Checking in with Sarah MacLean

imageI was lucky enough to get a chance to sit down and chat with Sarah MacLean while at RWA. (This was before she won the RITA for best historical romance!) I wanted to follow up with her. I’d talked to her in December of 2013 about her challenge to The New York Times and that paper’s dismissal of romance. Since then, Sarah has been writing a regular column for the NYT’s rival, The Washington Post, about–gasp–romance novels.  Continue reading

RWA 2014 – My Wrap Up

riverwalkI think I’ll think of RWA 2014 as the “Can’t we all just get along?” conference (subtitled, “of course we can!”). Or, to paraphrase a Zora Neale Hurston quote, there are conferences that ask questions and conferences that answer. This one answered.

In what way? Well, Carolyn Crane’s self-published Off the Edge won a RITA, and that’s significant. I talked to authors who love self-publishing, and authors who love their publishers. I talked to authors who self-publish and traditionally publish simultaneously. The general consensus is that writing and publishing is still a challenging business, but the challenges have changed over the years; now one of the biggest challenges is finding what’s right for you in a world of so many choices. But there was also a general feeling that whatever your choices are, they’re okay. Self-publishing or digital only publishing are not the romance ghetto; for many they are the smartest financial decision.

What else is afoot? Well, when I attend RWA my primary goal is basically to have my ear to the ground. I want to know what’s happening, what publishers are looking for and not looking for, and what people are working on that they’re excited about. I tweet as many publisher spotlights as I can get myself to and talk to authors formally and informally. Oh, and go to the type of fun and glamorous cocktail parties I rarely attend in “real life”, and talk about books with some of the most interesting women you could ever hope to meet. It’s a tough gig, but someone has to do it.

I felt like the publisher requests this year were somewhat similar to last year. People still see Paranormal Romances as being in somewhat of a downturn (although witches and shape shifters still sell). Virtually every publisher still wants Westerns, and most absolutely want to see unusual settings. Digital publishing has made the business so much more flexible. As for New Adult (which seemed like all anyone could talk about last year), publishers still want it, but they didn’t have last year’s tone of desperation. And at least one publisher said they wanted New Adult, but could we get past college and do something different? At the end of the day, there were fewer hard and fast rules. If your vampire book is well-written and manages to bring something new and different to the table, you can probably find a home for it. And if you can’t? You can always publish it yourself.

On a personal note, I just love connecting with the fabulous group of (mostly) women who write romance, write about romance, and publish romance. I had both serious conversations on how best to help someone who has a child with cancer and less serious conversations about possible sex techniques when your hero’s/partner’s penis is not exactly…straight. I found out that there is a boom in heroes named Trenton, that the fabulous Sarah Wendell has the distribution of surplus review books down to a science (and is clearly the most popular person at her nail salon and pediatrician’s office), and that many of us still have a love/hate relationship with Fifty Shades of Gray. Yes, we talked about the trailer. I sorely missed our own Lynn Spencer, who had to sit this year out, but had a fabulous time with Dabney Grinnan – who was a first timer at RWA and found out that the RITAs are fun. Oh and my favorite image of RWA 2014? Molly O’Keefe with a beer in one hand and a RITA tucked under her arm.

And I am happy to post my workout view photo again this year – I had no luck with that one at Atlanta because my view was from the hotel gym and it was terminally boring. This year I ran all along the river walk and absolutely loved it. Yes, it’s warmer than Denver and sort of smells like a zoo in places, but it’s beautiful and shaded, and you get way more oxygen when you’re not running at 6000+ feet (something that came in handy when I got lost and ran six miles instead of my usual three). Thanks to all for a fabulous conference. See you next year in the Big Apple!

News from San Antonio

I I had to hit the ground running At RWA this year, leaving a family reunion in just enough time to make it to the Literacy Signing. Not the most relaxing way to start off a conference, but then you haven’t really lived until you’ve heard an adorable almiost-three year old call you Aunt “Life”. Nonetheless, I made it just in time and got to catch up with some great authors and hear about their work. Here’s what’s new (at least with authors A-L…sorry, by the time I got to the M’s everything was wrapping up).

Zoe Archer Zoe Archer wrote one of my favorite books last year (Sweet Revenge). She’s going in a new direction next year, and will be publishing Regency set historicals with Avon. They’ll center around women writers, and will be written under a new name to match the new direction – Eva Leigh.

