What I Learned While Running a Gay Romance Conference

By Tracy Timmons-Gray, GRNW Coordinator

This is a re-posting of an essay Tracy wrote for the genre blog Reviews by Jesswave that was published on October 15, 2013.

On September 14, 2013, more than 120 attendees joined the Gay Romance Northwest Meet-Up at the Seattle Central Public Library, the first conference on LGBT romance fiction in the Pacific Northwest. The event was hosted by the Seattle nonprofit Old Growth Northwest, which focuses on fostering community and building resources for authors around the Pacific Northwest. I served as the event coordinator for GRNW (on a volunteer basis. GRNW is entirely volunteer-run. For the record, I’m speaking here as myself, and not for Old Growth.)

The conference itself was a one-day event–an afternoon with three panel discussions with authors, editors, publishers, and cover artists that talked about topics like writing gay romance, what publishers are looking for, and diversity (or lack thereof) in LGBT romance. Following the conference, we went across the street to the Hotel Monaco where attendees could meet with authors and readers, buy books, have books signed, and listen to short readings.

GRNW 2013 Attending Authors

GRNW 2013 Attending Authors

We call GRNW 2013 a success overall, especially for our first year.

1- The event went great, with only a few hitches (e.g. like us at registration forgetting to give out swag bags for the first 60 attendees. It was a hilarious scramble as conference volunteers ran up to pass out bags to the audience members.)

2- Due to writers, publishers, and attendees’ generous donations, both before and during the conference, we gathered more than 240 LGBT books in our book drive for the Gay City LGBT Library, a nonprofit library in Seattle that’s open to the public.

3- As seen in Marlene Harris’ earlier posting about working with libraries, during the month prior to the conference, the Seattle Public Library purchased 240 LGBT romance ebooks for the library collection, including books by most of the attending authors. We were very proud that SPL took such great and immediate measures to expand their collections.

(It’s just coincidence that the number of Gay City book drive donations matched the number of SPL additions, although we’re very happy that in total almost 500 LGBT books were added to the Seattle community this summer.)

GRNW Panel: Megan Derr, Astrid Amara, Stormy Glenn, Daisy Harris, Ethan Stone, and Anne Tenino

GRNW Panel: Megan Derr, Astrid Amara, Stormy Glenn, Daisy Harris, Ethan Stone, and Anne Tenino

Thinking Ahead to GRNW 2014

We got a lot of positive feedback as well as wonderful suggestions from attendees for next year (and yes, there is a next year—GRNW 2014 will be back at the Seattle Central Public Library on Sept. 13, 2014.)

After running this event, I learned a lot of things. If I had to step back in time to talk with April 2013 Tracy, which is when this event idea was born, these are some of the things that I would share:

Writers, Sponsors, and Partners will get on board

Lou Harper, Nicole Kimberling, and Devon Rhodes

GRNW authors Lou Harper, Nicole Kimberling, and Devon Rhodes

Prior to this event, we did not have connections with any of the authors, sponsors, or partners. All connections were made in those five months. The hardest thing was to reach out and ask them to join. (It’s kind of scary—asking a stranger if they’d like to believe in your idea.) But everyone was so positive and enthusiastic to be a part of this, even though we were not a known entity or part of the industry.

So, I say this to anyone who is interested in doing something similar—push past your fear of asking. Some will say no, and some will ignore you, but most of the people you will talk to are wonderful, caring, creative, and positive people, and they will be a joy to work with.

Partnerships are valuable, even if they can’t support you financially

GRNW authors Heidi Belleau, Kade Boehme, Ginn Hale, Rick R. Reed, and Andrea Speed

GRNW authors Heidi Belleau, Kade Boehme, Ginn Hale, Rick R. Reed, and Andrea Speed

GRNW and Old Growth Northwest worked with 11 community partners on this event, from the geeky convention GeekGirlCon to the prestigious Lambda Literary to two RWA chapters, the Rainbow Romance Writers and the Rose City Romance Writers. These kinds of partnerships are great for outreach, building connections, building awareness, and tying your fiction event more into the community.

There are so many great reasons to spread the love of LGBT romance fiction, and connecting your event to local LGBT, arts, and writing nonprofits is a great way to extend your reach and build awareness of the genre.

Independent bookstores vs. independent presses

GRNW_Panel_1_AudienceOne of our partners was an independent bookstore which handled all the ordering and bookselling for the event. The bookstore was wonderful to work with, but we definitely ran into conflicts, and it’s one of those, “it’s no one’s fault” kind of issues. Both independent publishers and bookstores have policies in place, and they don’t always work together. For example, some presses don’t allow returns. Book stores will only buy books that can be returned. Both sides are in a financial standing where one can’t overcompensate for the other without losing money.

This isn’t the fault of the independent press. They’re putting themselves out there and taking a big risk by being independent. Nor is it the fault of the store. As we can see by the dwindling numbers of brick-and-mortar bookstores, they can’t afford to take on financial risks either.

