On the presence of bloggers and costumes at the RWA Nationals

Kate Rothwell posted some rather interesting reactions to the presence of bloggers and reviewers at the RWA this year. One author noted:

…that kind of bothered me at this conference. Stuff like [the costumed writers] and all the blog reviewers being there. It just started to feel like it was maybe turning into a fan conference rather than a professional organizations’ annual meeting.

I just think the two should be kept separate. You want to have a time for authors to meet the press (or reviewers)—like the librarians thing or the booksellers thing, great. But being a part of everything just didn’t seem appropriate to me. Like a conflict of interest. It’s our conference and a time for us to discuss our industry.

Conflict of interest was a rather interesting term to use, and I don’t think it’s accurate. Us bloggers (OK, I can speak only for Sarah and me specifically) went to the conference to a) report back on what goes on behind the scenes to the readers, and b) meet a whole bunch of people we’ve been interacting with on-line for ages, both authors and readers. I’m not sure what sort of conflict of interest there’d be in what we did, especially because all of us were pretty up-front about who we were and what we did. A lot of readers are curious about what goes on at Nationals, and they want to see it from the perspective of other readers, and that’s what we tried to provide. And to my mind, engaging the readers is a GOOD thing.

The authors-vs-reviewers divide is not a new one, but I really wish authors would see that we’re the biggest champions of the cause they could ever, ever have. Lookit, we love the books, and we love the genre. We love them SO MUCH, we’re willing to fly hundreds of miles to MOTHERFUCKING DALLAS in JULY just so we can observe and report on another aspect of the enterprise.

I can understand wanting to avoid turning the RWA into a circus, but despite my Ebil Plan to completely disrupt proceedings with my purple-streaked hair, my magnificent rack and my army of invisible midgets, things were pretty tame. Not even a single explosion, and certainly no limbs severed, nor any blood spilled. (Note to self: next time, more dismemberment, less re-enactment of silly Youtube videos for the benefit of people at the bar.)

And come, now: how many bloggers/reviewers were there vs. published and aspiring authors? Jane, Sarah, me, Sybil, Kristie, Wendy the Super Librarian and a couple of reps from AAR (I finally got to meet Anne Marble) were the ones I knew about; I doubt there were a whole lot more, because it’s a pretty small community. We’re a pretty small gang, folks, and unless you knew what to look for, we didn’t even register as a blip on the radar.

The overall impression I got from what was expressed on Kate’s blog was that the author wanted the conference to be more of a writers’ retreat than anything else. I know it feels like we’re invading a sort of safe haven, but based on the fact that the RWA allows non-members and associate members to join the conference, it’s a good bet that this isn’t what it was meant to be in the first place.

There was also a bit of a to-do about people like Marianne Mancusi dressing up like the characters for their Shomi books. I looked at the photo, and I honestly don’t see the big deal. The costumes look tarty and fun, and frankly, I want to steal those pink thigh-high stockings from Liz Maverick, because I have a similar-looking pair but they refuse to stay up. I wish I could grab the people who are worried by the cosplay, shake them gently and say “LIGHTEN UP. They’re having fun. A mini-skirt and flashing a bit of cleavage ain’t the end of the world, and we’re honestly not expecting this from everybody.”

We bitch quite a bit about how the genre is afraid of change, how much stagnancy there is, how we’re not drawing in the next generation of readers—but when somebody does something that will actively engage younger readers, that will help explode the myth that romance authors and readers are middle-aged housewives in terrycloth bathrobes and curlers in our hair, people throw up their hands, go “Lawksamercy!” and cluck worriedly. I know, I know, there’s a lot of anxiety regarding publicity and marketing, and the PR machine is indeed an ugly beast sometimes, especially for the authors who just want their books to speak for themselves without them having to put on any sort of a spectacle, but seriously: LIGHTEN UP.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Selah March says:

    So…does this mean you’ll be in Pittsburgh for RT this year? I want my shot at having my photo taken with your magnificent rack.

    I mean you.

    I mean you and your magnificent rack.

    Yeah.

  2. 2
    Chicklet says:

    Color me confused. I thought the complaint from a few weeks ago was that romance wasn’t getting reviewed in mainstream book-review sections in newspapers—now the plan is to get all hinky about online reviewers being at RWA? The people who are actually, you know, reviewing romance novels?

    Do these authors want me to read their books or not?