Jo Beverley has been concentrating on her Malloren books recently, but is moving back to her Rogues series. Her next book will be Too Dangerous for a Lady (out next April), and will feature a heroine who is the sister of one of the Rogues who didn’t survive the Peninsular Wars. As she pointed out, it was a dangerous time, and not all would-be heroes or their friends survived it.

Kristen Callihan is continuing with her Darkest London series, which she considers to be more Gothic/Gas Lamp fantasies than Steampunk. Her latest, Evernight, comes out in August. The heroine has to work on (in the mechanical/metaphysical sense) a man who is back or revenge. Two more books are on the horizon – Souldown and Forevermore. And Kristen says it’s harder to come up with her compound word titles than you might think; many of the obvious choices have already been co-opted by YA.

Sherri Browning is working on the next book in her Thornbrook Park series, Affair Downstairs.

Claudia Dain was a name I hadn’t seen in awhile. She wrote some Medievals that received positive reviews here back in the day. With the wonders of the internet, they’re available again. She’s now concentrating on Regency historicals (which she self-publishes) and women’s fiction, which she writes under Claudia Walsh. He regencies are lighter in tone than her medievals, and the women’s fiction emerged because she felt she had a story to tell that didn’t quite fit the romance mold.

Megan Frampton used to write for AAR back in the day. She has a new series coming out with Avon starting this fall – Dukes Behaving Badly, which starts out with The Duke’s Guide to Correct Behavior in late November. She’ll also have a novella in February; novellas are a bit of a theme this year.

Laura Florand is moving from chocolate books to fragrance books. Her new series will feature an old Fragrance family from the south of France and will include four books and a novella. The first of these is Once Upon a Rose. Laura was drawn to fragrance as a theme because she loves rich settings and was able to do extensive research in the area.

Elizabeth Essex is an author I’d love to review – if only everyone else didn’t keep beating me to the punch. Her next book, out in September, is a shipwreck story with a heroine who is near and dear to Elizabeth’s heart. The heroine manages to talk her way into a royal expedition to the South Seas; Essex herself is a former nautical archeologist. It’s based loosely on the voyages of Darwin and Cook.

L.B. Gregg is another novella enthusiast – for her the length really works. Her newest novella with Riptide is part of a multi-author series involving a town in the Pacific Northwest where a werewolf TV series is filmed. Her particular story is bout a barista and an actor in the show.

Blythe Gifford had the first of two royal wedding stories come out in March. She also has a self published book set in the seventeenth century called The Witch Finder. We chatted about fellow Blythes we have known (not many), and Blythe has actually met Anya Seaton’s granddaughter (a fellow Blythe apparently). And all the cooler because Seaton’s writing and the way she showcased love and historical intrigue are what inspired Blythe to write those type of books herself.

Susanna Kearlsey has a new book coming out in spring – A Desperate Fortune. It’s a bit of a departure from some of her other books in that it doesn’t have a paranormal element (although it does have a dual storyline). It’s about a modern day code breaker who starts translating the journal of a 1732 Parisian and Jacobite sympathizer, and learns that the journal is not what it seems. Her next project is set in Colonial Long Island during the French and Indian War. Bonus: The modern day hero is a full-blooded Mohawk.

Caroline Lindon is still writing her racy Regency books, which have featured a mystery about the writer of – essentially – Regency porn. Said writer is about to be exposed…perhaps that’s a double entendre?

Jennifer Lohmann’s next book is Winning Ruby Heart, which has a disgraced Olympic runner heroine and sports caster hero. This piqued my interest as I have a son who runs, and much of our spare time revolves around cross country and track seasons. The heroine was a middle distance runner (5K and 10K for those of you who don’t spend your spring Saturdays watching teenagers run around in circles) caught doping who now runs ultra-marathons. Jennifer was influenced both by the Lance Armstrong Scandal and reading Born to Run (a fairly interesting and provocative book even if you’re not a runner).

Julie Anne Long just wrapped up Lavay’s book, and next up will by Lyon. Her series and her fandom are still going strong.

I’m hoping to catch those M-Z authors elsewhere this conference, as well as others like Tessa Dare and Julie James, who had longer lines. Stay tuned!

