One of Balticon's biggest strengths is its focus on writers and how to become a better writer, publisher, or artist. They promote creativity and want to help it grow.
During Saturday afternoon's Can Fanzines Train Up SF&F Pros? panel, Elaine Stiles, Steve Stiles, Geri Sullivan, and Mark Roth attempted to answer that question from their own personal experiences. The short answer? Yes, they can. Personally, I started with a fan blog — and here I am now, boring you to death on Bleeding Cool.
Fandom, as we all know, has exploded recently. If you do have a fanzine, it's important that you get out there. Go to conventions, get a table. Go outside your comfort zone to reach new readers. At the same time, doing that will potentially put you in contact with other writers or editors. While being a fan and a pro is perfectly OK, you do need to understand that business is business.
If this is also your calling in life, listen to the critics. Listen to the people who are commenting on your work, but really pay attention to the thought-out comments. People who explode and just get angry aren't worth your time, but if someone can back their critique up, use it as a learning experience. And don't let it kill your joy.
Overall, the panel was relatively informative. It was fun to listen to everyone's life experiences, but it didn't shed much light onto exactly how to make the jump from fanzine writing to professional writing. Steve did point out it was easier to make the jump back in the day, but that doesn't help any of us now. Perhaps if we had more time, it would have been better, but oh well. I still enjoyed myself.