Cherry Popping and Fizzle

Song of the Day: Shine by Sevendust

My cherry has been popped and I can’t help but feel, well, screwed. Last week, I attended the Romantic Times Booklovers Convention in New Orleans. I’m no longer a RT virgin. Don’t get me wrong. I had an AMAZING time. The workshops, panels, socials, and meeting readers, had palpable energy and excitement, and all in the heart of New Orleans. It was crazy, fantastic. (Pictures of shenanigans coming soon!) I’m looking forward to attending again next year in Dallas.

SI ExifBeing a reader’s convention, I attended to meet and connect with readers. And I met some wonderful readers both young and old. But one of the focuses involving readers is the Giant Book Fair. This is where I feel cheated.

Let me explain. The Book Fair was split up into two rooms—one for the traditionally published and one for the digital first, small press and indie authors, such as myself. In a way, the separation made business sense because of administration. The traditional published books fall into the returnable category, meaning books sold could be returned to a bookstore—in this case Barnes & Noble, being the bookstore handling the fair. The indie, small press, digital first authors were selling their books on consignment. So in one room, B&N handled the sales, while in the other room the sales were handled by RT staff. I had no real beef with the set-up except that it made for long, nightmarish check-out lines for readers.

Call me naive, but the separation of authors didn’t become apparent to me until I actually arrived at RT and looked at the brochure. Being a virgin, I didn’t immediately recognize the problem. Not until the first few minutes of the signing did it become painfully clear.

From my vantage at my itty bitty table space, I could see hordes of people being ushered into the “main” ballroom, stuffing them in, really. No one, save a few friends and business associates, meandered into our room.

It was awkward. It was dismal. Questions of failure and suckiness flitted through my mind (and I wasn’t the only one). But not more than the shitty feeling of insignificance. This was compounded by the constant announcements reminding readers to visit the indie room, and the ill-informed volunteer who, bless her heart, explained to readers which ballroom to find the traditional authors and which to find the “aspiring authors”. Yeah…  I’ll let that sink in. It was even suggested (IE announced overhead) the indie authors needed to be patient as we wanted it that way, meaning we chose consignment thereby choosing separation.

So for 3+ hours, potential new readers and fans never made it to my table. Or by the time they drifted in, they’d spent their money in the other room. Frustration and disappointment abounded.RT book signing

The money spent on any conference or convention—registrations, travel, meals, incidentals and dollars spent on promo and swag—will garner no ROI, return on investment. It’s a truth. What I do expect from a readers convention is connecting with fans and discoverability. Hard to do when relegated to the kiddie table.

So what’s the solution? I’ve heard many opinions. One suggestion was to separate authors by genres only, not publishing criteria, making it easier for readers of that genre to find books they’d love. They do it with YA, after all. Another suggestion was to have the traditional published books and the consignment books held at different book fair time slots. And yet another approach I’ve heard several times is to have consignment authors sell their book directly from their table using a mobile point-of-sale tool like Square. I, personally, don’t like the idea of using a Square. From a consumer standpoint, I wouldn’t want to do this kind of buying with every author I’d want to purchase from. Human nature dictates that I’d feel like I’m spending a lot of money and I’d limit myself. All these ideas have their pros and cons, and they ultimately still separate the authors.

There doesn’t seem to be one right way that wouldn’t be without problems. But perhaps a page could be taken from the Romance Writers of America’s literacy book signing. It’s alphabetical regardless of how the authors are published, all the authors are in one room, and all payments are handled by the staff. Surely a compromise in payment administrations could be reached.

All that said, I wholeheartedly appreciate the hard work put in by RT volunteers, staff and organizers. With 700 signing authors and swarms of readers, pulling off the book fair was no easy feat. Let’s just hope lessons are learned and faulty judgment are not repeated. Otherwise, my cherry may find somewhere else to get love.

Thoughts? Comments?

