Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

RWA Write-up: View From Inside

This was my second RWA conference. I thoroughly enjoy the community of current and future authors, of readers, and of industry professionals at RWA. I enjoy three conference communities in very different ways. At Popular Culture Association's conference, I hang out with 20-40 scholars of popular romance (in a conference of about 1000 scholars) for four days. We all know or quickly come to know each other and thoroughly enjoy each other's work. At the Annual General Meetings of the Jane Austen Society of North America, you know you're surrounded by 500 people who have all read the same six books you have, probably more often than you have. But at RWA, you know you can go up to any woman with the same type of name badge as you and talk BOOKS. There's a common language (Nora, Troubleshooters, Acheron, vampires, werewolves, and zombies (oh my), rakish heroes, TSTL heroines, secret babies) and a shared obsession. And for four days you get to share it with everyone you meet.

RWA did an amazing job with moving the conference. The only thing I noticed that was even slightly confused because of the move was that some of the chapter meetings were listed incorrectly in the program. But correct times were announced during the luncheons, so things were fixed, as much as they could be.

I'm not a fiction author or an industry professional. I'm not there to pitch a manuscript or to fend off the ravening hoards from my bathroom stall. I'm there to raise the visibility of IASPR and interact with the authors whose work I write about, a rare opportunity for an academic (critics of Shakespeare and Jane Austen obviously have little opportunity to talk to their subjects). So my perspective of the conference is much less fraught than it might be if I were an aspiring or published author or industry professional.

The conference hotel was great. I've never been to Disney before, and although I'm told this wasn't an official "property" hotel, the customer service was fine, the room service calamari was AMAZING, the property was ridiculously over-the-top (fountains on the roof? SRSLY?), and the whole place wasn't as echo-y and loud as I'm used to at hotels.

I arrived on Wednesday and registered. Avon was incredibly cheap on the name badges. Last year, Harlequin (I think?) shelled out for really great name badge holders that, most importantly, stayed name out, had room to store your cards, cards of people you met, a pen, and lots of the pins that seem ubiquitous. This year, Avon shelled out for an insipid baby-blue and pink lanyard with a bull clip on the end. The name badges themselves were just in plastic protectors that twirled around on the lanyard, so you could never be sure your name was face-out. The Sourcebook tote bags, on the other hand, are big, strong canvas bags with a cute design. Sourcebooks WIN, Avon FAIL. (Not sure who sponsored the thumb drives-‘checking program, apparently that was Avon, too, the expense of which vaguely excuses their skimping on the name badge holders. I wonder if Harlequin was supposed to sponsor badges and pulled out over the whole Harlequin Horizons/being delisted thing, leaving Avon to pick up the slack.) ETA: I have been reminded that HQN sponsored the cool conference notebooks which I have been using ever since. Carina sponsored wonderful water bottles that I have with me now in Belgium.

I checked out the Goody Room where authors (and academics) put their bookmarks and freebies. Although it wasn't as narrow and tiny as last year, it was still pretty small and cramped, especially when people were putting their stuff in the room. An author had ordered 2000 copies of her books as freebies, so the room was rather overwhelmed with boxes of these books that not everyone wanted. Outside the Goody Room was the Book Swap table that mostly had the books from the conference bag or the luncheons on it. Anything else new was snapped up almost immediately (my roommate, Victoria Janssen, for example, put down 3 or 4 of one of her books and they disappeared instantly). I also checked out the press room and met Judith Scott, RWA employee, who was a darling and super-competent.

The cell coverage (I have an iPhone with AT&T) was spotty at best and non-existent at worst. The Ballroom in which the luncheon and the RITAs were held got okay coverage so most of us could Twitter most of the time, but some rooms were black holes. The hotel had a wireless package included in a $10 extra fee, but that was only for your room, not the lobby and certainly not the conference area. So very little tweeting was done from most panels, which I think was unfortunate and a loss.

There was a Book Sellers Room as well, run by Barnes & Noble. It was pretty well-stocked (carried the Smart Bitches' Bosoms). There was a Nook representative outside, right by the registration area, with a whole table of Nooks and Nook covers. I didn't see her do much selling of her product, which was strange to me.

RWA paired with the American Heart Association to do a Go Red raffle, in which I unexpectedly won a Low Calorie Cookbook. Thanks to Shiloh Walker for tweeting me about that!

Also, super thanks to RWA for announcing the Academic Grant winners in the program. I would have liked them to be announced at the Awards dinner too-‘one of them (Laurie Kahn) was even there at the conference-‘but maybe that's just me. It was certainly nice to see them in the program.

