RWA 2013 – The Conference Begins in Earnest

atlantanight Today was the first full day of conference and even though I felt like I was scurrying all over the hotel, there’s a pretty high energy mood here this year and I can’t say that I felt particularly tired. I attended publisher spotlights with Carina Press, Avon and Grand Central, and picked up other tidbits of information in chats here and there.

After hearing presentations from three publishers, there are some definite themes emerging at this conference. For starters, one hears the phrase “author branding” everywhere. At all the publisher spotlights and even in more informal conversations with publishing reps, I’m hearing a real emphasis on building brands around an author. For example, Angela James at Carina made a point of saying that she doesn’t want to publish just one book with someone; her idea is to look forward across multiple books with an eye toward building an author’s career. Part of that involves marketing a consistent brand for that author.

This was an idea echoed elsewhere as well. Folks from various publishing houses have mentioned in conversation that building author brands is key. Avon, Grand Central and Carina Press all mentioned the importance of using social media as a promotion tool as well as the idea of giving an author similar cover art styling across titles to help make that person more recognizable.

In all of this branding seems to lie an obvious assumption that authors will be writing series of books and indeed, Grand Central mentioned that it has a difficult time selling standalone books in any subgenre of romance. As someone who can get a little burnt out on trying to follow various series, I found this a little discouraging. There are some stories that really need only one book.

The other term that popped up at every publishing spotlight (no surprise here) was New Adult. Everyone is super-excited about getting on the New Adult bandwagon. Last year erotic romance was the hot new thing and New Adult seems to be the hot new area this year. Carina Press, Grand Central and Avon are all looking to acquire NA titles and I suspect I will be hearing this from other publishers as well. As with any subgenre, there are some NA books that are wonderful and others that are crap, and I suspect this will continue.

I had a chance to speak briefly with a rep from a publisher who wishes to remain nameless and I asked about the tendency of publishers to jump on new trends as I had not only heard folks asking for NA but I had also heard at the spotlights that publishers were looking to acquire motorcycle club books (in case you doubted that Kristen Ashley had really started something). I had heard at the Grand Central spotlight that in their experience, print buyers tend to be more conservative while the digital market is more open to experimentation. What I was told about the “bandwagon effect” seemed to back this up. This publisher’s rep thought that publishers liked to jump on trends because readers will enjoy a book and then look for something just like that reading experience.

Self-publishing and indie presses still seem to be getting a fair amount of buzz this year as well. The self-publishing workshops seem to have been well-attended. In addition, there was an indie book signing this afternoon and it was jam packed with people. I had assumed this wasn’t surprising, but to hear folks talking afterwards, I was reminded that not everyone spends as much time in the online romance world.

At one of the parties and receptions, I did have a chance to chat briefly with Malle Vallik from Harlequin and that was helpful. I’d heard from a few people who were curious about the new gothic line(Shivers) being advertised for Harlquin Digital. Since the examples listed with the writing guidelines included things like True Blood, I’d wondered whether this was truly gothic or whether it was another paranormal line similar to Nocturne. Vallik assured me that she is indeed looking for gothic tales. She described the concept as a modern interpretation of gothic plots. It could have an element of the paranormal but does not have to, and while she would prefer a sexier story, it doesn’t have to be. I started out reading my mother’s novels by Mary Stewart, Phyllis Whitney, Barbara Michaels, etc…, so I will definitely have to download some of these when they become available.

We still have two days of workshops ahead of us, so the conference is far from over. I’ve been checking on historicals, though, to see what the market holds. So far, the publishers are all looking for historicals and Carina Press made it clear that they would REALLY like to see some historical submissions over there. With regard to setting variations, Carina Press and Avon both stated that they were open to looking at a variety of settings (and it was at the Avon spotlight that I heard one editor tell the audience that medievals are not dead.) At Grand Central, this was mentioned as well, though one editor did proclaim her love of Regency historicals and mentioned looking for more of those. Given that publishers are looking to acquire historicals, I hope that this will mean we see more of them in coming years.

For those who want to follow the conference over the next couple of days, Blythe and I are both tweeting as we head to various workshops and events, so just follow our Twitter feeds at @LynnAAR and @BlytheAAR.

– Lynn Spencer

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15 Responses to “RWA 2013 – The Conference Begins in Earnest”

  1. maggie b. says:

    I wonder if the way publishers think is what is pushing me more towards mainstream mystery, women’s fiction and YA novels? The series news is especially depressing.

    I am excited to be receiving news from the conference, I just wish it was better news.

  2. Vol Fan says:

    I am not excited by the news of more series books either. I’ve truly burned out on them. 3 is my limit at this point. (And sometimes I don’t even read but the first one, it takes a truly, truly exceptional set for me to go further) Any more than 3 and I don’t read them.

  3. Joane says:

    I personally dislike series so your news in this point are not good news. I hardly follow any, but read just one or two if somebody has told me they are good books.
    But I understand that the publishing houses want to foster customer loyalty and make you buy as many books as possible, so if a story can be told in three books instead of just one, that’s what they would tell the author to write and that’s what they will try to sell.

  4. GraceC says:

    I agree on the series trend, it’s depressing! None of them could hold my interest long, especially those open ended series. Even the wonderful ‘Outlander’ ran its course for me by book 3.

  5. PamelaM says:

    I have really enjoyed the RWA posts over the last 2 days. Thanks for taking the time to post.

