Romantic Times 2011

I’m home from RT, I’m unpacked, and, in deference to the past 5 days I spent in heels, I’m not wearing shoes. It’s weird to go from hearing and seeing the people I talk to all day back to reading their comments online. It’s very… quiet in here.

The roundtable Jane and I led focused on where and how readers discover books. Kat from the ARe Cafe has a write-up of the session. Most readers discover books they want to read online, either by recommendations or by reviews – or even seeing what people have recently bought. I said this was sort of like checking out the discard rack when you try on clothes. I am always curious what people have already tried on and discarded, but then, I operate on the idea that everyone else knows more about clothing than I do, so I look at that as a round of selection that’s already been made by someone more knowledgeable than I – even if they didn’t want what they selected. Many readers at the panel mentioned GoodReads, blogs, Amazon and Facebook as sources of book information from other readers, and the places where they most often discover new books and new authors. Those present said it takes only one good book to land an author on their autobuy list, and one or two bad books to take them off again.

My favorite part of the session was where readers stated what they wanted to read more of. Some mentioned strong heroines were really floating their boats, and one reader mentioned how much she enjoyed romances that featured families, both by birth and by circumstance, for heroines and heroes. I agree with that one – that’s one of my favorite aspects of some of the romances I’ve read recently by Courtney Milan, Shannon Stacey, and Jill Shalvis. I love when the ancillary characters are a family made of real and complex people, not just sequel bait, not just stock characters.

Jane, Angela James, and I also let a session about digital reading devices and the various options that fit different reading styles and user needs. We passed around Kindles, Nooks, Nook Colors, iPads and Kobo readers, and gave away a Nook Color provided by PubIt!. There were a few people in the audience who were juuuuuuust about ready to buy a device, but making the decision (especially at some of the available price points) was causing them some angst. I find it fascinating that we did an identical session last year but the material we presented this year was 90% new because of all the new devices, options, and book format changes.

I attended a few sessions on marketing, branding, and an intensive multi-session educational seminar titled ‘Finding a Place to Sit at the Bar By Walking Around and Around The Lobby.’ There were many of us at that session – but then, the bar in the lobby was one big circle, and the super-comfy sofas and chairs were in high demand.

I was talking to someone about RT – I think it was Jaye Wells but every conversation I had at RT has tended to blend into one big conversation at this point and I can’t remember what I said to whom – and said that I used to have a somewhat negative opinion of the RT convention shot through with a good deal of trepidation. My first RT was in Pittsburgh, and alas, my hometown conference was probably a terrible first introduction to the RT family, from the hotel dust and asthma-attack to the limited bathrooms, restaurant options, and behavior of some of the imported talent. Every year since the RT Convention has been better, to the point where I think the LA conference was outstanding, and one of the best I’ve attended. The readers I meet at RT are fascinating. I had several long conversations with librarians and readers about the books they’ve read, and the authors they’ve discovered, and there is something unique about the type of book fan who will save up all year in anticipation of taking five days away from carpooling, parental and child care, and work life to talk books and meet readers and authors. This year there was hardly any bump and grind influence that I think marred past years, and a lot more book talk and interaction, which I loved.

RT is a mix of romance groups – much like mixing all the subgenres, you have a combination of different romance groups. There’s writers, aspiring writers, librarians, booksellers, publishing professionals, bloggers, and readers. And within those groups, there are some who really get into the silly over-the-top aspects of RT (Mangeant, anyone?) and some that are left feeling somewhat alienated and uncomfortable by those same aspects (Mangeant, anyone?). Much like romance, I think there’s something for everyone, and there was a lot on offer this year, but there are some trends that I think it’s ok to let go of, and some aspects of RT that can be left behind as well. I know a few people are very, very turned off by the Mr. Romance Pageant, and I can understand why. There’s always a part of the proceedings that makes me cringe mightily, and one part that always reminds me how RT is a family, and this year, there was more cringing than adorableness. This isn’t to dismiss the hard work of the many volunteers who present the Mr Romance pageant, as they bust their asses to get the job done. But I think that romance has changed and so has the community of readers, and it is time to let go of the mangeant. Honestly, I think if it weren’t held anymore, RT would still be as good as it was this year.

