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Celebrate Romance Report 2008

Last year Karen W, long time romance reader and author of the review blog “What I’m Reading and Other Tales” agreed to let us post a report she wrote about “Celebrate Romance,” the convention she helps organize each year. We asked her to let us republish this year’s report and here it is.

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Arrival

I just got back from Celebrate Romance, and I thought I’d post my annual report on the conference! I had a great time this year, as always. This is really long, so feel free to skip it!

I got to Columbia, SC early on Thursday afternoon. We were staying at a smaller hotel, affiliated with the local university, which turned out to be really nice. It’s always a trade-off to find a good hotel and a good city – the larger cities are easier to fly into, but it’s hard to find a reasonably priced hotel that will accommodate a small conference like ours. The smaller cities and smaller hotels are more willing to cater to a small group and we can get decent prices, but it can be harder to get flights. Happily, I was able to get a direct flight from Philadelphia, so I didn’t have to spend too long in the airport.

Thursday and Advertising

DragonBornI had a great time on Thursday, seeing my “CR friends”. Some of them I see and talk to more often, but many of them I only see once a year – but we always pick up right where we left off! We spent the afternoon getting organized for the conference and running errands (although we did find time to hit a bookstore!) One new thing we did this year was sell advertisements in our program. We had the pages professionally printed, but we assembled them ourselves to save money – I brought my heavy duty stapler in my suitcase! It was interesting to see which authors bought ads, (although many of them did it to support us financially, more than just to advertise themselves) but it was a glimpse into what the authors are thinking. I wasn’t surprised to see the bigger authors buying ads, but it’s interesting to see the lesser known ones who spring for ad space.

We’ve never really done this kind of thing before – selling ads, soliciting sponsorships for different events, having a logo designed for us. An ongoing question – how far to go down that road? CR started as a fairly casual get-together, but in the years since we’ve taken it over, we’ve really had to think about how to keep the “friends getting together” feeling while also keeping the conference going financially.

Friday: Romanceapalooza

To Taste TemptationMore stuff to do on Friday, leading up to the beginning of the conference around 6 pm. We basically took over the hotel as everyone started talking and hugging and having animated conversations in every available corner. We were finally herded into the main conference room, where we had a great dinner, followed by the “Romanceapalooza” hosted by Elizabeth Hoyt and Jade Lee. We were divided up into teams and played a romance version of jeopardy – only with a lot of funny hats, prizes and hilarious questions. It’s always a problem, figuring out how to get strangers to break the ice and get to know each other, without the “oldies” becoming cliques and the newbies feeling left out, but this worked really well – it’s hard to stay strangers when you are answering questions like “Fact or Fiction: The smallest penis on record was 1 centimeter in length”. (Fact!) Or watching the “designated extroverts” sing the alphabet song while hopping on one leg. (And I won’t mention the strip tease while singing “Like A Virgin”…) Because the teams were mixed up from different “groups”, it really got people talking, and I noticed the newbies laughing with their team members all weekend. That’s really important, so I’m so glad Elizabeth and Jade did all the work to make it happen! (We might have scandalized the waiters, though – I noticed they kept walking past our conference room all evening!)

Keynote Speaker: Stephanie Bond

stephanie-bond.jpgAfter a late night stuffing goody bags and organizing book trade books, I skipped breakfast so I could get an extra 30 minutes of sleep. We managed to start the day almost on time, with our keynote speaker, Stephanie Bond, who talked about “New Genres & New Settings: How Dead Bodies Lead To Romance“. A lot of our speakers and authors this year were “cross-genre authors”, and they were all really interested in knowing what romance readers think of crossover books. (They’re not my favorites, but a lot of people really love them.) Stephanie talked about the appeal of romantic suspense (dating back to Nancy Drew and Phillis A. Whitney) as well as the problems with covers and bookstore shelving. All three of our speakers mentioned the importance of having to appeal to buyers from the bookstore chains – the buyers for Borders and Barnes & Noble have enormous power, even to the point of nixing potential covers if they don’t find them appealing, or deciding whether a crossover author will be shelved in romance or in another genre. Something I didn’t necessarily know about. Stephanie suggested that in the future, we might see different covers for the same book, depending on where they’re sold.

A random factoid I got from Stephanie – Harlequin Blaze is going to start putting out historicals! I guess erotic books are still selling like hotcakes.

