This year at RWA Nationals I did something a little different. I scheduled lunches and meetings with only one or two people, because one thing I find exhausting about RWA is that I have 1/10th of a conversation with about 300 people for five days, and at the end my brain hurts and I can’t remember anything.
So while I didn’t run around and do the interview equivalent of high-fiving 500+ people, I did have some fascinating conversations with people, and had one of the best RWA experiences since I started attending RWA three years ago.
First: overview. RWA is huge, loud, convivial, educational, exhausting, and a pageant of fabulous shoes. Both Teresa Medeiros and I think that Christina Dodd’s 13 pair of shoes sets an RWA record.
The hotel was, in my opinion, rather awesome. There was a very VERY small bar area, but it opened up to a lobby with a circle of small sofa-and-chair gathering areas so there wasn’t any time where the chairs and sofas weren’t full of people talking and drinking. The staff, because of the Disney customer service training, was outstanding—I have friends who were in hotel & restaurant management and took courses at Disney. One has his “Ducktorate” and “Mousters” from Disney hotel school. The result: really helpful people.
The lobby of the Dolphin had a ginormous fountain and my first thought was, Someone is going to go into the fountain, probably after the RITAS, hopefully WITH a RITA. I kept looking each night, but didn’t see anyone take the plunge.
I arrived Tuesday, and reported directly to the pool. It was hot as hotter than hotness, but I saw a lot of romance people by the pool. Mostly they were doing as little as possible to counter the next few days of doing too much on too little sleep!
Wednesday I volunteered for the book signing, and let me tell you, it’s a handful of people setting up an absolute cavern of a room by placing umpteen million books on quadthousand tables. Seriously. Mary Blayney was directing four luggage carts and a surprisingly small group of volunteers as books were unpacked, sorted, and placed in alphabetical order in the biggest dang ballroom I’d seen in awhile. This was complicated by the fact that the A/C wasn’t on until they arrived (OMG THE HOT SMELL OF BOOKS is not as good as the regular smell of books!) and the cargo doors were open bringing in giant pallets of boxes containing those umpteen million books. If you have ever been at the book signing, the behind-the-scenes setup is managed by amazing and dedicated people. If you go to an RWA National, this is a wonderful place to volunteer. Not only is everyone a lot of fun to work with, but you get 2 free books for your troubles.
Best part: watching the volunteers go from, “OH WOW, two free books?” to “OH WOW, only TWO I can’t PICK ONLY TWO! They’re all so great!”
Then came the book signing that evening. It was a giant mob scene of awesomeness. Nora Roberts, Meg Cabot and Sherrilyn Kenyon had their mammoth lines of eager readers per usual. As I walked around filming different lip sync-ing authors for the music video, I heard, over and over, “Oh, my gosh, I love your books and I’m so happy to meet you.” There were people with suitcases, boxes on wheels, and one woman in a wheelchair (she was in the video) who had two HUGE tote bags propped on the footrests of her wheelchair, on top of her legs.
I have a lot of outtakes and unusable footage, and so much of it is laughing people, excited readers, and authors getting squeed at. It’s the perfect way to kick off the conference: enthusiasm and eager readers and writers interacting.
Through no planning of my own, this time around I learned a lot about agenting, and the editor/agent relationship. While on one hand I heard talk of decreasing advances and frustrated authors and agents, on the other hand, I bumped into several authors and agents who were very very excited to be working with one another. I met an agent, Sally Harding from the Cooke Agency in Vancouver, who wanted to talk to me about the genre because she’s looking to represent more romance writers. She and I had a marvelous conversation about the reader expectations of a romance, and how disrupting that expectation and breaking the agreement of a happy ending can really frustrate those of us who are very passionate readers. Hearing about the romance genre from an agent’s point of view was fascinating.
I attended the Harlequin PJ party despite being so tired I could barely walk a straight line, and I’m glad I did – I met a lot of people came a LONG WAY to RWA, too. Four editors from Mills & Boon UK were there, as well as Michelle Styles, who wears adorable PJs. It is becoming more and more common to attend conferences and realize you’re talking to someone you speak with every day via Facebook or Twitter. On one hand, you get a face to put with the name/Twitter handle, but on the other, the conversation is even better because (obviously) you’re not limited to a character count or a small text space.
Because I’ve read her blog and talked with her via Twitter, for example, I was totally excited to meet Jessica Scott, her husband, and her two rock star daughters just after they were made over. Her three year old informed me gravely that she got to wear MAKE UP for her makeover. (WOO!)
