Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Thoughts on #RT14

So I'm newly home from RT 2014 in New Orleans and like everyone else, I have Opinions. So let's get to it.

1. Overall, I'm very glad I came and I feel that (for me) it was worth the money.

I feel like that's important to state right off the bat. I got the slightly discounted 6-day convention pass thanks to being on a panel, I paid for my several nights hotel and cabfare and food, and my flights to/from cost me $1300 and hours of headache thanks to Expedia being the world's worst travel company :spits:.

I also had a free chapbook paperback that was given away in the various freebie rooms, AND my press put a download code for my trans/genderqueer novel Wallflower into everybody's badge bag thing you got at registration. All in, I'd say this convention ran me something close to $3000, if not more. I sold exactly three paperbacks at the Giant Book Fair (more on that--sans tasteless tone-deaf civil rights metaphors--later), so obviously I didn't make my money back in book sales, not that I was ever expecting to. 

So why was it worth it to me?

  • I was featured on a panel with some Big Name Authors and feel like I held my own beside them. I feel happy and privileged to have gotten the chance to basically piggyback on their draw (because let's face it, if I'd been the sole panelist the panel would NOT have been standing-room only as it was). Of course, if you're not the kind of uppity loudmouth who can manage to do anything but shrink like a violet beside Suzanne Brockmann when she's in fine form, this benefit may not apply to you. 
  • I made several media connections, partially thanks to my participation in said panel. I'm stoked to get myself and my genre that kind of legitimizing publicity. 
  • The panels I was able to attend were educational and thought-provoking and hopefully will improve my craft. I'm kicking myself that I wasn't able to attend the "Across the Color Lines" panel that was hosted by Mala Bhattacharjee (anyone have links to write-ups of it?) or several other panels that were all hosted simultaneously, but I imagine everyone has that problem with double bookings.
  • New Orleans is an amazing city and I got to experience a bit of it. I ate great food, met great people, had some pretty awesome unique experiences, and can't wait to get back sometime when I don't have a massive commitment eating up most of my time.
  • I got to touch base with friends and twitter acquaintances and authors and readers and industry professionals I admire. For a lonely extrovert like me, the socialization alone was worth the price of admission.
  • I got to meet (for the first time ever or for the first time in person) and spend time with intelligent, outspoken, opinionated, well-read women. That's a benefit in and of itself. I make no secret of loving smart women, so I was in heaven all week. If you saw me at the con, I was probably in a state of twitterpated awe and chinhands.
In sum, while I don't know if I will "get my money back" in any kind of direct way, I do feel like I paid for an experience and an opportunity and got both in spades.

2. I'm excited that LGBT romance had a track, but there's still more to be done

According to Sarah Frantz (who was captain), this is RT's first time having an official LGBT track, though not its first time with LGBT content. The "standing room only" nature of every LGBT event proves LGBT visibility and an LGBT space at RT is important and necessary, but of course there are things that can be improved for next time:

Improved visibility for the LBT being chief among them. I know that M/M outsells every other subgenre of queer romance--much as gay cis men dominate LGBT and queer spaces and get most of the representation everywhere else in the world ever, but while we can't control the market demand, we can control the balance of panels and featured guests, and I hope that whoever is in charge of the LGBT track for RT15 will be open to suggestions for authors and industry professionals who do more than M/M, so by all means, if you know of a fantastic non-M/M speaker, do speak up! 

The "Soup To Nuts" LGBT panel featuring Ruth Sternglantz from Bold Strokes Books was fabulous and featured a fair amount of F/F-leaning content thanks to her input and her presence, and LA Witt's LAMBDA-finalist trans-themed novel Static made the rounds as what appeared to be a very popular freebee, but I'd love to see every LGBT-labelled (aka not explicitly specifically M/M) panel and event make space for representatives of lesbian, bisexual, and trans fiction. Who would you like to see? 

Queer voices at the forefront would be another (somewhat selfish, lol) request. Sarah Frantz is openly bisexual and panels this year featured lesbian women, gay men, and bisexual women including moi, but (as far as I know) no transgender panelists or queer POC, who of course have a unique and important perspective. While I happily read books written by straight authors and love all my straight readers, and further think straight people are welcome to participate and have an opinion on queer romance, I do think it's also important that queer people get a platform to not only speak, but also to be THE speakers (if that makes sense?) about a genre that explores and monetizes our experiences. I was SO glad to see so many queer people front and centre at this year's convention, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't want MORE. What about a panel only featuring queer-identified persons that specifically addresses our wants and needs within the genre, and could also serve as a chance for straight authors and readers and professionals to learn how best to be allies within the genre?

