Romantic Times from Different Perspectives

As I'm sure you already know, there's more to romance and more to Romantic Times than man titty. Much like a romance novel, there's a lot happening on the surface of the conference, and a lot more interesting things going on behind that surface.

For example, CNBC was broadcasting live from RT, and focusing lightly on the business numbers of romance as an industry while showcasing shirtless men, women gathered, sometimes in white boas, generally conveying a rather awkward party atmosphere.

And of course, erotica, and “mommy porn” was brought up.

Of note: one of the most hilarious visual compositions is the news reporter with a giant headless pectoral bouncing along next to the her in the near-background. Floating man titty!

A mostly headless large c-cup pectoral floating off to the side of the CNBC host.

I saw the gathering and took pictures of it and felt oddly let down, disappointed that outsiders were once again only getting the feather boas and man titty. But I also can't say honestly, “That's not RT.” Because part of RT is the parties and mixers, the costumes and the cover models. There's also hanging out at the bar and chatting with readers and authors, having comical and serious conversations in panels about writing and reading, and the craft, currency and comedy of romance: it's all part of RT.

The man titty, gloss, boas and erotic content are, as we know, only a part of the genre. I don't fault CNBC for not showing any of the business elements, such as the well attended self-publishing seminars, or the publisher spotlights and reader discussion panels, because it frankly makes for really boring television. Sessions on PR and marketing would not make for great live shots. And if you're going to grab one image from RT, the shirtless men and feather boas are certainly more interesting visually. And it's not like the cover models aren't here, despite the Mr. Romance pageant being cancelled.

So while that image isn't inaccurate, it's also not the entire thing, either, and publicists from publishing houses who bust their asses to portray romance authors as intelligent women operating businesses based on courtship narrative were probably rolling their eyes mightily as each CNBC segment aired and more boas and nipples went out to represent romance. In the quest to engage in any discussion with someone who isn't familiar with the genre, there's always the perennial and expected questions about pornography, sex, and whether the writer's life echoes the stories of her books (and how does she do her research, wink wink nudge nudge).

Recently PW's Rachel Deahl said to me that she thought romance was the most misunderstood genre even within publishing. I think that's certainly true. It can be a challenge to really describe how diverse the genre is. It's not just one thing. It's not just erotica, and it's not just Amish inspirationals, either. It's part nipples and feather boas, and part extraordinary stories and emotionally wrenching character portrayals, part mysteries and moral dilemmas, and many other parts of many other things.

If you're not familiar with RT and you were watching CNBC, man-titty and boas were the visible image you were seeing, but there's also the un-visually-amazing but quite awesome parts that aren't on tv.

The most well-attended sessions are those that bring authors and readers together, whether it's games and activities or sessions about a favorite genre or series. There are a number of authors who are very curious about and actively researching self publication, and what it means, how it works, and what it does and does not do. Those topics were also covered at RT.

In that respect, RT is a bit like Comic Con for romance fans: there are costumes and fun and games but there are also sessions that are like miniature master classes on genre fiction. One session I attended was about writing sex scenes, featuring four male/male romance authors. I storified my tweets and you can see the power point of their presentation at . The session was funny and sometimes bawdy, but it was also incredibly informative as a discussion about writing and reading intimacy.

The number of tweets and Facebook posts from authors about meeting a reader who loved and bought every single book was awesome.  The messages from librarians and authors connecting and mutually squeeing at each other were equally awesome. There were many curious readers eagerly looking for a new book to try, a new author to read. 

There is man titty, certainly. And outrageous costumes, and fabulous shoes and silliness. There's also an annual family of romance readers who take almost a week off to travel away from family, children, jobs, parents and responsibilities for a four-day vacation about books and reading. That makes for really boring tv, I presume, but it makes for a really freaking awesome group of people to chat with in the hotel lobby. When I first attended RT, I didn't get it. I didn't understand it. I'm not the costume type, and I don't want to dress up for any themed party or session. But that was, and is, okay.

Everyone interacts with the romance genre differently. There were plenty of readers like me who wanted to meet authors and find new books to read — without putting on a corset. Not that there's anything wrong with someone who does. What I like about RT is that I think there's room for everyone because the common language is the familiarity with romance and a love of reading it. 

So, in list form: things you will absolutely do at RT if you attend:

Possibly drink too much.

Certainly stay up too late.

Make a new friend.

Match faces and live conversations to the screen names and online chats you have every day.

Make fifty new friends – to quote someone who came up to me at a panel: “Come to RT so you can find the 500 friends you haven't met yet.”

Laugh so hard you – never mind.

Find yourself having six conversations in two hours without moving from your seat at the bar.