If I could be so audacious as to make suggestions, I don’t think there need to be so many panels that are ostensibly about craft but are really about meeting and hearing from the authors about their own writing. I think there need to be more panels as part of the “Reader Track” – usually there was only one per time slot, with more than 8 every hour for the “Writer Track.” I definitely think there need to be more games – if you’re an author pondering a panel for RT 2012, may I suggest games? PLEASE? They are SO fun. Last year I called a Bingo game with a group of authors offering prizes – and if you won Bingo you had to read a steamy scene from one of the author’s books. It was standing room only. This year I attended a session called Purple Prose Taboo, where audience members had to get one another to say a specific word without using any of the “Taboo” words listed below. Tessa Dare was the emcee, and Courtney Milan, Victoria Dahl, and Dare clearly put a LOT of effort into making the hour fun and silly – and it was. I think more of that romance-fan silliness is needed, more than another panel on how to write vampires that are morose and scary.

But then, I approach RT from the perspective of a reader. In fact, I had to be reminded to mention that I’m an author (DOH!) when Jane Litte and I led our reader roundtable and introduced ourselves. I look for the fun and reader-focused sessions, and absolutely gravitate toward the games, because that’s where the most fun can often be had. I hope next year brings more sessions like the Taboo session.

And of course – the pictures!

If you don’t like captions, have a look at the slideshow below – but the complete set of pictures is also available with captions and explanations for your viewing pleasure. Can I figure out how to embed a gallery from Flickr with captions? No, I cannot. Is it making me HULKSMASH angry? Yes, yes it is.

Coming soon – my favorite part of any conference wrap up: Overheard at RT!



Romantic Times

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    rebyj says:

    Thanks for posting the pics! My favorites are the ones of people sitting on the floor digging through a pile of new books. Heaven! lol

  2. 2
    Cyranetta says:

    The picture of the lollipops made me wonder why blue balls were being celebrated at RT.

  3. 3
    Sandra D says:

    I need a green font to show the true depth of my envy. If I ever make it to one of these I’d need to take a bundle buggy for all the loot. Question, the books that the authors have, are they cover cost or a discount? Have to budget appropriately!

  4. 4
    Beth Ciotta says:

    Fantastic pictures, Sarah. You really captured the spirit of the conference. Thanks for sharing! Kicking myself for forgetting (constantly) that my camera was IN MY PURSE! *sigh*

    Great seeing you!

  5. 5
    Regina says:

    Oh, my.  So want to go to an RT one of these days.  Would be an experience I wouldn’t soon forget.  The men in costume was mouth watering.  Yummmmmyyyy!!!  Maybe I’ll get to go to the next one…dream on…

  6. 6

    Faboo pics!!!

    Thanks for taking them and thanks for sharing ‘em!

    … blue balls… heh, heh, heh…

  7. 7
    LisaJo says:

    I… I have to go to one of these! I squeed at the pic of Gail Carriger (only author I could identify) and then drooled at all of the books all over the place. I’ve got a whole year to figure out how to get myself there, right?

  8. 8
    SB Sarah says:

    My apologies for making the slides live before the recap – but now the recap is up, too.

    @Beth Ciotta, it was SO awesome to see you, and I hope I run into you soon.

  9. 9
    Lauren says:

    How did I miss book cake? I’m sad now (and unsurprisingly hungry for cake)

  10. 10
    Tamara Hogan says:

    While I attended my first RT this year and had a thoroughly delightful time, I’ll come out as being one of the indivduals who feels very uncomfortable about the Mr. Romance contest. (I did not attend the event.) While the Mr. Romance contestants I met in person during the conference behaved in an utterly professional manner, unfortunately I cannot say the same of some of my fellow confererence attendees. 

    Before anyone says, “Lighten up, it’s all in fun!”, consider an event where the genders are flipped – where young, attractive women engage in a similar contest at a conference attended almost entirely by hooting, hollering men – some of whom can’t keep their hands – or inappropriate questions – to themselves.

    Why is it somehow acceptable to treat young, attractive men in a manner which we’d find highly offensive if that same behavior was targeted toward ourselves, or our daughters?  (Answer: It’s not.)

  11. 11
    Jim McCarthy says:

    “Why is it somehow acceptable to treat young, attractive men in a manner which we’d find highly offensive if that same behavior was targeted toward ourselves, or our daughters?  (Answer: It’s not.) “

    Maybe it’s just me, but isn’t the fun of this that it’s an event that very specifically is reversing the gender-norm pageant?

