Cherry Popping and Fizzle

May 22, 2014

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?