My take on the GRL mess

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First of all, I’d like to say I admire the 6 people who are putting together yet another GayRomLit retreat. I have some idea how much work is involved and frankly, I wouldn’t want to be in their shoes. It’s a pretty thankless job which is the reason I went out of my way to praise them in person last year in Albuquerque.
I had a blast last year. So much so that I penciled the 2013 date into my calendar on the way home. I also started googling for swag almost as soon as my plane hit the ground back in Belgium, because although I brought a fair amount of stuff with me, I had almost nothing left to take home and felt I needed more for the next edition.

Then came the announcement about what GRL 2013 was going to be all about and all of a sudden I got hit with a blast: It’s going to take a fricking miracle for me to get in (as an author) this year.

I understand the need to put a cap on attendance. This sort of thing can’t be done for say, a thousand people.
I also understand needing to put a cap on the amount of authors in attendance. Although for us authors, this is a retreat and a chance to meet up with old and new friends and other authors we admire, it’s also a way to meet and talk to readers. Even for social wallflowers like me that is something to look forward to! So I get the fact that they aim to have more readers than authors there.

That said, I know what last year was like and how many authors had to sign up as readers because all the author slots were filled. I got in as an author, but by the time I got the chance to sign up (on the first day, mind you!) all the events were full, which meant no readings, Q&A’s or spotlights available for me. I’m happy to see that this year, you get an automatic place in one of those if you get in as an author. At least that has changed for the better.

It does bring me back to what little chance I have of actually grabbing one of those places, though.

  • There are only 100 author places out of 400. Fair enough.
  • 30 of those are reserved for “new” authors, people who have only one or two books published. I’m all for this. New authors need a chance to grow a reader base and introduce themselves to a broader audience. Kudos to the organizers for giving them that chance.
  • And then comes the part where the controversy starts. 30 places are reserved for invited authors, people who were listed in last year’s survey as “authors the readers would love to meet”. The name given to these in the announcement has caused quite a rift so I won’t repeat it. In short, I can say a lot of people felt like they were inadvertently designated to being the least popular person in the class, say, the last one to be picked for sports teams. I fully admit to being one of them. No amount of soothing from the organizers, stating that nobody on the outside knows who is on the golden list, helped in that respect because who truly feels like they belong on a list like that? Certainly not me.
  • Which leaves the truly coveted places for an author like me (not exactly one of the popular kids but with more books under her belt than the newbies). I need to fight for one of the 40 spots left over. Given my experience from last year and the fact that a lot of people I talked to at GRL2012 didn’t get in at all when there were 140 spots instead of 40, leaves me to conclude that it ain’t gonna be easy.

In all honesty, I understand the fact that as an organizer, who needs to balance the retreat checkbook at the end of the weekend, you want to attract a few big names. We live in a celebrity culture where even people with no particular talents can end up being more popular (richer, more famous, more admired) than others. I don’t think I need to put names to that list.
I also don’t think anyone would take offence to, say, 5 big shot names in the business getting invites for this (and actually attending). You’d probably have to send 30 invites to get those 5 anyway. But did we need to know this? NO! This is the sort of thing that goes on behind closed doors. I don’t believe for a moment that honesty is the best policy where this is concerned. If somebody takes over as CEO of a multinational, they don’t announce beforehand that they are going to ask 30 industry big shots whether they’re interested in the seat, right? They simply announce who got the job. It’s better for the person who ended up getting it and better for the multinational. Therefore I also think it would have been better to announce that such and such (big shot name) is going to attend GRL2013 and use that to attract other authors and, most importantly, readers.

So why did this have to become such a mudslinging contest?
Do readers honestly think us authors are only doing this for PR? From some the reader comments I read I also concluded that they think we’re there to make a profit.
I can only speak for myself, of course, but GRL is a big financial money pit for me. Add together transatlantic air travel, extra nights in the conference hotel because of said travel, extra days off work because of jetlag, TONS of swag ordered and bought, NO tax write-off at all (I’m not a fulltime artist, so I can’t write off anything for tax reasons in my country. Everything I do for my writing comes out of my own pocket!) and even I am wondering why I bother. I can answer why, though.

GRL2012 was tons of fun. I felt like an author for the first time in my life. I got reader feedback. I got to meet some of my favorite authors (yes, writers are readers too).
So please let’s not spoil this…


  1. You say here what I have been saying all along, Zarah. There’s oneother thing I’ve been saying: that the 30-30-40 ration changes the nature of GRL from a gathering to a showplace. It is the gathering, not the showplace, that attracted me to GRL, so I haven’t yet decided if I will try to get in, though I could probably afford it. I am not a “showplace” author and never expected to be. My work is only marginally romance. I know this, it is what I want to write, and therefore I feel no jealousy toward more popular authors in the genre. It did sting, however, that some people assumed I was being a cry baby when I was regretting what I perceived as the loss of something I was fond of.
    I don’t remember if we got to chat with each other in ABQ . I had so many memorable chats but with whom each chat was with is all muddled in my head. I know I would have loved to; I’ve read a few of your books and enjoyed them very much.

    1. Yes, we got a chance to talk, over a swag table. If I recall it was something about young writers not knowing their classics and me admitting that, since I didn’t grow up in an English speaking country, I hadn’t read that many classics either!
      I’m glad you liked my stories.

  2. I can’t wait to meet you. This will be my first Retreat. Totally out of my comfort zone. So excited. Thank you for making the trip it means a lot ……

    1. GRL is a great place. It’s a real safe haven, so just walk up to me and say hi. Last year I had some of my best conversations with readers who did just that and they helped make the retreat such a success.
      Also, thanks for letting me know you’re coming!

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