RomCon Day Two

Day 2 of RomCon began early and somewhat stressful. Our Reader Roundtable was scheduled for 9am, but when we got there, with about 15 or so people in the room, we were told there was a small sign on the door that our panel had been moved to 10am in a totally different room. We had no idea there’d been a change, so we held the panel at 9 for the people in the room, and then again at 10 for the people who came to the second scheduled session. Some awesome people attended both (thank you!).

The 9 am panel was largely authors and publishing professionals and booksellers,but the discussion touched on a few key points about what readers want in romance that were echoed at the 10am session.

The readers at both sessions talked about wanting books with more internal conflict than external, that regardless of the genre. Whether it’s paranormal or historical, characters with a strong growth arc, who struggle with emotions and their internal conflicts are appealing to many of the readers we heard from today.

Author Julie James made a very interesting point that I’m still thinking about. When asked what she wanted to see more of in romance, she replied that she wanted to see more strong heroines who weren’t cold. She sees many heroines who achieve a high career status but who refuse to consider love relationships, who are emotionally distant and cold, who refute any nurturing. She thinks that strong women who have achieved a lot professionally and personally can also be loving, kind, and open to a romantic relationship.

Jane Litte is jaw drop good at getting readers to share their opinions and moving the topic from person to person so everyone has a chance to talk and no one dominates the discussion. When one author tried to turn the conversation to what readers need to understand about the publication process, she steered it back again into commentary on plots and characters readers would love to see more of.

My most favorite part was the cover discussion at the 10 am session.

Readers very much like covers that give a clue to the plot contents, that feature a plot element on the cover. For the 10am session, hence the room change with the projector and screen, we had slides that showed a book cover with just the image, then just the blurb and cover quote, then finally the complete cover with author and title.

Breaking down the elements of a cover revealed SO much about reader preferences, what readers look for when they shop, and what tools they want when making a decision about what to buy. The cover elements that best expressed the plot – a blurb that mentioned a marriage of convenience, an image that depicted a man and an animal he can likely shift into – received the most positive commentary, even if the reader commenting didn’t want to buy that book because it wasn’t to her taste.

Funnily enough, afterward, one of the editors in the audience remarked that the blurbs that were so thought provoking among the readers in the audience were often written in such a way that the authors and editors don’t like them, that they’re throwaway lines often constructed of meaningless language. (Reminds me of movie trailers: “IN A WORLD… BEFORE TIME… THERE WAS A MAN…”)

I would LOVE to do another reader’s advisory panel just looking at covers, deconstructing them in layers and building them again to discuss what parts of the image work and do not work for different readers. It was amazing. I wished we could have kept on going with that panel- even for a third time.

After our presentations, I was desperate for caffeine, but I went to the booksigning, where Courtney Milan helped me give away two of her excerpt books (which are styled after the Stieg Larssen books and titled “The Girl Who Loved Historical Romance” and are freaking brilliantly done) to readers on Twitter.
The book signing was set up in a very peculiar way. Readers had to find the books they wanted to have signed on a table on the other side of the ballroom, then bring them into the signing area to be autographed. It seemed odd to me to separate the author from the book, so that you had a person with a namecard but no books with which a reader might tie and identify the author.

Afterward I spoke to a few authors who said they did sell a good number of books, and were very happy about that.

One highlight of being here was meeting Diane, a reader who comments frequently and who lives here in Denver. She came to the booksigning and decided to register for a half-day at the conference. 

I also spoke to some of the authors who had intimate chats with ticketed reader attendees, and they really liked the intimacy and the small groups. Most had fewer than 15 readers, so there were a lot of in-depth questions. I didn’t attend any of the chats, but one reader I spoke with loved having nearly an hour with her favorite author.

After lunch I wanted to attend some of the fun panels. I’d heard from one reader in the ladies’ room of all places that the Shock the Queen panel was hilarious fun, a sentiment echoed by GrowlyCub when I chatted with her at the booksigning. Participants were asked questions about etiquette and manners in social situations by authors Anna Campell, Bronwyn Scott, Courtney Milan, Deeanne Gist, Delilah Marvelle, Elizabeth Hoyt, Hannah Howell, Jo Beverly (who knows everything about history ever ever ever srsly), Pamela Novak, and Terri Brisbin. If you answered correctly, you got to step forward. First one across a marked line on the floor got to wear the crown, and the “queen” – a sign held by Brisbin (I think! I wasn’t there – this is all told by GrowlyCub) was either pleased with a smile at your answer, or shocked at your lack of manners. GrowlyCub said she liked it, as did the reader I met in the ladies’ (I’m so sorry I don’t remember your name, mystery reader but you were very cool!) because it was funny and interactive and she met new people – which, awesome.

