RWA's 2003 National Conference,
In the Town so Nice They Named it Twice

Wednesday, July 16:

It's all a bit overwhelming. I arrived around 11:00 am on RWA's Librarians and Booksellers Day and all around me there women everywhere wearing name tags (frequently bearing famous ones) with dangling ribbons saying things like: PAN (Published Authors Network), Speaker, and First Sale (including former AAR editor/reviewer Marianne Stillings). I collected my registration materials, stopped by the Press Room to check in, and was on my way.

As a non-registered member, I wasn't able to attend the lunch featuring speaker Teresa Mederios, but, judging by the chattering from emerging attendees, she clearly didn't disappoint. One of the afternoon's highlights was a big one: I got to meet Marianne Stillings in the flesh for the very first time. The Internet is an interesting place: in our AAR Family loop we all share and know so much, but there we were in the teeming hotel lobby, straining to read every name tag trying to find each other.

The big event for Wednesday, though, had to be the booksigning for literacy that evening featuring 500 authors. The large ballroom area was, to put it mildly, packed. (I attended the booksigning in 2000 and this one had a far higher attendance level.) Walking up and down the long rows of authors is an incredible experience every romance reader should have at least once. The best selling authors are set apart from the main area (Jayne Ann Krentz, Nora Roberts, Jennifer Crusie, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, and Suzanne Brockmann were just a few of the big names found there), but, since the lines were so very long that standing in them just might have kept me from meeting my other favorites, I stuck to the long tables. Here's what I learned and observed:

  • Connie Brockway is working on a Regency-set trilogy.
  • Judith Ivory is finishing up her next book right now so, with any luck, the wait won't be too much longer.
  • Julia Quinn's popularity continues to grow. The line to reach her remained a long one throughout the signing.
  • Kayla Perrin's fan base is also a strong one since she was clearly the destination author for quite a few attendees.
  • Brockmann is red hot. The lines never let up for a moment.

Thursday, July 17:

Thursday was the real "get down to business day" at the conference.

Since AAR represents the reader's point of view, I attended two workshops that morning in which publishers detailed exactly what they're looking for in the books they publish - in other words, what they believe their readers want. Frankly, the contrast between the two publishers couldn't have been more dramatic.

Not surprisingly, since Harlequin/Silhouette publishes so many titles each month and since each series targets a different reader market, the guidelines for each of those lines are quite specific. For instance:

  • The Harlequin Presents line prefers alpha heroes (Italian and Greek men always welcome) and has discovered that readers embrace Australian settings, stories involving mistresses, and (yes, they admitted it) secret pregnancies.

  • The Silhouette Desire line also looks for alpha heroes, but, in this case, American heroes are preferred. Pregnant heroines work well in that line also, as do cowboys and wealthy heroes. According to the publisher, every Silhouette Desire should feature two "fully consummated" love scenes.

Dorchester/Leisure, on the other hand, likes to keep things a bit looser. Their biggest guideline for potential authors? "Send us the book of your heart." As a reader, I found this approach to be both heartening and exciting, especially since a subsequent discussion with one of their published authors confirmed that they really do mean it - if it's a good book, they'll find a way to work it into their line.

Writer after writer in the audience kept posing specific questions, despite the fact that the Dorchester team kept declining to provide specific answers. My favorite, though, was a question in which a potential Dorchester writer asked if there were any specific historical periods they wouldn't consider. The Holocaust, the Salem Witch Trials, and the Spanish Inquisition were just about all they could come up with. You've got to love that.

The lunch speaker - and missing this one was especially painful - was Jennifer Crusie who, according to all reports, both entertained and inspired her audience. RWA member meetings (also off limits to reporters) took up the bulk of the afternoon - though, frankly, a lot of authors could be spotted in the hotel and its environs during those afternoon sessions.

Thursday evening was the general member reception and the time for AAR staffers to gather together. We talked books, gaped at authors, and generally had a pretty darn good time. My sister (also a big romance reader who attended the conference with me) and I were also lucky enough to attend a cocktail party hosted by Ballantine Books. The offices of Random House are impressive, indeed, and rubbing elbows with authors, agents, and publicists was a highlight of the conference.

Friday, July 18:

Once again, a big workshop day.

As someone who's made her career in advertising and marketing, I was interested in the workshop devoted to advising authors on the best ways to publicize and market their books. The advice from the presenters was, in a lot of ways, just good common sense, but - as the presenters pointed out - in an era with more authors than ever and more competition for limited media time, it's critical for every author to take an active role in promoting her own books. Top advice included:

  • Write a marketing plan.
  • Build a web site.
  • Get to know your local booksellers.
  • Fine tune your marketing to concentrate on the opportunities with the best chance to increase your exposure and provide the biggest potential payback.

My next workshop was entitled "Secrets of the Best-selling Sisterhood" and since the speakers were Susan Elizabeth Phillips and Jayne Ann Krentz, the workshop more than lived up to its name. Both SEP and JAK are fun and dynamic speakers and they had some valuable advice for authors wishing to join their ranks:

  • One size doesn't fit all. Your voice is unique and, when making important choices in your career,go with your gut and do what you know is right for you.

  • Deal with the opinions of others. As SEP put it, "get over it" when someone doesn't like your work. As for a bad review, she'll allow you "48 hours to wallow in it."

  • Find your own path. SEP believes that good craft won't get you on the bestseller list, but bad craft may keep you out.

  • Respect your own unique writer's voice. JAK advised attendees that there are no new stories out there, but there are fresh, new, unique voices.

  • Be persistent. It took JAK five years to get published - and clearly her persistence paid off big time.

  • Practice retail therapy. JAK's advice? "When the going gets tough, the tough get to Nordstrom."

A workshop on "Dangerous Women" conducted by Adele Ashworth, Lisa Kleypas, and former AAR Reviewer Kathryn Smith was my last for this year's conference. Their advice was practical and compelling. While each author put her own spin on the theme, the biggest take-aways were:
  • Your heroine has to have a reason for being and must be a "person not a type."

  • The hero should respect your heroine for the woman that she is.

  • A heroine should grow within the course of the book.
  • That was it for me! With one day left for workshops (attended by AAR's Megan Frampton and Robin Uncapher) and with Saturday night's RITA awards yet to come, though, look for more reports, and a list of this year's RITA winners beginning tomorrow.

    -- Sandy Coleman

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