    I talked some folks who were uncomfortable with the mangeant into joining me at this. One very charming author explained to me, “I can’t stomach the idea of going there to salivate over men my son’s age.” I responded the only way I knew how, “Don’t go to salivate! Go to laugh!” I’m not suggesting people laugh AT the contestants, but at the proceedings. There’s a great deal about pageants that’s really funny.

    I do think that Mr. Romance could be updated to be more tongue in cheek. The friend sitting next to me offered this advice, “Get a sassy drag queen to host this, make the answers more off the cuff, get it down to 60 minutes, and this thing is ACES.”

    I’ve only been to RT twice, but there’s something about the pageant that’s deliciously campy and fun. It’s not smart. It’s not sexy. But it IS fun. And it has great energy. A perfectly silly way to end four days of more work intensive fun.

  12. 12
    vp says:

    I attended my first RT this year in LA and I had a wonderful time.  I met so many great folks and it was fabulous to see how excited people can get about books and writing!  That said, I admit that I skipped the Mr. Romance thing.  The whole event just sort of made me sad.  I’m trying to avoid being all judgmental about it, but I hope that the RT folks will at least consider dropping this event in the future.  I know that many feel it is just a fun and silly happening, but let’s face it, if the sexes were reversed (as they all too often are) many attendees would be appalled by this contest and the behavior it inspires.

  13. 13
    Katherine C. says:

    Sounds like it was a blast. I want to go to RT someday, it always sounds like a little slice of heaven on earth.

  14. 14
    Jaye Wells says:

    What I want to know is when are we going to see Smart Bitches Con?

  15. 15
    SB Sarah says:

    Oh my gosh, would that ever be a bell ringer of a good time. I’d need valium though!

  16. 16
    FiaQ says:

    I love when the ancillary characters are a family made of real and complex people, not just sequel bait, not just stock characters.

    I agree. In fact, I’d totally tattoo that across my figurative forehead.

  17. 17
    Kinsey says:

    I’m so glad this was my first RT – it was a great introduction. I had a fantastic time and I learned a lot but I think I agree with Sarah’s suggestions for future events. More panels aimed at readers and, if there are to be writer craft sessions, I think they need to be more academic, less chatty, if that makes sense.

    I loved meeting the guys who were there for the steel thingy convention. My husband wouldn’t care if I were in a bar full of Mr. Romances but if he knew I was drinking with lots of steel workers, he’d be worried. We skipped Mr. Romance because we were just so exhausted at that point.

    I’m still so tired I’m stoned (I started crying at a Buffy episode on the plane ride home). I haven’t gotten so little sleep since college, but I was much younger then. I am definitely going to Chicago next year.

    Sarah, my mom is loving Heaving Bosoms – says it’s the funniest thing she’s ever read. I warned her that you could cuss like a steel worker in a bar full of romance writers but so far she’s handling it pretty well.

  18. 18

    Aloha from the USO at LAX!  I haven’t been on a computer in over a week so I was curious to read other recaps.  Your recap is exactly the opposite of what I did – but I still had a great time!  That’s the best part of RT – it offers a wide range of activities for individual tastes!

    It would be fun to have more reader’s parties, such as bingo, so I encourage authors and/or bloggers to host them!  RT will accept proposals for activities sometime over the summer (see the website for details).

    Your photos are awesome … but are missing the real heroes at the convnetion – Tom the WWII veteran who attended with his daughter and Jesse the Active Duty Army NCO who helped behind the scenes before, during, and after the convention.

    See ya’ll in Chicago!

  19. 19
    Carrie S says:

    Hi Sarah Kuhn!  Hi Zoe Archer!  Squeeing at photos!

  20. 20
    sweetsiouxsie says:

    Loved the pictures, Sarah.
    You met Lauren Willig?? I am reading #8 in her spy series. They are wonderful!!!

  21. 21
    Kinsey says:

    I was so impressed by Lauren Willig. An absolute sweetheart and so so smart.

  22. 22
    Rebecca says:

    I was surprised and pleased to see that the first photo in the slide show is of “Everybody Wins LA.”  For those folks outside of LA who would be interested in getting involved with this very worthwhile organization (full disclosure: a friend of mine works for their New York branch), check out the national organization’s website (EverybodyWins DOT org) with an interactive map of places to volunteer.

