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Were Indie Authors Really Segregated at the RT Booklovers Convention?

RTBookloversConv5-14red_logo500[1]There’s a story going around today that self-published authors were relegated to second-class status at a book fair in New Orleans yesterday, but whether that actually happened is still up for debate.

Here’s what I know for sure:

  • The RT Booklovers Convention wrapped up yesterday with the Giant Book Fair, a massive event where 700 authors crowd into a couple ballrooms and sign and sell books. The authors were split between the Grand and Mardi Gras ballrooms at the Marriott Hotel in New Orleans, with one room over twice the the size of the other (floor plans).

Here’s what I don’t know:

  • Exactly how the authors were divided, or why.

According to Hugh Howey, the smaller Mardi Gras ballroom was reserved specifically for authors labeled as "aspiring". In other words, self-published authors:

Imagine selling two million books, having half a dozen of your novels hit the New York Times bestseller list, being inundated with thousands of fan emails every month, and then having someone call you an “aspiring writer.”

That’s what happened in New Orleans this weekend, when the planners of the RT Booklovers Convention decided to place self-published authors in a dinky room off to the side while the traditionally published authors sat at tables in the grand ballroom.

Authors like Liliana Hart, who is at the top of the game not just in the romance genre but in all of publishing, was labeled an “Aspiring Author.”

That sounds like a damning critique of the folks running the convention and their disdain for self-published authors, right?

Not exactly.

I was prepared to report on Howey’s post and second his complaints, but while I was looking for background information I found an alternate explanation as well as details which debunked Howey’s description.

For one thing, if you look at the floor plan I linked to you’ll see that the Mardi Gras ballroom is hardly a "dinky room off to the side". Depending on how the traffic was routed it might actually have been more accessible than the Grand ballroom.

And that’s not all. According to Courtney Milan, the authors were divided based on how their books were sold:

Some self-published authors are talking about one specific thing: that is, the separation of authors into two rooms on the basis of criteria that would not have been obvious to readers. Authors who were selling nonreturnable books–typically, authors from digital-first presses and self-published authors–were selling books on consignment, whereas the other books were being sold by a bookstore.

That meant that the authors needed to bring those books, have them checked out, determine the sales of books afterward, and fill out paperwork as to how they were to be paid. I believe RT handled those sales. By contrast, a bookstore was handling the sales for the books that were returnable. At the RT Giant Bookfair, for administrative ease, authors with nonreturnable books were put into a separate room. This saves a little time because then RT staff would automatically know if an author needed to be checked in/checked out.

Rumor has it that someone claimed that the authors with returnable books were “real authors” and that the authors who were selling their books on a consignment basis were “aspiring authors.” As far as I can tell, this appears to have been one misinformed volunteer, rather than the official RT Convention description. It was not something that I saw or heard, and I do not think it was widespread.

I don’t know that Milan’s explanation is correct; in fact I agree with the commenter on her blog who explained why the division was probably unnecessary.

But in spite of it being unnecessary, I think the division along returnable/consignment lines is much more plausible than dividing the authors based on self-published and traditionally published. It sounds like the kind of decision which was made to reduce the hassle of those in charge of running the Giant Book Fair, and hang the problems it created for everyone else.

And it did create problems; Kendall Grey took to Facebook this morning to detail just how cramped she was in the Mardi Gras ballroom. Among here complaints:

"Two authors will be at each table; therefore, you will have half of a 6 foot table — which is a 3 foot length." <–LIE. I didn’t have a ruler, but I took a picture, and my space was nowhere NEAR 3 feet. See below.

"Authors are arranged in alpha order by last name. This applies to every section." <–LIE. If we’d been organized alphabetically, the two rooms would have been broken up around the last names beginning with the letter M (or thereabouts), NOT by publishing platform.

I can’t tell you what really happened at the Giant Book Fair; I wasn’t there. (And from what I can tell, neither was Howey.) If you have a first hand account which better explains what was going on, the comment section is open.

But whatever happened, it’s clear that the policies were not well explained nor well executed.  If this event had been planned better then authors would not be complaining about being cramped. And if the policy had been explained better then we would not have rumors going around that self-published authors were being maligned.

Let’s hope the RT Booklovers Convention does better next year.

