Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Romantic Times 2015 as a non-Romance writer - Why I went, and was it worth it?

Souvenirs! My husband asked me to bring him back
the most Texas thing I could find. Mission accomplished!
If you were anywhere near my Twitter feed last week, you're probably more aware than you'd like to be that I was in Dallas, TX for the Romantic Times Book Lover's Convention, one of the biggest Romance genre conventions in the world. I didn't actually know that before I signed up because, ya know, I'm not a Romance author. Even FORTUNE'S PAWN, the most romantic of all my books, only has romance as a sub-plot, and my covers most definitely do not have pretty dresses, leather pants, or rock hard abs. So why did I, an SFF author, go to RT?

Well, in the beginning, I went because Ilona Andrews (whom I already owed a bar's worth of drinks for giving me a great review of FORTUNE'S PAWN on her blog) asked me to be on her Urban Fantasy panel. At that point, I was only vaguely aware of RT as a place where Romance authors went to have epic parties, but when Ilona Andrews asks you to be on a panel, you say yes. So of course, I accepted instantly, and then I scrambled off to the internet to find out what, exactly, I'd signed myself up for.

The answer was a lot more than I expected. RT started as a reader con, but these days it's more of a giant who's who in the Romance writing and publishing world. Everyone, and I do mean everyone--big NY publishers, small presses, self pubbers, Amazon's KDP team, NY Times mega bestsellers, readers, reviewers, fans, bloggers, book store reps, librarians--who has any connection to the Romance genre was packed into a giant hotel meeting and partying and moving through panels in a giant mass of networking fury. 

As a mid-list author who is only tangentially connected to Romance, this was a pretty intimidating world to dive into. Other than a few Twitter/email interactions, I knew no one there, and I was constantly worried no one would care about me or my books since, again, I'm only a "Romance Author" by the furthest stretch of the definition. Also, like any giant con, RT was expensive

Given all that, you can imagine how nervous I was, but I'm happy to report that my RT gamble paid off better than I could have hoped! It was absolutely worth the time and money for me both as an author and a Romance reader. I could gush for hours about all the awesome connections I made and the fun I had, but I think I've fangirled enough for one month, so here's the same information in useful bulleted list format.

WHY YOU SHOULD GO TO RT (for authors):
  • The panels. I think what surprised me the most about RT was how amazingly awesome the panels were. I mean, most cons have decent panels, but these were absolutely stellar. They had panels for craft, marketing, social media, author branding, business, international rights, and a whole host of other topics all led by some of the biggest names in the business. I've been writing professionally since 2009, and I still took over 50 pages of notes, ten of which were from the Tension panel with Patricia Briggs alone. I can't remember the last time I learned so much in such a short period of time. My only regret is that I could only go to one panel at a time. I can't tell you how many times I wished I could split myself because there were two panels I wanted to go to happening at the same time.
  • The networking. As I said, when I got to RT, I knew no one. This was not the case by the time I left four days later. I'm normally pretty nervous about striking up conversations with random strangers, but RT was hands down the friendliest con I've ever been to. Everyone is there to make new connections, and since most of the attendees are also authors and/or people in the publishing industry, you've got a guaranteed topic of conversation in books. Big pub, small pub, self pub: there was so much shop talk going on at all levels, it was pretty much impossible not to meet someone who was interested in your career. Also, if you've only met someone online, this is a great chance to meet them in person over dinner or drinks, and since most of these ladies are tons of fun, it doesn't even feel like work!
  • Meeting other authors. This technically belongs under networking, but I felt it deserves its own segment because while it was great to meet industry people, the true shine of the con for me was getting to meet other authors socially. Writing can be a very lonely life, but when you go to RT, almost everyone you meet is a writer! Sit down at the bar? Writers everywhere! You can be waiting for an elevator and meet someone who not only has your dream writing career, but is happy to talk to you about it. That is GOLD!
  • Getting to talk to Amazon directly. This probably isn't as exciting if you're not involved in self publishing, but one of my favorite panels was the one run by Amazon's head of author relations. The big A showed up at this con ready to rumble, and they put on an impressive show with six people from corporate representing KDP, CreateSpace, and ACX. They didn't give us any truly juicy information (this is Amazon, after all), but they were clearly listening to author concerns and responded with some surprisingly honest and insightful replies. For example, when I asked why can't Amazon show me life time sales, one of the KDP programmers, who was just siting in the audience, piped up and said they were aware of the issue, that it was their fault, and they were working on it, but that it was a big data problem and probably would not be addressed soon. That might not sound like much, but considering it's Amazon, it was way more info than I was expecting. Also, he'd seen and liked the website my husband built to convert KDP spreadsheets into readable graphs! Nerd out!!
  • The exposure. I did two panels over my 4 days at RT, and I was sitting beside Linnea Sinclair, Ilona Andrews, Kresley Cole, Chloe Neill, and Jennifer Estep among others. At the Urban Fantasy panel, I was literally the only non-NYT Bestseller up there, and it was amazing. First of all, it was fantastic getting to speak to all their fans (who are awesome and I hope would become my fans), but even if I didn't convert a single reader....I was sitting at a table with names from my Kindle! These are the ladies who write the books I read for fun! Getting to be up there with them was one of the single coolest experience of my life, and the fact that everyone was so knowledgeable and funny and smart and nice only made it better. Even if you don't get on a panel yourself, the audiences are pretty small, which gives you the chance to talk to the panelists one on one, It really was great.
  • It's freaking fun. THIS CAN NOT BE OVERSTATED. LOOK AT THIS PICTURE:  Are these the smiles of people at a work convention? YES, YES THEY ARE.

