The Dark Side of The Con (or Observations From a Book Con Squatter)

20140514_170102I’ve been in a strange Pink Floyd mood for the last couple of days. It started while I was driving home from New Orleans, LA from the Romantic Times Booklovers Convention. It’s roughly a 7 hr. drive from NOLA to my home in Houston. A very boring 7 hour drive, mind you. About 2 hours in, and in a struggle to keep alert, I found my Dark Side of the Moon CD and popped it in. What occurred for the next 5 hours was a continuous loop of DSoTM with my loud vocal accompaniment on “Great Gig in The Sky” and “Brain Damage”. There isn’t much to speak of between NOLA and Houston (although the dead alligator on the side of the road provided a little amusement) and yelling at the top of my lungs is the closest I can get to entertainment and caffeine induced alertness. I’m sure it’s entertaining for the drivers who passed me. However, in the confines of my Silverado quad-cab, it was equivalent to the greatest Pink Floyd concert minus the laser lights and acid trip. In other words, it rocked.

I kicked off last week with the announcement of an anthology I appear in, alongside fellow genre writers and friends Amanda Jayde, Sheila English and Jocie McKade. Time Out of Darkness hit Amazon running and by Sunday we were #45 in our subgroup. We’re out of the top 100 now, but it was great for the few days we were there and I’m sure with the exposure we’ll get at ComicCon next month, that number will jump into the top 100 again. I am very hopeful. This is the first project I’m involved in in which I can have a direct hand in the marketing and getting the word out. I’m invested and I’m happy to be so. I’m also happy in the fact that I might get feedback on the stories. I’m still not sure of my place as a writer and I lack the proper litmus tests to know if I’m on the right track. I’m not even certain if I’ll end up falling into a genre category with my writing. I consider it an amalgamation of literary fiction and historical fiction. It’s definitely historical, but my writing style is so dense that it feels more lit fic than anything. Not sure if there’s even a word for my writing style. I’m on the lookout and will be happy for any suggestions.

So, let’s get to the con! And Con! indeed. (I keep hearing Wm. Shatner’s voice in my head in the iconic moment when he shouts out Khan’s name after Spock dies. But this “Con!” has the same meaning in my head and you’ll soon find out why.) A couple of things I will explain starting off. The 2014 Romantic Times Booklovers Convention is not my first. I can say this is the 3rd time I’ve been to one, although I was only registered for the 2011 Los Angeles convention. I spent the last year unemployed. Forking over $500 for the registration was not fiscally responsible on my part, but other writers paid their dues, in more ways than one. Although I was in the hotel (I paid my share on the hotel bill) and participated in the mingling, the schmoozing, promoting and left with my fair share of swag, I was a squatter at best. Lumping myself into group of the writers that paid for the con feels a little overly pretentious on my part. For clarification, regrettably, I can’t call myself a full-fledged participant of the con.

SWAG, or the real reason I go to these cons.

SWAG, or the real reason I go to these cons.

The week started out great. And to be fair, it remained great. I arrived on Wednesday and by Thursday I was already in the thick of things. To me, going to this convention in particular is more about hanging out with my friends that I only get a chance to see every other year or so. A few of the ladies I hung out with I hadn’t seen in 7 years, a couple others I hadn’t seen since 2011 in L.A. So, it’s about friendship for me. The first full day for me ended with hearing about some recognition our little book was getting. The book cover ended up on a cake, which is pretty bad ass. (I’m not going to repost it here since I didn’t take the pic, but it is on my FB Author Page if you want to take a peek). Heading into Friday was another great experience. Although I didn’t participate in any of the workshops and agent/publishing panels, I kept myself busy in the bar (it was definitely the hub of the con) with talking, rubbing elbows, and Amanda and I took some time out signing our book flats. Again, a first, so I was thrilled and felt like a rock star. Aside from that, we did much people watching and sometimes that’s what it’s all about. Watching how other writers interact is great fun. Seriously. Anytime you think your geek flag is shining too bright, just check out other writers and you’ll know you are in the right company. The other highlight is watching how the other writers promote themselves. This is usually done in the form of SWAG! You know, promotional items that every writer hopes will entice you to buy their book or books. Some of the swag is great, others not so much. Some you can tell the writers spent a lot of money on, others you can tell couldn’t (hey, I’m a poor writer as well. I don’t have several hundred dollars for holographic book flats and personalized matchbooks). Those who don’t have a huge marketing budget, they get creative in their promo items, which you gotta commend. Sometimes it’s as simple as a bowl of chocolate (they get my vote) or a crocheted wineglass cozy. I might go for the LED glowlights because you know, shiny, and I get distracted easily, but it’s the personal touches that readers remember. However, my secret obsession is with pens. I do all my writing by hand. Pens are like the crackpipe that fuels my addiction. So it’s no secret I left with a collection of about 40 pens. (I think I left with twice that many in L.A.) Swag is awesome and it’s only a matter of time before I will have my own personalized swag. Hopefully when the time comes I can be just as clever.

The Giant Book Fair

The Giant Book Fair

Saturday is what some consider the reason the con comes together: The Giant Book Fair. And that’s exactly what it is. It’s a humongous book fair. Just about all genres are represented, although its primary audience is romance. Over the last few years, more teen, young adult and new adult has made its way into it, but romance and erotica is what drives it. It’s the bread and butter, so to say.

