Monday, July 23, 2007

RWA Conference Report

brought to you by Shirley Hailstock

The Twenty-Seventh Annual Romance Writers of America Conference (RWA) was held in Dallas, Texas July 11-15, 2007. Here are my comments regarding this year’s event:

I thought the PAN (Published Authors Network) workshops were the best ever. Not that the other years weren't good, but this year topped them!

The PAN Retreat was a three-hour panel of book buyers, Barnes & Noble, Borders, Levy and Books-a-Million. They talked for about 40 minutes, introducing themselves, explaining what they were doing, what author programs they had, what co-sponsored programs they did with publishers, etc. The panel then responded to questions for the next two hours and RWA members were not shy--they went to the microphones and asked tough questions.

Levy has a bus tour they are doing with Harlequin. They did it last year with 17-18 authors, travelling through two states with signings at Wal-Marts (Levy and Anderson News distribute to Wal-Mart).

Sue Grimshaw, romance buyer for the Borders Group, talked about the shelf-talkers and space that publishers pay for to give authors an extra push. Authors cannot send information to her for these, everything must come through the publisher.

The Books-A-Million buyer controls 212 stores and buys all fiction, not just romance. She told us that while authors cannot send to the individual stores, she could distribute to the stores. On covers, however, overly sexy/suggestive covers don't work for her stores. She doesn't mind receiving ARC's (Advanced Reading Copies) however.

All of the buyers said historicals are making a comeback. They see the number of titles sold increasing and customers asking for more. They also said to be active in any of the programs your publisher had supporting you--but we already knew that, didn't we?

At the Levy workshop they showed a film of last year's bus tour. Pam Nelson, Director of Advertising and Promotion, spoke about their Spotlight Program, where they have authors come to the warehouse outside Chicago and sign 6,000 (not a typo!) books. They give them two days to do it and some authors don't finish. David Baldacci holds the record: He finished in 4 hours (again not a typo!). The books are then packaged and sent to stores and Wal-Mart for displays.

Levy's bus tour is possibly going out in October. Separately, they're working on an African-American tour. (I didn't go there with the why a separation. I'm tired of fighting the fight). Pam told me that tour will be in August and goes through Illinois and Indiana. I don't know who’s on it, but some authors have already been contacted regarding it.

Madeline Hunter and Sabrina Jeffries reprised their workshop on The Numbers. Information was presented candidly, and we received a worksheet with graphs showing how books do the first week out and then subsequent weeks. The handout also had a grid that showed what bookstore chains, independents (if known), distributors report to what best selling list (NYT, Bookscan, Publishers Weekly and USA Today).

There were some questionable reports. Sabrina stated that she'd gleaned information from several sources, including the websites of the lists, but some information may not be reported on the site. For example Wal-Mart numbers are not included in the the USA Today site, but there was a time when they were. We don’t know if they were just removed at the request of Wal-Mart or if they no longer report their numbers.

(NB: Isabel would like to add that while there is a lot of information and numbers, very little actually adds up in a dependable, repeatable, or satisfactory manner. If you are selling more books than previously, that is likely a good thing! Lists can drive you crazy and are not always as meaningful as they seem).

I attended the Susan Elizabeth Phillips and Jayne Ann Krentz workshop. Jayne talked about inventing Amanda Quick when she'd killed herself as Jayne Ann Krentz. She said she had been writing as Jayne Castle and Jayne Ann Krentz, but then she'd sold three paranormals under the JAK name. It was a genre 10 years ahead of their time, before the word was even coined, and the books tanked: no one wanted to touch the JAK name.

So she stripped her next work of all the trappings and what was left was a marriage of convenience plot. As marriage of convenience was popular in historicals, she invented historical author Amanda Quick. Her agent (Steven Axelrod) submitted it as "Amanda Quick, the pseudonym of a popular romance author," but he didn't say what her real name was. The book sold and she went on.

I went to the NAL spotlight. The editors used the forum to poll the room to see what people were reading Vs what they were writing. They asked if we were tired of vampire romances. Interestingly, most of those who responded said they wanted better stories--they weren't tired of them, but they didn't feel they were were the best they could be.

They spent a lot of time on paranormals--so much so that I questioned whether that was all they were publishing! A powerpoint presentation was running of bookcovers... and a lot of them were paranormal, but they are open to all kinds of romance fiction. We talked about book trailers, but no one in the room said a trailer would entice them to buy a book.

The Friday night parties were great as usual! I got to three of them. At the Kensington party, they practically gave Vivian Stephens a standing ovation. Kate Duffy's smile was from ear to ear and the applause was loud in acknowledging of Vivian’s contribution to the romance genre. The Putnum/Berkley party was fun too. I spoke to a lot of editors and some new authors there.

