Erasure Comes In Many Forms – A ReaderCon Report

The other weekend ReaderCon happened and, on the whole, I had a great time. I am sad I had to leave early to go to a wedding in the city, but that’s way better than missing everything. ReaderCon is usually a good time, even as much as we snark about multiple references to Proust.

There were a couple of things that marred my enjoyment of the con and I’d been trying all last week to write about them. Instead of trying to temper my anger and aim for tact, I’m just going to be blunt.

The fact that none of Andrea Hairston’s books were in the dealer’s room is bullshit of the highest order. Andrea was a Guest of Honor. You don’t fucking NOT stock the book of a guest of honor at a con where you are a book vendor. How is this not con vending 101?

Andrea Hairston is not here for your bullshit


The ReaderCon dealer’s room is called The Bookshop for a reason: almost 100% of the stuff for sale is there are books. Every now and then there might be a T-shirt vendor or maybe a flash of jewelry. But it’s ReaderCon, so it’s all about the books. This makes sense.

Some of the booksellers are publishers who are pushing their own books and maybe the occasional extras by smaller presses who can’t afford a table. Those dealers not carrying Andrea’s books makes sense–they are not her publisher.

Some of the booksellers deal in used books or rare books. They also have some excuse for not selling Andrea’s books.

But to the several vendors who sold current, regular books? You all need to have your asses kicked.

Throughout the con attendees asked these sellers if they had any of Andrea’s books. I know for a fact that one of them, Larry Smith Booksellers, told people that her books are out of print. Which is a lie. When I asked, a guy I can only assume was Larry Smith himself yelled this at me. He was angry–really angry–that I had dared to ask him about this and proclaimed loudly that he only sells new books. Meanwhile, Andrea’s most recent book came out weeks ago. Guess that’s not new enough for him.

As an aside, the selection of books on offer by Larry Smith and the other general book vendors is hardly any better than what I can find in the Barnes & Noble. So what value are they adding to ReaderCon, exactly?

If you can’t be bothered to order the books of a guest of honor at the con and you’re rude as hell to con attendees? You shouldn’t get to vend at ReaderCon. And I’m filing a report with the con chair to that effect this week.

In addition to that indignity, the newest issue of Locus contains this:

Alaya Dawn Johnson wasn't even there

That’s from their article on WisCon. There’s a picture of Andrea (with correct attribution) to the right of these words. So it’s a real mystery why the 2011 Tiptree award winner is identified as Alaya Dawn Johnson, who has not won any Tiptree nor was she at the con at all. Seriously, not at all.

Alaya Dawn Johnson wants you to stop saying she was at WisCon

Ever since I started going to cons I’ve joked about how (mostly) white folks can’t tell the POC at the con apart from each other. I don’t even mean just mistaking one black person for another black person or one Asian person from another. I mean mistaking an Asian-American for a Latino dude (this happened at WisCon).

This happens all the time. ReaderCon was no exception. I watched a guy come up to John Chu at the Meet The Pro(se) party and ask him to sign the issue of F&SF with Ken Liu’s The Glass Menagerie. John was very polite when he said “I’m not Ken Liu.” That was, apparently, only one of the times that people mistook him for Ken Liu at ReaderCon this year. I heard that someone congratulated Sofia Samatar on being the guest of honor. I heard that someone started up a conversation with Mikki Kendall and then continued that conversation with a different black woman later on, not realizing that the shorter, lighter woman looked absolutely nothing like Mikki.

Here’s the thing: at cons, we are all wearing name badges. Thus, it is not at all shameful for you to look at said badge to confirm that you are, indeed, addressing the person of color you think you are. Especially if you have not ever met said person of color. It’s okay. But assuming that the Asian man standing in the room must be the Asian man you’ve heard of and asking him to sign a thing? No, people. No.

Over the years I’ve often joked about this. In fact, in my introduction of N. K. Jemisin at WisCon I referenced this phenomenon for the purpose of making folks laugh. I do sometimes find it funny.

Very often I do not. Because this is a form of erasure. It’s a microaggression with a subtext that says: I do not care to figure out the difference between one non-white person and another. And it makes us feel like you don’t eve think of us as people, but interchangeable entities.

And it needs to end.

Stop erasing our humanity by assuming that any brown person might be any other. Learn how to tell non-white people apart. Check name badges. If in doubt, ask us: “What’s your name, again? I’m good with faces but not names.” Don’t ask us: “Are you [other person]?” Stop erasing our accomplishments by assigning them to other people. Check your facts. And for the love of Seshet, stock our books in the damn dealer’s room!

