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!