point it out to us!) If you’re interesting and knowledgeable, we’d like to put you on something — if we can....

What do you mean by that?

The Worldcon program is huge. Something on the order of five hundred people (or more!) will be program participants — but the pool of potential participants is significantly larger than that, and there will be meritorious people for whom we just won’t be able to find a good setting. We regret this. The worst thing about putting together a program is that doing so precludes all the other programs that might have been created. But time and resources are finite, and there's no way around it. Something we know from long experience is that a four-person panel is just about right, five panelists is pushing it, and six or more almost always makes an unworkable panel. We'll be aiming for four. And since there are only so many slots for so many program items, this gives us a finite and inelastic number of panel assignments.

The bottom line is, we can't promise we'll use everyone who volunteers.

We promise to do our best. If we thought we could guarantee that the results will make absolutely everyone absolutely happy, we'd promise that too. We can't. But we do promise to do our best.

Some important details
When to contact us.
We’ll be sending out our initial program mailing in mid-to-late December 2003, so please wait until then to send requests for program information. You may already be on our list! If you haven't heard back from us by the beginning of 2004, please re-send your information to program@noreascon.org. (We’ll be putting up a web page where you can tell us about yourself at about the same time — using it will be an efficient way to communicate with us.)
Please buy your membership.
Everyone does it, from the Worldcon Chairman on down. We see Worldcon as a shared community activity of fans of SF (some of whom are also pros) from around the world. We are all volunteers and so we all buy our memberships in the Worldcon — and you must too. We can't schedule you for the program until Registration tells us you've become a member of the convention. Remember that memberships are much, much cheaper if you buy them early on. You can buy them online right now, if you prefer to do it that way. (Following the usual Worldcon custom, we're planning to reimburse staff and program participants for their memberships, assuming we have enough money left over after the convention.) We also have an installment plan which permits you to buy your membership in monthly payments.
Tax issues.
Some members of our community are under the mistaken impression that an SF pro needs to be on the program in order to write off their convention expenses as a tax deduction. This isn't true. The IRS understands perfectly well that writers, editors, agents, pro artists, and other professionals go to conventions — especially Worldcons  — because they need to meet, greet, network, schmooze, and do business, and that this doesn't necessarily involve being on the convention program. To repeat: It isn't necessary for a professional to be on the program in order to take a tax deduction for attending Noreascon Four. The "Writer's Pocket Tax Guide" has some excellent information about this issue. We encourage you to discuss this with your accountant, tax preparer, or attorney.
Other program....other conventions...other Worldcons...
"I've been on Program at other conventions and previous Worldcons." That doesn't guarantee that you'll be on the program at N4, but it is something we'd like to know about. When you tell us about yourself, do tell us about programs elsewhere you've been on and what you particularly liked about them. [You might even want to briefly describe the most unsuccessful program items you've ever seen, and give your thoughts on why and how they went wrong (any names, dates, or locations you mention will be considered confidential.)]
Be patient.
If you initially get a "wait and see" response to your programming questionnaire, don't assume it means we don't want you. Really! Odds are we're still fiddling with the program, trying to get everyone's schedules to mesh. We figure it's better for you to hear from us that you haven't been assigned yet, than for you to learn that all your friends have gotten their programming schedules and wonder whether you've been rejected.

Remember that you can have a terrific time at the Worldcon even if you’re not on the program. Lots of our most interesting conversations at Worldcons have occurred in the bar, while you're waiting on a line, and even in the ladies' room! There's a lot you can contribute to Noreascon 4 whether you're officially on the Program or not. We want you to be part of our conversations — wherever they happen.

Please take a look at Brenda Clough's essay  "Inside Worldcon: The Writer's Tour" published in the SFWA Bulletin. (She has given us permission to reprint it for writers who may wish to be on a Worldcon program.).