This is where I feel compelled to stop for a few minutes. Some things did not happen, shall we say, according to plan in regards to the book fair on Saturday. In years past, the con averaged about 700 or so authors. I hear this year was 2000. Big names showed up. Tickets to the book fair were grossly oversold. Authors were relegated to 2 feet of table room to meet and greet fans. The fire marshal threatened to shut it down and delayed the start by about 45 minutes. There’s a lot of talk on different blogs since Sunday about the fuckups that came out of this year’s book fair, more notably the separation of authors from traditionally published to small press/eBook and self pub. When authors registered for the con this year, they were told that all writers would be in the same room for the fair, a break from their previous year’s tradition of having the eBook fair on a different day. This was a major stepping stone on the con’s part and about damn time many felt. But good intentions rarely play out. When the map of the author placements came out, we discovered that there were 2 different rooms for the writers. Lots of feelings were hurt and disappointments arose, but none so much as the biggest scandal that came out of it in which a convention volunteer told readers that the room for small press, e-book and self-pubs was for “aspiring authors”.

All holy hell broke loose.

I will not spend the rest of the blog discussing what other have been discussing. Google it and I’m sure you’ll find a lot authors weighing in on that. I just want to discuss my own personal thoughts on the choice of wording.

I admit, I am still skeptical of self-publishing. I’m not so old that the new technology scares me. Far from it, but seeing that my goal as a writer when I was young was that of being published, it’s hard to determine yet if self-publishing is taking the hard work out of being legitimately published. That’s every writer’s goal. It’s a goal that one works really hard for. It’s years of honing your craft and sometimes years of going through painful rejection letters. Those rejection letters are what make some writers better. Sometimes it’s because it’s not your time to be published, sometimes it’s just you didn’t find the right publishing house, sometimes it just means you need to get better at it. Sometimes it’s just because the douchebag on the other end didn’t understand your work and didn’t want to take a gamble on it. All the big name writers went through that. And rightfully so.

Self-publishing in the past was considered vanity publishing. It was reserved for those who wrote business books, specialty books of local history, church books and for those who couldn’t get a big publishing house to touch their work but had the $10,000 to fork over to see your book in print. Only people who were SERIOUS in their need to have a book published went through vanity publishing.

Fast forward to the new century. Self-publishing is now considered print-on-demand. Anybody can publish now and only be out a few bucks for each physically printed book. ANYBODY. No longer do you have to consider selling your kidney on the black market to see your name in print. You just have to give up your daily latte. If that. This has been a great advancement because the bottom line is that this has allowed writers to take control of their writing and make the money they rightfully deserve. It cuts out the middle man. And these are good writers who are doing this. There are many, many NYT Bestsellers out there that are going the path of self-publishing. Think of it as a popular musical band who decides to open their own record label instead of using RCA or Geffen. It’s about liberation and being the master of your creative fate.

Me signing book flats.  I'm in a bar, by the way :)

Me signing book flats. I’m in a bar, by the way 🙂

On the down side, there are some really BAD writers out there, which is why self-publishing is still suffering a very bad stigma right now. And not only bad stigma, but downright loathing and aggression from those who are still in the traditional publishing camp. I get it, believe me, I do. I’ve seen some very poorly written self-pubs and with very poorly designed covers (some are so horrible I want to gouge my eyes out). Some will say self-pubbing is ruining the art and craft of writing, and I can agree to a certain extent. On the other hand, self-pubbing is finally giving really great authors a voice and a vehicle to get their work out. There are some really deserving writers out there that had to go the route of self-pubbing simply because a man in a suit in a NY publishing house didn’t “get it”. I commend these writers that took this chance in self-pubbing and they are flourishing in the career they were born to be in.

But the crap is still out there. And that is why I’m so on the fence about it.   But regardless of my fence-sitting ways, when I heard that the room that my friend was in, not only promoting her small press paperback and eBook, as well as our anthology, referred to as an “aspiring author”, I rose up with the same sense of outrage at the affront. Again, I was not registered at the convention, but my book, the anthology I share a ¼ writing credit with, was being promoted. I have been published in 15 university literary journals, small press magazines and e-zines over the last 11 months alone. I have had work accepted by literary projects that have as little as a 1% acceptance rate.

And I was called an “aspiring author.” The fuck I am.

The organizers of the con claim that this was a mistake of one volunteer who “misspoke” and was duly corrected. But it was the insult heard around the literary world. The damage was done. And I’m afraid the convention organizers are going to feel the repercussions over the next year as a result. Many writers are vowing never to go back to the con because of this insult. After all, the con rolled out the red carpet for a certain writer whose name I will not mention, but she made her millions on erotic Twilight fan fiction. While the rest of us are only “aspiring authors”. Money drives this convention. All authors, regardless how they publish, are charged the exact same registration fee. (although self-pubs and small press pub author were charged an extra 20% fee on the books they sold at the book fair, but that’s a whole other different bitch fest). I imagine the con organizers have major damage control to get through over the next year. The next convention will be in Dallas, Tx – my homestate. Still a 5 hour drive at best. I’ve told my friends I’ll be there. I will not pass up an opportunity to hang out with some of the best women on this side of the planet. But if I register for the con is another matter. I might return in my squatter glory. It seems to be working so far. After all, if I’m just an “aspiring author”, why should I pay dues for the country club that rejects me and a certain growing demographic of new and highly successful writers?

Me and Lisa, aka Amanda Jayde

Me and Lisa, aka Amanda Jayde

Oh, and you should see the segregation/civil rights rhetoric that is showing up on some of the blogs by people who weren’t even there. It’s sad and amusing. Mainly sad. But that, too, is another bitch fest for another day.

So, see you in 2015. Maybe. Eh. Who knows? Depends on the cake situation. You know I’ll do just about anything for cake.

Cheers and Sláinte!

Wendy

 

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