  3. 3
    Robin says:

    The authors-vs-reviewers divide is not a new one, but I really wish authors would see that we’re the biggest champions of the cause they could ever, ever have. Lookit, we love the books, and we love the genre. We love them SO MUCH, we’re willing to fly hundreds of miles to MOTHERFUCKING DALLAS in JULY just so we can observe and report on another aspect of the enterprise.

    Afuckingmen! (I have a serious potty mouth in RL, but try not to carry it over into blogspace—apologies to all who dislike swearing). 

    I would only add to this that readers who review—at least the ones at issue in this community—DO IT FOR FREE.  Truly, I understand how some authors might feel uncomfortable with reader bloggers around, especially if they might not feel real comfortably disposed to us to begin with, but if RWA wants a “professional writers” only conference (and if that’s what they want, go for it, I say), it will need to look very different from National.  I LOVED reading all the posts from Dallas, and one of the things that heartened me the most was the sense of real community among so many different folks who—despite their different roles—LOVE THE ROMANCE GENRE.  Nobody (okay, practically nobody) reads and reviews Romance because they hate the genre or want to take it down.  But man, I sure do feel sometimes that there’s some palpable resistance around readers wanting the best from a genre they invest a great deal of time and energy reading.  And how sad is that.  OTOH, kudos to those authors who graciously celebrated with the non-authors—at core, I really do think that the interests of readers and authors are or should be aligned, at least at the level of appreciating the genre and wanting to see it thrive.

  4. 4
    Barb Ferrer says:

    Personally, I like seeing the reviewers at our conferences. I like talking to them about trends and books we like or dislike or what they might perceive as a potential flaw in something I wrote and I like doing it face to face because oftentimes, things can get skewed in cyberspace.  I also like seeing readers and talking to them.  Yes, I like having Writer Time too, but that’s why there are various tracks offered and of course… the bar.

    Color me confused.

  5. 5

    I own a pair of thigh highs like Liz’s. Check out http://www.sockdreams.com I LOV.E mine.

    This is only my 3rd RWA National. I’m more used to SF and Fantasy Cons, which are all about reader/writer interaction.  I understand that the Romantic Times convention is much more like that. I’m going to Pittsburgh next year, and I’m jazzed.

    If a blogger is serious enough about reporting about Romance books to pay the conference fee, I’m all for their presence. Nationals is (apparently) where stuff gets done and gossip gets going. I’m not really in on any of it, so I don’t know. :-)

  6. 6
    Teddy Pig says:

    Step 1: Readers infiltrate RWA Writers Conference
    Step 2: Blog about it
    Step 3: Profit

    Our Ebil Plan requires an entrance fee ohnoes!!111111 we needs fundage!

  7. 7
    kate r says:

    you see Nora’s response to the issue of costumes? In my blog? (I have to get over the pathetic little thrill of writing “nora’s response in my blog”.)

    Anyway, it’s in the post above the one you’ve linked to.

    Hey, easy enough for you to say lighten up you gorgeous creature. I have, thanks—I’m down 40 lbs. Turns out after that, there is no way I will display any part of an upper leg. When I saw those costumes, which do exactly that, and thought MISTAKENLY it was something the publisher really liked and wanted, something died inside. Not a little feathered birdy called hope, but close enough.

  8. 8
    kate r says:

    btw in my last post “liked and wanted” is a euphemism for “required authors to do or perhaps not get another contract”

    Turned out the costumes were the idea of couple of writers having fun.

  9. 9

    Personally, I feel a lot more pressure about what I’m saying and how I’m behaving when I could be in the presence of editors and bookbuyers, etc. People with power in the industry, unlike you two. PAH-hahahahaha!

    Seriously, I loved getting to know the Bitches, and it was even more relaxing knowing they might still eviscerate my sweet little red-satin baby. I didn’t have to kiss up, because that shit won’t work anyway. As to any other VIPs… I guess I was too ignorant to make note.

  10. 10
    Katidid says:

    Just a quick comment. I crossed the Pacific to attend the RT conference this year, which ostensibly is meant to be a readers conference, and was absolutely shocked at what they thought readers wanted. Booklovers’ charades? Unscramble the book title? Hardly. Readers want to interact with authors, ask questions, gush about books, get things signed. But the RT programming was completely geared towards authors and aspiring authors, with sessions on how to find an agent, POV, and others. I (not an aspiring author) attended the writer-geared sessions because otherwise I wouldn’t have seen most of the authors I wanted to meet, but ended up bored and doodling through most of it. Even the evening entertainments were very segregated, with long tables set aside for certain publishers, authors, etc, and the readers marginalised to the edges. If you’re an author attending the RT conference, may I make a humble suggestion? Grab a couple of people in the same genre, and run a Q/A for readers. I would have loved to see a bunch of historical authors together so I could ask how hard it is to find out what medieval underwear looks like (just an example :) ), or find out how suspense authors know how a bomb works. Or even which movie stars they think their heroes most resemble.