I have to say I went INTO this conference exhausted from 9 days of vacation at the beach and 3 days at the parks in Orlando. So I might not have been super-coherent some of the time. And I'm currently in Belgium for IASPR's conference, jetlagged and sleep-deprived, so I don't know how coherent I am now. But here goes:

The Literacy Signing on Wednesday was fabulous as usual. Huge room of wonderful authors. I walked down every aisle, but didn't do anything nearly as cool as SB Sarah's video. It was lovely to see Radclyffe there signing, author and publisher of Bold Stroke Books. The room was big enough that the lines for the Big Name authors around the edges weren't too nuts, even if they were long. I didn't buy one book (shame on me).

I went to dinner with Victoria Janssen, hung out in an author's suite for a while with Jessica Scott and Laurie Kahn (Academic Grant winner), then went on to the tail end of the Bloggers' Bar Bash and FINALLY met Wendy the Super Librarian, Magdalen B., and remet Kristie J., all of which was great fun.

On Thursday morning, I worked on my evening presentation, walked around the hotel with Keira Soleore, and went to Nora Roberts' kick-ass Luncheon Keynote. The meal was chicken-as were ALL the meals provided by the hotel. And Nora was stunning. Don't bitch about how hard things are for you, just get out there, write write and write, work hard, and see what happens. She had the whole room in stitches and determined to do better, to be more productive, to boldly go where no romance author had gone before.

Right after lunch, I went to Suz Brockmann's panel with Lee Child. I've never heard of, let alone read Child's books, but apparently more people in that room were there to hear him than Suz. They talked about how to cross-over to other audiences. I don't know that they said anything that isn't said about how to market your books, but it was entertaining anyway, even with the embarrassingly fangirly questioners who flirted with Mr. Child.

I then holed in my room to prepare for my Passionate Ink keynote. Angela Knight, the other Keynote speaker, was a hoot, and I want to thank the PI chapter for being such a wonderful amazing audience. The title of my presentation was "How to Write BDSM Romance-and Not Get Snarked by Joan/Sarah F. at Dear Author." All my advice came with heavy caveats about it working only for ME, but it seemed a well-received speech.

I then did Moonlight Madness for IASPR. I love how all the academics come out of the woodwork when I blazon IASPR's name and logo around all over the place. I met an academic librarian from the University of North Dakota and about five adjunct professors, and one retired professor. It was a wonderful evening spent proselytizing academic study of popular romance fiction. Then room service for dinner (FABULOUS calamari, like I said), and bed.

Thursday morning I spent preparing for my panel with Suzanne Brockmann on Building Theme. We had standing room only to start the panel, which I found gratifying (but for which I take NO credit, I hasten to add). I think Suz and I worked well together. I hope others agree. People trickled out during the workshop, probably to go to the first of the publisher signings, for which I REALLY don't blame them.

For those of you who don't know (as I didn't last year), for the Literacy Signing, the books are donated by the publishers, but you still have to buy them and the proceeds are donated to-well, literacy. For the publishers' signings all the way through the conference, you stand on line with a pack of rabid fans, rush into a room, pick a book off an author's table and have her sign it for you, go all around the room doing the same thing-and then you leave. With all those signed books absolutely FREE. O.O

That said, I have to admit I went to one signing (out of nine) and didn't pick anything up. I was traveling so didn't want heavy suitcases (which didn't work anyway), I was booked during some of the signings-but really, Samhain and other epubs (Carina) didn't have a signing. After all, how could they? I can't imagine the write-offs are as easy to eat for them as for the big houses. And, well, they're e-publishers. While Victoria Janssen may have signed one of her books on her reader's Kindle, signing e-books is-mostly impossible.

The Awards Luncheon with Jayne Ann Krentz was also great. While Krentz is not as GOOD a public speaker as La Nora, her advice about how not to kill your own career was good advice for an author. In fact, I talked with an author the next day who wishes she had heard that speech a year ago.

Carina Press had a cocktail hour, which I spent chatting with Vivien Arend and the lovely and informative Carrie Lofty. Did you know that men preferred bright orange reds while women prefer deeper reds with blue overtones. Truefact.

I went to the "How to Spin Straw into Gold" panel with Eloisa James and Carrie Ferron, which was interesting, even though I'm not an author. Then I went to SB Sarah's panel with Jill Shalvis and Teresa Medeiros, who, at Sarah's prompting, talked about how to blog and Tweet without alienating readers. It was a fun informative panel, but reminded me why I unfriended Medeiros on Twitter, because her constant Tweeting about her crush on Donnie Osmond, homophobic Mormon, got my bisexual back up. While I enjoyed her other Tweets enough to see how she's created the community she has on Twitter and Facebook, that bugged me enough to drop her.

Friday evening, while everyone Important went to the publishers' locked-down parties (although I hear a rumor that Jessica Scott crashed the Harlequin party with her agent ;), I went out to dinner with two lovely sociologists, Joanna Gregson and Jen Lois, who are new to the romance world, adore it and the books they're finding, and are fascinated enough to plan a study of romance author community as their next project. They seem totally to respect the communities they find, and are smart and wonderful.