Jenna Black

jenna-black.jpgJenna Black spoke about “urban fantasy” which is a term I’ve heard a lot, but didn’t really know what it meant. (It’s a sci-fi or fantasy book that’s set in a “real world” setting, rather than in a “Lord of the Rings” pseudo medieval world. Doesn’t necessarily have to be in a city, despite the “urban” name.) She talked about the difficulties in writing an “alpha heroine”, since some alpha characteristics that might be accepted in a hero might come across as “bitchy” in a heroine. She also talked about the HEA, and how urban fantasy writers have to walk a fine line when appealing to a romance audience that expects an HEA (which an urban fantasy may not provide).

Linnea Sinclair

linnea-sinclair.jpgLinnea Sinclair was our last speaker on Saturday, and she talked about the intersection of science fiction and romance. (As she put it, who didn’t love Captain Kirk or Hans Solo?) She has a lot of male readers, and she also talked about issues with covers and shelving, when you have a large crossover audience. Some of her older books are being reissued with more romantic “couple” covers, in part to attract the romance audience, but will that alienate the sci-fi audience?

Panel Discussions: Beta Heroes

vicki-lewis-thompson.jpgAfter the speakers, we split into two groups for panel discussions. (Each group talked about one topic for 40 minutes, then switched to the other topic.) The first discussion was “Nerds, Mythical Beasts and Betas: The New Unconventional Heroes“. This was led by Rosemary Laurey, Vicki Lewis Thompson and Cindy Holby. There was a lot of discussion about how to sell unconventional heroes. Rosemary said it took her ten years to get a publisher to accept her vampire heroes. Vicki said she wanted to write about nerds for years, but she wasn’t able to do it until she’d become established – and even so, the book almost died until Kelly Ripa promoted it on her TV show. Cindy Holbycindy-holby.jpg said that she slipped her beta heroes into a series about a group of friends, but had to write the alphas first before the betas could come to the forefront. Interestingly, all of them said that a lot of readers like unconventional heroes, but publishers could be resistant to them. On the other hand, readers did have a comfort level – whether it was physical appearance (what’s “just too icky” when it comes to shapeshifters?) or alpha/beta-ness.

Another factoid that came up – Silhouette Nocturne requires its authors to write super-alpha heroes. One author – I can’t remember which one – said Nocturne told her that they’d only accept her book if she made the hero more of an “arrogant alpha”. She didn’t want to change it and ended up selling it elsewhere.

Panel Discussions: Blurring Genres

ba-tortuga.jpgThe second discussion group was on “Blurring of Genres: The Good, The Bad and the Just Too Weird“. This was led by Linnea Sinclair, Jenna Black and BA Tortuga. We got off on an interesting tangent during this discussion. BA Tortuga writes male/male romance (among other things) and she said her readership was 95% female. (One of her vocal readers is a 94 year old woman in a nursing home!) We had an interesting discussion about male fantasies vs. female fantasies, both in terms of romance and sex. Several authors said they had male readers who enjoyed the romantic elements in their stories (even the very lovey-dovey stuff), but they didn’t necessarily have the same ideas about what was sexy and erotic.

Panel Discussions: Changing Face of Romantic Fiction

We broke for lunch at this point, and then had a final discussion: “Bringing It All Together: Unconventional Tales and the Changing Face of Romantic Fiction“. This was led by Isabo Kelly, Linnea Sinclair (we kept her very busy!) and Julia Talbot. One interesting thing that came up in this discussion – several people asked about the paranormal romance market. According to a couple of authors, paranormal sales are not as big as people might think by looking at the bookshelves. Even now, the sales numbers aren’t as high as traditional historicals, for example. But because paranormal fans are so vocal, they get a lot of attention, because they’re willing to write letters to editors and publishers, go out and buy books on the first day they’re released, support authors they love, etc. Linnea was particularly emphatic, telling us that if we wanted a particular kind of book, or liked particular things about a book, that we needed to give feedback to authors, who will pass it on to editors, book buyers, etc.

All of the authors in the final panel talked about the “new world” we’re moving into within the genre, where there’s a lot more interaction between the readers and authors.

Another factoid – dragons seem to be really hot right now. Vicki Lewis Thompson, Jade Lee, and Rosemary Laurey all have dragon books coming out, and I think there are other authors who are writing dragons too. I don’t really get the appeal, but it seems to be “the thing” right now.

Book Trade

I ran the book trade in the afternoon – the one thing I noticed was that we had a lot fewer rare books than we usually do. A lot of once-rare books have been reprinted (Brockmann, Roberts, Krentz) and the ones that haven’t been reprinted have become so rare that no one wants to part with them (Balogh Regencies, for example). Other authors have just faded away – Iris Johannsen’s old categories used to be rare, but now they really aren’t – not because they’ve been reprinted, but because no one knows her any more.