Harlequin's party was too loud to have conversations, so we just had to dance and sing and shout to a live band and eat way too much chocolate. Oh, I went to and came from the party in a stretch-Hummer! It looked like I was either very classy or a hooker, take your pick :)

Nora Robert's party before the RITA ceremony was packed with friends and colleagues and I got a chance to chat with many of them. Nora had on a gorgeous dress and lovely jewelry and looked fabulous.

The Golden Heart (highest award for an unpublished romance) and the RITA's (highest award for a published romance) were beautifully done. Three magnificent screens allowed the greater part of the 1,920 attendees to see the action up close no matter where they sat.

A few short film clips were sprinkled between the awards. They were very well done and showcased an author in a "guess who..." mode. They was a scene with a voice over giving clues, then a photo would appear with their signature on the bottom. They did Nora Roberts, Susan Elizabeth Phillips and Anne Stuart.

Vivian Stephens, (one of the founders of the RWA), was a major hit. The moment Linda Howard saw her, she couldn't get to her fast enough! One Golden Heart winner thanked Vivian for founding the forum under which she won. Later, at the dessert reception, she came over to Vivian and was so emotional I think if she'd said one more word, she'd have burst into tears. It was very touching to see.

Sunday we had the usual woes and delays trying to get home. My plane left late, but amazingly, they made up the time in the air. Now I'm bouncing back and ready to write, another great RWA under my belt!

Who could be better at bringing you the news from Dallas than former RWA President Shirley Hailstock? When she's not keeping busy checking out the conference scene, she's writing--Shirley has three books coming out in 2008. She'll complete her Clayton Family series (On My Terms) in January from Kensington. She started the series in Silhouette Special Edition with two books, A Father’s Fortune and Love on Call.

In February, her first Harlequin Next will be published. While it takes on the challenges of interracial romance, the story also explores the bonds between mother and daughter. There isn't a firm title yet for the Harlequin Next or the upcoming June book from Kimani Press. This story is about a woman who has ordered a ball gown and gets a wedding gown instead! When she puts it on, the hero shows up infuriated that she’s wearing his sister’s dress. Well, you can just image how things unravel from there!

Thank you, Shirley for keeping us in the know!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007


brought to you by Karen Harper

The second annual Thrillerfest Conference, sponsored by International Thriller Writers, was held at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York City from July 12 – 15. A great contingent of Mira Books authors and editors attended. They appeared on various panels, emceed presentations and oversaw programs and awards. Heather Graham even donned black hose and a chorus-line-style tuxedo to sing backup with the Killerettes for the Killer Thriller Band at the banquet the last night. And she sang a duet with author Michael Palmer called “Ode to Pink Slips”—a writer’s rejection of rejections!

Your intrepid reporter for the gathering is Karen Harper, New York Times bestselling Mira author, who was panel master (both moderator and panelist) for a workshop called “Psycho: Thrillers that Haunt You.” In honor of our title, we all began our discussion wearing masks of either Janet Leigh as Marian Crane, (her notorious expression was from the famous screaming shower murder scene) or Tony Perkins as Norman Bates.

Trivia for the day: Janet Leigh authored two Mira books in the 1990’s. I got to meet her at a Mira author party in California where she surprised us by admitting she was nervous to meet us!

On our Psycho panel, we covered such topics as how to get readers into the story and some great ways to surprise, shock and scare them. We also discussed how a scary setting can either be an apparently calm one that lulls you into complacency before danger strikes (after all, JAWS starts with sunny summer beaches; small towns make great noir) or settings which are creepy from the get-go, such as in JURASSIC PARK or a weird mansion as in the classic Gothic romances.

I talked about how well the peaceful Amish countryside worked for my romantic suspense novels, DARK HARVEST and DARK ANGEL. The Amish areas look calm and quaint but the Amish lives isolated lives. With their massive, dark barns and the tall corn fields growing right up to their houses, who knows what is out there which could harm them?

Below are some ThrillerFest tidbits about or by Mira authors and editors:

Miranda Stecyk, Mira editor: “I’m amazed to hear authors talk about the amount of research that is needed for a thriller. I’m also impressed by the sharing and mentoring that goes on among these authors and by their support of debut authors.”

Michelle Gagnon, Mira author of TUNNELS: “I got a lot of good info from M.J. Rose about to blog or not to blog. She’s a master blogger, but she suggested not starting your own unless you have a lot of time, are working with other authors or are very famous. She advised plugging your blog comment in somewhere else for a while. It wasn’t what I thought she was going to say.” M.J. herself is a Mira author. Her thriller THE REINCARNATIONIST will be out this September.

Heather Graham, New York Times bestseller and longtime Mira author: “I use prologues to grab readers. Always start your books with what is most gripping, the big bang, then bring your reader up-to-date.”