    Until there’s a proper reader/writer conference (like they do with the SF/Fantasy conferences), I don’t think it’s at all unreasonable to expect readers, reviewers, bloggers, and others intertwined in the romance industry to want to attend the RWA.

    word: hope66 … ‘cause I hope that one day we’ll all just get along :)

  11. 11
    Teddy Pig says:

    Forget books, I wonder what Janet Evanovich would get on EBAY?

    I say we think bigger, we need to stay ahead of the riff raff.

  12. 12
    Candy says:

    Selah: Sarah and I are contemplating going to RT. We’ll see if we can swing it. I’ll be in school then, and Sarah will have a new baby to take care of. If we do make it, photo ops with the Wonder Twins will happen fo sho.

    Rosemary: Oh, yes, I know allll about the Sock Dreams. That’s where I got those thigh highs I mentioned. I need to get ‘em a size smaller or something. Sigh.

    Kate: Saw the response. I responded in return, but I’ll reiterate here for the benefit of those who haven’t read it yet: Nora sez costumes are silly and tarnish the image of the genre. And she has a point—I remember laughing in horrified amusement when I saw those pictures of Rebecca Brandewyne dolled up like her cover art, and Laurell K. Hamilton and her posse posing with pistols Anita Blake-stylee while wearing mom jeans. But there are costumes, and there are COSTUMES. Man Faye is one thing; Mancusi and Maverick having a bit of fun with short skirts and thigh highs is another. It’s all about knowing what looks stylish vs. what’s ludicrous, and in my opinion, Mancusi and Maverick stayed well within the bounds of good taste. But then y’all have seen that I enjoy tarty, loud and colorful, which is something to take into account.

    And yeah, I can totally understand you feeling doomy and gloomy over the prospect of publishers pushing authors towards dressing like their characters. If that truly had been the case, I would’ve been right there, grumbling and growling with you.

  13. 13
    Nora Roberts says:

    I’ve already commented on this on a couple of blogs, so I’m not going into detail here. But I think if there were some writers uncomfortable with readers/reviewers/bloggers they were in the very small minority. Most loved it, interacted and had a great time.

    As for costumes, I stand by my previous statements. The young girls were very, very pretty. And very inappropriately attired—imo—as writers in a public, media-attended event. But it was the big-ass black swan that really got me.

    Sherrilyn Kenyon will hate me forever for picking on this. But, I calls ‘em as I sees ‘em.

    Lighten up. Easy to say when you’re not CONSTANTLY called on to defend the genre and its readers and writers to the media, then have the media focus on the costumes so the image projected is silly women rather than interesting professionals who write Romance.

    Candy, as a blogger—even a blogger with a book deal—I thought you were adorable in every way. It’s a different kettle, entirely.

  14. 14
    kate r says:

    bah.
    so the theory that maybe romance is getting a bit more respect these days (I mentioned it over at my blog) isn’t real?

  15. 15
    KellyMaher says:

    I urped a little at those Man Faye pictures.  Thanks, Candy.  And now you’ve got me contemplating showing up to a conference wearing my plaid flannel robe and curlers in my hair.  I really won’t though ‘cause I like to dress up at conferences since I don’t dress up that much in real life.  I still have that princess complex, hence, why I chose a basket with a tiara in it at a recent fundraising raffle ;)

  16. 16
    KellyMaher says:

    Oh yeah, and when I say dress up, I mean somewhat formally…I pull out my devil horns for my library conferences :D

  17. 17
    Nora Roberts says:

    I just homed in on something. Why does a professional writer want to look ‘tarty’, any more than she wants to look like a housefrou with curlers? These are sort of polar opposite ends of imagery, and both are not flattering or complimentary.

  18. 18
    Allie says:

    You what was worse then that. Being there as a used bookstore seller. I felt so out of place.

  19. 19
    Candy says:

    Nora: the biggest part of the reason why I adore you is because you do call it as you see it, and how you can disagree with panache. That, and your awesome freakin’ shoes.

    I didn’t get to see Kenyon’s giant swan hat, but it sounds like it was as magnificent as Björk’s dead swan dress.

