So You Want to Bid for a Worldcon

Created by Tammy Coxen
With lots of help from her Worldcon community friends on the Internet!

Great! The Worldcon community loves it when the Worldcon becomes even more worldly by visiting new countries/regions. We also love welcoming new fans to join our community. However, if you would like to win the Worldcon for your location, there are some things you really need to know.

Worldcon is a Community

The first Worldcon was held in 1939. There are still people alive today who attended that Worldcon and have also attended recent Worldcons. Many people who attend Worldcons have been attending at least semi-regularly for decades. Worldcon is as much a community as it is an event – many people refer to Worldcon as their annual “fannish family reunion.” As such, there are a lot of expectations, customs, norms, and traditions that Worldcons are expected to adhere to, and bids that do not understand them stand almost no chance of winning a Worldcon. If your group is not a part of the Worldcon community, your bid will not win.

Fortunately, the path to becoming a part of the community is a pretty clear one!

Becoming a Part of the Worldcon Community

Attend Worldcons

Before you even think about launching your bid, have as many people from your group as possible attend at least one and preferably a few Worldcons. How can you say you want to run something you’ve never even experienced? How will you know what the event needs to be to satisfy the voters/attendees? This is where you start to learn about those all-important norms, customs, traditions and expectations. 

Try to experience as many different parts of the convention as you can so you see the big picture. Pay attention to how the convention operates. Don’t forget to visit fan tables and talk to people who are bidding for upcoming Worldcons. And be sure to attend the Q&A session (often called the Fannish Inquisition) where seated Worldcons and bids make presentations and answer questions about their plans.

Work on Worldcons

Worldcon is an amateur, non-profit, volunteer event put on by fans for fans, not a commercial, money-making enterprise. Everyone who works on Worldcon is a volunteer.

Worldcon is also an event with a budget around $1 million USD, that will usually involve 300-700 volunteers, depending on the number of attendees. Event running experience is absolutely essential to a successful bid and Worldcon. Worldcons are often run by a core fan group which normally runs an annual local, regional, or national convention. However, hosting a Worldcon is very different from just running a larger version of the local/regional/national convention and is even more different from running non-SF convention or commercial events. The best way to learn about those differences is to work on Worldcons. Have as many people from your group as possible work on Worldcons, in both simple at-con positions and higher level jobs with greater responsibility, and in a variety of different areas – Programming has very different needs and workflow than Operations, for example.

Make Fannish Friends Around the World

No country runs a Worldcon exclusively with its own residents – every Worldcon features a robust international team of volunteers. You should start early to bring Worldcon-experienced people on board to help you avoid pitfalls. The best way to meet these people is to attend and work on Worldcons. Forming friendships with fans around the world is one of the most rewarding things about being a part of the Worldcon community. 

This is especially important for groups who face various barriers to attending and working on Worldcons, like cost or travel restrictions. If you have two dozen Worldcon-experienced fans around the world who are telling people how excited they are about your location as a site for a future Worldcon, and what a great job they think you’d do, then that goes a long way to making your group part of the Worldcon community.

Participating in online forums is another way to connect with fans around the world and become part of the Worldcon community. It’s not a replacement for attending and working on Worldcons, but it can definitely help you keep learning and build and deepen essential relationships. On Facebook, look at JOF for insightful conversation on a wide range of conrunning issues and Fans for Accessible Conventions for Access-specific topics. Neither of these is Worldcon specific, but many Worldcon organizers participate in them. File 770 is a good place to keep up on issues in Worldcon politics and has a lively comments section. The SMOFS mailing list is very Worldcon focused.

Help Other Bids

Another great way to make friends and learn about bidding is to join another group’s Worldcon bid that’s already in progress. They’ll appreciate that you can help get people in your area excited about their bid, and you’ll learn from others how to succeed (and fail) at bidding. Then when your turn comes around, they’ll be happy to help you in return.