    Also, especially for New Yorkers: I happen to know that the New York “Power Lunch” program is especially looking for Brooklyn volunteers, so any companies/individuals who work in Brooklyn or could read with kids there would be doubly appreciated.

  23. 23
    Zoe Archer says:

    Hi, Carrie S.! *waves*

  24. 24

    The pcitures look fantastic. I had to miss this year but hope to get back to RT next year. It is amazing to be there….

  25. 25
    Amber says:

    Other than the behavior of some of the attendees, the Mr. Romance event was fun in a campy way. Talking to the contestants throughout the week, it seemed many of them were surprised by how tame the competition is. They were expecting to run around shirtless all week, and were pleasantly surprised that most of the events were fairly innocuous.

    The only complaint I heard was that they were pretty much “on” the whole week without any down time.

    I’m actually not all that fond of the games at RT. Probably because some were voluntary and some were not. And given how excruciatingly shy I am, they just aren’t a good match for me. But I really enjoyed the reader workshop panels. And a few of the writer ones I peeked in on. The Science of Crime was very interesting, although sparsely attended. More like that would suit me perfectly.

  26. 26
    Kelly S says:

    Thanks for the recap.  I saw most of it via twitter although about 2 days late.  (I have my twitter romance list set to have 1000 tweets in it so I don’t miss anything.) I was wondering though, do the authors sell their books at the signing or are they given away?

  27. 27
    Ruby Duvall says:

    Can I say how much I agree with you on how some panels at RT say they’re about craft but actually are just conversation around the panelists’ published work? It’s one thing to cite examples within one’s books to make a point, but another to spend the first fifteen minutes going down the line of panelists and giving us a blurb on their upcoming release.

    Granted, the authors on these panels have spent time and money to attend the conference and have set aside time to be speakers on a certain topic, but with all the other advertising opportunities at RT, they don’t need to wring out a few more customers from their panel audience. I do have to say that when I lasted attended in 2010, I never walked out of a panel without at least a couple of tidbits of advice that I filed away, but only a couple of panels were truly helpful or inspiring.

    Which craft panel did you like most this year? I couldn’t make it to 2011 because I’m broke, but I’m hoping to be there in 2012!

    I do like meeting the cover models (being an EC author myself, I’d like to meet one of the guys on one of my covers someday, if only to apologize!), but the skits/routines/contests they’re put through is mostly unnecessary. Photo ops are fun, and any men willing to volunteer as a contest-prize dinner date, et cetera can have that option, but I feel that they otherwise shouldn’t have to “perform” for the mostly female attendees—unless they want to?

    Anyway, I’ve heard rumors from various corners of some men being accosted in elevators, groped on the dance floor, and propositioned in hallways. That kind of behavior is definitely inappropriate and I wish there were a way for RT to make them feel like less a piece of meat and more like a part of the industry.

    The only thing about RT that I wish I could enjoy more are the themed parties. I simply don’t have the time, money, or sewing skills to create even one, let alone three costumes. When I attended in 2010, I wanted to attend the fairy ball dinner but didn’t have a costume. I wore my best blouse and recall being jeered at by a half-drunk author who had been at one of the panels I attended the day before. Dude was only wearing a pair of fairy wings over his tucked-in polo while he made nice with a woman sitting near me, but I somehow got singled out for not having a good enough costume.

  28. 28

    Responding to Ruby’s comments,

    - RT seeks proposals from authors.  They plan around what is submitted.  So if you would like to see more panels that are not craft, then authors (even bloggers) can submit a proposal. 

    - I have attended RT five times in the past 6 years.  I never wear a costume but still enjoy the parties.  I have never been hassled and I am sorry that you were.  In the future, ignore the drunks and hang with other non-costumed folks. 

    - I did not see or hear about any groping this year.  But it would be something that RT could not control.  I didn’t see that many “cover models” out and about.  In fact, I saw many men – husbands, sons, and businessmen – mingling with the wide variety of women. 

    - My favorite craft panel was “Bring your characters to life” with historical authors Pat Rice (heroines), Cathy Maxwell (heroes) and Eileen Dreyer (villains).  What a treat to hear historical legends talk!  While they did reference their own books (as examples) it was very appropriate as they also refernced other books for more examples.

    RT is much like a bookstore as it ffers a wide variety of programs for all readers, writers, and others in the industry.  It is also best to approach RT like a bookstore – head for the section that best suits your reading tastes and just enjoy!

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