Discover you're two tables over from Charlaine Harris, across the room from Loretta Chase, and possibly at the breakfast buffet with Jeaniene Frost .

Decide to try new books, new authors, and a new genre you've never read before.

Share the elevator with someone like Anne Rice. Twice.

Spend time waiting for the elevator and make new friends every time.

Have a drink with one person that turns into four drinks with a posse of 15 people, all discussing books and authors they love.

Find out you're fluent in a language shared by other romance readers.

Go home with a suitcase full of books and no idea how they all came to be in your possession.

Refuse to part with any of them.

There is a difference between laughing at parts of romance even as you love it, and laughing at it without knowing the first thing about it. I laugh at and love romance every day, and bristle when only a small portion that isn't representative of the whole is held up as the image of the genre, and of course laughed at. But if you saw the CNBC images and were thinking of attending RT, I wanted to make sure you knew what else was going on at the conference.

So, did you attend RT? Do you think you'll go next year to the conference in Kansas City? Does the idea of a romance reader convention intrigue you a bit?


Romantic Times

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Jane Smith says:

    I’m a romance reader and a sci-fi viewer, so I know well the stigma attached to “genre”, but I attended my first sci-fi convention with only the vaguest idea of what to expect…and not only made friends, drank too much, ate too much, laughed until my sides hurt, bumped into actors, and had a ball of a time, but came back three more times in the next seven years. (Considering I live a 17 hour flight away from these conventions, I consider this to be a Big Thing.)

    In my experience, conventions of any kind are a crazy, fun, happy ball full of friendship, laughter, common interests, and the making of anecdotal memories.

    The RT con sounds like it would be a blast, and if I could drag a couple of friends along (so I don’t feel like a complete wallflower) and make it to Kansas City for next year’s RT con…I might!

  2. 2
    Noelle Pierce says:

    I was there, and you were incredibly gracious when I accosted you in the hallway. :D This was my first RT, and I’ve attended RWA nationals, as well as my own chapter’s conference, so I had a small idea of what to expect. For me, RT was more of a networking opportunity than a craft conference, not because I don’t need the workshops, but because there were so many people to meet and chat with. There is also the issue of trying to decide whether to go to a craft workshop or a reader workshop/game/meeting where I could wave my fangirl flag. Aw, who am I kidding? I waved that flag all week, regardless of the workshop I was in.

    All in all, it was the most fun, most productive (I managed to fit in an agent pitch and lunch with several authors/agents somehow), conference I’ve ever attended. If I can afford to do both RWA and RT next year, I will.

  3. 3
    Vivian Arend says:

    The internet has made it far easier to meet like-minded people, and living and traveling into remote places like I do means my online friends are my lifeline, emotional backup and community. RT is one place the people I call friends suddenly become huggable.

    Even the best IM session can’t compare to getting to actually speak face to face with a person.

    If meeting old friends IRL is the cake, the new friends that drop in my path are the icing—knowing a person through twitter isn’t the same as spending an hour or two discussing life, the universe and everything. And books. Always discussing books.

    I’ll be back in 2012.

  4. 4

    I went to RT in 2011 and enjoyed the hell out of it, costume balls and meeting you and all. I couldn’t make the conference this year – it was a money thing. Are the readers still coming? I heard from many writers that it seemed mostly writers this year, and fewer readers. I’d love to go to Kansas City next year, but we shall see. Thanks for this post!

  5. 5
    Karen H near Tampa says:

    I’m a reader and cannot afford to attend RT except when it’s in my own backyard, and even then, just the big booksigning.  But I thoroughly enjoyed going to Orlando in 2009 and getting to meet Sarah, who had lovely bosoms cookies and is just as cool in real life as in print, as well as myriad authors who I individually thanked for giving me many hours of enjoyment from their books and hearts. Plus the cover models who were very nice and let me snuggle up and get a picture. If I could afford it, I would love to participate in the entire conference, though I’m kind of upset they cancelled the Mr. Romance contest! I’m happy to see there’s still naked pecs going on, however.

  6. 6
    apis_mellifera says:

    RT was really great this year.  I had a great time chatting with you both on the reviewers panel and afterwards—I think everyone had a lot of interesting things to say and it’s always good to see how everyone has their own process.

    I always feel a bit fish out of water at RT because I review SF/F for them (I lost track of the number of people who read my badge and deemed me unworthy of their conversation and it’s rude and I wish people wouldn’t do it), but I did have some great conversations with folks at the RT table and at the bar.  I just wish the hotel had been a little bit less confusing.