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flyingtoastr May 18, 2014 um 7:35 pm

"If this event had been planned better then authors would not be complaining about being cramped."

Yes they would have.

Nate Hoffelder May 18, 2014 um 7:36 pm

Okay, you got me on that one.

Maria (BearMountainBooks) May 18, 2014 um 9:27 pm

If they really separated authors on returnable versus not, it’s still a clever way to separate out self-published and small press authors. I’m not saying they did or didn’t do it that way, but there’s no reason to really separate them that way. The reader/buyer isn’t generally standing there asking "is this returnable" when they buy a book. I’m certainly not. But by putting them in that category, (Whether they are self-published or not) it makes those books less desirable–and if the intent was to make certain ones more desirable even by labeling them returnable, that is still a marketing advantage–and the organizers would be well aware of giving that advantage. Perhaps a bookstore was a sponsor and they wanted to give that bookseller an advantage. Or perhaps the bookseller wanted to be set apart. Either way, what is the purpose of the organization? To support those who write? To support those who paid for a table to sell books? Because if everyone paid the same dues to appear, I think they should have the same advantages.

But I wasn’t there so it’s entirely possible there isn’t even a story here.

Greg Strandberg May 19, 2014 um 2:00 am

Which authors are laughing all the way to the bank? I’d be most interested in hearing their take, but…oh, they’re the ones complaining.

What will make this group of extremely successful people happy? Is it possible for such a thing to take place?

Valentine May 19, 2014 um 5:43 am

Independent and self publishing authors exist, they existed before, but not like today. Alienating them or making them feel like this, is very self-destructive.
Especially today when a badly worded tweet can cause millions worth of damage.

Karl May 19, 2014 um 8:19 am

Good reporting, Nate. It looks like we don’t yet have the whole story on just what happened with this convention, but kudos for not just hopping onto the first bandwagon that came along.

Nate Hoffelder May 19, 2014 um 8:45 am

Thanks. I don’t know what is going on either, and I am fine with saying that.

fjtorres May 19, 2014 um 8:35 am

The thing is, if they do intend to segregate indies, hybrids and small pressers from the tradpubs, pretty soon it’ll be the tradpubs that are going to end up in a closet. And that’s just on the "strength" of BPH marketing. 🙂

Nate Hoffelder May 19, 2014 um 8:39 am

That thought crossed my mind.

Steven Zacharius May 19, 2014 um 10:06 pm

Are you kidding me? Be serious.

Marilynn Byerly May 19, 2014 um 10:42 am

I wasn’t there, but RTBookclub has always championed ebooks and self-published authors. They were the first to review the early ebooks in the Nineties, they’ve always included ebook and self-published authors into all their events, and they’ve added special awards for ebook only and self-published books in their annual awards.

This makes it hard to believe they are prejudicial.

deb smith May 19, 2014 um 4:29 pm

Ditto what Marilynn said. RT has been a champion of self-published authors and small press authors since way way way before anyone else bothered to notice them. I guarantee you the staff at RT made no decisions based on a deliberate plan to diss successful authors. RT is also well-known for being lovably disorganized. And, as anyone who’s ever tried to manage a booksigning that includes a host bookseller *and* authors selling books they’ve brought themselves can tell you, trying to keep the accounting straight is difficult for even a small event, so they may indeed have tried to put the authors selling their own inventory in a separate area–but not for nefarious reasons. In other words, hey, Hugh, how about actually doing some research before you accuse people of something, uh?

Caleb Mason May 19, 2014 um 7:43 pm

I still cannot get over the segregation at BEA with the digital people in the basement like an episode of Downton Abbey, with the old upstairs publishers doing their utmost to pretend the world is not changing.

Nate Hoffelder May 19, 2014 um 7:54 pm


Steven Zacharius May 19, 2014 um 10:12 pm

Instead of everybody speculating about what happened at RT, why doesn’t someone just call Carol Stacy at RT and ask her? As far as BEA goes, the reason different groups were segmented was because the BEA floor wasn’t big enough to hold everybody on one floor so they tried to come up with a logical type of separation. Before BEA was always held in NYC, many of the venues, including Chicago, were not big enough to put everybody in one room so what they did was to have some of the bigger publishers upstairs and some downstairs as well. Then the bigger publishers complained about being stuck in the basement after having seniority or tenure, and this policy ended. BEA space is chosen on a ranking system based on how long you’ve continuously exhibited at BEA. They then have a lottery for space based on your ranking.
But this constant bashing of traditional publishing versus indie publishing is uncalled for and not necessary. Everyone agrees that readers don’t buy books based on publishing houses so can’t we all place nicely together?