We plan on continuing to work with bookstores and holding bookstore author events. (This year we held three store reading events that featured 12 GRNW authors.) It’s part of our mission to keep working with bookstores and libraries to highlight authors, because LGBT romance authors should be spotlighted at public author events just as other genre authors are.

But our goal for next year is to continually look for new ways to make the process easier—for stores, for presses, for authors, and for readers. Because even though the majority of the market is ebook-driven, there is still real joy in being able to flip through these books at a store. Our goal is to see how we can make that even easier.

You will run into bigotry, prejudice, and elitism

Focus on the good parts and all the positive people that you’re working with. So when someone tells you that they don’t serve “those kinds of customers” or tells you derisively that they don’t “read those kinds of books,” you can respond professionally back to them. It will happen, because not everyone is at the table with LGBT, romance, or LGBT romance.

Just smile and tell them that there will always be a spot at the table for them when they want it.

What more can be done – GRNW Call to Action

GRNW_ButtonAvatarOne of the main points we made at the conference was that there are so many little things that readers and writers can do to help boost awareness of the genre, and part of our purpose was to live by example and show how one can engage to make things happen, whether you’re  a reader or a writer.

These things include:

Requesting your library to purchase LGBT romance books

– If your library has books already, borrowing them. (That’s one of the best ways to show a library that there’s demand.)

Donating books to community LGBT libraries. A lot of cities have them, whether they are a formal library or at a community center. Donating books is a great way to spread the love.

Working with book stores, libraries, and related nonprofits to host author events. (This is especially easy in urban areas where you can gather multiple authors for one event.)

Attend local LGBT romance events in your area. (Getting attendees at events is how more events happen. Nothing shuts down an initiative faster than a visible lack of interest.)

Participate in conventions and events—whether it’s the genre flagship event of GayRomLit, this spring’s RainbowCon, this summer’s UK Meet 2014, the LGBTQ track at RT 2014, next fall’s GRNW 2014 or Yaoicon 2014, or organizing an event or panel with your local RWA chapter, nothing stops silence more than going out there and publicly celebrating.

Celebrate. Celebrate lots and lots. Because whether you’re a writer or a reader, you’re worth it, and so are these books.

One of the last points we ended GRNW was this:

We don’t need to wait for mainstream publishers to tell us that these books are valuable.

We can do that ourselves.

With all these little ways, we can announce with our actions about the books that we love and the authors that we admire.

Request. Borrow. Lend. Buy. Donate. Review. Recommend. Attend.

Read. Write.



We’ll be right there doing the same. We’d love for you to join us.

Tracy Timmons-Gray has a background in nonprofit project management, development, and communications, and is an avid LGBTQ romance reader.

How to Get LGBT Romance Books into Libraries

by Marlene Harris

MarleneHarrisThis post is an edited version of the Keynote Address that Marlene gave at the 2013 Gay Romance Northwest Meet-Up on September 13, 2014 at the Seattle Central Public Library.

My name is Marlene Harris and I’m a biblioholic. I’m addicted to reading. I read for fun and I read a LOT. While my first loves are science fiction and fantasy, I also read just about every kind of romance, including gay romance.

But I am also a professional book-pusher. That’s right, I’m a librarian. My current position is at The Seattle Public Library, but for the record, I am not speaking or writing officially on behalf of that library.

I’m here to talk about how readers can work with their libraries to get what they want to read on the shelves, both physical and “virtual”.

In order to get your book into the library’s collection, you have to navigate your way through the library’s methods for getting material into its collection. In other words, what are the rules for navigating past the gatekeepers?

I’m going to get specific about things you can do to get books you want to read into your local library and/or books you’ve written into libraries. Before I do this, I want to make one very big caveat.

“All politics is local”.

Public libraries are creatures of local politics. They are governed by locally elected or appointed boards and are funded by local tax dollars. Therefore, to paraphrase the gentleman who said the original phrase (Tip O’Neill, former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives), “All Libraries is local.”

Ask for What You Want

If you are a reader and want more gay romance in your library, every library has a request mechanism for the library to purchase a book. For this method to work, some points to note:

  • You have to be a user of that library.
  • If your library is in a budget crunch, there may be a limit on how many books they order per month. (Also requests may work better on January 15 than December 15, as libraries have budget cycles)
  • Be kind to whoever has to handle the back-end of this process and fill the form out as completely as possible.
  • If you want an ebook, even if the form doesn’t say you can ask for one, as long as the library has ebooks, you can still ask.

By asking for what you want, you are demonstrating that there is demand in the community. If no one asks, then the library does not know that their users will check out gay romances.

Also, because gay romances are not published by big name publishers, they are not heavily reviewed by the review sources that libraries use. Requesting a specific title is a big up-vote that the library should buy it, even without a review.