  7. 7
    azteclady1 says:

    I have only attended the big signing once, back in 2009 when it was in Orlando. If I ever can afford it, I would love to attend the whole of RT—because there is always more to readers and writers meeting than the silly, the outrageous and the controversial, and I want to partake on that.

  8. 8

    I went to RWA’s Librarian Day during their conference last year. I learned a lot not only as a fan but only as a librarian. I got tips for book talks, read a likes, and how to convince patrons that ebook and traditional books can co-exist peacefully. Then, I got to meet authors and get free books and collect romance trading cards (which I did put in a special picture album). I also did the same thing at BEA. When the metaphorically librarian’s bun comes down, I do grab the boa and gawk at the man titty. Its really the best of both words. :-)

    I would like to attend RT as a fan but I don’t know how I can convince my husband.

  9. 9
    Jules says:

    I remember when I learned that there is such a thing as romance novel conferences. It was the weekend one of them was in Columbus OH (a mere hour from me at the time). I was so happy! But then I learned of the price and cried my poor college student tears.

    This year was the first I think I could have gone, but I had just gotten back from being overseas and I didn’t know who to go with.

    I really, really want to go to one and may make it a plan for next year. Especially reading about all the awesomeness that happens at them.

  10. 10
    DelDryden says:

    Went, did most of that list, had the expected ball. But my favorite moment (it did take place in the bar, sorta) of the whole five days was sitting at a table with three other authors, all of us tickled pink by the conversation taking place at the next table. A little girl of twelve or so was over there, talking to her mother, and having THE BEST, MOST SERIOUS AND INVOLVED DISCUSSION EVER about books, starting with the Hunger Games and moving into various other YA books as she went.

    They talked for at least two hours, while we were there. This kid was freaking amazing. Her character analysis was spot-on, her vocabulary was astonishing, and she had very strong (and very well-reasoned) opinions about everything she was reading. It was like we were sitting next to the future. I wanted to stand up and cheer…but I didn’t, because I didn’t want to make her self-conscious. In fact I pre-emptively wanted to punch whatever putz is surely destined to try to make her feel bad about her bookworm ways, at some point over the next few years. I don’t think they’ll succeed, because this young lady had it goin’ on for real. She knew who she was and what she liked to read. And I think within another ten, twelve years she’ll be back at RT (or there for the tenth or twelfth time) as either a reviewer, a writer, or one kick-ass librarian-in-training. Possibly all three.

    As far as I was concerned, that kid won RT. And she wasn’t even there for the bits with the man-titty.

  11. 11
    Lynne Connolly says:

    I fly over for RT every year, and I have the best time. I combine it with a holiday where I see a bit more of America.
    This year was the biggest yet, with over 2,000 participants, and more people coming in for the YA and the signings. As an author, I can get good business done, talk to other authors, meet my publishers and see what they’re looking for. And talk to readers, find out what they’re most excited about this year. Maybe even sell a book or two.
    I’ll be back next year!

  12. 12
    Kim in Hawaii says:

    Aloha!  I’ll be at RT in 2013 … probably with my kids.  I expect my husband to be “off island” and not available for basic care and feeding of children.

    It will be the 30th anniversary and I know Kathryn Falk is making grand plans!

  13. 13
    Evangeline Holland says:

    A+ post Sarah. I’m hoping to make it to RT next year and you’ve convinced me to make it a priority.

  14. 14

    On Friday or Saturday I was walking back to my elevator bank with a pilot right behind me. We got on the same elevator. Older guy, very friendly looking. He says to me, “Seems to be quite the party going on around here.” I agree. He says “What kind of convention is this?” I say “Romance readers and writers.” Of course he perks up. “Really???” I say really. At this point we’re rolling our suitcases down the hall. From behind me says, “So how do you do your research?” Not lewdly, just jocularly. I say “Oh, just ask my husband and he’ll tell you….it’s not like the books.”

    I’ve decided that in the future, my answer is, “It’s not the sex I have to research, you know. I’ve done sex. It’s the places I’ve never been to, the historical references, the businesses, all the other stuff that I don’t know about.”

    Ann Rice bumped against my chair as she went to sit down at the VERY NEXT TABLE in the restaurant. Kim Brooks managed to snap a picture of her without turning around. As far as I know, Ms. Rice had no bodyguards.

    The authors on the contemporary romance panel – even though I don’t write, or even read, contemp—said something about writer’s block that led directly to my having a breakthrough on the (paranormal) book I’m currently struggling with.

    The Cover Model Karaoke we did with the Smutkateers was AWESOME and packed. I was a bit mortified to be singing unexpurgated Cee Lo Green at the top of my voice knowing that my idol, Loretta Chase, was on the other side of the room divider, but I still had fun.

