Greetings from RomCon in Denver.
The first day’s sessions started at 1pm, and each scheduled block featured events that were for ticketed patrons only, and you had to win a ticket to those author meet-and-greets. At one point, I believe there were only two events open to the attendees that didn’t require a ticket, and one of them was a publisher spotlight.
The hotel staff is amazing. The service is excellent and the facility itself is beautiful- there’s an atrium with a giant fountain and lots of sofas and chairs and a bar – it’s a marvelous facility.
There’s a huge mall of shopping in the hotel conference room, with earrings (I am totally tempted by earrings) and cutouts of Harlequin covers to pose with. There’s also an Author Alley meeting area, where authors are stationed at tables where fans can meet them, but they’re behind a series of tables with books stacked on tabletops, so it’s a little intimidating to approach them.
There’s also Memory Lane, where groups of authors gather to meet fans, but again, authors were there but I didn’t see any fans. There were excellent Harlequin cutouts, though.
The first panel I attended was “Author Fairy Godmothers to the Rescue” with Autumn Piper, Carly Phillips, Cathy Clamp, Cindy Hwang, Deb Weksman, Deeanne Gist, Elizabeth Boyle, and Veronica Wolff.
It was all about how “you, the reader, can help your favorite authors…” and “give you the tools you need to help ensure your favorite authors keep producing the magical storeis you’ve become addicted to!”
I tweeted about this earlier, that this panel’s write-up rubbed me so wrong. I started calling it “Ask not what you readers can do for you, but what your readers can do MORE for you.”
I was at a table with Jane from Dear Author, Tina, head of Samhain’s Marketing department, two verrry awesome romance experts from Borders stores, and in the room with us there were about 10 readers and bloggers, too.
Elizabeth Boyle began the panel on a negative note, asking readers in the room to step up and help eliminate piracy.
She asks readers not only to keep an eye out for piracy but to speak out against it.
Cathy Clamp noticed that GoodReads seems to be the place where readers are, and would love to see readers copy their GoodReads reviews to Amazon.
One point I heard more than once suggested that casual shoppers think a certain or increasing number of reviews is an indication of the quality of the book—not only did people like it but they took the time to write about it. Even if the reviews aren’t all positive, a number of them indicates a book worth reading merely because it was worth talking about. So if readers talked more, it would help more books.
All the authors agreed that any mention, any comment, any buzz is helpful, on Twitter, on Facebook, anywhere. They want readers to speak up and speak out to booksellers, to librarians, to other reviewers.
Nothing at the panel was earthshattering, except that I was a little uncomfortable being told as a reader what to do to support them. I think there are a lot of more effective ways to present this information, especially if they had focused on reader empowerment.
Reader opinions DO matter. This is absolutely true. But no one made the point that the enthusiasm of the reader who speaks out about a book isn’t something that can be solicited. It has to be earned. The enthusiasm of a reader eager to share has to combat so many obstacles – just asking for it to happen isn’t going to make it so.
Then, in the afternoon, I attended the Book Reviewer Panel with Catherine Anderson, Cathy Maxwell, Courtney Milan, Deb Werksman, and Melissa Mayhue.
The panel got off to a rocky start because there were two rooms reserved for the same panel, so some of us were in one room, but most were in another. Once the reviewer panel reunited in one room, it promptly divided again across very diverse opinions.
You can read many of the comments from the speakers on Twitter, especially in the hashtag #romcon, but the panel was pretty much a study in contradiction: review books everywhere and anywhere you can…
…but when you review books, be nice. Don’t give a book 1 star because that effort, according to Catherine Anderson, deserves more than one star.
Readers can help make an author’s career, or kill it because negative reviews or piracy can stop a series from being finished if the numbers aren’t there…
…but reviews should be positive and supportive, because the book is an author’s baby.
Readers have an enormous amount of power and supporting a book can make a huge difference in an author’s career…
…but when writing a review, a reviewer should show respect for the author’s effort and accomplishment.
Seriously, what the almighty freaking hell was that about? Readers are resposible in some ways for the author’s career success… but only if they are nice?
I hope my dismay is palpable. I have plenty of it.
What makes me the most discouraged and frankly embarrassed is that at the panel devoted to “Author Fairy Godmothers,” the authors spent a LOT of time talking about what readers should do… on Amazon.com. Even after different Borders booksellers identified themselves, the comments were devoted to reader interaction on Amazon.
Edited after errors pointed out to me begin here – my brush was way too broad originally.
Furthermore, at the Book Review panel, some authors present only wanted to hear opinions about their books if they were positive, and couldn’t believe any published effort merited a 1-star review.
Catherine Anderson had contrasting opinions from the others on the panel, specifically Melissa Mayhew and Courtney Milan. Anderson held up Harriet Klausner as the standard of “professional reviewers.” Milan (I can’t believe I forgot this part, as it was awesome) surveyed the room en masse, after moderator Cathy Maxwell inquired earlier by show of hands who in the room had purchased a book based on word of mouth, on recommendations from a friend, and from a review, and asked who had purchased a book based on the reviews of Harriet Klausner. Not one hand went up.
When the reviewer on the panel, Jen from Bitten by Books, and her co-reviewer in the audience introduced the tired analogy that a book is an author’s baby, Deb Werksman reined that in quick and said, no, books are not the author’s babies. She has two real babies and if her baby acts up, “I can’t put it aside and start a new one.”
Ooh ooh one more thing – early in the Book Reviewer panel, Milan was asked how many reviews her book had received and about the impact of those reviews. Because Harlequin and LibreDigital had offered early review copies of Milan’s book to many individuals, she literally had hundreds of reviews of her book in various locations online. That impressive number was contrasted with the limited number of print review options a romance had a few decades ago.
[As pointed out to me in the comments by Milan, I was painting with too broad a brush here and made it seem as if all the authors on the panel agreed with Anderson’s sentiments - not my intention. My apologies, and hence the edits, which end here. My dismay and bafflement at the rhetoric used and the subtext of responsibility and presumption present in the commentary of others remains.]
Is this conference for readers? Or is it for authors to lecture to readers? A rough survey of hands revealed three readers in the “Fairy Godmother” panel – and preaching to them about piracy seemed limited in efficacy since, as folks pointed out on Twitter, it would be unlikely that they’d then go party at Piratey Books R Us afterward. And the reviewer panel was made up largely reviewers from various blogs, again comprised of authors describing what they wanted.
I’m hoping that tomorrow’s panels are more reader-focused instead of reader-lectured. I know the panel Jane and I have planned will focus on reader interests and will ask all sorts of questions about preferences in books, and there’s a panel about book cover development with Deeanne Gist. Christine Feehan and Jeaniene Frost will talk about vampire lore and mythology, and the booksigning at noon will probably bring readers out of the woodwork – I hope.
I want to hear the conversation, not sit through a lecture about what I’m not doing right.
I hope most of all that the readers who are here are asked, more often and more frequently, “What do you think?” I cannot wait to hear the answers.