Thursday, July 26, 2012

Romance Writers of America National Conference

This week I'm attending the Romance Writers of America National Conference in Anaheim. (Yes, a two-block walk from The Land, as So Cal calls that magical chunk of Disney real estate...)

Okay, even though I do write a paranormal romance series, I'm not at all what anyone would think of as a romance writer. And yet every year since I have been published, I have attended one or usually both of the two main romance conferences of the year: Romantic Times Booklovers Convention, or the Romance Writers of America National Conference.

And I'm hardly the only thriller writer who does so. 

I feel the need to repeat this fairly regularly in my posts on the business of writing: ANY writer in publishing today ignores the romance market at their own peril.  Industry insiders openly admitted that romance kept the book business afloat during the bleakest times of the recession, and continues to.  And it’s no longer the case that mystery and thriller writers are just outsider guests, mere curiosities at these conferences (even though people there still refer to me as "That thriller writer"). Just in the last couple of years that I’ve been a published author, I’ve seen the huge tent that romance is take in more and more subgenres, some of which tilt darker and darker  -  and I’m talking dark like in zombie apocalypse stories, some very edgy dystopian tales – to the point that I’m not sure you can realistically call romance ANY kind of genre at all, as much as it is simply a marketing strategy.

(Okay, all right, I can hear romance purists howling out there, but I’m looking at this from a mystery/thriller perspective.).

ALL the publishers are here, some of them with dozens of reps, from divisions all over the world.    You can’t walk two steps without tripping over an editor or agent from a major company. And not to be crass, but you can tell how romance ranks with our publishers not just from that overwhelming presence, but also from the sheer amount of money the agents and publishers spend on parties, marketing, and book giveaways to librarians, booksellers and fans (it's staggering…).

Because of that overwhelmingly professional slant, RWA is not the free-for-all that Thrillerfest and Bouchercon and Left Coast Crime – and Romantic Times – tend to be.   (Although nothing beats that Harlequin dance party – I'm looking forward to being too sore to walk on Saturday!).  It’s a working conference; many, many aspiring authors come to pitch to agents and editors (and many, many do come away with representation and book deals), and the very cool thing is that RWA chapters all over the country prep their chapter members for conferences with practice pitch sessions and conference how-to in the months before “nationals,” as they call the conference.  No one preps writers for the business better than RWA does. Seriously - if you're an aspiring author in any genre and you're NOT a member of this organization and your local chapter, you are MISSING OUT.

One feature I really love about RWA (besides being able to wear all my dressiest clothes and change outfits three times a day) is the daily luncheons with keynote speakers.   Not only do they feed us (which means I actually eat, something I often forget to do at other conferences), but there’s always a fascinating keynote speaker at the lunches. I missed yesterday's because, well, I was the keynote speaker at the Young Adult RWA (YARWA) chapter's "Day of YA",  an all-day event that included a stellar panel of editors and agents, a really wonderful Asian fusion lunch, my Screenwriting Tricks for Authors workshop with a YA focus, and an inspirational talk by YA author Simone Elkeles, plus some really cool raffle giveaways. Two of the agents at the event offered every workshop attendee a read of a ten page submission.  That's a golden opportunity, but typical of what happens at this conference.

But the greatest thing for me about this conference, as really any of the good ones, is hearing aspiring writers all around me say in a way that makes me know they mean it – “That’s it  - no more fucking around.   I’m finishing this book by   ----“    (Oh, all right, it’s Nationals, they’re not saying “fucking.”)  And they mean it.   I’ve seen it happen over and over and over again – a conference like this is what gets people past those last internal blocks and gets the book finished, repped and out there.  It's almost as if committing to the conference is telling the Universe, "Yes, damn it, I really am ready to DO this now."

And the Universe ALWAYS responds to that kind of declaration.

Something to think about.

- Alex


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Sharon Hamilton said...

Wish I could be there this year. Expecting grandbaby #4 soon, possibly this week.

Hearing about it through your words brings it alive for me. Thank YOU for all you've done for aspiring writers. I can always tell who is the real Pro: they aren't afraid to talk to newbies. That's where all the energy is!

Have fun and come back inspired, my friend.

Virginia said...

Hi Alex, thanks for sharing your knowledge. I totally agree with you about the importance of Romance genre in the book market. Maybe is underestimate but in a story even a thriller I like to find a romantic part. If you think of Barbara Cartland, she wrote 723 books in her life and 400 of them between the ages of 77 and 97. She's really an example! I also hear that erotic novel could be a good business, because with the privacy that an ebook offer, people can easily download it in secret.:)
Have a great weekend!

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Sharon, you're very welcome, and congratulations on the imminent #4! That's definitely worth missing a conference for!

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Good lord, Paola, that's a staggering number of books for Cartland. And so inspiring that so many of them were at that age. Wonderful.

NancyM said...

Romance readers are the most open-minded of all. They'll try anything once. Or twice. Entertain me, that's what they ask. Can't say that about readers of other genres.

Barbara Cartland spoke at the first (or was it second?) RT convention. THAT was an experience! RT and RWA are always inspiring events. Enjoy!

Jolene Navarro said...

Great post. My goal is to get to RWA next year. After reading all the post from different friends I'm just going to have to start saving now. It seems in the last year our RWA chapter has gained more writers that introduce themselves starting with "I'm not a romance writer but I heard you focus on craft and real critique." I love diversity and think it makes us all stronger.

How did your YA talk go?

Willa Blair said...

A terrific article, Alex.

Wish I'd been able to attend this year, but I WILL be there next year, and as a newly published author, too.

It's great being part of RWA as well as several local and online chapters. I don't know if any group supports it's authors, published or pre-published, nearly as well.

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Hi Nancy! Absolutely agree about the open-mindedness, and romance readers are also so incredibly supportive of their authors - they really go the extra distance to BUY books and spread the word. They keep their authors in business. That's not true of a lot of other genres.

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Hey Jolene - you are definitely at the point that you need to go to RWA. I completely encourage you to save and go. Share a room with friends, it really helps cut down on the expense!

The YA talk was all too short, but went over really well. A great thing was how many of the attendees had been to one of my workshops before, and have been PUBLISHED since then! That just makes every second of teaching worthwhile.

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Willa, huge congratulations!! What a thrill and an opportunity for you to go as a newly published author. Just excellent.

It's interesting - I really believe that RWA and Romantic Times became the forces that they are because for so long romance, being almost all female writers, was ghettoized in the industry. Well, the author organizations and conferences changed that for good.

Willa Blair said...

I agree Alex. That and the fact that we girls tend to cooperate and collaborate more readily than most men. Working together, we've accomplished a lot.

Diane Farr said...

Wonderful blog post! You captured what a lot of us feel about RWA - no matter what you are writing, if you are writing commercial fiction RWA has something to offer.

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Absolutely, Diane. I'm always telling writers that noone breaks down the business like RWA.