Attend SMOFcon

As you come closer to launching your bid, you will want to start attending SMOFcon, an annual gathering of convention organizers. While not exclusively Worldcon-focused, it is where you will find the largest concentration of Worldcon organizers in one place at one time. That makes it the ideal place to meet other people who want to bid and run Worldcons and to learn what you need to know to succeed. This is where you will become a member of not just the Worldcon community, but the Worldcon organizer community. 

Launching a Worldcon Bid

Okay, now you’re at the point where you know what a Worldcon is. You like what you see, you’ve learned a lot about what it takes, and you want to be part of continuing this nearly 80 year old tradition, but with your own local twist (and no doubt some things you’d like to improve upon). Fantastic! Here are some critical things for you to know.

Bidding is a Multi-Year, International Commitment

While the Site Selection vote will be held at the Worldcon two years in advance, campaigning is a year-round activity which generally starts several years before Site Selection. On the short side of the range, San Jose, California started bidding in 2014, two years before filing for Site Selection at the 2016 Worldcon, and went on to run Worldcon 76 in 2018. San Jose had an experienced team and the city had last hosted a Worldcon in 2002. The New Zealand in 2020 bid, on the other hand, was composed of people who were relatively new to Worldcon. They started bidding in 2010, eight years before the Site Selection election for their target year, and in 2018 they won the right to host the 2020 Worldcon, CoNZealand.

The point of bidding is to convince voters around the world that your site is the best site for the Worldcon. Not all of those voters attend Worldcon every year, so if you only campaign at Worldcon, you will miss the opportunity to connect with them. 

Online campaigning is important – you will need a good website that answers all the questions that people have about your bid, and tells the story of the convention you want to run. You will need an active social media presence to connect with voters. But online campaigning is not enough on its own to win a Worldcon.

You will need people to attend other conventions for you to market your bid. Successful bids will engage a network of volunteers who can represent them at conventions around the world throughout the year, ideally for multiple years before the Worldcon at which the vote will be held, and supply those volunteers with promotional materials. But luckily for you, you’ve been attending and working on Worldcons and have made friends around the world who are going to be happy to start spreading the word about your bid!

Bidding is not Cheap

Because bidding is a multi-year, international commitment, it does not come inexpensively. Doing the kinds of activities outlined previously – attending conventions to learn, work and participate (and then to promote your own bid when you launch) comes with significant travel costs. Then there are smaller but not insignificant costs associated with printing materials, maintaining a website and etc. You and your group should be prepared to share costs or find ways to budget for this. Talk to other Worldcon bidders you meet while becoming part of the Worldcon community to learn about common strategies for financing a bid, like pre-supports and bid dues. Almost all bidders are at least a little surprised at the eventual price tag. And bidding in a contested year will cost even more money.

You Will be Judged on Your Performance

Bidding includes things like fan tables at conventions where representatives of your bid hand out promotional materials, answer questions, and take pre-support funds that help support your bidding activities. It can include taking out ads in other conventions program books. In some areas of the world, it includes hosting parties or evening hospitality gatherings. Representatives of your bid will need to make a presentation and answer questions at Q&A sessions held at Worldcon and SMOFcon and sometimes at other conventions.  All of these activities need to be planned for in advance. If you do these things well, then it builds voter confidence in your bid. If you do them poorly, it will make people think twice about voting for you. 

Pay Attention to What Worldcon Voters Value

Some things Worldcon voters care about seem obvious:

  • When will your convention be? Is it during school vacation (and for which countries)? Does it overlap with other large events that draw Worldcon attendees?
  • What is travel and tourism like in your location? This includes costs, ease of travel both to the location and local public transit, things to do or see, proximity of hotels and restaurants to convention site, weather.
  • What kind of facilities will you be using for your event? Why do you think they are sufficient to hold a Worldcon?