Steven Zacharius
CEO Kensington Publishing Corp.

Nate Hoffelder May 19, 2014 um 10:22 pm

Caleb was joking about digital (I think). The show floor was organized based on zones, yes, but that was more for convenience than anything. And all of the meeting rooms are downstairs in the Javitz center, so there’s to claim that one group was segregated.

Caleb Mason May 20, 2014 um 6:05 am

I wish BEA was organized more like CES, that’s all. Or the old PC Expo held years ago in the same space. It makes for a much more interesting attendee experience to intersperse the floor. At CES, which had as many as 26o,000 attendees at one point, some of the bigger companies had to move downstairs or out of Central Hall, or even over to the Sands, to try and better intersperse the startups with the established. BEA could do more to try and improve the upstairs downstairs experience the current layout projects. It looks similar to what I recall from 1989, which was the last time I attended before 2011.

Jane L May 20, 2014 um 11:07 am

I would like to disclose I DO NOT work for RT. I am one of their core volunteers who was at the door for the book fair. Along with Carol Stacy and two young ladies who were " helpers"
Apparently at one time ,in the very beginning the young lady referred to authors as "aspiring"
And was IMMEDIATELY corrected. At which point I personally , loudly and about every 10 people repeated "traditional authors to the left, indie / ebook authors to the right" when asked and HUNDREDS did what indie meant,’it was explained the authors write and sell their own work. No one was encouraged in any way to choose one ballroom over the other, that was strictly their choice. The hotel came up with the idea of using both ballrooms adjoined by a large foyer area to accommodate one fair. Because Carol had so many complaints about Having two seperate signings and indie authors wanted their on Saturday, with the big book fair.

Also, we were at the mercy of the bookseller, who insisted the sales could not be combined. Indie had to be rung up and taken care of seperate. At that point we were at their mercy. Yes this is being re-evaluated.

But! The biggest obstacle we had and were battling the entire convention, was the fire
Marshal. Who was out to get Rt. at every single event we had large crowds, they were there and tagging them for anything from our people were lined up on wrong sides of hallways to forcing uss to have authors not
Only take down their beautiful banners at book fair but also remove them from the room. We were not allowed to open until they cleared us. Hence why fair open 1/2 hr late. In the past we have been lucky to have fire marshals that were understanding and lenient. Not so this year. They were
ruthless and beyond nit picky.

Our volunteers at the doors had to
Stand for five hours because they were not
Allowed to have a chair in the hallway
. Also bashing of volunteers has been horrible. People need to understand we had 80 EXPERIANCED volunteers that were up at 5 am to help set up the book fair for authors who could sleep until 9 and walk in and have their spots all set for
them. On top of that there were about 25 "helpers" who were new to the event, they were amazing and yes they may have had a misunderstanding but were corrected

I would like to say RT, Kathryn and Ken are addressing all these issues and making changes for next year. RT has always welcomed ALL writers of ALL generes and supported them equally. If they did NOT support the Indie/ebook they wouldn’t be invited! So they are
Making every attempt to make it better in the future.

My last thought is how amazing the authors were and the ones who worked with us volunteers and thanked us are beyond professionals, thank you for your
Patience and understanding!

The (Not So) Final Word on the RT Booklovers Convention Fracas – The Digital Reader May 21, 2014 um 6:34 am

[…] author”.  First-hand reports tended to disagree with that claim. I already adequately covered this story on Sunday night, so I won’t repeat myself. But I do wish to address Hugh’s claim that […]

Steven Zacharius May 21, 2014 um 7:59 am

It appears as if the conference was a total success. Hats off to RT.

The (Not So) Final Word on the RT Booklovers Convention Fracas | The Digital Reader May 9, 2017 um 7:09 pm

[…] "aspiring author".  First-hand reports tended to disagree with that claim. I already adequately covered this story on Sunday night, so I won't repeat myself. But I do wish to address Hugh's claim that […]

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