    I was thinking some more about the Mancusi/Maverick costumes, when I realized that if they’d pulled this at an SF/F con, I wouldn’t feel any particular way about it, good or bad, but because they did it at RWA, I’m all “Woo hoo, awesome.” It is, in essence, a dorky thing to do—mind you, I love me some dorkiness—but I think my positive reaction had to do with the way they subverted the romance author/reader stereotypes. They were being dorks, yes, but they weren’t being dorks in a way that people typically expect romance authors to be dorks. There was, in short, dork cross-pollination, and I’m all for that, because I want people to realize that more people than they realize, with interests wider than they could ever imagine, read romance novels. I love subverting people’s expectations that way.

    I was thinking it’d be great to have an ad in which there’s a collage of faces of all colors and types. A heavily pierced, tattooed girl wearing heavy eyeliner. A middle-aged woman with colorful a mohawk and a spiked labret piercing. A grey-haired woman dressed in an expensive suit. A high school girl. A woman in an army uniform. A man in an army uniform. A woman dressed in Renn Fayre drag. Etc. And underneath all that: “I’m a romance reader.”

    Lighten up. Easy to say when you’re not CONSTANTLY called on to defend the genre and its readers and writers to the media, then have the media focus on the costumes so the image projected is silly women rather than interesting professionals who write Romance.

    That will hopefully change once the book comes out, ha. (The constantly being called on to defend romance readers and authors to the media, I mean. We do plenty of it on this tiny slice of the Intertubes, but hopefully the book will shoot us to a wider audience.)

    Candy, as a blogger—even a blogger with a book deal—I thought you were adorable in every way. It’s a different kettle, entirely.

    I think I was a different kettle of fish because I am, in essence, the court jester. And the court jester can get away with a lot. As long as we keep the royalty entertained and laughing even as we lay out unpalatable truths.

    *starts juggling flaming batons. adorably.*

  20. 20
    Arethusa says:

    Colour me unconcerned about the cosplay; the women looked cute and fun. But then I’m also largely uninterested in “improving” the romance genre’s image for anyone in particular.

  21. 21
    Candy says:

    Why does a professional writer want to look ‘tarty’, any more than she wants to look like a housefrou with curlers?

    By “tarty,” I meant “edgy and sexy”. It’s almost a term of affection with me, which is probably a non-standard way to use the word. To confuse things further, I do occasionally use it pejoratively, just like I use “motherfucker” affectionately sometimes, and other times, not so much.

    I haven’t thought all of this through yet, so I’ll likely change my mind as I work through all the implications, but right now, if I had to choose between “edgy and tarty” vs. “frumpy hausfrau” as a media image for romance readers/writers, I’d go for the former. My true preference, however, is for people to abandon the truly appalling misconceptions about what romance readers and authors look like and sound like.

  22. 22
    Nora Roberts says:

    ~if I had to choose between “edgy and tarty” vs. “frumpy hausfrau” as a media image for romance readers, I’d go for the former.~

    As would I.

    Any reason we can’t be normal? Attractive, interesting, intelligent, blah blah blah? Must we feel we have to push ourselves into some out-of-the-box image—and let’s be honest—must we feel we must do that to get attention?

    What does that say about the work?

    I don’t want to harp on these girls. They’re young, awfully cute, and they weren’t that outrageous.

    But I do feel that dressing up like your characters is silly, and it smudges the lines. Why not be who you are—because that’s exactly what it’ll come down to anyway.

  23. 23
    PC Cast says:

    As I think most authors are, I’m cool with reviewers and bloggers attending RWA.  They are part of the industry’s professionals.  Costumes do skirt the line of professional behavior, many times falling face first over that line, at least at something like RWA.

    On a side note – it was awesomeness to meet the Smart Bitches!  I loved pressing Sarah to my bosom and ogling Candy’s bosom.  And I wish my schedule hadn’t kept me from hanging in the bar!

  24. 24
    MaudeClare says:

    I agree with Ms Roberts on the costumes. I thought they were a bit much, and sometimes, we need to remember *tone* when we discuss issues.

    We don’t have to be tarts or frumpy. Just be natural.

    Are romance writers supposed to be sexy in real life? Or always making satire on the romance.

    I don’t think so.