I wanted to check out a session with a game involved, so I attended Were-Squares, which was a combination of tic-tac-toe and bingo, where a panel of authors answered questions about their books, and the answers to those trivia questions were layed out on bingo cards on the tables. So Cathy Clamp’s answer in one square might be “Silver” and if the question she’s asked matches that answer, you got to mark your square. Three in a row and you win – and don’t worry if you’re confused. It took me about 10 minutes to understand.

What rocked about this panel is that the authors, Carrie Vaughn, Cathy Clamp, CL Wilson, Meagan Hatfield and Nalini Singh, had to give out tiny pieces of information in the form of trivia questions and answers about their series and their books, and as readers talked to each other, they got a sense very slowly and teasingly about the books. While tweeting about the session, I went over to Amazon and sent a sample of Meagan Hatfield’s book to my Kindle to read on the plane tomorrow because her answers were intriguing.

I saw a lot of bloggers today, and more authors than I had met yesterday. I also saw RRRJessica in the giant mall of ballroom shopping while I was talking myself into buying crazy earrings (seriously, I can’t believe I bought them. The go up the sides of your ear instead of dangling down) and she was having a a good old time. Everyone I talked to today attended a panel that was fun, interactive, playful or entertaining, whether it was trivia and prizes or cake and tea with historical authors.

My day (and my conference, as I have a morning flight tomorrow to Vancouver) ended with the Blogger Panel with me, Jane, Sue Grimshaw, and Elizabeth Boyle talking about blogging, specifically about romance. Sue talked about setting up the Borders True Romance blog with us before she went off on her own (painfully, as she tells it – we made her walk the plank) and Boyle talked about being a professional blogger for a yarn company that provides yarn and patterns for her “die hard knitting” habit. She also talked about reacting to blog reviews.

My comments centered on how much I love this site, and the folks that read it and tell me they disagree with me (hi there!), and that, as I learned from KristieJ recently, not everyone who loves romance has people they can talk about books with. I take the conversations here for granted sometimes, but I have to remind myself that readers who come to talk about books here and at other sites might have this conversation as their only positive outlet for discussing romance. I’m pretty unabashed about my romance reading habit, but I know many women who are very shy about admitting they read it – and online conversations and recommendations are a huge bonus to readers like these.

I also mentioned the sound effects of romance, that there’s a noise that readers make when you talk about a book they loved. Sort of a half sigh and half groan, but there’s a noise we make when we talk about books that truly moved us. Sharing that enthusiasm is the reason people start writing about books, and there’s no better feeling than knowing you recommended a book that someone else looooved. (*insert happy romance reader noise here*)

In all, today was much better and much more fun than yesterday. I don’t think I saw the 200 reported readers that were here, and I couldn’t make an educated guess at the ratio of readers to authors, but the readers I spoke to raved about at least one panel they’d attended today, especially the ones that were fun and interactive.

There’s an ad in the program for RomCon2011, again in Denver, but there aren’t any dates specified. If I had room for only one suggestion for next year, I’d want to have more panels led by readers, or created by readers, to give us more opportunity to meet and find out what books we have in common. I think there’s room for a reader convention for romance, but I don’t know that there’s room for a second national convention the same month as another already-established romance industry convention. I also don’t think that romance fans who aren’t already attending RT would be drawn to a convention like this unless there were very specific authors they couldn’t meet otherwise – and with Twitter, Facebook and the like, chances are, these readers already “met” their favorite author virtually. But I would be very happy to be proven totally wrong in my assessment!



General Bitching...

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  1. 1

    The readers at both sessions talked about wanting books with more internal conflict than external, that regardless of the genre. Whether it’s paranormal or historical, characters with a strong growth arc, who struggle with emotions and their internal conflicts are appealing to many of the readers we heard from today.

    I’ve been thinking about this in relation to the genre of science fiction romance, and wondering why it’s distinguished from SF with romantic elements, because the SF I’ve always enjoyed has been character-driven. ‘Golden Age’ SF it’s very much about stuff happening, ideas, with stereotypical characters, and isn’t what I like at all. Yet to SF purists, the Golden Age was the apogee of achievement, and everything written since is tripe. It’s like emotional content and characterisation – which is what appeals to many female readers (and a lot of guys) – is derided as too easy, not imaginative enough.