On Saturday evening, some of the authors had a book signing at a local bookstore (a new thing for us, but the authors seemed to like it), followed by a great barbecue dinner. Made me homesick for the South – no one up here in the Northeast knows how to made decent pulled pork or sweet potato fries. After dinner, we got a bit lost trying to find the hotel, but finally made it back. Then a group of us sat up in the “hotel library” and just talked until 1 am. This is my favorite part of CR – not the official events (although I love them too) but the casual conversations. I’d never met Sabrina Jeffries before, but I had a great time talking to her – not just about books, but other things as well. Always great fun!

Keynote Speaker: Sabrina Jeffries

sabrina-jeffries.jpgOn Sunday morning, I skipped breakfast again in favor of shut-eye! Then we started out with our other keynote speaker, Sabrina Jeffries. A lot of celebrating, since she just made #2 on the NY Times mass-market list. (I had no idea she was that popular! I don’t read her that often – she’s a bit too light for me – but I think that says something about the popularity of the “traditional” romance historical.) Sabrina gave a very funny talk about how she’d been corrupted by romance – to the horror of her literature professors (she has a PhD in English lit), she got such shocking messages as expecting men to treat her well, expecting a husband to love and support her, etc. She decided that writing romance was more interesting than becoming a lit professor.

Sara Reyes and Isabo Kelly

Sara Reyes talked about starting a book club – she runs a reader’s tea in Dallas that’s been meeting monthly for over 10 years – and then Isabo Kelly talked about mythical beasts. Lots of interesting factoids about how myths where myths might have come from – did myths about dragons come from people finding dinosaur bones and trying to explain them? Did the Cyclops legend come from skeletons of a dwarf elephant that once lived in Greece? Then we had our usual, wild and crazy book signing. I was good this year and didn’t try to win any raffle baskets – I usually end up trying to haul one on the plane.

Conclusion

The conference was great fun this year. We’re still talking about what’s going to happen in the future – we want to continue, but do we need to change things in order to attract more readers? The eternal problem – we get lots of authors but it’s hard to get readers to attend. But I think CR is fundamentally about readers rather than writers, which puts us in a quandry. I think the conference will go on, at least for another year, but every year, it’s an ongoing question…

Sometimes I wonder how a shy introvert like me ever got involved in something like CR, but I always end up having a lovely time.

KarenW

Guest Reviewer

22 Comments

  1. Marg
    Mar 11, 2008 @ 05:12:04

    Sounds like a lot of hard work for the organisers but a lot of fun too! I am hoping to go to my first romance convention next year…fingers crossed!

    By the way, that’s the first time I have seen the new Elizabeth Hoyt cover! Can not wait to get that book!

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  2. Jill Myles
    Mar 11, 2008 @ 06:30:56

    OMG Historical Blaze? I am SO there.

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  3. DS
    Mar 11, 2008 @ 07:51:02

    I noticed the change in Linnea Sinclair’s book covers because I’ve been going through her back list. I don’t know about her male readers, but I was put off a bit by the new covers. They don’t exactly radiate action/adventure, which is what I like about her type of sf.

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  4. Stephanie Z.
    Mar 11, 2008 @ 08:25:58

    Dragons are ‘in’ again? They just went ‘out’!

    Also, yay for the 94-year-old woman in the nursing home.

    And ditto on the Blaze Historicals!

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  5. GrowlyCub
    Mar 11, 2008 @ 08:45:23

    Thanks for the report. It was very interesting to read. I had no idea CR was scheduled for a) early March and b) Columbia, SC. If I had known it was happening I would have been there and I’m a reader.

    I’m on many romance/erotica related yahoogroups (and administer the RRA-l successor) and didn’t see a mention on any of them.

    I’m really disappointed that I missed it since I’ve wanted to attend CR for years (I seem remember that the conference was usually held later in the year, so I didn’t even think about looking for it this time of year).

    Please feel free to promo CR on RRA-l.

    I’d love to attend next year!

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  6. Danielle D
    Mar 11, 2008 @ 08:47:23

    Oh my stars, I can’t believe it either….Blaze Historicals!! I’m thrilled!

    Thanks for the report.

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  7. Charlene Teglia
    Mar 11, 2008 @ 09:11:48

    Historical Blaze?! *quiver* I can’t wait!

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  8. vanessa jaye
    Mar 11, 2008 @ 09:37:08

    Fantastic post. I really wish I’d been there. Infact I’m going to bookmark Karen’s blog just in case I can swing the expense next year.

    Didn’t Joanne Rock release a Historical Blaze last year? Just checked, it was a bit of a time travel thing– Hidden Obsessions. I guess they were testing the waters with it and it was a success.

