Guest Author Augusta Li – UK GLBT Fiction Meet: An American Author’s Perspective

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I recently had the great pleasure of spending eleven beautiful days in the United Kingdom and attending the UK GLBT Fiction Meet. I explored a lot of the country and visited some beautiful places, but this post will be about the meet itself. If you’re interested in reading more about my adventures in Cardiff, Leeds, and London, you can do so at my blog: http://www.booksbyeonandgus.com/  I’ll be posting some pictures and hopefully some useful information for potential visitors shortly.

But on to the meet! It was a wonderful experience, and I can’t express how welcome I, and I believe everyone, was made to feel. The entire conference was drama and diva-free. The venue, the MacDonald Hotel in Manchester, was a lovely hotel with big, comfortable rooms and a very friendly and helpful staff. I have to say I enjoyed the HUGE bathtub in my room. Breakfast and lunch were served at the hotel’s restaurant, and the food was very good. I took advantage of a full English breakfast my first day there, but afterwards restricted myself to lighter fare, as eating that much tends to make me tired. Luckily, the hotel staff provided coffee and tea at regular intervals in the very lovely meeting rooms.

002The organizers did an excellent job and managed to pack a lot of information, discussion, fun activities, and opportunities to relax into the convention’s two official days. Guest speakers Elisa Rolle and Marie Sexton both gave excellent presentations. Some panels provided valuable information, such as those on cover art or self-publishing. Others were more conversational in nature, and they were lively with everyone encouraged to participate. I feel I shouldn’t shy away from talking about the “Leave my ‘ou’ Alone” panel, in which I may have gained a bit of infamy. The object of the panel was for British and European authors to discuss how to retain their voices in a world of American publishers and with American readers being a large percentage of customers.

I intended to just sit quietly and listen—I really did. But at one point I felt my experiences, both as an American and an editor for a major American publisher of M/M romance might be valuable. I attempted to explain some of the reasoning behind why the publisher I work for changes certain things during the editorial process. I want to be clear in that it was never my intention to condemn or endorse, only explain. Well, my contribution to the panel initially sparked a bit of animosity and passion. But before long it evolved into an intelligent debate and discussion, one of the best I’ve had the privilege to attend. Lots of important points and ideas were discussed, and I, at least, took a lot away from the panel. It made me think about my approach to editing, and I think I’ll be a better editor for it. I think it’s a wonderful commentary on the convention and the attendees that what started out as semi-strong disagreement quickly turned into a valuable and enlightening discussion on several significant issues. An intelligent and respectful exchange of ideas—which the panel truly was after the initial, brief misunderstandings had been cleared up—can only ever benefit those working in the industry.

The panel was a good experience for me, and I truly learned a lot and enjoyed hearing different perspectives and the reasoning behind them. This was a discussion that could have gone on a lot longer, and one I suspect will be revisited at future meets. With the blossoming of the ebook industry and publishing becoming increasingly international, it’s an important and vital topic, and there’s no better way to help the industry evolve to reflect the diverse cultures of authors and readers than for people involved in this business to sit down and engage in an intelligent discussion like this one. Maybe I’m crazy, but although the panel had a rocky start, for me this was a high point, because there’s nothing I enjoy more than a thoughtful discussion with intelligent people and the free exchange of ideas.

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The exchange of ideas and wonderful conversations continued long after panels had ended for the day. The event organizers chose some stellar locations for dinners in Manchester’s gay village along the famous Canal Street, including Taurus (http://www.taurus-bar.co.uk/index.php), The Richmond Tea Rooms (http://www.richmondtearooms.com/About-us.aspx), and The Molly House (http://www.themollyhouse.com/). All of them are worth checking out if you ever make your way to the wonderful city of Manchester. Many of us spent the hours afterwards in the hotel’s bar, where conversation often continued until very late. I so enjoyed talking with the many interesting and wonderful people that I often sacrificed sleep to do so, and for me, this was the best part of the meet: connecting with authors, readers, and people in the industry and having meaningful discussions. I made some lifelong friends that I can’t wait to see again.

I am proud to have been a small part of raising a good amount of money for the Albert Kennedy Trust, an organization that finds loving homes for GLBT youth. For me, supporting the community and being a voice for equality goes hand in hand with my writing. I am delighted that the UK Meet agrees and is helping to support this important organization. If you’d like to learn more about the Albert Kennedy Trust or donate to this worthy cause, please use this link: http://www.akt.org.uk/

I sold some books at the UK Meet. It was a bit surreal to put my books on a table next to Clare London’s and be treated as an equal. Absolutely an ego boost for me when people came to have me and Beau sign books alongside Clare London. So yeah, I made myself a few pounds, and hopefully got my work out to a few new readers who will enjoy it, but in the end, I took something much more valuable than money away from the UK Meet. I took ideas, inspiration, and many things to think about and consider. I took away the words of knowledgeable and insightful people. These words and ideas will stay with me and influence my work and my thinking. Most importantly, I made friends, many of whom I miss fiercely already even as I write this.

I’ve rambled on long enough, but I would like to add a few quick notes for other American authors considering attending the UK Meet. First—do it! You won’t be disappointed. You can be assured of receiving a very warm welcome and meeting some wonderful people. And I think the discourse between American and British authors is invaluable. We can learn a lot from each other. As for the cost of traveling to the UK—I was pleasantly surprised. The price of food and lodging was actually less than what I would expect to pay in New York City. It can be affordable, and in my experience, the British authors I speak with online were very willing to help me plan. For me, it was worth every penny (pence). Overall, this conference felt more like a meeting of friends discussing ideas than authors competing for sales. If you are an author who has never attended a convention and are nervous about it, this is the one for you. And for readers, the UK Meet is a place where you can meet both “big” name authors and up and coming authors without the threat of ego. There were no divas in Manchester; even authors I feel have the right to diva status weren’t. Quite refreshing. Really, whoever you are, you can go to the UK Meet and be embraced.

For more information on the UK Meet, go here: http://ukglbtfictionmeet.co.uk/

I hope to see you in Bristol!

Much love,

Gus