30 Responses to Cherry Popping and Fizzle

  1. Sarah Andre says:

    That really is horribly disappointing, Jenn! But you look super hot in the pic, and that’s all that counts. 😉


  2. aliceakemp says:

    I’m really sorry to read this. It stinks, and a stupid setup. Too bad you couldn’t have known this before hand. Pooey on RT.


  3. Thank you, Jenn. I’m sorry about what happened to you. I think the RWA treated you and your fellow independent authors shamefully. But I can’t say I’m surprised.

    Many years ago I belonged to the RWA. I attended a convention. I was hoping I could participate a great deal in both. But I could do very little. Eventually I saw the problem.

    The RWA, and other comparable major organizations for writers, are designed to support those who have already succeeded. One must be a big-name author, or at least a published one. And back then there was no such thing as independent publication, unless you count vanity publishing.

    Major organizations for writers benefit most those who need help the least. They benefit the least those who need help the most. I was an unpublished writer. How much did the RWA help me? Not one bit.

    Mind you, my expectations were pretty modest. I didn’t expect the RWA or any other writers’ organization to do the work for me in my quest for publication.

    But it did claim to provide information and networking that would help me help myself. As it turned out, the information was scanty. And readily available elsewhere, without a hefty membership fee.

    And the networking—well, forget about it. As in the world at large, among literary professionals big talks only to big.

    Obviously I didn’t stay in the RWA. That was twenty-odd years ago. Since then I haven’t had anything to do with writers’ organizations.

    I recommend that writers who don’t have it made avoid them. Come to think of it, so should writers who do.


    • jbrayweber says:

      I some ways, I agree with you Mary Anne. But I also owe a lot to RWA. It’s a big ship, and big ships are hard to steer and take time to manuever admist the changing currents of the industry. It has failed some, but, for me, has helped me become the writer I am. And I continue to grow with them. But then, I also was a part of a couple of amazing chapters. Without them and their invaluable support, I may have a different opinion.


  4. Oops, I see now you were talking about the RT convention, not the RWA. But most of what I said still applies. I have no intention of participating in that organization either.


    • jbrayweber says:

      You are right. The same applies. If I give money, I expect something in exchange. The convention was fun, to be sure. I met readers, attended workshops, and enjoyed the socials and panels. But the book fair certainly fell short of my expectations.


  5. girldrinkdrunk says:

    I’m with Sarah–what a disappointment and you looked smoking hot!


  6. jeff7salter says:

    I’ve heard several other stories — similar to yours — of the feeling of ostracization and the apparent herding of readers/buyers AWAY from the room with “second class citizens”. And that’s THEIR sense, not mine.
    I know there’s a lot of turmoil at the national level which seems aimed at further culling out those authors who have not yet reached the NYC Big FIVE (or is it still Big Six?). I think RWA is shooting itself in the foot. Obviously, readers very much want the products we (in the overflow rooms) have created … and for any entity to minimize or marginalize us further than we already are by geography or letterhead … is just salt in the wounds.
    Lots of folks are boycotting conferences and/or dropping memberships because of this trend.
    I’ve been a member of RWA since 2007 and, frankly, just keep my expensive membership going so I can belong to the sanctioned chapter I’m in.

    All that said, you DO look hot in that photo. Share more with us.


    • jbrayweber says:

      Just to clarify, the convention was RT sponsored, not RWA.
      Second-class citizen, was indeed mentioned, as were red-headed stepchild, unworthy, wannabe, and a few other names. Being called aspiring was a whammy (one in which I found insulting to both me and actual aspriring writers). Many of the authors in the room were huge best sellers. The lady beside me had over 30 books to her name and was once published by a Big Six publisher. The general consensus was that were we all offended.

      >>>you DO look hot in that photo<<< You, too, Jeff? Okay, third times a charm. 😉 (((hugs)))


      • jeff7salter says:

        Yeah, I was combining two entities, though the pervading emphasis shift seems to be in common with both. Even though RT was not necessarily related to RWA, they both appear to be heading the same direction.