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  9. Shannon Stacey
    Mar 11, 2008 @ 10:06:18

    Didn’t Hope Tarr do a Blaze, too?

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  10. GrowlyCub
    Mar 11, 2008 @ 10:16:31

    Jennifer LaBrecque had a time travel in the Blaze line, too. Not one of her better offerings. Might be because I just really do not want to read historical or time travel right now, but the suspension of disbelief was just not there.

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  11. Brenda Chin
    Mar 11, 2008 @ 10:32:10

    Hi everyone,

    I just wanted to jump in here and thank everybody for their enthusiasm for Blaze Historicals. The first book, BOUND TO PLEASE by Hope Tarr will be out in July 2008. It’s set in Scotland, and features a highland laird (the heroine) who kidnaps the hero in order to give her the child she needs to hold onto her keep. And it’s absolutely wonderful! Hope really outdid herself.

    There will be three more Historicals in 2009 by Jade Lee, Betina Krahn and Jacquie D’Alessandro.

    Thanks.

    Brenda Chin
    Senior Editor
    Blaze

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  12. Chicklet
    Mar 11, 2008 @ 10:37:13

    Another factoid that came up – Silhouette Nocturne requires its authors to write super-alpha heroes. One author – I can't remember which one – said Nocturne told her that they'd only accept her book if she made the hero more of an “arrogant alpha”. She didn't want to change it and ended up selling it elsewhere.

    Note to self: You’re no longer in any hurry to read Nocturnes.

    Interestingly, all of them said that a lot of readers like unconventional heroes, but publishers could be resistant to them.

    Seems like this is what readers and authors always run into, isn’t it? I wonder if there’s a way for readers to make this known to publishers in such a way that one of them might actually take a chance on a book featuring an unconventional hero.

    Another factoid – dragons seem to be really hot right now. Vicki Lewis Thompson, Jade Lee, and Rosemary Laurey all have dragon books coming out, and I think there are other authors who are writing dragons too. I don't really get the appeal, but it seems to be “the thing” right now.

    Are these the romantic fantasy subgenre’s answer to the Temeraire books, which are more alternate history than romantic?

    The conference was great fun this year. We're still talking about what's going to happen in the future – we want to continue, but do we need to change things in order to attract more readers?

    Well, considering I’ve been a hardcore romance reader for two years and this is the first time I’ve ever heard of the CR conference, I’d say you should consider raising your profile substantially. Of course, I read only a few blogs regularly (Dear Author, Smart Bitches, Romancing the Blog), so maybe I’m not looking in the right places. But I never heard anything about this conference, and it sounds like it’s been going on for a few years. Certainly, it sounds more geared to the thoughtful reader, since RWA National is geared for writers and the RT convention seems too silly for me (costume ball? NO THANKS).

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  13. Jane
    Mar 11, 2008 @ 10:45:56

    GrowlyCub – I’ve read a couple “paranormal” Blazes and they haven’t been very good. The paranormal aspect is totally tacked on and in the brevity of the book, everything gets the short shrift.

    As for CR, I’ve known about it for years, but I haven’t really thought about going, but it might be exactly the right thing for readers/bloggers,etc. It’s clear that there is some resistance to readers interacting with authors at RWA and RT is definitely not my thing so perhaps we should make a commitment to supporting this reader oriented convention.

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  14. GrowlyCub
    Mar 11, 2008 @ 11:00:19

    Jane!

    I’m all for supporting CR. I years past this was the busiest part of the (cat) show season and I was never available. I was thinking about attending RWA in SF, but since I’m really not involved on the professional side, I just don’t know and RT, well, the less I say, the better. Although I would have probably tried to fly in for the book signing if my parents weren’t coming across the Atlantic for their first visit in 6 years.

    I’m still pouting that CR happened 5 hours from where I live and this year I finally had time and I just didn’t know about it…

    Karen, I assume you haven’t selected a location yet for next year? But is there a date?

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  15. Karen
    Mar 11, 2008 @ 11:51:14

    Thanks for all the great comments! We’ll have an official announcement for next year’s conference in a month or two, once we’ve made the hotel arrangements, but the plan is to have it in March and in the West – we’re looking at Portland and Denver. Sorry it won’t be as close to you next year, GrowlyCub – I was sure I posted about it on RRA this year, because I post there pretty regularly, but I must have forgotten to send in an update. Our web site is crspring.com – it hasn’t been updated since the conference, but the new stuff will be up there eventually. You can also sign up for our newsletter there, so you don’t miss anything!