32 thoughts on “Erasure Comes In Many Forms – A ReaderCon Report

  1. Readercon, I think, would love to have a writer’s alley, but unfortunately, because of the arcane tax laws of the state of Massachusetts, individual authors selling their own books would have to get state sales tax permits and file statements. If they didn’t, the convention could be on the hook for fines. It really sucks. The best solution would be the friendly dealer willing to offer an author’s books for a low consignment fee. It would be very nice if there were a book dealer at Readercon willing to do so, obviously, but finding such a dealer seems to be a problem. I believe it is an issue being discussed amongst members of the concom.

  2. crap. early morning fog is probably going to get me in trouble with the preceding.

    I’m not suggesting in any way that books LSB doesn’t sell aren’t salable, that booksellers shouldn’t do a better job researching their audience and stocking accordingly or anything like that. All I meant was that they seem to have a calculus for what they stock that is quite commercial and limiting, and it would be nice if they extended their reach.

  3. Same-same experience with Larry Smith booksellers, and a follow-on observation: they seem to carry “major names” from “major publishers” and in particular those that receive good advertising support. In other words, safe bets.

    Tempest, I love the animated GIF. It really makes your point.

  4. I was a used book seller for many years and specialized in SF/F. There were a few cons I went to as a dealer. First thing was to collect as many books as possible by all the authors who would be at the con, especially the GOH. If I didn’t have them, I called other dealers to get some (and we worked out a commission deal). Second thing was bringing as much related material as possible. What can these dealers be thinking?

    Providing some space on my tables for author-provided books was also a no-brainer (for a small commission). The idea is to sell books.

  5. I remember a few Readercons ago talking to one of the dealers who had never even heard of the guest of honor.

    That guy has been carrying around the same copy of “Greyfax Grimwald” for years now.

    You’d think someone might get an idea of what the congoers might actually want … but I suppose I’ll just keep looking for the pony under the manure pile.

  6. I won’t excuse a bookseller yelling at a customer, but having just looked for Ms. Hairston’s titles on my wholesaler’s site, well, I wouldn’t have been able to get them easily either. There were only two copies of the newest one available, and it’s only in their headquarters-area warehouse (i.e.: halfway across the country; to get books from there, for me, takes at least 7-10 days vs. 1-1/2 days from my local warehouse). Her other two listed titles were also only at the main warehouse, but one was short-discounted, and the other only had one copy available.

    If I’d been at this convention, I’d have looked to see if Aqueduct Press (Ms. Hairston’s publisher) was going to be in the Dealers’ Room, and would have directed buyers to them if I’d been unable to order adequate stock…

    Damned if I know why Larry Smith asks 55% for carrying consignments from authors, though… I love it if authors whose stuff I can’t get easily can let me carry consignments for them, and only ask for a 20% commission on whatever sells. After all, it’s a no-risk way for me to have the books available, and if they don’t sell, the author gets ’em back at the end of the con, and I don’t have to pack ’em home or try to return them to my wholesaler. :-)

  7. Readercon did let all the dealers know Hairston was GOH and that stocking her books makes financial sense. They are unable to compel dealers to do so

  8. Conventions know who their GoH’s are.
    Conventions know which dealers have purchased space in the the Dealer’s Room
    Its up to the convention to make sure that the dealers know who the GoH’s are and to also ask if the dealers are able to stock the GoH’s books.
    As Lisa pointed out some dealer’s go to around 40 conventions a year, that is a lot of GoH’s to keep track of and a lot of advance ordering hence the onus is really on the con to keep them informed.

  9. I did not run Readercon’s dealers room last year or the year before, but I did run it for a while prior to that.

    After my last tenure, I strongly suggested the equivalent of an author’s alley, renting a table in, say, 2 hour blocks where authors could sell their own books. I was ignored. I have not given up on this idea and may be able to implement it for the 2015 World Fantasy Convention in Saratoga Springs, where I will once again be running a dealers room. (Like Readercon, World Fantasy is mostly books.)

    I do know that one dealer had Hairston titles, and he had them prominently on his table, and he was running the room, and he was front and center. Of course, he deals in used books, so maybe nobody thought to ask. But I am sure Henderson’s Books had at least one Hairston.

    As for Larry Smith…yes, he is an irascible curmudgeon. Yes, he doesn’t deal with every title, and I have yet to determine his buying criteria. If it were known that the GoH’s book would be unavailable, I am sure that some arrangements could have been made; it’s been done in the past. One can only hope for better next year. And if you feel the need to correct the situation more directly? Rumor has it that Larry Smith is looking to sell the business. You, too, could drive a van full of books to 40 cons a year and grumble about Amazon…

    1. I love the idea of an author’s alley type thing. The signing table was kind of like that, but something more prominent and codified would be better.

    2. The author’s alley concept works quite well. They had one last year, at a local con. You could usually go by there and find at least two or three authors or friends selling books and doing autographs.

      As someone who buys books, the author’s alley can get expensive. But it is fun too.

