Ok, so lots has been said over the past several days about GayRomLit this year. I debated for a while about whether I wanted to share my thoughts publicly. Despite having opinions on almost everything (just ask my husband), and talking about books on the blog with no problem, I am actually a pretty non-confrontational person and I have no interest in fighting with anyone. But I realized those voices in my head were screaming to be said out loud and so I finally decided to take a moment to share them.
So, a few days ago the organizers of GRL sent out a quick newsletter letting folks know registration is coming and highlighting a few things about the event. It included a brief mention of some changes, as well as some wording that disturbed many, and very quickly the internet was full of discussion and reactions, much of it negative. The organizers responded by the next day with a much more detailed newsletter explaining more specifically the things mentioned the first time around. In addition, they held a webcast where Heidi and other folks answered live questions, which I watched. So before I go any further, I encourage all of you to read the official newsletter from the GRL organizers if you haven’t already. There is an incredible amount of misinformation still being circulated out there despite the fact that there is clear information online. I encourage you to read it and form your own opinions, and if you don’t hear it directly from someone affiliated with GRL, at least ask them before assuming it is true.
Ok, so I read both newsletters, participated in the web chat, and have read many (MANY) online response through Twitter, Facebook, and various blogs. I am not here to tell anyone that they are wrong for having feelings about this or that my opinion is the only right one. You are entitled to your feelings (and should feel the shit out of them as Dan Savage often says). But I do want to take the time to throw mine out there for you to consider. And that is basically that I think the organizers are doing their best and making decisions based on what they believe readers want.
I think at its core, there are two decisions that seem to be causing the most conflict right now. First, the organizers made the decision to cap the number of “official” authors in attendance at 100, versus 130 last year. This doesn’t mean more authors can not come as regular attendees, but it does mean that there is a limit on how many can participate in an an official way with author badges, roles in spotlight events and signings, etc. Now this decision worries a lot of folks, and I understand why. This is a great conference and no one wants to be shut out of an author spot.
But. This decision was not made in a vacuum. The organizers got overwhelming feedback from readers at the event asking for a lower author/attendee ratio. I was there, and I can tell you I heard this comment over and over. I even heard it directly told to the organizers over and over. It was hard with so many authors to manage things from a reader end. Hard to find the authors you wanted to meet. Hard to figure out which sessions to attend with so many authors in competing time slots. Hard to navigate through an enormous signing. So readers responded through surveys and other forms of feedback and the organizers listened and gave people what they asked for.
Now was it a good decision? I think so, but many don’t and that is fine. But what I hope people understand is that the organizers of GRL made it because they were doing their best to give us what we wanted. They listened and tried to respond. Just making a bigger conference as some have suggested is not really a viable option, at least right now. First of all, this hotel was booked long ago. The manager of the Atlanta hotel was at GRL in ABQ checking things out. The organizers have been reviewing feedback and making decisions since then. They can not suddenly find a new venue for next year. And even if they could and even if it was financially feasible (and Heidi explained on the web cast why it is not right now), do we really want a conference of 2000 people? I don’t. I loved that by the end of the week I knew many names and recognized most faces. I loved that I would see the same people over and over, that I could make a friend in one session and see them later to sit with at another. I have no interest in an big anonymous event. I went to GRL having met exactly 2 people in real life and left with tons of friends. I don’t think that would have happened the same way at a bigger event.
The second decision that the organizers made is to invite a smaller group of authors to sign up for the conference in advance of the main author registration period. Unfortunately the wording used on the original newsletter referred to these authors as reader “must-haves” and this led to a lot of people with hurt feelings. I totally get that. I can imagine how someone can feel hurt hearing that wording and it can lead to a sense of feeling out of the club. I don’t think that is how it was intended, but I get that this is how it sounded.
So just to back up a bit, there will be 70 featured authors spots out of the total 100 authors. The remaining thirty of those spots are being held for up-and-coming authors. They pay less and get fewer promotional opportunities, but this will be a way for newer authors not to get lost in the shuffle. So out of the 70 general author slots, 30 are potentially being taken by invited authors. Meaning the organizers are asking certain authors to come, they have a small window in which to sign up, and then any remaining open slots from this group go back for everyone.
So why do this at all? Basically, because once again they are responding to what they believe readers want. Everyone has their favorite authors (just like they have favorite actors, favorite athletes, etc). Organizers asked readers for the authors they most wanted to see at GRL. Many of us filled at surveys after the event asking this very question (among others). Yes, not everyone got the survey and not everyone had the chance to complete one. And yes, asking some authors in advance means fewer spots for everyone else. Now I seriously doubt all 30 will accept, but if they do, that limits the remaining featured author pool to 40 (plus the 30 newer authors). I’ll be honest. I am not sure how I feel about this one. I understand the reasoning, but I am not sure if I feel it is necessary.
But the bottom line for me is that the organizers asked readers who they wanted to see at GRL and then attempted to deliver. Whether they made the best choice, or the only choice, they did not act out of an attempt to create a class system, or stratify authors, or hurt people’s feelings. They listened to readers and tried to give us what they thought we wanted.
Now I will say that I have heard people calling for transparency on the list of invited authors and I will tell you I think this is a horrible idea. Once registration starts, there will be no divisions between featured authors. Everyone in that group of 70 will be treated exactly the same. They will pay the same, get the same reader access, and no one will ever know. And I think that is great. Do we really need to publicly list out who registered when? For everyone complaining that this decision divides the community, how does publicly stating who is in which group do any good? By the time GRL starts (and in fact, I think by the time the first couple days of registration end), this will all be over and no one will know who was invited when and I think that is for the best.
So what is my take away here? Some changes were made and not everyone is happy with them. Honestly, I don’t think they are as dramatic as they may seem. Author caps at conferences are very routine. In fact, I can name two other cons off the top of my head that cap the numbers of official authors, both of which have large numbers of m/m authors and readers. I can also name cons that pre-invite select guests in order to meet attendee wishes for who they will see there. Yes, GRL is not officially a conference, but I think the point is the same. And again, everyone is entitled to like these changes or not.
But for me, here is the bottom line. I loved GRL last year. You have only to read my recaps of the event and look at my pictures to see that. It was an amazing experience. Aside from running my blog and talking to my fellow readers, it was easily the best experience I have ever had as a reader. Now GRL is not the only con I am going to this year. And hopefully it will not be the only one I am going to next year. But I will be going. Because it was amazing, and I truly do not expect that the changes organizers are making will take away from the wonderful time I had there. And if they do the littlest bit, I am ok with that. Because these organizers have worked their butts off. They put in hundreds of hours. They don’t get paid. GRL makes no profit. They are putting aside their jobs and their personal time to make a conference that they hope will be wonderful for us readers. And they asked what we wanted and tried to give it to us. And for that I am willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. I will be there in Atlanta and I hope to see many of you there as well.