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!

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