This July, 2,000 romance writers from all over the country descended on Denver for the annual Romance Writers of America (RWA) conference. For 38 years this event has served as a way for those writing in the romance genre to get together to learn more about the craft, meet industry professionals, pitch to editors/agents and connect with other writers.
Since the conference took place in my home state, and because I recently took up writing romance books with a co-author (under the pen name C.K. Wiles), it was time for me to see what this 4-day conference was all about. From the moment I walked through the doors of the immense Sheraton Downtown, I could feel it. A strong sense of community and support permeated the atmosphere and became stronger over the course of the event. Made up of around 90% women (my unofficial math), the attendees were friendly, helped each other navigate the hotel spread out between two buildings, introduced themselves before sessions and it didn’t matter if you had been published or not, everyone was welcoming.
Each day provided opportunities to learn about marketing, the craft of writing romance, and the business of publishing through the 100+ sessions being offered. In addition, publishers were there to highlight their authors with book signings and lots of free books (yes, free books). Agents and editors were on hand to listen to pitches. Industry professionals from companies like Findaway Voices (audiobooks), IngramSpark, Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), Hallmark Publishing and ACX (audiobooks) held office hours to answer questions. On Saturday evening everyone wore beautiful gowns and dresses for the awards ceremony honoring the RITA® and Golden Heart winners. The event culminated with a fundraising book signing with hundreds of authors that was open to the public and raised over $38,000 for Pro Literacy and The Literacy Coalition of Colorado.
Don't miss Kerrie Flanagan's sessions on magazine article writing and ghostwriting at the Writer's Digest Annual Conference, August 10-12, 2018!
RWA values different publishing models. I was pleased to see the support for self-published independent authors. The special book signing devoted to this group drew a big crowd and four of the thirteen RITA winners were self-published. Sessions with topics geared for indies could be found each day.
For 10 years I organized my own writing conference for about 150 people. I know the amount of work that went into those and I can’t imagine putting on one the size of RWA. I was so impressed with how efficiently it ran. Registration was easy, sessions stayed on time, meals went smoothly, and I could always find someone to answer a question when needed. The handy phone app made it easy to navigate and sort through the many sessions and events happening each day.
I enjoyed the personal touches and fun additions to the event. During registration you could add a wide array of colorful horizontal ribbons to your name tag that shared something about you like, Pantser, Plotter, First-Timer, Suspense, Local, etc. Most people added at least five to their name tag. The Goody Room became a favorite place to visit at least once a day. Here, any author attending the event could put out freebies on the many tables set up in the room. I found cute bookmarks with fun strings and beadwork, chocolates, cards with free book downloads, brightly colored jewelry bags filled with different items, pencils, water bottles… so many great things. One morning I enjoyed sipping a mimosa during the Carina Press book signing and one afternoon, they offered free glasses of wine for us.
At the end of the four days, my brain was full, my shoulders ached from carrying around all my free books, I met amazing writers, I talked with industry professionals, I felt enlightened about the romance industry, and I left happy knowing that RWA and this conference exist.
Here are some of my takeaways from the conference. (You can also see more of my notes on my twitter feed @Kerrie_Flanagan with the hashtag #RWA18.)
- Harlequin has 23 separate lines of books ranging from their wholesome Love Inspired line to their super steamy Dare line. The publisher accepts un-agented submissions.
- Over the past few years, diversity and inclusion continue to be an important conversation in the world of romance books. Avon Books, on behalf of romance author Beverly Jenkins is sponsoring a diverse voice entrant in the RITA and/or Golden Heart Competitions and covering expenses for this author to attend an upcoming RWA conference. This is a way to encourage Own Voices writers (protagonist and the author share a marginalized identity) to be more fully represented at the RWA annual conference,
- Romance is one genre that gets singled out as being formulaic. But as Sonali Dev pointed out during her session, every genre has a formula. There are certain conventions and promises in the structure of every genre that readers expect.
- Whether traditional or independently published, marketing is essential to success. Mark Dawson, along with other authors, mentioned the importance of having an email newsletter to stay in touch with your readers.
- Audiobooks continue to grow, especially in the romance genre, and there are now more options than ever for indie authors or traditionally published authors who retained their audio rights, to create and distribute high quality audiobooks through companies like Findaway Voices.
With over 9,000 members, RWA is a great resource and community for romance writers. There are 120 local chapters all over the country where you can connect with the writers in your area. The 2019 annual conference is July 24-27th at the New York Marriott Marquis in New York City. I hope to see you there!