This weekend, I went to a great conference, The Novel Experience Event in Las Vegas. It was run by Romance Ink, a not-for-profit company that organizes events for readers. I’ve been attending Romance Ink events since their very first conference, Authors After Dark, in Suffern, New York, in 2009. Since then, I’ve grown to love the authors and readers who return to Authors After Dark every year. I’ve also become friends with the conference organizer, Stella Price, and the staff who work for the company. The reason I’m telling you all of this is in the interest of disclosure, because I know I may be accused of bias after I write this.
I’m not going to name names and call people out. I’m too tired for that kind of thing these days (further post to that effect to come). But there is a lot of misinformation circulating about what happened at The Novel Experience Event over the weekend, and I feel some grievous breaches of protocol were made.
One of the features of this conference was a book fair from 10:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M. on the mezzanine level of the Planet Hollywood Hotel and Casino. The figure I heard (but didn’t confirm, because who has time at these things?) was that at least one-hundred and twenty-five authors were scheduled to sign. Some authors sold out their entire stock. Some didn’t sell anything at all. Some carried books in (brought their own books and handled their own sales), and some worked with a bookseller. One author, who did not sell at a rate she deemed acceptable, decided to complain about the event half-way through. She posted pictures of the seemingly barren signing to her Facebook page, warning that there were no readers in attendance and that authors were packing up and leaving early. The post was made as a warning to authors who were considering attending Romance Ink events. Fair enough. I know that if I have a bad experience somewhere, I warn people away, be it a conference or a hotel or a restaurant. But there’s a time and a place for that kind of thing, and when you’re going to complain about a signing event that is currently taking place, that time is later.
Because what happened at that point was that the owner of another conference, arguably the largest event in the romance genre, reposted those pictures for her nearly 5,000 Facebook friends, readers and authors alike, to view. As a reader, if you saw someone post that an all day event was wrapping up well before it was over, would you bother to come out?
For many authors, the rest of the event that day was marred by messages from readers and authors asking, “Did you see this?” and “Is it still worth it to drive out there?” It spread like wildfire over Facebook, even as the signing continued. Other authors took their own photographs of the crowd to prove that the signing was still very much happening, hoping to counter the potential damage done. At least one of them shared those pictures with the aforementioned popular conference owner as a reply to her Facebook post, only to have her comment deleted. Any attempt made by any of us to suggest that we were still there, that authors were still signing books and that readers were still welcome to attend were removed, while comments disparaging Romance Ink and expressing sympathy for the authors involved were retained. It was almost as though the people who were reposting those photos wanted to discourage readers from attending. I sincerely hope that was not the purpose of these actions, and that it’s just my naturally suspicious nature that would cause me to doubt someone else’s good intentions.
Some commenters clutched their pearls, crying alligator tears for those of us who had been duped into sacrificing our holiday weekend with our families. To those who expressed those concerns, I say: we are not stupid. We know how to use calendars. We were aware that Easter and Passover fell over the weekend, and we chose to come anyway. I found it incredibly offensive to read comments expressing sadness for authors who were missing out on celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ or the deliverance of the Israelites (and there were several comments to those effects). Religious or not, the people at the event made a conscious and informed choice to be there, and that kind of comment is incredibly personal and intrusive.
But back to my original concern: if you are an author, there is nothing wrong with telling people, “this was my experience at this event, I would not do this again, I would encourage you to not do it,” but do it after it’s over. In this age of social media, word spreads extremely quickly, and what one author deemed “totally dead” actually became totally dead within an hour of her post spreading. I’m absolutely certain that was not her intent, but it did happen. And when you say a signing or event was a waste of time, your readers are seeing that, too. Readers who may have come out to see you, and sacrificed their time, only to be told that it didn’t count for anything. Authors and industry professionals generally agree on this, including agent Jennifer Laughran, who wrote about an experience with an ungrateful author in this post about successful signings.
There are a few other incidents circulating on social media that I want to address as briefly as possible. One author was not allowed to sign after not following event policies that had been in place from the moment registration opened in November, 2014. Romance Ink does have very strict policies that are enforced across the board, the rationale being that if the staff is forced to make personal exceptions for every author, they will have limited attention to spend on making the event good for the readers who are the focus. Does it suck for the author who didn’t get to sign? Sure, and I totally understand their disappointment. But my take on this particular issue is that if a hundred and twenty-five people were able to follow instructions successfully, and only one did not, then the problem is not with the event or its policies. Others might view it differently.
There is also a rumor that Romance Ink and Stella Price are anti-LGBTQA+, because a convention director was asked to stop passing out materials promoting their LGBTQA+ author event. I actually laughed when I read the accusation, because the Authors After Dark conference has built a huge following of LGBTQA+ readers and authors, as well as readers and authors who are allies, who didn’t feel comfortable or welcome at other industry conferences. One year I was on three queer-focused panels. Three, in one year. And those weren’t even the only three of their kind. And authors who write any type of pairing are invited for panels that aren’t just LGBTQA+ focused; last year, I sat on a sports romance panel to talk about my baseball romances in the Hardball trilogy, which includes a M/M pairing and a polyamorous threesome, right alongside panelists who wrote straight pairings. Romance Ink’s Bookie Awards are one of the only non-queer-specific industry awards I can think of that both include categories for Best GLBT Novel and Best GLBT Short Story while also allowing LGBTQA+ romances to be nominated in all the other categories as well. This speaks volumes when you consider that about ten years ago, Romance Writers of America tried to redefine romance as being between one man and one woman in an effort to bar writers of queer and polyamorous romances from gaining published status in the organization.
The reason this person was asked to stop distributing her materials was because it’s a professional courtesy to not advertise your own event at another event without asking permission, and some authors felt uncomfortable being pitched to during the signing because of this. I know this is the case because I was present when the decision to speak to this promoter was made. Unlike several authors and industry professionals who are complaining about the event, I was actually there; 80% of the time I spent on the convention floor, I was in the company of staff members.
People who have attended an event are well within their right to express displeasure at how it was handled or at things they felt were done unprofessionally. But publicly denouncing an event that’s still going on doesn’t just hurt the event and its coordinators, it hurts the authors who are there, trying to have a good experience just like you were. Spreading misinformation about an event you weren’t present at and refusing to acknowledge contrasting accounts from the people who were? That’s not helping authors, either. Starting false rumors that a company that has always strongly supported LGBTQA+ authors and readers engaged in blatant homophobic discrimination? That’s especially vile, because many of us have forged our bonds with Romance Ink specifically because they embrace us as both authors and individuals.
I will continue to attend Romance Ink events, because I’m one of the many authors who have never had a negative experience with the staff or because of event policies. If you disagree and feel others should avoid this company, then by all means, exercise your right to express that. But the authors who had a positive experience at the event paid the same money and were in Las Vegas for the same reasons as the authors who were unhappy. They should not have been punished when the signing didn’t live up to the expectations of a very few.