    I am not surprised that author branding is a big issue. When scanning a favorite e-book website of choices a favorite author branded cover like J.D Robb’s “In Death” series or more recently Julie James’ FBI/U.S Attorney series will draw my attention every time. Not happy either that this may mean more series rather than stand alone books. Quality writing is still the key to success over quantity, at least to me as a reader.

    Glad to hear that the publishers are still looking for historical submissions. New location settings are starting to emerge, but wish you were hearing more fresh ideas on how to revitalize that market.

  6. Caz says:

    Considering the responses to your recent post (and the one at DA) in which some historical authors indicated that they are finding it very hard to sell books which have settings other than 19th century Britain, I have to wonder how keen those publishers are for historical submissions that that take place in other timeframes and places.

    Obviously, the news that publishers want more historicals is good (given that’s my staple diet when it comes to romance) – but my usual complaint isn’t about the quantity, it’s about the quality.

    Re. the series issue… yeah, not great news there. I don’t mind series provided I can dip in and out, but it does sadden me that there seem to be so few stand-alones out there.

  7. Tonia says:

    Years ago I purchased a book in an airport that was part of a series; but not labeled as such. I was furious while stuck on plane to London that I had ‘wasted’ my money on a book that I could not follow. This was well before my e-reader days, so I didn’t have a backlog of favorites to pass the time. That said, the experience led me to the internet to research future purchases; which led me to :)

  8. Eliza says:

    There’s a thread online here, Lynn, discussing just what New Adult books are all about. Are you hearing anything from the conference about definitions or parameters for NA — other than what will sell, that is? ;)

    Also, good news to hear about continuing interest in historicals. Thanks!

    • maggie b. says:

      Here is what Wikipedia says about New Adult:

      New Adult (NA) fiction is a developing genre of fiction with protagonists in the 18-25 age bracket. The term was first coined by St. Martin’s Press in 2009 when they held a special call for “…fiction similar to YA that can be published and marketed as adult—a sort of an ‘older YA’ or ‘new adult’.”[1] New Adult fiction tends to focus on issues such as leaving home, developing sexuality, and negotiating education and career choices.[2] The genre has gained popularity rapidly over the last few years, particularly through books by self-published bestselling authors like Jamie McGuire, Colleen Hoover, and Cora Carmack.[3][4]
      The genre was originally met with some criticism, as some viewed it as a marketing scheme,[5] while others claimed the readership was not there to publish the material.[6] In contrast, others claimed that the term was necessary, with a publicist for HarperCollins saying that it “is a convenient label because it allows parents and bookstores and interested readers to know what is inside”.[7] It has now become widely accepted with most traditional publishers now publishing NA books and Goodreads, Amazon and Kobo adding it as an official category.[8][9]
      Examples of books in the new-adult genre include Jamie McGuire’s Beautiful Disaster,[10] Colleen Hoover’s Slammed,[11] and Cora Carmack’s Losing It.[12]

      Talk on the discussion boards points toward it being mostly romance geared. Can’t say I am very interested in reading about young heroines finding love. I was actually happy when the romance genre moved toward the 25 and above crowd. I found it easier to believe the HEA.

      On the flip side, I think this might be a good thing as it serves as a sort of gateway for a generation of people who haven’t really had a large presence in the romance market.

      • Holly Bush says:

        Maggie, Doesn’t that just make NA a women’s fiction novel with a younger heroine/protagonist? I never thought about NA introducing younger readers to romance, but I imagine you’re right. It’s always good to look at the bright side!

    • AAR Lynn says:

      I didn’t hear too much at conference about actual parameters for NA – beyond the age grouping, that is. At this point, based on what was said at the various spotlights, I get the impression that publishers are just excited about the trend and since it’s still pretty new, I think the “rules” are somewhat fluid as publishing houses get an idea of what will sell/what reader expectations will be.

  9. Holly Bush says:

    Series aren’t my cup of tea as a reader, other than a few of Mary Balogh’s. I’m with Grace about Outlander. I loved, loved, loved the first few but just didn’t want to read anymore.

    It is nice to hear that publishers are again/still interested in historicals. I’ve heard from so many readers that they don’t understand why my books aren’t with a publisher because they are always looking for books like mine. We used to call ‘prairie westerns’. But I long ago gave up trying to get a publisher after having submitted to sooooo many houses. And I know there are plenty of other authors that are writing good historical fiction but have just quit trying to snag a publisher.

    Thanks for this RWA update, Lynn. I went to the RT Convention this year and it was a real experience! The Indie signing day was a blast. But I’m hoping to be at RWA next year.

  10. AARJenna says:

    Gotta say I’m with the other posters on being saddened by the prospect of even more series. I’m at the point where I’m reluctant to pick up any book that is part of a series because it seems that unless you read from the beginning, the chances of being hopelessly confused are too great. Therefore, I shy away from any title that indicates it’s “part of a series”. It makes it especially hard as a reviewer because you want to be fair when reviewing a title by realizing that it perhaps relies on previous books to build the story and/or world or setting. But I don’t have time (or inclination) to have to back-read two or three books just so that I can review entry #3 or 4 in a series!

  11. Wendy says:

    Yes, publishing world, books in a series ARE selling. But has no one figured out yet that the reason for their popularity is that there are very few single titles from which to choose?

    I’m bummed to hear about the series’, the author branding and the NA trends. NA interests me not at all, and the first two sound like more of the same old-same old. What a shame. Its been a struggle to find decent books on the shelves this year and it looks like next year may be even worse.

    Thank heaven for indies.

  12. Violet Bick says:

    That’s funny. I love stand-alone books, and I hate band-wagon books. I guess I’m not the target audience for romance publishers.