    This was my 2nd RT. Last year and this year I had to choose between RT and RWA, and I’ve decided I’ll probably only do RWA in 2013 when it’s in San Antonio. RT is so much fun, and provides such direct contact with readers and writers, that I just can’t see missing it. I even submitted a workshop proposal for next year.

    And next year I will take prescription cough medicine b/c I get so busy that I forget to take my allergy meds.

    It is fabulous and fun and exhilarating and I would encourage any writer or reader who can scrape the money together to go. You won’t be sorry, plus I’d love to meet you.


  15. 15
    ScottKPickering says:

    As an author, I can get good business done, talk to other authors, meet my publishers and see what they’re looking for. And talk to readers, find out what they’re most excited about this year. Maybe even sell a book or two.
    I’ll be back next year!

  16. 16
    Laurie Evans says:

    wow, this sounds kind of awesome!!

  17. 17
    Becky says:

    I went by myself, but I was never by myself.  I literally met my first sister RT attendee in baggage claim.  I met ladies on the way to the shuttle and bumped into them over and over all week long.  I met Sarah in the lobby about 5 minutes after picking up my badge.  I met and chatted with some favorite authors over the course of the week.  And of course many, many romance readers.  I’m normally pretty shy, but it was super easy to strike up a conversation at RT.  You just look at the person standing in line next to you and say, “so, what do you like to read?” and you’re off!

    Now, rooming by yourself can certainly get expensive.  But socially, it’s probably the easiest place I’ve ever seen to go solo.

  18. 18
    Seleste deLaney says:

    I miss the Mr. Romance madness, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. However, it’s not the reason I go to RT. For me, this is my one week a year to hang out with my bookish friends and talk about nothing else. The farthest I’ve ever gone from an RT hotel was last year in LA when I needed to buy new (sensible) shoes.

    Yes, it’s a party, but it’s also networking and meeting friends and all those wonderful things. There are people I talk to online who I only ever see at RT. And every year, I meet new people. Sometimes they remember me and sometimes they don’t. (And sometimes they remember me only for the corsets *shrug*) But it doesn’t matter because if/when I see them again, I’ll remind them how we met the first time and we’ll go right back to talking about books for five days when I don’t have to think about my kids or my husband or any of that putting-words-on-paper thing (though I usually think about all of that anyway).

    Of the sixteen people who had commented prior to me typing this, I hung out with two of them this year. (And I met you, Sarah, last year at the Carina Press author party :P) Next year, I hope to meet more people and wish I had more time to spend with all of them.

    For those who only saw the news program. Those people wandering around in the background? Those are authors. They write books, they talk about books, they love books. As a reader, they’re the people I’m there to see. As an author, I’m there to see readers. I adore the cover models, but they’re like the cherry on top of the sundae. If that’s all that was there, I would never bother going.

  19. 19
    Ellielu says:

    I’ll be in Rosemont next month for the Technical Communications conference. Methinks it will not be nearly as much fun…. But then I really don’t like labels. But perhaps I can find a way to put floating man-titty into my API documentation. Or erotic Easter eggs in my online Help. Or use a Regency Duke as my target persona….

  20. 20
    SB Sarah says:

    I’m glad you accosted me! I really like meeting people who read the site. Accost me any time!

  21. 21
    Amber says:

    This was my second year at RT. I just wanted to add a comment for the socially awkward, shy people who might be lurking and wishing they could attend: you absolutely should.

    The best part about RT is that it is super easy to make friends. Even if you’re hopelessly shy. Like me. And if you’re active on Twitter or online, it provides a bit of an “in” with authors and fellow readers who probably know you through your online persona.  I met so many people with whom I’ve had online conversations, but had never met in person. 

    I attended with an old friend from my bookselling days, but it’s equally possible to go solo. If you get the chance to go to KC next year, I highly recommend it.

  22. 22

    I am so disgusted with that story.

    You might not have heard the behind-the-scenes story which makes it doubly disgusting to me.

    People from RT were going around asking for erotic romance writers *specifically* because CNBC wanted to do a story on erotic romance. The RT staffer said that they wanted to ask us some questions. We were told that we had more of a chance being on air if we *dressed the part*. That was a big red flag that I should have just waved them on, but I stupidly said I would like to be part of the broadcast. They took my name, called someone to confirm that they still needed erotic romance authors for the show, and told me I was all set.

    Now I figure this is all about “Fifty Shades of Grey” and is romance porn?, that sort of thing – but hey! If I’m one of the ones they ask a question of, I can fight the good fight, I can spread the good word and tell everyone I was on TV. Win, right?

