Author anger at the GayRomLit changes is rational, not hysterical

One of this week’s kerfuffles has to do with changes to the GayRomLit conference. GRL is a conference that brings together m/m authors, readers, and publishers. It’s only a few years old but is quite popular among the online m/m crowd, and many people look forward to attending.

There are two big changes to the author side of the conference. First, the number of author registration slots was decreased from 130 to 100, in order to increase the reader proportion. Second, the registration costs for authors have increased. And third and most controversially, the author slots have been divided into “must-have” authors (who are invited and given guaranteed registration), and everyone else, who now must compete for fewer slots. After considerable negative feedback, the organizers modified the remaining 70 slots, allocating 30 of them for newbie authors, while retaining the 30 “must-have”slots.

The organizers have insisted that the changes are for the betterment of the conference and that only a “small number” have been set aside, with the rest being open to all authors. I think that 30 percent is not a “small number,” but let’s not argue about that. Instead, let’s look systematically at the changes in allocation between last year and this year.

Last year: 130 slots for all authors.

This year: 30 slots are gone from the general pool because of the reduction in the author proportion from 130 to 100. Another 30 slots are gone from general pool because they are reserved for “must-have” authors who do not compete for a slot. Another 30 slots are gone for Supporting, i.e., newbie authors.

Total general pool for 2013: 40. That is a 90-slot reduction in absolute terms, or a 70 percent reduction over last year.

Change from 2012 to 2013: Last year 130 open slots, this year 40 open slots.

Some of those 130 were filled by the 30 “must-haves,” but clearly not all, because if they had been at the conference the complaints about their absence would not have been expressed. Let’s say that 15 of the 30 were there. They won’t be applying for the general pool slots.

So by that calculation, there may be 15 people who won’t be applying for the 40 slots that applied last year.

In addition, some of the authors who qualify for the Supporting Author category will not compete for the general pool. But since the publication requirement is so stringent, it’s hard to say how many were part of the author pool last year (someone has the information to calculate it, but it’s not me). And some who qualify for Supporting will want the Featured Author slot because it provides better benefits for the con.

But let’s be as generous to the new quotas as possible in the calculations and say that of the 130 authors who were registered last year, 60 will go into the “must-have” or Supporting author slots. That leaves 70 authors competing for 40 slots.

Assuming there are no additional authors who want to attend, that’s already 30 authors who went last year who can’t go this year.

But given the way m/m has exploded (and given that Atlanta is easier and cheaper to fly to than ABQ), I think that saying only 30 authors will be affected is an unrealistic assumption. So we can reasonably conclude that many more than 30 authors who want to attend will be shut out.

That’s the change in author pool from last year to this. How about the registration costs?

This year: $350 for Featured Authors and $225 for Supporting Authors. But if Supporting Authors want to be at the main signing and participate in the major author events, they have to fork over $50 and $125 respectively (space allowing).

The organizers state that the costs to authors have been increased $75-100 over last year. I don’t know what the author registration fee was last year, but since there was no Supporting Author category last year, let’s subtract the increase from this year’s $350 fee. That’s an increase over last year of 28-40 percent.

In conclusion, the majority of authors have a significantly smaller probability of registering as authors, but if they manage it, they pay more for the privilege of attending. The carrot offered is more readers, but if it is true that the additional readers are coming to see the “must-have” authors, that may or may not help the non-must-have authors.

I’m not sure why opposition to this has been described as “hysteria” or “insane.” It seems completely understandable to me. If you’re not a newbie and you’re not on the “must-have” list, you’ve had your chance to go to GRL cut by more than two-thirds between Albuquerque 2012 and Atlanta 2013.

15 thoughts on “Author anger at the GayRomLit changes is rational, not hysterical

  1. Am I the only author who’s offended by the title “must-have” author? Speaking as a new author, why would I attend somewhere where I’m not welcome? I mean, jeez, I would love to hang out with other m/m authors and readers, but I’ve got negative interest in playing in some ridiculous popularity match. For that kind of money, I can attend RT. Jeez.

    • Oh no, many authors were offended. So were a lot of readers, because as many people noted, everyone’s list would probably be slightly different. Every con has a VIP list, but most organizers don’t go out of their way to publicize that. I imagine the organizers thought it would make readers happy without thinking about the slap it might seem to authors.

      I think RT is exactly the right comparison (and I agree with your implicit take on it). At least two of the organizers were at RT last year, and they seemed quite taken with the way it worked. I think it’s part of the overall strategy of mainstreaming m/m. The problem is that m/m has a different community and a different constituency. My understanding is that GRL really started as an authors-meet-readers retreat, but in a much more democratic environment than RT. So these kinds of changes are going to mean some fundamental retooling.

      • Yeah. I’m not really prepared to comment in depth on a public site, but I was at RT and … Well, I liked the idea of GRL because it would be exactly as you say, and authors-meet-readers retreat. I’m … deeply disappointed, is I supposed the way I’d phrase it. It’s a shame.