Queer space within RT. Having an LGBT track officially was a great start, as was the twitter hashtag #QueerRT14 (which I hope gets more traction next year!), but I'd love to see even more queer visibility. How about an LGBT author/reader ribbon that sticks to the "Published Author" or "Reader" etc. ribbons, or a pin, some manner of visibly LGBT badge pin that isn't otherwise "branded" (aka I had my rainbow Riptide pin and others had Rainbow Writers Association pins, but I'd love to see something more all-encompassing that includes queer YA, NA, adult romance and erotic romance, f/f, m/m, etc.) so that readers can immediately identify authors of LGBT romance? 

I also agree, as others have requested, that the RT awards should have a specific LGBT award category (while still leaving the more "general" categories open to LGBT romance as well), much as is done for say, Scottish Historicals or Shapeshifter Paranormals, so that we have an award space that is "our own". Hell, have an LGBT category and then m/m, f/f, and trans subcategories within that so we all get a chance at recognition! I know there is argument that this makes LGBT romance a "ghetto" (and I really hate using that word specifically for stuff that's NOT about racial segregation), but as long as we're not LIMITED to being acknowledged within that space, it's also a chance for recognition in a space where we can very easily get lost.

And finally, an LGBT "row" or some other form of solidarity/visibility in the Giant Book Fair would be a nice thing to have, as well. YA and NA have these clearly laid out spaces, so having an LGBT one could be nice too, or if we could even organize something ourselves (such as a visible identifier to help readers interested in LGBT romance to find us like some FESTIVE RAINBOW BALLOONS!). As a lesser-known author, that level of "discoverability" would be a great thing to have in a space where you're hoping new-to-you readers are browsing your offerings.

3. The Giant Book Fair had flaws, but it wasn't Jim Crow

White people, don't fucking compare shit to systemic racism and white supremacy. DON'T. DO NOT. 

Considering how fucking dumbshit people are acting, I almost don't want to complain about my book fair experience because I don't want to get lumped in with that nonsensical and offensive tantrum or add to it. On the other hand, I do have criticisms. 

I was seated in the "Indie" section of the fair, which was in fact a "Books Sold on Consignment" section. Actually getting my books checked in wasn't a huge drama or hassle, but it was INCREDIBLY confusing and required a lot of coaching and clarification for a first-timer, but in the end I managed it. 

I have nothing against authors who choose to self-publish and admire their ability to keep all that business-end stuff straight and think they damn well earn their higher royalty rate. However, I won't lie and say I wasn't frustrated to be in a room labelled "Indie", as that word specifically has negative connotations, partially because of dumb bullshit like the current temper tantrum. I understand that "Books on Consignment" isn't as useful a designation, but Indie was inaccurate and may have discouraged some people from attending that section of the fair. (I know as a reader I would have no interest in an Indie Book Fair). I wish the fact that it was also SMALL PRESS would have been better advertised, and I think the fact that we were all referred to REPEATEDLY as "Indie" is a much bigger faux-pas on the part of RT than one volunteer referring to the room as "for aspiring authors" one time. 

Where I was sitting, there actually wasn't a lot of foot traffic, and as a nobody author, I was depending on attracting the notice of passers-by who weren't there specifically to see me. On the other hand, smaller-name authors in the "Traditionally Published" room had more passers-by but were more likely to be completely obstructed by the massive lines for the bestsellers. So on that front, it was half a dozen of one or the other.

I heard that the fire marshall was the reason things were so cramped (much more cramped than expected) in the "Indie" section, but WOW were they cramped. I had room to put my three titles and then exactly TWO stacks of postcards. No swag, no poster, no nothing. The author next to me had a following/street team AND about three times the amount of books I brought, AND swag, so I felt pretty squeezed out the entire time. She was plenty nice herself, but her fans completely obstructed my spot the entire time I was there. Which was partially a space issue because any more than one person talking to the author at a time meant they were blocking more than that author's designated space, and partially a courtesy issue because said street team hung around and visited in a massive cloud in front of our table even when they WEREN'T lining up to speak to the author herself. And when someone with mobility issues came specifically to see me, they were incredibly rude about letting her through their gossip session to speak to me. I basically spent the entire 4 hours hidden behind a mass of people so it wasn't exactly a worthwhile enterprise for me on any front. My readers had a hard time finding or approaching me, AND I didn't get any kind of visibility to attract new to me authors passing by. The con itself wasn't a waste of my time and money, but the bookfair definitely was. 