    I think CR is a really unique conference – I’ve been to RWA and RT, but as a reader, I like CR the best. It’s so much more laid back and informal (and no cover models!). The conference was originally started in 1998 by Margie Wilhelm, but Leanne, Cybil and I took it over four years ago, when Margie couldn’t do it any more and it looked like it was going to die out.

    None of us are really “bloggers”, which is probably why the conference doesn’t get as much coverage on the blogs as it should. I’m not a writer (in my real life, I’m a nerdy scientist) and I find “blogging” a little mysterious – we should probably be more proactive in getting coverage on the blogs, but every time I think of writing up a blog entry promoting CR, I get tongue-tied (or the typewritten equivalent…) But I hate that there are people who don’t know about CR who would enjoy it!

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  16. PJ
    Mar 11, 2008 @ 13:18:25

    Great summary of the conference, Karen. I attended CR for the first time this year. I wouldn’t have known about it either if I hadn’t been told by a friend who had attended in the past. It was wonderful and I would encourage all readers of romance to try to attend future conferences. I’ve never been to an event where I was so warmly welcomed and where the authors are so accessible. It’s highly unlikely that readers at other, larger conferences would have the opportunity to hang out until midnight eating pizza, watching comedy videos and talking about everything under the sun in a suite with authors Cathy Maxwell, Linnea Sinclair, Stephanie Bond, Jacquie D’Alessandro, Wendy Etherington, Cindy Holby/Colby Hodge and Jennifer St. Giles or spend an afternoon with Sabrina Jeffries and Vicki Lewis Thompson talking about kids, books, husbands and our childhoods but that’s exactly what happened at CR. Scenes like that happened all weekend at CR and that’s what makes it such a special event. It’s a casual conference where everyone can relax, talk books and get to know each other. Karen and the rest of the planning committee really excel at their task.

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  17. PJ
    Mar 11, 2008 @ 13:22:29

    Karen, Gannon and I have been blogging about and talking up CR at the many blogs and message boards we frequent. There is a lot of interest from readers and authors alike. We’ve promised to pass along CR 2009 dates, places, etc. as soon as the information is released. Hopefully, they will also pass the info along and we’ll get it out there to more readers who can attend next year.

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  18. Jade Lee
    Mar 11, 2008 @ 17:13:29

    CR just gets better and better, IMO. I had a BLAST this time. Truly, I have not had so much fun at a conference ever! Plus–lucky me–I seem to have lucked out and hit the right waves. I’ve got both Dragonborn out now and a historical Blaze coming out next year!

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  19. Sarah Frantz
    Mar 11, 2008 @ 18:20:35

    Karen (and others), FWIW, you might want to invite some academics next time. Your panels sound great and sound like they might be the type of thing romance-positive academics can help with as well. We’ve got a listserv (there’s a link at Teach Me Tonight) where you could solicit panels or just general input. There are lots of romance critics who are very good speakers and who could do what’s known as the town/gown crossover really well–make presentations that are appropriate both for educated lay people as well as academics. Because to me CR sounds like a fabulous conference that’s slightly more academic and slightly less purely author-focused like RWA or circus-like like RT. It sounds like a great whole “industry” conference: readers, writers, publishers, readers….critics?

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  20. K. Z. Snow
    Mar 11, 2008 @ 22:48:11

    Fascinating report…and one that might help explain my own books’ receptions.

    I’ve been noticing that my first Ellora’s Cave fantasy (which just expanded to a duology, which will soon be a trilogy) has enjoyed steadier sales and more accolades than my other titles. This trend has had me mystified. I wrote the first story on a lark, because I loved the concept of world-building and the fresh challenge of adopting a new voice to suit that world. But I honestly thought the project might fall flat; wasn’t sure there would be much of a market for erotic fantasy romance.

    Hmm. If dragons are still “in”, maybe my antic imagination steered me in the right direction. For a change.

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  21. DS
    Mar 12, 2008 @ 09:11:42

    …. Blaze Historicals. The first book, BOUND TO PLEASE by Hope Tarr will be out in July 2008. It's set in Scotland, and features a highland laird (the heroine) who kidnaps the hero in order to give her the child she needs to hold onto her keep. And it's absolutely wonderful! Hope really outdid herself.

    I don’t mean to be rude, but that doesn’t sound in the least interesting.

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  22. linnea sinclair
    Mar 19, 2008 @ 07:59:47

    [...] a cup of coffee and make yourself nice and comfy, because I’m going to be lookinrosario.blogspot.comCelebrate Romance Report 2008 Last year Karen W, long time romance reader and author of the review blog ???What I??m Reading and [...]

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