  7. Great post. I was very disappointed by how the book fair was run, and that is putting it mildly. I have made suggestions to RT and contacted my publisher. The best we can hope for at this point is that RT and others, learn from their mistakes. Tweeted.


    • jbrayweber says:

      Thanks, Ella. I’m hoping for change, too. Next year RT is in Dallas. Since it’s close enough to spit on Dallas, I’ll attend again. We shall see if they learned from this major faux pas.


  8. In past years, RT had two different events–one for e-only, one for print-only. That seemed to work very well. I went to both (one as an attendee to support my digital-only friends), and it seemed pretty crowded, but perhaps not as crowded as the “giant” book signing. I think perhaps RT thought that this set-up would give digital-only writers more exposure, because readers would hit both rooms. But since these days digital-only writers often provide plenty of printed books, too, it just muddied the waters.

    One big room alphabetically would be best, I think, although there wasn’t enough room for everyone at this particular venue. If they had it all in one place, they could split the check-outs into consignment vs. bookstore, but then they’d have to mark the books some way, since readers don’t understand the difference. Readers just want a good book, no matter how it’s provided or by whom.

    What they really needed was more people working in the check-out line. This particular conference was about twice as big as RT usually is, so everyone seemed pretty overwhelmed.


    • jbrayweber says:

      Agreed, Sabrina. Readers just want a good book. Period. The hosts of the book fair needed to provide an easier, less confusing way for readers to pay. I heard some of the unfortunate stories and tweets about the check-out lines. I do believe the RT organizers meant well. But the regrettable series of poor judgement and missteps make it difficult to overlook. Surely lessons were learned. *fingers crossed* And can I say that the Fan-tastic Day Party afterwards was a free-for-all hoot.

      My overall experience with RT was positive and I’m excited to give it another go in 2015 in my home state.


  9. I know how much you looked forward to this! I’m sorry the book signing was a bust and it had to have colored the rest of the event. Hopefully, the powers that be will come up with a solution that serves everyone.
    I agree with the other commenters- you DO look smokin’ in polka dots…..who knew?!?!?


  10. Jenn, but seriously, I cannot help but be sooooo freakin’ proud of you. I remember talking to you about how you wanted to write as we pedaled along on those ellipticals every morning at 5am. I remember talking to you about blogs, etc. I remember when you went to your first writing class and how you said it felt to read your story in front of everyone. I remember to you talking about your concept. I’m sorry the set up stunk and wasn’t ideal…but you should never stop patting yourself on the back because you are doing exactly what you said you wanted to do a long time ago. Not many people get to do that. 🙂 Lots of kudos.


    • jbrayweber says:

      Wow! That seems like ages ago, Letty.
      Thanks for this, girl. I needed it. Despite that I don’t back down from a challenge, it has been a long tough road with many, many more miles to go. And I’ll love it every step of the way.
      Big hugs!!!


  11. You’re the second author I’m familiar with to comment about this. Another author wrote a blog post saying that she was a fan of RT and loved the event, but that this set up really bugged her. She said she even heard a volunteer or staff member say something about “aspiring” and “real” authors. She’s looked at her numbers and sold a TON. She’s a well-established author with a huge fan base. I was wondering what other RT-going authors felt about this and planned to ask you. I’m glad you had a good time, but that’s a huge pity about how the Book Fair was run.


    • jbrayweber says:

      Nearly all the authors I spoke to, traditionally publsihed or not, were not pleased with how the fair was set-up. This wasn’t just the indies making a fuss. I feel confident RT will take future measures to make all authors more inclusive.
      Thanks, Bethany!


  12. Will Graham says:

    I was not happy to hear this is how Indie Authors were treated at RT this year. But I do agree with Jenn, and believe next year things will be adjusted with less bias.


  13. Marie says:

    You are fantastic, Jenn and deserved better. Hoping that next year is better for you. In any case, you light up my life.


  14. Marie says:

    Thanks so much, Jenn.


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