Bloggers, Reviewers and Street Teams?

getwordout The idea of the street team isn’t brand new; it’s been around the music industry for a while now and it started crossing over into romance at least 5-6 years ago. However, as self-publishing has grown and as ebooks have opened up a whole new world for indie publishers, these seem to be popping up more and more. At RWA this past year, we heard “street teams” mentioned in every other workshop, it seemed. Authors discussed them, and publishers highlighted them as an important part of the marketing process. The idea of authors branding themselves was everywhere and street teams definitely constituted a significant portion of that.

It seemed like everyone wanted to get book bloggers on board with the idea of street teams and certainly the promise of exclusive info and fun freebies has its allure, but what exactly does it mean to join a street team? Continue reading

RWA 2013 Reflections

photo (23)I look forward to RWA all year long. Admittedly, a large part of it is the sheer fun. This year I kept gleefully telling my colleagues at work that I was off to spend a week going to cocktail parties and talking about books, and that they should feel very sorry for me. But beyond the parties, friends, and chatter, I enjoy the vibe of the conference itself, which is different every year. Since I’ve been able to attend the last four years in a row, I’ve enjoyed seeing how that changes. Where do we pick this up? Well, Lynn and I make a huge effort to attend as many publisher spotlights and tweet them when we can. We also watch our tweet streams to see what other attendees are talking about, and talk to authors at the literacy signing and publisher book signings. Here’s what was “in the water” this year:

Branding and New Adult: I believe we heard both of these terms at every single spotlight we attended, without exception. Last year, publishers seemed to be scrambling somewhat (especially after Stephanie Laurens’ evocative speech) to explain their relevance in the current wide open market. This year, they all seemed to by quite clear on what they brought to the table: Branding, packaging, and marketing. They are making coordinated efforts to turn each author into her own distinct and recognizable brand. All of them said they want multiple contracts and series. Now, to be clear, several clarified that “series” does not have to mean six shape-shifting brothers who all live in each other’s pockets; series can mean books set in the same world, even if that means they are more loosely connected. What publishers clearly do not want is an author who genre hops like mad. You can do it, mind you, but that probably means you have two distinct brands, and perhaps that you have them at different houses. If you are a newbie hoping to break into the field, you are better off picking something and sticking with it.

As for New Adult, my sense is that publishers are scrambling to hop onto this bandwagon and ride it while it’s hot. How long will it be hot? Who’s to say. But I did tell my 21 year old writing daughter that since she is writing about characters her age she should be submitting them now…while everyone is looking.

Paranormals are on the backburner: I admit to thinking I might never hear these words, and since I am not really a huge paranormal fan I admit to being pretty happy to hear these words. After several conferences spent hearing about how readers were clamoring for more vampires, shapeshifters, succubi, and just plain othersI’m a little glad that the enthusiasm has run its course for now. This also helps me out as Managing Editor of AAR. I’ve spent the last several years with a list full of complicated paranormal series books that reviewers struggled to follow because they could not always read the previous 37 books in the series.

Publishers still want paranormals. But if you’re a new author they are looking mostly for paranormals with humor, for which there is still more of a demand, or something very high concept (another big conference buzzword). However, if you love to write and read more traditional paranormals don’t despair, because…

Digital publishing makes nearly anything possible: Every traditional publisher has a digital arm, and many publishers who started out digital and gaining traction. The digital arms (and small but growing e-only or e-mostly pubs) are willing to take a chance on nearly any setting or subgenre if they think the writing is good enough. This is where they’ll publish your vampire book or your Colonial romance if you are not Christine Feehan or Pamela Clare. They’ll brand you and (hopefully) let you take off in a more niche market, which is much cheaper to do in the digital milieu. This can only be good news for readers who crave variety (if a little challenging at times for those of us who are trying to find all these great books and tell you about them). The other interesting thing that more than one publisher noted is that the digital market and print market are really not the same. Different types of books can perform better in each market, and what takes off digitally does not always translate to print (and vice versa).

Indy and e “friendly”: And speaking of e-publishing, I personally was thrilled to see the conference becoming more e-friendly. A few publishers – most notablyAvon – had their authors hand out ebooks as well as print versions. Those of us shipping books home to, say, Colorado – and who might have husbands who complain about the possibility of being killed in a book avalanche – were very grateful. RWA also held its first indy book signing, which was well attended and popular with both indy authors and conference attendees.