    I don’t read enough mainstream novels and romances to know if this is true but is this kind of snobbery affecting Romance as a genre? Every Romance review I’ve read has focused on character and emotional/internal conflict as of primary importance to enjoyment of the book, so I’m surprised if it is, but if it is, perhaps it’s because authors believe they’re not stretching themselves if they concentrate on it?

    Just throwing it out as an idea. I like stories with a good mix of external and internal action. Too much of the former feels uninvolving, too much of the latter is claustrophobic.

  2. 2
    RfP says:

    I would LOVE to do another reader’s advisory panel just looking at covers, deconstructing them in layers and building them again to discuss what parts of the image work and do not work for different readers.

    It really is interesting. I would love to see this done in a carefully-structured social/behavioral science study. A number of PCA presentations seem to make a small start on it, but I’ve often had the impression that the conclusions drawn were mainly reflections of the speaker’s preferences and attitudes.

    Surely Harlequin/M&B has done a lot of this research. Much as I dislike recent trends in their titles, they appear to know (better than many publishers) what sells. Given their size, they don’t have to do research only on small groups of readers and selected books. If they’re paying attention – and I think they are – *every* book they publish is a data point for them.

  3. 3

    Surely Harlequin/M&B has done a lot of this research. Much as I dislike recent trends in their titles

    Have you heard about the forthcoming changes in the UK? The cover designs are changing and according to Kate Walker, at least as far as the UK Mills & Boon titles are concerned,

    the Greek Billionaire has claimed his last virgin and those ‘how many buzzwords can you get into a single phrase’ titles are being phased out. (Pause for a moment for loud cheering! ) and the new-style titles are coming in. The ones that, as editorial say, reflect the fact that Modern/Presents Romances are “big reads in little books .’

    So you’ll be seeing books with titles like these: The Bride Thief, The Society Wife, Reckless in Paradise, Giselle’s Choice, The Undoing of de Luca, The Man Behind the Mask, The Disgraced Princess, The Master of Bella Terra

  4. 4
    Lostshadows says:

    what readers need to understand about the publication process

    Books come out; some good, some bad, some meh. Can’t see what else readers need to know.

    Day two sounded a lot better than day one.

  5. 5
    AgTigress says:

    I have come to the conclusion that it is ultimately impossible to analyse the ‘cover issue’ fully.  The subject was investigated in one excellent paper at the Georgette Heyer study-day in Cambridge that Laura V. and I both attended last year, and even focusing on the changes over time affecting one author’s work alone was extremely complex and interesting.
    All fashions change over time, of course, and there are very marked regional/cultural differences: Americans and Brits have sharply different preferences across the board in advertising and graphics generally.  ‘Understated’ and ‘restrained’ are not concepts familiar to the US consumer, or at least, they are not admired!  Then there are individual and, dare I say it, class-based, preferences on top of that.  I find all this intriguing because I think visually rather than verbally, and I have been detesting most romance-novel covers with a deep loathing for 50 years, so I have given it a lot of thought.  One of the reasons I never read Mills & Boon novels in my youth was that I would have been too embarrassed to be seen reading them because of the cover art:  not because they looked like romances, but because they looked to me like children’s books, with a drawn (often badly-drawn) scene from the book on the front.
    If it is any comfort, cover designs in non-fiction publishing can be bones of contention, too.  The American editions of two of my recent books had dust-jacket images that I thought were completely hopeless (I had no input), but it is possible that their more colourful and much ‘busier’ appearance compared with the UK/World edition (or what I would call ‘brighter and messier’) really did work better in the US market.  As we can never say what the sales figures would have been with a different cover, it is hard to prove anything. 

  6. 6

    I’ve been thinking about this in relation to the genre of science fiction romance, and wondering why it’s distinguished from SF with romantic elements, because the SF I’ve always enjoyed has been character-driven.

    SF with romantic elements doesn’t always guarantee an HEA, so readers looking for a happy ending read romantic SF at their own risk. So true, though, that romantic SF is frequently character-driven.

    Count me in as a reader who likes a mix of external and internal conflicts, especially in hybrid stories like science fiction romance. It’s a challenge to pull off, to be sure, given word count limitations and reader expectations. Another challenging factor is the scope of the story.

    Done well, hybrid romance novels are one way to illustrate the appeal of a romance for readers who might otherwise avoid the genre. I love the idea of a romance and an exciting external plot in one tidy package.