One warning for any author that is thinking about getting their spouse and/or parent and/or child to request their book; please don’t trick us. We’re librarians and we do research.Does the amount of sex in a book matter?

Does the amount of sex in a book matter?

I’ve been asked whether the amount or graphic-ness of the sex matters in whether or not gay romance, or any romance, will be purchased for a library collection.

This is an “All Libraries is Local” answer. Sex hasn’t mattered at the libraries I’ve worked at (and that just reads wrong when I write it) but I’ve worked for most of my career in either big cities or college towns, and they tend to skew liberal. If you live in a community where your local library doesn’t carry het erotica, they’re not going to buy any gay erotica either. On the other hand, if the het romances get extremely steamy, then it’s reasonable to ask them to purchase equally steamy gay romances.

Getting Reviewed Matters

Besides patron requests, how do libraries decide what to buy? And how can you as an author get a library to buy your book?

The best thing is to get your book reviewed by one of the major review magazines.

  • The review magazines that libraries use are Library Journal, Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, and Booklist.
  • If you write YA, there is also an offshoot of Library Journal, School Library Journal.
  • For romance specifically, RT Book Reviews is relevant, and middle-sized and bigger public libraries subscribe and use it.
  • Library Journal also reviews e-original romances, including LGBTQ romances, in their online Xpress Reviews every week.

And Kirkus and PW will let authors buy reviews, but it’s expensive. (And even if you buy a review with Kirkus, there is no guarantee that it will be a good review. Kirkus is notoriously snarky!)

As a recommendation, Library Journal Xpress Reviews is always looking for more ebook-only or digital first publishers to work with. (Full disclosure, I’m one of their reviewers.)

Work with Libraries

Librarians hand-sell books they love, just like local bookstores.

For authors, you can approach your library about doing an event there. Libraries do author events, and have many of the same types of author-related programming that bookstores do.

If you do an author event at your local library the library will also stock your books for circulation. No matter what they have to do to get them. If you are the event, people will be curious about your work and want to check your work out.

Also, many libraries will either allow an author to sell their books after an author event or partner with a local bookstore to sell the author’s books.

You promote your library event; you promote the library. The library promotes your event; it promotes the library and you. Everybody wins.

Donating Books

Ask your local library if they accept donations. Many libraries are thrilled to have local authors donate copies of their books. My experience is that the smaller the library is, the more likely this method is to work.

Whatever you do, don’t drop donated books through the book drop and expect them to magically appear in the collection. Also don’t drop them at the circulation desk. (Yes, I’ve seen both things happen.)

Let’s talk about ebooks.

When a library buys a print book it buys a book. Just like you. We own the book; we can do what we want with it. Including sell it or give it away later.

Ebooks are not like print books. Nobody owns their ebooks. It’s software and it’s a license. The licensor, meaning the publisher, controls the terms of the license.

Also the technology for handling the Digital Rights Management is a pain in the patootie for everyone. There are very few companies who deal in the niche market of managing the DRM for ebook library checkouts. The big name is Overdrive, but 3M (yes the Scotch Tape people) have also jumped into the game.

So for a library to get your ebook, we have to know about it, and it has to be available to us through the supplier or suppliers that the library uses for ebooks.

For most libraries, that’s still Overdrive. Overdrive deals with publishers rather than with individual authors as a general rule. That being said, there are certainly publishers listed in Overdrive who are really just the publishers of a single author’s work.

In Conclusion and Real Life Examples

LGBTQ romance belongs in libraries.

If you are a reader and want more LGBTQ romance in your library, suggest titles.

For authors, we really do need to see where you’ve been reviewed.

If you are an author, working with your local library can give you more exposure.

GRNW_ButtonAvatarI will bring up one local example. The Gay Romance Northwest Meet-Up was held at the Seattle Public Library’s Central Library on September 14, (And GRNW asked if I would give a keynote to attendees about how they can interact with libraries to help expand LGBT collections.) In the month prior to the conference, the Seattle Public Library purchased 240 new ebook titles of LGBTQ romance, including titles by most of the authors attending the conference.

From the library perspective, what was great to see was that almost all those titles went out in circulation immediately, and some titles developed hold lists. (As I write this some titles still have hold lists, I’m on hold for a few things myself!) The immediate circulation plus hold queues exhibited demand to the library system, which means the library will purchase more titles.

This is something that libraries do. We (libraries in general) like to meet the demands of our users, and when we see that there is a demonstrated demand, we’ll keep meeting it.

Your library wants to give you what you want. You are our customers, our patrons, our users. You know what’s hot in the genre that you love and what’s not.

Help us do better.

Marlene Harris is the Technical Services Manager at The Seattle Public Library. This posting is an edited version of her keynote address that she gave on September 14, 2013 at the Gay Romance Northwest Meet-Up. You can read more of Marlene’s writings at her blog.

This post was originally published on the genre blog Reviews by Jesswave on October 4, 2013.