Others are less obvious but equally if not MORE important:

  • What is the convention-running experience of the people on your committee? How are you drawing on the expertise of convention running fans around the world?
  • How accessible is your facility to people who face a variety of access challenges, such as inability to walk long distances or stand for a long time? What accommodations and assistance will you provide?
  • Is smoking allowed in public places? (In general the Worldcon community has a strong preference for non-smoking locations.)
  • How welcome will people from diverse races, ethnicities, and religions feel in your location?
  • What kind of protections are in place for LGBTQ+ people?
  • What kinds of behavior will be covered in your convention’s code of conduct? How will the Code of Conduct be communicated and enforced? (In general, the Worldcon community has strong opinions about Codes of Conduct, and it is highly recommended that you have one.)

And lots more! But since by the time you’ve launched a bid, you’ll have been attending and working on Worldcons, you’ll probably have a pretty good idea of what those are. If not…

Ask Many Questions

Remember all those Worldcon-experienced friends you made attending and working on Worldcons and participating in online communities? They want you to succeed. They are invested in making sure that if you win the Worldcon, it’s going to be a great Worldcon. So they will be happy to answer your questions, and point you at other people who’ll have even better answers. Bidding for a Worldcon and running a Worldcon is, for a lot of people, the most complicated thing they might ever be involved in. This document cannot even start telling you all the things you need to know.

Losing is Not the End

Many bids lose on their first attempt, and then come back a couple or several years later and are successful. Bidding for a Worldcon and losing is a really useful learning experience and will improve your next attempt. 

But I Want to Start a Worldcon Bid Right Now, and I Don’t Have Time for Any of That

Okay, then here are three things you absolutely need to know.

Picking Your Dates

Historically, the Worldcon was most often held over the USA Labor Day weekend (weekend falling before the first Monday in September). That has changed in recent years, for a variety of reasons, and now Worldcons are usually held in August, although the 2020 Worldcon, CoNZealand, began on July 29.

While there are lots of things people expect from a Worldcon (program items, a masquerade, an art show, etc) the Worldcon is only required to do three things: administer the Hugo Awards, administer any future Worldcon or NASFiC site selection required, and hold a WSFS business meeting.

Because of this, you must take The Hugo Awards into account when choosing your dates. Nominations cannot open until January 1 of the calendar year of your Worldcon. You should plan to allow at least 2 months for people to finalize their review of works from the previous year and make their nominations. Then you need to tally the nominations, notify finalists, prepare the announcement and voting software, and hopefully create a Hugo Voters Packet of nominated works. Once the finalists have been announced, you would need to allow at least 2 months for voters to review the finalists and cast their votes. Then you need to tally those votes and finalize the awards themselves before the award ceremony at the Worldcon. All of this means that realistically, June is the earliest month that is feasible to host a Worldcon due to the Hugo calendar, and even then you would face a lot of complaints from people about not having enough time to read/watch the works on the finalist list.

Guests of Honor are Secret

Planned Guests of Honor are never announced until after your bid has been selected. Worldcon voters should not be selecting sites based on who they want to see, and this is disrespectful to those potential guests, who should never have to ask themselves if their lack of appeal was the reason the bid didn’t win.

What’s in a Name?

Bids and awarded conventions have different names. Until your bid has won the right to host the Worldcon, the official name for the bid is generally “City in Year” or “Country in Year” (e.g., Helsinki in 2017, San Jose 2018, NZ in 2020). You should never give the impression that your bid has already been chosen.

Every winning/selected bid can call itself the XXth World Science Fiction Convention/ Worldcon. Sometimes Worldcons simply use that number to designate themselves, such as Worldcon 75 and 76. More commonly, groups give their Worldcon a special name, such as MidAmeriCon II or Dublin 2019 or CoNZealand, but this is not required. While it is not as strict a norm as not naming your Guests of Honor in advance, usually the name of the convention is not announced until after you have won the right to host the Worldcon. Oh, and speaking of names, only the W in Worldcon is capitalized. Not the C.

Thanks for reading, welcome to the community, and happy bidding (when the time is right)!