I had a long conversation with Jill Shalvis about her upcoming books – she has a Blaze out now, a contemporary coming soon from Grand Central that begins her ‘Lucky Harbor’ series, and is working on more for this winter. But even though Jane and I remain huge fans of contemporary romance, the agents and authors I spoke with said it is still a small market, especially since contemporary romance is not a sub-genre that gets named among growing trends in romance like westerns, inspirational romance, or steampunk. That said, I refuse to give up on my absolute flailing-arm adoration of contemporary romance, especially the type that people like Shalvis and Kristan Higgins write featuring real people who come from ordinary places. That’s my current favorite type of romance reading.
I’m still thinking about the conversation I had with Rachel Chou of Open Road Media. I confess to being more than a little uninformed about what Open Road has going on, so when I got demonstrations of their multi media-enriched ebooks, I was all kinds of curious.
Open Road is doing a lot of bring out of print or never-digitized books to the digital market, and when they produce a book, they pay attention to details like the design and simplicity of a cover – does it look good as a thumbnail AND as a larger image? – and the additional features they can include about the book or the author. The videos in the book that I saw were part of a book by William Styron and featured footage of his daughters, letters from fans from decades ago, and different biographical pieces that created a very different but intriguing connection to the author and the original development of the book. It was almost like mini documentaries embedded in the book – and I love documentaries and behind-the-scenes footage.
Their future projects include authors Richelle Mead and Beverly Barton from Kensington, and my conversation with Chou have given me a lot to think about in terms of how and in what way these enhanced featured books would appeal to romance readers. For authors who have a very active and interactive fanbase, books that feature biographical videos about the writing of the book and the author herself might be tremendously fascinating. While I am not a fan of dramatic film re-enactments of books I read, there are some circumstances where I would be very curious about the story of how a book I loved came to be written, or what moment inspired the author to create a scene or character – and see the author talking about it, or the places that served as inspiration. Like I said – behind the scenes information is intriguing to me.
The selection of panels on digital publishing at RWA and my conversation with Chou reinforce the fact that, as usual, everything having to do with digital books is changing every other minute. Whereas last year there were very few panels on digital publishing at RWA National, this year there were several, including a Q&A session on digital with Angela James from Carina Press and Jaci Burton, who is digitally and print published from different publishing houses. Not only was their session packed with attendees but it was marked in the program as recommended for RWA PRO members. The attendees asked questions from a variety of perspectives, including long-published authors looking to move to digital with future books or backlist and new authors who were curious whether digital or print publishers were the best fit for their work. That progress in the selection of RWA sessions makes me so, so very happy.
I presented this year with Teresa Medeiros and Jill Shalvis on social networking and social media—and how writing online is more than just writing about writing. Instead of having prepared presentations or speeches, I had emailed both authors prior to RWA with a set of questions that I’d ask about their online writing, focusing on Shalvis’ blog and Medeiros’ growing presence on Twitter and Facebook. Shalvis’ comments about medium were key: you have to like the format you choose, and she loves blogging because it’s not really about her romance writing much at all. She has links to covers and posts excerpts, but she writes more about living in the woods in northern California, and about her family of teenagers. Best moment: “Sometimes I realize I haven’t published an entry and say to the teenagers, ‘Quick! Somebody do something stupid!’ That usually works.”
I was particularly giddy to have Medeiros on the panel because she accomplishes something that I continue to find extraordinary: she can discuss and comment upon her religious life, her church and her faith without offending anyone. When I asked her about that she said that it was just part of her life, just like writing or pictures of her cats (whom she says have a greater following that she does, much to her dismay!).
I ran the panel as a Q&A because that’s what social media and social networking are: a conversation, not a broadcast or endless spam of “Buy my book, buy my book.” It was more of an interview-style than a presentation, which I really liked as a format because I think it encourages questions – and there were a lot of questions from the audience. The session was at 4:30 pm on a Friday afternoon, so I wasn’t expecting a large crowd but there were a lot of filled chairs – which shouldn’t surprise me because if you follow Medeiros online or read Shalvis’ blog, there’s plenty of reason to hear them talk live in person.