Saturday I was tired and exceedingly cranky. I had to retrieve the credit card I'd left at the dinner with the lovely sociologists. The line to ship stuff home took more than an hour. I had a headache. The only thing that saved my day with lunch with K.A. Mitchell, m/m writer extraordinaire, and the SBTB tweetup, that Sarah's already talked about.

Then primping for the RITAs. I wore red (of course) and sat with Louisa Edwards, Kristen Painter, librarian extraordinaire Kristin Ramsdell, Patrick Alan (who apparently has an amazing blog about RWA), the lovely and pregnant Julie James, Gwen Hayes (of Chachbag fame), Lara Santiago (who I didn't get to talk with at all), and Mary Kay Foss. Dinner was-chicken and the RITAs were fabulous. Except I was SO cold, I was shivering the whole time.

All in all, it was a wonderful conference, as always. The community is stunning, the people are so friendly, and the shoes are truly awesome. NYC RWA2011, here we come (with IASPR the two days before!).

Sarah F. is a literary critic, a college professor, and an avid reader of romance -- and is thrilled that these are no longer mutually exclusive. Her academic specialization is Romantic-era British women novelists, especially Jane Austen, but she is contributing to the exciting re-visioning of academic criticism of popular romance fiction. Sarah is a contributor to the academic blog about romance, Teach Me Tonight, the winner of the 2008-2009 RWA Academic Research Grant, and the founder and President of the International Association of the Study of Popular Romance (IASPR). Sarah mainly reviews BDSM romance and gay male romance and hopes to be able to beat her TBR pile into submission when she has time to think. Sarah teaches at Fayetteville State University, NC.


  1. RRRJessica
    Aug 09, 2010 @ 05:08:16

    Thank you for this unique perspective on RWA, Sarah. And thanks for everything you do to nurture the study of popular romance.

    Next year in NYC!

  2. Angela James
    Aug 09, 2010 @ 07:16:19

    Re: your speculation about the conference bags and Harlequin sponsoring something in them; they didn’t sponsor the name badges but they had those fantastic “retro cover” conference notebooks instead. I’m not sure why you’d imply some sort of “so there” action on their part but it seems to me they simply sponsored something different (and kind of awesome, in my admittedly biased opinion).

  3. Juliana Stone
    Aug 09, 2010 @ 08:05:15

    Avon sponsored those awesome name badges last year. Perhaps (I can’t say for certain) the badges were not up to the same standard due to the last minute conference site change.

    Just sayin

  4. Victoria Janssen
    Aug 09, 2010 @ 09:43:23

    Thanks for the report. The e-book I signed was on a Sony – not sure what model. Someone more familiar with e-readers than I am might be able to tell the model from the photo I took: .

  5. Kin in Hawaii
    Aug 09, 2010 @ 10:48:09

    Aloha, Joan! I am sorry that I missed meeting you among the 2000+ attendees.

    Mahalo for the recap – I, too, was exhausted at the start and never regained any sleep throughout the week. But the adrenaline just kept me going. I was one of those rabid fans at the publishers’ book signings but I grabbed books for military spouses here in Hawaii. My fan moment came when I was the first in front of Sherry Thomas – I actually had her autograph His At Night for my personal library! I enjoyed her acceptance speech during the awards ceremony.

    Most veterans of these conferences bring their favorite name badge holders from previous conferences with their “achievement” and “membership” pins attached. I received two holders from the Beau Monde Conference in error so you are welcome to the second one. It has the pocket, pen holder, and other accessories needed to survive the week!

    Have fun in Belgium – I wish could I could carry your bags for you! Having lived twice in the Benelux area with NATO, I miss its charm, chocolate, and cheese!

  6. Chicklet
    Aug 09, 2010 @ 10:49:23

    When are hotels and conference centers going to realize that they need to provide wi-fi in every corner of the building *and* not charge an extra fee for it? Starbucks can provide me with free wi-fi for the cost of a latte, which is a lot less than I pay for a hotel room.

  7. Tweets that mention RWA Write-up: View From Inside | Dear Author --
    Aug 09, 2010 @ 13:33:06

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by NightsEmbrace, Terry Odell. Terry Odell said: #RWA10 – view from inside from @dearauthor […]

  8. Kate Pearce
    Aug 09, 2010 @ 14:03:42

    Always a pleasure to see you, Sarah and your talk at the P.I. party was fascinating-especially the questions it inspired LOL

  9. Michelle Butler
    Aug 09, 2010 @ 14:34:14

    I really, really enjoyed your workshop with Suz Brockmann. I loved the academic vs. author (vs. reader) perspective on theme. It was just fun to hear what you thought the themes were to certain books and then see how Suz agreed or differed on what she thought the themes were. I realize I’m a bit nerdy, but I love how RWA is incorporating a bit of the academic take on romance novels into the conference.

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