  25. 25
    Angela James says:

    *wants more pictures of Candy’s cleavage AND Candy in feather boa and/or funky cowboy hat some awesome editor gave her.*

    Oh, and to add to the respectability of the RWA conference, where’s the video of the Threesome Dance? *insert evil cackle here*

    Seriously, if RWA did start to go the way of RT, with cover models and costumes for every event, I’d be a bit put off, I think. I can understand that concern.  But in moderation, yeah it was/is fun. I can see Nora’s…Ms. Robert’s…Nora’s…(so not comfortable with the first name, as if I know her) point, though. What is it that we want the face of romance to be? It’s a hard question, with no easy answer, especially as the genre changes to include erotic romance and its covers and titles. Eek!

    I don’t really get the whole upset with blogger/reviewers being there. They’re as much a part of the industry as booksellers are, in their own way. Jo Carol from Romantic Times was there and I don’t hear anyone crying foul over that, or am I missing it? I think it’s just another component of the conference and, all sucking up aside, I thought you all added a nice dimension to the conference.

    And on that note? I’m off to visit that Sock Dreams website because…fun!

  26. 26
    Kristie(J) says:

    Candy: As one of “those bloggers” I say hear hear on your post about us.  We ARE lovers of the genre above all else. That’s why I flew from so far away and why I was willing to pay a bundle to do it.  Of course I need special stuff for my Lisa lunch.
    I attended a RT convention a few years ago and I felt much more comfortable and had a much better time this year at the RWA conference.

  27. 27
    Poison Ivy says:

    How many of you attended the RT convention around 25 years ago at which Dame Barbara Cartland made a grand entrance wearing a full-length pink ball gown, about twenty pounds of diamonds (real or fake, who knows?) around her neck, full makeup laid on with a trowel (she was in her eighties then)—and THIS WAS AT 9:30 IN THE MORNING!?

    It scarred me for life.

    Seriously, Nora was around at the time, and we would show up at conferences and find writers dressed as southern belles and worse. It was demeaning and depressing, and it made for patronizing, scathing commentary in the newspapers. Cartland was a genius at self-promotion, no doubt about it, but she also was shamelessly vulgar. Some people in the romance world do not want anybody to get the idea that romance writers are just girls being silly, or worse, tarts. This is a profession, and it’s not the oldest one.

    That said, if a certain program at an RWA conference is advertised as including silly dress-up, then fine. But we do not need people wearing the romance equivalent of Klingon ears prowling the halls. Really. As it is, I’ll probably never recover from the sight of Gene Roddenberry in lederhosen.  Talk about scarred for life!

  28. 28
    iffygenia says:

    NR: Lighten up. Easy to say when you’re not CONSTANTLY called on to defend the genre and its readers and writers to the media, then have the media focus on the costumes so the image projected is silly women rather than interesting professionals who write Romance.

    C: That will hopefully change once the book comes out, ha.

    Candy, I hope you do succeed in saving the world with your book.  But I’m not sure that addresses Nora Roberts’ point.  Swanhats will still be swanhats.  (It was a swanhat, right?  Not a full-on demonic possession?)

  29. 29
    Jenny Crusie says:

    I wasn’t there so of course I have an opinion.

    Bloggers:  You’re journalists.  Any ink is good ink.  Plus there are well over a thousand people at that conference every year, usually over 1500, so I don’t where anybody gets the “private writers retreat” idea.  There’s always been press at the conference, hell, we have a press room, so unless this makes no sense. 

    Playing Dress-Up:  That part I get.  There’s a difference between having a great time at a costume party and showing up for a professional booksigning dressed as one of your characters (well, assuming the character doesn’t dress like you do already).  Why, yes, I do believe in fun.  I believe I’m also part of a multi-billion dollar business, that I respect what I do and what I am, and I choose to present myself as a professional.  Since the reason for dressing like that is to call attention to oneself, it’s pretty much making yourself a marketing ploy and it’s very low-rent marketing; you become the person dressed in the chicken suit selling Colonel Sanders, and the fact that you’re Colonel Sanders doesn’t undercut the fact that you’re in a chicken suit. 

    I don’t think it’s even about respect and the romance industry, I think it’s about respecting yourself as an artist and a business person.  If my publisher asked me to dress in costume to sell my books at a booksigning, my agent would be having words with them.  My publisher, being a class act, would never do that. 

    Having said that, I wasn’t there and half the time, I’ve spilled something on my shirt and my jacket is hiked up in back, so my commenting on the suitability of others’ wardrobes is probably asking for it.  Plus, I really do believe in fun.  It’s just not something I’d ever do.

  30. 30
    dillene says:

    Cosplay is de rigeur at sci-fi conventions, but you have to be careful if you’re going to do that at a romance convention:  Jaid Black cosplay could get you arrested.

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