I similarly felt lost because of the reasons above where there was no immediate way for LGBT readers to find LGBT authors. 

I'm also confused because the "Indie" section was for POD publishers and small and e-first presses as well as the self published, and both Carina and Riptide Publishing were in that section, but Dreamspinner Press (a publisher with a similar business model to Riptide as far as I can tell), was in the traditional publishing room with the Big 5. What was up with that?

I've heard lots of reasonable criticism of the book fair from reasonable people, so hopefully next year RT will take that criticism and come up with different solutions. I'd love to see the Returnable/Non-Returnable book sections combined so that 1. Us small-press authors aren't arbitrarily shoved off into another room with less space and less visibility and less foot-traffic/discoverability, 2. Then traditionally published authors can actually sell their self-pub and POD titles as well as their traditionally published stuff versus having to choose. There HAS to be a way to host an integrated book fair. There has to. Any (constructive) thoughts?

4. The officially sponsored parties weren't worth my time, but the lobbycon was!

Anyone who met me at GRL knows I love to party. I love to dance until all hours, I love to jump up and down and get my makeup wrecked.

RT was . . . not like that for me. I went to a couple of the parties but just found them crowded with too big of lines and weird lighting and with all the important professional people there, I definitely didn't want to drink AT ALL. So I didn't. It really felt like RT was not the time to party, so I don't know if I *had* been maybe the parties would have had a greater draw for me, but as it was, they didn't.

But that was okay, because there was PLENTY of fun happening in the (oh-so-intolerably loud) hotel lobby bar. I met people from across genres, we chatted, we talked business, we drank, we played Cards Against Humanity . . . it was an absolute blast. If you could tolerate the noise, there was so much socializing to be had, and no lineups whatsoever!

5. New Orleans is amazing

There's never a dull moment. The food's amazing, the people are warm and funny, the atmosphere's electric, the architecture's stunning, the fortune tellers are sassy, and I have to go back. But you know, on a trip where I don't have to spend 95% of my time in one hotel. ;)

Never did get to go on a ghost tour, cher!

That's my take, anyway. Anyone else got linkups to interesting writeups?

1 comment:

  1. Fire marshals generally object to people being jammed together tightly, so I have no idea what was up with that.

    About your tablemate encroaching on your space, that's something the staffers in charge of the room should've handled. Reading various accounts of the Huge Signing Thing, I get the impression that either they didn't have enough staffers, or the ones they had weren't focusing their attention and actions effectively.

    About needing to give someone barely enough space to put their elbows on the table, there's an easy fix to that. When you're planning the event, you figure out which room(s) it's going to be in, what your table layout is going to be, and how many spaces that gives you. So X number of 6' tables gives you room for 2X authors, if each gets 3' of table space. That's not even math -- it's elementary arithmetic. Once you know that, you start signing up authors. When you've filled the number of spaces you've got, you stop. See? That's easy. [sigh] Clearly the RT people didn't do this, and the horrible crowding (in one room) is the consequence. Without going into what I agree are ridiculously appropriative metaphors, I do agree with some folks that the fact that it was only the writers in the indie room who were crowded like that makes the judgement and prioritization of the organizers suspect at best. Maybe it would've been better for everyone to be a little crowded than for the big New York writers to not be crowded at all and the indie and small press writers to be crowded a lot? That would've been my choice anyway, if I'd woken up one morning and realized I'd assigned YY% more spaces than I had. [shrug]

    Someone who was there opined that the checking out of the different types of books really wasn't a big deal, and that they should've been able to divide the writers between the two rooms without segregating check-out types. Maybe an alphabetic sort, with some special genre divides as you mentioned above, would've been better, so there would've been a more even distribution of big-name NYP writers with small press and indie authors. (That would've made giving everyone the same amount of space easier, too.)

    Anyway, as someone who's worked a lot of conventions -- professional conferences as well as SF conventions -- I pin this one on the organizers. From what I've heard people complaining about, every major complaint was avoidable, if they'd cared to avoid it, and planned ahead.