  2. I think most convention have 1-5 headliners to pull in readers/attendees. I have no problem with the pre-invite to JR Ward, or Suzanne Brockmann, if they so desired. My issue and why I decided not to attend the con as a reader was the non-transparency on the “must-have” list. Why does it have to be secret? I understand big names bring in more fans. I’ve gone to many a science fiction convention simply because Big Name Actor was there. Big Names can draw big crowds. But THIRTY pre-invites? That cut out a huge amount of slots for regular m/m authors.

    The math you did certainly explains why so many authors were upset. Great post.

    • I was boggled by the 30 set-aside slots as well. 10, maybe, but 30? There are really 30 people who can’t get their act together to register before all the slots are taken? My guess is that at least half of those would go back into the general pool, but that’s not going to make the designated non-elite authors feel much better.

      Either list the names or don’t talk about it at all. Every con needs Big Names, as you say. But they call them Special Guests, Spotlight Authors, etc., and take care of the process behind the scenes. I think maybe the idea (if they were thinking about this strategically, which is a big assumption) was to signal to readers that Big Names would definitely be coming. But the execution was awful.

      • “Either list the names or don’t talk about it at all.”

        That’s how I feel — semitransparency foments more distrust than either full transparency or opacity — but I was slapped down for suggesting full disclosure. (I have to admit that under the current circumstances, it might not be a good idea.) However, it’s too late now not to talk about those must-haves.

        That the execution left a lot to be desired is an understatement. Some of the comments made by an unnamed organizer on the GRL Facebook page were inexcusably insensitive and offensive and only exacerbated the situation.

        This has turned into a hideous, divisive mess. Even readers have jumped into the fray.

        Anyway, thanks so much for the clear and concise breakdown of the numbers. Maybe you should volunteer as a GRL organizer. ;-)

        • Thank you! And heh. I don’t think I’d be a very good fit with them, especially given my extremely mixed feelings about the RT model. ;)

          I’ve been reading some blog posts on GRL 2012 and 2011, and there definitely seems to have been a shift to a more structured, author-showcase-focused format.

          • I suggested on my blog that, rather than trying to be all things to everybody, GRL should simply become an invitation-only event for authors and an open-registration event for readers. No muss, no fuss, bother — and no noses knocked out of joint. By and large, m/m romance writers are a pretty intelligent and savvy lot. They know they all can’t be superstars, especially as the genre becomes ever more glutted. Laying down the con’s terms upfront and letting readers vote on the authors they’d like to see would eliminate most of the hard feelings we’re seeing now.

            Besides, there are plenty of other meets that center on queer fiction, and there’ll likely be more in the future. That rainbow stretches farther every year. :)

  3. Getting beyond the whole high school popularity contest aspects this whole kerfuffle it did remind me of that same old conversation we had about Good Reads.

    Is the whole reason for IT (Good Reads or GRL or whatever) to be a resource for readers or for authors?

    Despite the fact both readers and authors tend to show up they generally have very different reasons for being there I would think.

    • My impression is that it started as a reader-author weekend (it was called a retreat, after all) and then morphed into this author-promo event. It’s now in an uncomfortable position between a casual get-together and a full-blown conference with, you know, actual substance.

      In that sense it is very like Goodreads. It wants to provide author promo and make its money that way (plus huge fees to the publishers) but still act like it’s just a big author-reader party.

  4. I agree with you, but after reading comments at Wave’s post it seems that 30 invites are less than that, however they won’t say how many exactly will be sent to mysterious authors – just to clarify. But yeah, want to be transparent – tell everybody who you are inviting or do *not* tell anybody at all about those preinvites, but this? Shakes head.

    • As I said to Lasha, Heidi’s comments at the Ustream event make it sound as if not all the 30 will be used, so I agree with you there. But presumably they will be set aside until they’ve been formally rejected. I don’t know if they plan to have a waitlist for those or what. So until those invites are cleared, it’s still 40 general author slots. A lot of these authors have day jobs and other commitments, so they have to decide early whether they’ll ask for vacation time, plan ahead, and so on. It’s not very respectful of their schedules (which make the repeated requests to appreciate how hard the organizers are working kind of ironic).

      • No, you are absolutely right – I keep reading that thread and from further comments it appears that you are right after all – 30 will be set aside. Sorry for further confusion.

  5. The different prices for “Featured Author” vs. “Supporting Author” is just….odd. I’m going to say “What Lasha said.” I totally get having a keynote or headline author because a Big Name does draw interest to your event. Why not just have one or two featured headliners, put them in keynote positions (at a luncheon or in their own panel discussion where they are the sole draw), comp them and make every other author attending pay the same price across the board? A lot of events run around that model and it works…..

    • I think a great model for GRL would be Bouchercon (the mystery conference) or one of the sub-genre mystery conferences. Those are for authors and readers, they are quite reasonable for attendees, they have both meet-and-greet AND substantive panels, and the book and signing systems are really well done. At Bouchercon, rather than a big ballroom with rows and rows of authors, they have 10-20 authors signing in the book room between each session. It creates repeat traffic for the publishers and it doesn’t jam all the signing into one 2-hour slot. I understand the all-at-once system is efficient (at RT, for example), but there’s this cattle-call element to it that is weird to me.

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