Usually, this is the spot where I talk about my conference workout photo, but working out at this hotel was kind of a drag and the view was not inspiring. I am more of an outdoor girl in the summertime, and this hotel in the heart of downtown Atlanta was not really situated in a good place to run outside (though the weather was really not bad). I took photos from the gym, but they were depressing. Instead, you can enjoy the cheery picture of our hands (Lynn’s and mine) – sporting the glowy, sparkly rings they were giving out at the Avon party. We’ll be reporting to you next year from San Antonio. Dare I ask if anyone runs along the River Walk?

 

RWA 2013 – News from the Literacy Signing

IMG_20130717_174858_689 There’s no better place to get news than in a room packed full of authors (more than 400 of them), readers and fans. After some Atlanta sightseeing, including – I am not making this up – a stop at the Georgia Aquarium, where you can find a dolphin show featuring a singing sea captain in a light-up cape, Lynn Spencer and I hit the literacy signing, where there seemed to be more authors than usual. I didn’t come close to talking to them all (and missed several I would have liked to chat with), but I did catch up with quite a few.

Two overwhelming messages tonight: Everyone, no really, everyone, is writing an enovella that ties into her next book. After hearing about twelve people in a row tell me that, someone (who prefers to remain nameless) shed some light on the subject: It’s a way that traditional publishers can compete on pricepoint with e-first or e-only publishers. And of course, if you like the novella enough maybe you’ll think about buying a full-length book – and perhaps paying a little more for it. The second message: The market for historicals is challenging right now. Unless, perhaps, they are e-novellas. Anyway, here is more specific author news from the women I managed to catch up with: Continue reading

RWA Time – What Would You Like?

midtownatlanta May I just say that I can’t believe we’ve reached the end of June already? This year has just been a blur of activity and if it weren’t for the fact that it’s been 90+ degrees for the past week here in Virginia, I’d have a hard time believing it’s summer.

In two weeks, Blythe and I will be heading down to Atlanta for the annual RWA conference – and we’d like a little input from you. First of all, for the authors, agents and publishers who read here, I’m looking forward to seeing the folks I’ve met in the past and would love to meet some of the rest of you. Blythe and I will be livetweeting the RITAs as we do each year, and we’ll also be covering some of the workshops and publisher announcements.

And that’s where readers come in. One thing I have discovered since I started going to RWA is that there is really more than 1 RWA meeting going on. There are the official announcements and workshops(many, many workshops). However, the conference is also a wonderful place for a more unofficial exchange of ideas and news – and I often find some of that to be bigger news and more relevant to readers. As more than 1 author has told me, it’s the one time of year that you have so many people from the romance writing world together in one place. Given that there’s so much going on, the two of us won’t be able to be everywhere at once.

So, let us know what you want to hear about. Is there a particular author, agent or publisher that you’d like for us to talk to? Some particular topic you want to get the scoop on? Just let us know in the comments and we’ll start making our list of things to look for in Atlanta!

– Lynn Spencer

How Do We Define Romance?

stormwalker How do we define romance? On a romance blog, one might as well ask what is life. It’s one of those broad, overarching topics susceptible to endless debate. We see authors offering endless variations from the most conventional to the most edgy and subversive. And yet, at the end of the day, we expect our lead couple to end up happily ever after – or at least happy for now. Though I still get irked with market restrictions from time to time, I have appreciated in recent years that we’ve been seeing a market full of change, choices, and great authors. And then I went to RWA 2012 in Anaheim.

The Elimination of Novels with Strong Romantic Elements as a RITA category

At the general meeting in Anaheim, Romance Writers of America(RWA) announced that it had decided upon a plan to reconfigure the RITA awards. Continue reading

So, Have You Read Any RITA Winners?

rita_award The 2012 RITA winners were officially announced on the last full evening at the RWA convention, on July 28, 2012. Many of us like to compare the winners to what we have already read and AAR reviewers are no exception.

Here are the RITA winners:

Best Paranormal Romance –Dragon Bound by Thea Harrison

Best Romance Novella –I Love the Earl by Caroline Linden

Best Novel with Strong Romantic Elements – First Grave on the Right by Darynda Jones

Best Historical Romance – The Black Hawk by Joanna Bourne
Continue reading