    To cut a long story short (which you already know if you watched the report, though I admit I haven’t. Hubby tells me I’m not missing anything and it’s just as bad as I assumed it would be) the news crew didn’t ask anything of the actual authors. We were the milling background.

    This pissed me off no end. If you wanted background extras, why specifically ask erotic romance authors to be there. Also, we were flat out told that they wanted to ask us questions (or I should say, I was – and from the conversation around me that morning, I took away that I wasn’t the only one who was told this was meant to be an interview situation.)

    Talking to RT representatives later, it does seem that they really thought it was going to be an interview. I have no idea where the breakdown in communication occurred. But though I believe RT didn’t deliberately lie, I do feel they shoulder-shrugged the whole incident, as in, “Well, you got on TV, didn’t you?”

    No, I wasn’t on TV, thank above. I wouldn’t want to be part of that garbage.

    Me personally, I felt very disrespected by this situation and I admit it left a bad taste in my mouth about RT overall. The fact that *erotic romance* authors were singled out means, what? We aren’t as important because we write “that stuff”?

    I’m proud to be a romance author. I’m proud to be an erotic romance author. I’ve worked hard to get my writing where I could be published, and I’m still working hard every day to get better at my craft. That I was left feeling marginalized in what should have been the one place I should have held no fear about being talked down to, well, let’s just say that while I did enjoy my time at RT, I’m not one of those foaming at the mouth to return next year.

  23. 23
    Authorjmmadden says:

    But, see, the thing about RT is, even if you don’t have friends there, it doesn’t matter. Literally, at last year’s RT in LA, I walked in as a new author and sat down to eat some lunch in one of the hotel restaurants. Mary Wine waved me over to sit with her group, and told me, “Nobody sits alone at RT.” And it’s so true. If you don’t know anybody in a room, it’s one of the few places in the world where you can walk up to somebody and just start jabbering, because we’re ALL readers at heart.
    Fantastic blog, and so very true in every aspect.

  24. 24
    Kallypso Masters says:

    Oh.My.God. I was there. Just off camera when CNBC did that broadcast. I was talking to the pecs on the left of the screen (Len Gunn is his name) negotiating the rights to any photos I might purchase from him for three covers I’d like to use him on in my Rescue Me series.

    I kind of got roped into this media thing. The night before, a fellow erotic romance author signed me up to show up at 6:15 A.M. (yes, that’s early at a convention) because CNBC wanted to interview erotic romance writers. Oh, they wanted us to wear costumes. Oh. Kay. Well, I wrote BDSM. Did that mean they wanted me in Domme gear with my newly purchased flogger. (The owner of BDSM Book Reviews took me shopping at a toy store earlier in the week. <g>) But I digress. :)

    But this was CNBC—the business channel. Surely they wanted to hear from wildly successful self-published authors like moi! So, I dressed in a nice black skirt and a sequiny, zebra-like patterned blouse and made my way to the bowels of the Hyatt. (This was in the “beyond elevator” basement only accessible by escalators, I believe.)

    There were about 20-something other authors, some in historical costumes and, as you said, the boas. We waited off to the side while the camera was set up. Then I saw the two half-naked men descending the escalator and I knew this was just another T&A piece for national media. Okay, man titty and cute buns, but still T&A. (Hey, I didn’t call it that—one of my Marine experts did when he called it a load of crap.)

    Anyway, I struck up a conversation with Len, and loved that he could talk about his 10-year-old son rather than his diet and workout routine (which is where some of the models kind of hit the wall on conversational ability). So, we talked about 15-20 minutes about photo rights and his where I could find him on the web. Next thing I know, the CNBC people come over and say, “Thanks for coming!” Hell, I didn’t even know the thing had started yet! (Okay, maybe it was that man-chest in front of me that had me distracted.)

    So, it was disappointing. They didn’t even pan the group of writers they’d drug down there at the butt-crack of dawn. But I found a cover model for three of my upcoming books and had some laughs with the other authors who had gotten duped into this farce. It was not a total loss—and I’ll definitely be at RT in Kansas City May 1-5, 2013. </g>

  25. 25
    Maliha Aqeel says:

    I was at the gym when this CNBC story came on. My first reaction was to throw something at the TV (my water bottle maybe). I couldn’t believe that a business news channel like CNBC would grossly distort the facts to fit a perceived image rather than doing a story on something that suits their channel, like, I dunno, a story about the publishing industry, the fact that romance is one of the biggest money makers out there, etc. Something that made sense. Instead they focused on the trite and I lost all respect for the channel.

  26. 26

    That’s sweet that you found a cover model – Way to go!

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