Jenna on GRL 2017

Hello, everyone! I attended my first ever  Gay Romance Lit Retreat and it was amazing!

What GRL is not:

  • A place to make tons of money selling your books
  • A place to pitch publishers
  • A place to learn about the craft of writing through panels, workshops, and discussions

So, what is GRL?

  • A giant slumber party with all the friends you never knew you had
  • A place to meet authors you’ve never heard of and buy their books
  • A grand game of “get every author to sign their books.”
  • A wild party.

There are three levels of attendees at GRL: featured author, supporting author, and attendee. The spots for authors are limited and there’s a publishing requirement for both. (Featured authors must have 3 books currently published and available for sale, supporting authors need 1.) A lot of newer authors (like myself) go as attendees but there are also a lot of attendees who are readers, and that’s what the focus of this event is on. It’s not a place to shine a spotlight on famous authors but rather a place for readers to connect with authors and fellow readers over the books that they love.

I spent a fair amount of time in the vendor’s hall, helping out at the Queer Science Fiction/Queer Romance Ink table. There were maybe two large publishers there (Riptide and MLR) and some smaller publishers (eXtasy), independent groups, and single author tables. The vendor area was busy on Thursday, but not so much the rest of the week as people had already had their chance to pick through the offered books. The real competition was during the Featured and Supporting Author signing events, which was like a massive artists alley of authors displaying their books, some for sale and some for free, as well as the many Author’s Lounge events where authors took shifts at tables in the hallway to sell, promote, and sign.

I ended up completely filling the suitcase I brought (41 books weighing 34 lbs) and then bought a cheap duffle in the gift shop to throw the things that had been in my suitcase into. I was not the only one who went wild and crazy with book buying. I think my favorite part of the event, besides meeting a ton of super friendly people, was trying to get every book I bought signed by the author. Aside from books in a series (where I only asked the author to sign the first), I got all but three of my books signed and that was more a fault of deciding on that game on Friday when some of the other authors’ lounges had already been done and over.

Literally everyone I met there was pleasant and friendly. Hugs were offered freely and smiles were plentiful. (There were no photo and no hugs pins available at registration.) I was a cherry—aka a complete newbie—and everyone was really great at helping me feel comfortable in a crowd of strangers.

For those of you thinking about going to GRL next year (October 17-21, 2018 in Portsmouth, Virginia) here’s some advice.

What to do at GRL as a reader:

Meet your favorite authors. Ask them questions. Get them to sign your books. You don’t have to buy anything there. You can bring books from home but a lot of authors had cool swag and other neat things at their tables.

Talk to people. It can be daunting to go to a convention on your own. I know. I’ve been there. I hate talking to strangers, but I mean it when I say that GRL attendees are just friends you haven’t met yet. We’re all there because we love gay romance and we love talking about it. So find people. As if you can sit at their table. Invite strangers to join you for lunch. Go to the social events and thrust yourself into the fray. If someone has an author badge, ask them what they write. If they have an attendee, ask them what they read or who their favorite attending author is.

Explore new things. Pick up books that look interesting. Read the back cover. Go to author readings. Ask questions in the author’s Q&A. You’ll find a ton of new books to add to your TBR pile.

What to do at GRL as an author:

Don’t go for the money. Yes, you will likely sell some books, but if you look at GRL as a money-making venture, you’re going to be disappointed. Unless you’re a well-known, established, big-name author, you’re not going to make back the price of the room, let alone the price of travel. Don’t worry. That’s normal.

Bring something to sign. A few copies of your book(s) if you have them, bookplates, even bookmarks all make for great signing opportunities.

Have something to hand out. It doesn’t have to be super fancy, but toward the end of the retreat, I’d run out of luggage space but still wanted to check out new-to-me authors. The best items I saw were about postcard size with the cover of the book and a short blurb on one side and the contact/sales info on the other side. That way the person (in this case, me) remembers “Oh, I wanted to check out this book” rather than wondering why they have Author X’s business card.

If you’re planning to purchase swag to hand out, these are your best options:

  • Good quality pens or markers (Do not go cheap. I had all three of the pens I grabbed break in my luggage on the trip home.)
  • Stress balls
  • Chapstick, tissues, and hand sanitizer (aka the holy trinity of avoiding con crud)
  • Chocolates or candies with your info taped on
  • Bookmarks, especially fancier ones. I saw some really good ones that had beaded tassles.
  • Items unique to your books. One author was giving out earrings with tiny gold guns as promo for her Western novel.
  • Cute keychains or magnets. Chibi art is way in. Readers love seeing your characters brought to life with good art.
Freebie short story and gun earrings
Cute envelopes with bookmarks and keychains inside.

Finally, like above, talk to people. Talk to other authors. Talk to readers. Engage people who pass by your table with a smile and a compliment or just a simple “Hi, how are you doing?”

If you’ve been to GRL in the past, how did you like it? If not, what would draw you to GRL 2018?

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