  7. 7
    Eileen says:

    As was mentioned in the entry, I am someone who doesn’t have anyone to talk to about romance “in real life” so I love this blog especially and the Dear Author site also.  In fact, I participated in the recent SB Sizzling Summer Book Club discussion and loved it.  I was so happy about it that I called up my husband at work right afterwards to tell him how much fun it was.

    Is this reader convention always in Denver?  I live in New York so this is too far away for me.

    AgTigress – I just want to take a moment to tell you that I always enjoy your comments and perspective.  I like the knowledge and history that you share.

  8. 8
    Jane says:


    I think you could get the same reader to reader contact at an author con or even RT if you didn’t go to the evening events.

  9. 9
    Carrie Lofty says:

    My market researcher husband would’ve been all over that discussion of covers and blurbs. If you do a panel like it in the future, I’ll be there taking copious notes. Blending market research and romance is how we keep our marriage fresh ;)

  10. 10
    DS says:

    SF with romantic elements doesn’t always guarantee an HEA, so readers looking for a happy ending read romantic SF at their own risk. So true, though, that romantic SF is frequently character-driven.

    That pesky requirement of a HEA is what will at times keep me away from a primarily romance identified sf or mystery.  I like the combination of internal and external conflicts, and I don’t necessarily want books to end unhappily, but I like the suspense that maybe this time it won’t.  It kind of heights a happy ending for me when it does happen.

    I have a friend that I trade British police procedurals with—the British police force in fiction has really miserable lives.  Our phrase for a good book is “You’ll like this one, it’s really depressing.”

  11. 11
    Mary G says:

    There are some gorgeous covers out there but the cover alone has never sold a book to me (except for one – Caine’s Reckoning by Sarah McCarty). The only thing a cover does for me is rule whether it’s a “read at home” book or “okay to take to work” book. I have nothing to hide but choose not to spend my precious reading time joking about the cover of the book I’m reading. That said, I’m still fascinated by the “behind the scenes” stuff in the publishing & marketing of books.
    I don’t travel much but went to Lori Foster’s event in June & had a blast. Didn’t go to any meetings but met 2 of my fave authors. Thanks so much for sharing your experiences at RomCon. It felt like I was there.

  12. 12
    Ursula says:

    Great! Thank you for the review! Much appreciated. The cover stuff is always really interesting, about what an art department concocts vs. what readers connect with or shy from.

  13. 13
    Scorpio M. says:

    Thanks for the great write-ups. I hope RomCon will be in Denver again, between all the Tweets & posts sounds like the good outweighed the bad.

  14. 14

    @DS I recently read John B. Rosenman’s romantic science fiction novel BEYOND THOSE DISTANT STARS and I really had no idea which way it was going to go, fwiw in case you want to check it out (it’s a Mundania Press title).

    I like the suspense that maybe this time it won’t.

    Catherine Asaro’s ALPHA really kept me in suspense. And when an author can keep me in suspense even if I…er…suspect an HEA is on the way, I’m very impressed.

  15. 15
    DS says:

    @Heather Massey:

    Thanks for the recommendations. Your discretion is appreciated. BEYOND THOSE DISTANT STARS looks interesting.  After much fumbling I did find the digital version, very reasonably priced on Fictionwise.  Fortunately it’s available in Kindle mobi so I won’t have to convert the file.

    Asaro is hit and miss with me.  I’ll save her for later.

  16. 16
    Amber says:

    It does sound like Day 2 was much better than Day 1. But I must admit I was looking forward to going next year and am disappointed that it is being held in Denver again. That’s just too far for me to travel and “work in” to a family vacation. (No interest in vacationing in Denver. *shudder*)

  17. 17
    KristieJ says:

    I would LOVE to see more workshops done by readers (and I’d love to be part of one).  While I love meeting and chatting with authors, is a big draw – a huge one, what I love most about these conferences is getting to connect with other readers face to face (and since I think the vast majority of authors are readers too – it’s a win, win :-).
    And I loved what you and Jane said to the authors attending – to put their reader hats on – because – yes they are readers too.
    And I loved how you did the cover presentation.  I just would have like to have seen an example that readers probably would buy based on the cover – but I know you had time restraints.
    And I’m glad I went to both!

  18. 18
    Annmarie says:

    Diane is a sweetie!

    Sounds like a fun conference.  I’m too shy to for conferences.  Total wallflower.  I love living them vicariously through you and Jane, though.  So thanks!

  19. 19

    @ DS My pleasure!