  10. It really boils down to the dealers. They are there to make money. The fans are there to buy books to get signed. Every dealer should be printing out the list of participants, looking at who has a signing, and reviewing what books they have in stock.

    Given that sometimes the schedules get posted late and that creates ordering problems for book sellers. However, the GOH is a no-brainer. Dealers have months and months to acquire GOH books because of how early the GOHs are announced. Those books will sell and if you can’t find any books written by the GOH (which is a ridiculous), send an email to the author. I am certain her publisher would have fedex’d books to any bookseller having trouble acquiring them through distribution.

  11. If you think it’s bad now, wait until you get older.

    At sixty, I have discovered that I am often not readily visible, even to people standing right in front of me. I checked around and, as I suspected, it happens even faster with older POCs.

    And if you are a differently-abled older person…oy.

    (One of my late mother’s friends, a lovely and kind Muslim woman with a wicked sense of humour once said, “They’re afraid you’re gonna ask them to push your wheelchair. You gotta lure them in with cookies.” What happens when you run out of cookies, I asked her. “Push ’em into the oven and set the table for dinner.” She winked. I knew she was kidding; humans aren’t halal. But I digress.)

    One positive note: when you are GOH at a convention outside the US, particularly in a non-English speaking country, they’ll have plenty of your books. If you’re not published in translation, they’ll have your English language editions; if you are published in translation, they’ll have both. (Reach out to international fans, folks. People read books everywhere in the world.)

    Erasure: *don’t* get used to it, *don’t* let it go.

  12. In a post on Erasure, I’m not sure it’s wise to assume the person yelling was Larry Smith. The detail is so negative that it has to be accurate and not assumed.

    I wonder if there are ways for a con committee to ensure that booksellers carry copies of books by the GOH. The discussion above about a volunteer staffed table to sell GoH books sounds like a great idea.

    There’s no excuse for the impolite behavior described here. However, it would help if names on badges were printed in the larges font possible to make it easy to verify that we’re about to talk to the person we think we’re talking to.

    1. Smith regularly yells at people, though, so the behavior described fits him to a T. I’m not sure any other vendor could stay in business acting the way he does (and has, for years; his wife Sally is far more pleasant with customers). He’s his own special broken stair.

  13. I don’t want to minimize this seller’s behavior, but when I was at Readercon in 2009, and Elizabeth Hand was featured, I don’t recall seeing any of her books, either. If any of her stuff was there, then it wasn’t out where I could find it. My point here: If these sellers missed a golden opportunity to sell books by the Guest of Honor, they are poor business people. Why would anyone trying to make a buck at a Con miss such an opportunity out of racial or ethnic stupidity? Money talks. Money is colorblind. I’m not saying that some degree of bigotry doesn’t exist in the book industry, because I know it does. It targets race, ethnicity and certain religions. However, I believe not having Hairston’s books on hand stemmed from a different source of stupidity, namely, a lack of awareness of who would be at Readercon any given year. We all assume that booksellers are readers and collectors. Some are, some aren’t. Many of them are far less exposed to good books and far less well-rounded than the average attendee at Readercon. We also assume that dealers are good planners. Or well organized. One thing we do know, when people drop the ball, especially business people, they can’t usually admit their mistakes. That’s human nature, though, we all make excuses for our shortcomings.

    In 2009, most of the Readercon dealers seemed to be pushing what they needed to get rid of, or something they had a special interest in. They stayed cloistered in their little booths and did not seem at all interested in the writers. *shrug* So, what I’m saying is that although what happened at Readercon is sad and disgusting, we need to remember there’s no shortage of stupidity in this world and it comes in many many forms. I hope this was simply of the garden variety type — the “doesn’t know his ass from a hole in the ground” kind of stupidity. Because, yeah, the alternative is intolerable.

  14. I love the comments about the “publicity department” and “publisher’s publicity engine.” I have been writing since 2006, and simply put, unless you are in the top 2 per cent, there IS NO publicity engine. By any publisher. At all, period. It used to be that an author’s publicity efforts assisted the publisher; now, that’s all there is. When I saw that Allen Steele had to go out an promote his last book all by himself, from scratch – never having had to do it at all, before – I was actually ashamed. And he’s a Hugo winner.

    1. Plus, Aqueduct Press is an indispensable SF institution; and it’s managed to earn major awards and attract great authors; but it’s just three and a half people working for free: not sure where such an operation would stow their Publicity Engine.

  15. My question is: Where was Ms. Hairston’s publisher’s publicity department? In my experience, it’s a given that when an author is selected as GOH for a major convention, his or her publisher’s publicity engine immediately seeks a bookseller that will be at the con to ensure copies of the author’s work will be available.

    Perhaps the erasure goes even deeper than is shown here?