Saturday afternoon’s Smart Bitch Book Club gathering was awesome. Mary G., a local Floridian, came to the hotel to join us, and spent much of the time cracking us up as she traded Aussie stories with author Anna Campbell. Kristan Higgins, our next book club selection author, and Sherry Thomas, author of the most recent selection, attended to talk about what they were working on, and Jennifer Lohmann, the RWA Librarian of the Year was there with Melina Kantor, Sarah Frantz, Angela James, and Megan Frampton. The group grew and shrank and people joined and left to get ready for the RITAS, but as usual, a bunch of romance fans in one place with drinks will never run out of things to talk about.
By far some of my most enjoyable moments at RWA were the conversations I didn’t expect to have. One night, I was outside the Japanese restaurant waiting for my dinner date and I bumped into Robyn Carr, who was waiting for hers. She and I had met at the last RWA in Washington through her publicist, Nancy Berland, and as we were chatting I asked her how she felt about being cited so much as the author who helped define and start the “small town contemporary” trend. She said it was absolutely awesome and unexpected. I also learned from Carr about the communities in northern California where she does a lot of her research for the Virgin River series, and about the widely varying levels of poverty and wealth in those small communities. She also told me that she’s friends with a police chief in one town who sent her a sign that read, “My roommate went to jail, and I’m selling all his stuff so I can get the money to ask out his girlfriend.” HA.
(Later, and this will make you gnash your teeth, I saw Carr hosting a really wonderful luncheon for her friends and readers at a nearby restaurant and she was signing books. With a Sharpie. Wearing a white jacket. And she didn’t smear or write on herself ONCE. This would not ever happen to me, even holding a pencil. So I asked Robyn to sign my arm, which she did. I looked like I had a tattoo of Robyn Carr’s signature on my shoulder.)
Another afternoon I ran into an editor after her pitch appointments, and learned all about what not to do during pitches – I think that might be the subject of another entry. I have never been in a pitch appointment, but the what-to-do and what-not-to-do information was fascinating, as was the discussion of whether pitches make a difference for the writer, or the author. Small hint: do not sign up for a pitch appointment merely because you wanted to say hello to the editor whom you once met a few years prior. This is not a constructive use of anyone’s time, most of all the people who didn’t get a pitch appointment who had something to pitch.
My biggest takeaway from RWA 2010 is that the more things change, the more they stay the same- and sometimes that’s a good thing. The enthusiasm and creative atmosphere was still there – I saw many people in corners of the lobby, the lounges, and the restaurants writing on laptops or in notebooks. The sound effects were still there: the “I loved that book” noise, the “OMG I haven’t seen you in years” noise and the “I was hoping I would get to see you!” squeal were part of the ambient background noise on Wednesday and Thursday. People transitioned into in-person friendships that they maintain all year through the internet with ease and happiness.
Folks talked about what they were writing, what they were reading, and what they hoped to accomplish with their careers – and the conversations included digital and print options. As Angela James said at the ESPAN chapter tea, digital is here, it is the present, and it’s not going anywhere. But digital is going nowhere without the author who writes the stories that readers want- and there were a lot of authors there looking to learn how to write more stories.
And now, my favorite part of any conference: Overheard at RWA:
“My least favorite euphemism: ‘disco stick.’”
“My cowboy has a mighty big bone.”
“Someone orders a 48-ounce steak?”
“At least five a night. Never judge a book by its cover.”
“This bar is not big enough.”
“I’m never getting off this couch. Tell the editor I can pitch from here. She’ll thank me.”
“OH, MAN. I just paid for this book – and it was totally worth it, but now I have a free copy!” (The RWA bags were full of books people wanted or already had – which I think is a pretty good thing!)
“I am having NO problem finding a souvenir for my kids!”
“I bet Victoria Dahl will go in the fountain.”
“There are no O pen names. There’s only one author with an O last name at the signing. If you want a pen name, go for the O.”
“Honey, you should always go for the O.”
“I am on TWITTER now. I am TWEETING.”
“I forgot my clothes and we had to go back home AGAIN to get them. I had a suitcase full of shoes but no clothes!”
“THANK YOU for posting that entry about what not to forget- you totally saved me from forgetting Spanx and business cards!” (Ok, that wasn’t overheard, but said to me directly).
“So then, you hit the pound sign, and that’s a hashtag, and write RWA10. Then everyone will see it!”
“There is batman in my dog book!”
“Are you wearing your clothing or your roommate’s clothing today?”
And finally, at the Smart Bitch Book Club gathering, Kristan Higgins promised that if she won the RITA, she’d go in the fountain with it that night. And she did.
You go girl! Congratulations!
Thank you to everyone who made the conference amazing. I have photos to put up as well – you’ll see those in a bit.