first published in the Brisbane Courier-Mail 5 May 2007
This week, this column is coming to you live from Houston, Texas, where for the last 4 days I have been attending the Romantic Times Booklovers’ Convention at the beautiful Hyatt Regency.
This year, the conference celebrates its 24th incarnation, bringing together both published and aspiring authors, publishing professionals, editors, agents, and, of course, readers. The conference has long been known as a great place for readers to get together, meet their favourite authors, ask questions, and talk about their favourite books.
Unfortunately, this year, the conference decided to stray from its previously successful formula, to the detriment of the readers and the conference itself.
As I mentioned, the Booklover’s Convention has in the past been for the readers; the Romance Writers of America Conference, held this year in July in Dallas, is the industry conference, where authors go to network, pitch new ideas, and explore collaborations. However, the RWA is also known to be somewhat exclusive; very few e-publishers and small presses make it into the RWA-acknowledged publishers. I’m not suggesting that small presses have hijacked the RT convention – far from it – but I am stating that the convention this year was, in fact, all about the writers and booksellers with readers pushed very much to the side.
It’s no small secret that many romance readers have writing aspirations as well. But what really works in the romance genre is that everyone in the industry is a reader first. It’s why the genre has lasted as long as it has, why it is as successful as it is, and why it can re-invent itself more often than Madonna. Readers care about their books and their authors. They are willing to take chances on new authors, and will support them loyally and fiercely for as long as they continue to buy into that author’s world. Readers aren’t blind to faults – we can talk about books we hated for as long as we can talk about books we loved – but because most readers read so broadly and so often, the genre is among the most lucrative in publishing.
So why are we being ignored? Sure networking is important. As is learning to promote, finding an agent, getting published. But at the end of the day, it’s the readers that fuel the market. Without readers, writers, publishers, agents, marketing directors, and editors have no purpose. But the planners of the convention this year seemed to have forgotten that important fact.
Here’s hoping that next year, the readers’ program will expand from one choice per session (80’s trivia? Booklovers’ charades?) to eclipse, or at the very least mirror, the writers’ choices – 5 or more per session. Because surely a booklovers’ convention should celebrate the book lovers.