  16. Hmmm. If this is a continuing problem, I wonder if it would be at all possible to organize a table at Readercon that just sells books by the GoHs (or, if that’s too limited, by attending authors as well).

    Since a lot of small vendors are out of business (and yes, that royally sucks), it would fall on the authors (or the publishers) to get hold of the books. The table could be staffed by volunteers (or you could have a deal where any non-GoH author who wants to sell their books at that table has to volunteer some time…).

    Just thinking out loud here…

    1. Hey Barbara, Sonya Taaffe and I are working on exactly that solution. We can come up with the capital to pre-purchase GOH books from their publishers but would have to take other guests’ books on consignment.

      1. Excellent! I got the idea because I sometimes sell books at the NYRSF readings in NYC; the readers or their publishers bring in the books and tell me what they want to sell them for. Of course, that’s on a much smaller scale than something at Readercon would be.

        Good to know that folks are taking the lead on this!

  17. This is horrifying and extremely distressing. As an individual case, Smith is repugnant, but I suppose it’s only to be expected, every so often. But really, none of the GOH’s books at all, nowhere in that huge room full of, what, two dozen booksellers, maybe? At least half a dozen if not more of them selling new books, too. Shocking and grotesque.

    It wouldn’t have occurred to me except for reading this post, but now I recall that even a Big Name like Delany was not much in evidence amongst the booksellers, despite his prominent attendance at the con. Apart from the university press that was reprinting his works, I only recall seeing one other bookseller that actually featured his stuff.

    And how the hell can anyone confuse Ken Liu and John Chu? They look nothing like one another, not even a little bit. The only reason — absolutely the only reason — I can imagine someone could make that mistake would be if they’d assumed that there could only conceivably be one Asian writer at the con.

    1. At a group dinner at a con a few years ago including, I believe, John Chu (it’s been years and my memory is not what it once was) the discussion came up about how POCs are mistaken for each other all the time at cons. Asian/black/Latino you must be x – after all how many can there be? It’s definitely annoying from what I hear (and imagine) and something con-goers need to work on.

      Read the name tag, don’t be afraid to introduce yourself and confirm your talking to who you think you are (if not find something to talk about they are probably interesting), before asking for autographs and such.

  18. Larry has been giving me bullshit excuses for why he doesn’t carry my books for over 20 years now. Different bullshit excuse every time, including “we don’t carry trade paperbacks” (they obviously do), “we don’t carry anything we can’t get from Ingram” (circlet’s titles have always been in stock at Ingram), “your authors are not well known enough” (we had just published Catherine Asaro and Francesca Lia Block), and on and on. I have assumed ever since that it was some combination of prudishness and homophobia on his part and I quit trying. (recently I spoke with various LGBT authors who told me the same thing, adding to the impression it’s homophobia) Sadly, he’s the ONLY bookseller carrying new books at most cons I go to, everyone else is out of business, which completely sucks.

    1. Just looked up your titles on Ingram’s site. As with Ms. Hairston’s, most are only stocked at the TN (main) warehouse, which is an issue for me (TN orders take a week or more longer than orders from MY local warehouse, which is their Roseburg, OR warehouse), but shouldn’t be as big an issue for Larry; TN should be his “primary”. Only about 1/3 of the titles in the database, though, are in stock AND at full discount AND returnable… :-(

      When small-press titles aren’t available at full discount, my choice is to make an even smaller profit on them, or mark them higher than cover price, and lose sales to Amazon (which gets better deals from most publishers because, as a monopolistic, power-hungry, employee-exploiting corporate monster, they can extort discounts no one else gets).

  19. …What. The. Everloving. Fuck.
    I’m so sorry you have to deal with this.

  20. “When I asked, a guy I can only assume was Larry Smith himself yelled this at me. He was angry–really angry–that I had dared to ask him about this and proclaimed loudly that he only sells new books.”

    To be fair, yelling at customers is his go-to if someone expects him to have a book that he doesn’t have. And he almost never stocks small/medium press books unless authors bring them to him on consignment (which he discourages by charging them a 55% commission). I’ve seen him not have GoH books before at other conventions because they weren’t from a large science fiction publisher, and I’ve seen him yell at people who asked for ’em.

    (Not suggesting this is good vendor behavior. Just that it’s typical of this particular vendor, who probably wouldn’t have had Hairston’s novels because they were from Aqueduct and not Tor or Orbit.)

    (But yeah, the con com should have made damn sure that *somebody* had her books in stock.)

    1. I am a middle aged Jewish female. My name is the original Herbrew spelling:Rebekah
      Last year, at a large, well known SF con, my name tag came back as Rebecca and when i compained about this, the white male got angry and said :”

      We corrected the spelling of your name.”

        1. White male privilege. He assumed i was just another dizzy dame who did not know how to spell her name

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