  20. 20
    Terry Odell says:

    Enjoyed meeting you at RomCon and did attend your 9 AM roundtable and the later-afternoon blog panel. (With leftover cake).  There was another session where authors asked readers what they wanted. I agree with Jane at Dear Author that many of the sessions seemed author-driven, but then again, I didn’t go to many ‘meet the author’ type sessions. Attending as a reader (thanks Sue Grimshaw for the free ticket) but being a writer, I was trying to straddle both approaches. But in the long run, craft-oriented sessions won out.

  21. 21
    AgTigress says:

    Just echoing something that has already been said:  writers and readers are not mutually exclusive categories!  It’s like those news stories that refer to ‘pedestrians’ and ‘drivers’ as though they were completely different species; most people are both, and therefore have no difficulty in understanding the viewpoints of both.

    ALL writers, without exception, are also readers.  And most readers are also writers to some degree, even if they do not write professionally for publication.  The only real dividing line is that professional writers have to deal with the practicalities of the editing and publication process which are sometimes rather hazy in the minds of those who only read.

  22. 22
    SueG says:

    Hey Sarah—thanks for attending ROMCON & the thanks for the viewpoints you posted.  I really enjoyed myself & being able to meet with all my fav authors & all of the many readers (200+)—I also agree, there were bumps in the road for the first year of the convention.  Hopefully you filled out a survey with your great suggestions—I do think the ROMCON team wants a winning event for 2011 & is looking to cater to our readers wants & needs.

    I find after having attended reader conventions for the last many years they all are beneficial in there own way but nothing really speaks to the readers like ROMCON did—so ROCK ON! 

    See you at RWA?  Best, SueG

  23. 23

    Thanks, Sarah, for the update.  I’m commenting late as the RomCon hotel blocked access to Smart Bitches.

    As a reader and blogger, I enjoyed 3 1/2 days of bliss, starting with Thursday night dinner with Anna Campell, Pamela Clare, two readers from NJ (their firt convention), and Lucy, the bookseller from Austrailia.  It ended with the historical author treasure hunt organized by Courtney Milan – very stimulating way to learn more about their upcoming books.  Plus her hubby helped out on her birthday – thank you Mr. and Mrs. Milan!

    Shocking the Queen was roaring fun with the historical authors, particulary when spicy author Delilah Marville shocked the queen with facts about Regency condom factories.  She was followed by Inspirational author Deeanne Gist who handled the transition flawlessly.

    I won 6 tickets in the reader lottery, so I attended the early bird breakfast, historical tea, and 4 intimate chats.  They did indeed provide direct access to A list authors.  A good time was had by all. 

    As a veteran of 4 RTs, 1 RWA, and 3 regional conferences, the RomCon gliches were no different than established conferences.  My only complaint was the hotel served Pepsi products … and I live for Diet Coke. 

    In the end, I met my favorite authors and met others that I had not read – all were friendly to readers!  RomCon gave me access to authors who do not attend RT or who will be too busy at RWA.  I agree that more reader oriented panels would be fun, but we have to keep in mind how to organize this – create a lottery for readers to volunteer at panel members?

    Sarah, you shared an inspiring story at the Blogger panel about how you discovered romance in high school (I’d like you to share with your readers).  Couple that with your reference to Kristie J’s comment that not all romance readers have an outlet to discussion romance books with others.  It would be exciting to share with others, but I would cavat all sessions with “no answer is a wrong answer.”  I believe most readers would engage in open discussions if they knew that they would not be criticized for their opinions on blogs, Facebook, Twitter, et al.

    I’m looking forward to connecting with the readers/bloggers I met at RomCon.

  24. 24
    SonomaLass says:

    It may be that if more of us extrovert readers suggest panels, there will be more organized reader-to-reader time at the next RomCon.  I agree that authors are also readers, but the panels I attended (with the exception of the ones led by Sarah & Jane) seemed designed for authors to wear their “author hats.”

    The panel at which I learned the most was the Tor panel, comprised of editor Heather Osborn and three of her authors, Cathy Clamp, Carrie Vaughn and Gabi Stevens.  Heather talked about some of what’s coming up from Tor, specific titles and also trends, and she and the authors answered a huge range of questions from the rest of us.

    One thing I learned that really pleased me is that Tor is going over their backlist, looking for fantasy novels that can be re-released for romance readers (the Orb line is all re-releases).  A lot of the 80s and early 90s SF/F by women had strong romantic elements and HEAs, but it wasn’t marketed that way.  Heather said that Tor thinks there’s a whole new audience for those books now, and she showed us an example of two Patricia Wrede novels that have been reissued as one trade paperback, A Matter of Magic.

  25. 25
    ??? ???? says:

    Thank you very much for this article interesting.

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