New Mira author Rick Mofina was in charge of awards for Best First Novel, since he was a finalist last year. Rick has a long career as a reporter and author. He’s a Canadian who writes like he’s an American. His forthcoming book is A PERFECT GRAVE.

New York Times bestseller Alex Kava was in charge of the awards program and also two panels, one on serial killer stories and one featuring the award nominees. Alex said she “loved the laid-back conference atmosphere, even in busy NYC.”

Longtime Mira author Erica Spindler was also in attendance. A New York Times and international bestseller, she has a Mira book, LAST KNOWN VICTIM, coming in October. Erica was the panel master for a workshop which asked: Do thrillers about child crime cross the line?

Mira author and New Yorker, Jason Pinter, was on a panel which discussed how writers and publishers can work together to attract readers to buy their books.

At the final night awards banquet I sat with Mira staffers Executive Editor Margaret Marbury, editor Linda McFall and new Mira author J.T. Ellison, whose first novel, ALL THE PRETTY GIRLS, will be out from Mira in Nov. 2007. They all enjoyed the conference’s blend of professionalism and fun.

Margaret was interviewed on the first day of the convention as one of the top thriller editors in the business. Mira published the anthology THRILLER which has contributions from many great thriller writers. The collection is newly out in paperback and the Barnes & Noble on-site store had a lot of copies which were going into a lot of conference bags which bore the logo, MIRA: FICTION AT ITS BEST.

Several attendees flew in from the Dallas Romance Writers of America Conference for the NYC gathering. (Unfortunately, the conferences were the same time this year.) Carla Neggers arrived for the last two days of the Thriller conference—even though her luggage didn’t make it in time. Tara Taylor Quinn, Mira and Harlequin author, was expected but did not make the panel Heather hosted because of travel complications.

My take on the entire Thriller Writers experience was that it was a supportive group of very talented people who love writing and value their readers. And NYC was a great venue because so many publishing professionals were available to attend. As busy as everyone was at the conference, there was always that attraction of NYC: so many places to see, to eat, and to love in the Big Apple.

And now that the second ThrillerFest is history, we are all inspired and getting back to thinking up something truly thrilling to write....Wait 'til next year!

Karen Harper's recent titles are INFERNO, a short story in MORE THAN WORDS, and HURRICANE. But check out the great offer of THE STONE FOREST, BLACK ORCHID and THE FALLS--all available at an amazing $3.99 price.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Walkies--celebrating THE DEATH LIST and full of devilish cheer from across the pond

Editorial Director Karin Stoecker explained that Walkies is an annual Book Trade Benevolent Society fund raiser.

"Teams generally have a theme around a book or imprint they are promoting. We chose to go with a MIRA title, The Death List by Paul Johnston currently on the Heatseeker Chart here in the UK."

Catherine Burke, Editor, MIRA, Mills and Boon, reported that a great time was had by everyone on the team and noted that, "Out of around 20 Publishing teams taking part, the Harlequin Mills and Boon team won Runner Up for the Best Team Award (beaten by Random House Children's chaps dressed as cows; they deserved it really…)."

They've raised hundreds of pounds for the BTBS, which is terrific, but there’s still time to add any last donations at everyone!

Cute lil' devils aren't they? And THE DEATH LIST is a truly page-turning and scary book. Available right now on both sides of the Atlantic!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007


Karen Harper, New York Times bestselling Mira author and delightful person, has agreed to report on Thrillerfest, coming up in New York City while I am hanging out on a island in Maine. No comments please!

Karen has been in the Denver area visiting family and researching her next Mira. She just sent me this ThillerFest Preview with some "pre-game" info. Next week, she'll send more information on the event, hopefully with quotes and interviews, if feasible. Margaret Marbury has a digital camera, so we're hoping to get photos as well.... Karen notes:

Quite a few Mira Books thriller/mystery authors are heading to the Big Apple for the 2nd annual ThrillerFest Conference, July 12 - 15. Mira attendees include (sorry if someone's name was inadvertently omitted!) Heather Graham, Alex Kava, M. J. Rose, Jason Pinter, Carla Neggers and Karen Harper. Mira editorial staff attending are Margaret Marbury, Linda McFall and Miranda Stecyk.

Highlights include an all-day Thursday craft fest for writers wanting to learn the basics of thriller writing. Friday (Fri. the 13th--perfect!) through Sunday are panels and presentations such as a Spotlight Guest Presentation with Heather Graham and the following workshops hosted by Mira authors:

--Heather Graham: Sleeping With the Enemy (sex and violence, a precarious balance)

--Karen Harper: Psycho (thrillers that haunt you)

--Alex Kava: The Killing Fields (serial killers in our midst)

There are booksignings galore including a massive autograph session on the last conference day. A banquet with awards is included too.

More details and photos from this "thrilling" event coming later, courtesy of Karen Harper!