WHY YOU SHOULD GO TO RT (for readers):
  • Do you read romance? Go. Seriously, go. I'm a big Romance reader in my free time, and the fan girl level was off the hook. Your favorite authors are everywhere. I mean, I went to a signing event just to get some my books signed and ended up eating dinner with Tessa Dare! It does not get cooler than that. 

Now, of course, all of the above assumes you write/are interested in Romantic Fiction. If you don't, I'm sure all of this isn't as exciting to you as it was for me. So, in the spirit of fairness, let's talk about some of the downsides of RT.

  • If you don't write love stories, you're probably wasting your time. This isn't to say you have to write Romance capital R to enjoy RT. Like I said, my books are love stories in subplot alone. Still, this is a Romance convention, and Romance readers, though amazingly open in their reading choices, generally want a love story of some sort, so if that's not you, you won't get as much out of RT as an author who writes in the Romance spectrum.
  • It's expensive. This was the #1 complaint I heard about RT. Since it's a professional convention, everyone, even the big names, has to pay to attend. They give you a discount if you're on a panel, but it's still not cheap at a few hundred bucks. Add in airfare, food, and multiple nights at a nice hotel, and the cost adds up quick. I still think it's money well spent, but if you're on a budget, this could definitely be an issue.
  • It's very very VERY social. To get the most out of the networking side of RT, you have to be willing to take the initiative and strike up conversations. Now, I'm an extrovert who talks all the time, so I had no problem with this, but if you're shy or if the thought of meeting lots of people terrifies you, RT will be extremely stressful. I'm not saying you still won't enjoy the panels, but the social half of RT might be more pain than it's worth in your case.
  • It's not really a reader/fan con. There are readers and fans in attendance, but from what I saw, 75% of the people at the con were authors or aspiring authors. That's great for networking and meeting new industry friends, but not so good if your primary goal is to meet or make fans. I don't really think this is a problem since there are plenty of other, non-industry conventions that focus exclusively on readers, but I was surprised by just how writer focused RT was. So, you know, keep that in mind. (That said, if you are going as a Reader/Blogger/Reviewer, this means the con is even more amazing since everyone wants to talk to you and give you free stuff!!)
So that's the skinny on RT from the perspective of a mid-list, non-Romance writer. As someone who has her toes in both the self-pub and trad-pub ponds, I think I was in the absolute perfect position to get the most out of this con. The Romance genre is about five years ahead of the rest of the industry when it comes to self publishing, and I learned a lot from listening to the authors there. Smart, smart ladies.

I started this blog in the spirit of sharing my experiences in the hopes that what I learn can help other authors down the line, and that's what this is, too. Whether or not conventions are worth the time and money they take to attend is a question every author has to answer eventually. For me, though, RT was a win. Will I go again? Absolutely. Should you pay to go? Well, selfishly I'd say yes since, if you read my blog, I want to meet you!! Really, though, whether or not RT works for you depends on your situation. If you're a reader who doesn't care about Romance, obviously it's a waste of time. But if you're an author who, like me, writes books with crossover potential into Romance, it could be an amazing experience.

I hope all of this gushing helps you make an informed decision, or at least gets you excited about a freaking fun convention! Good luck to you all, and happy writing/reading!



mk said...

I always love to hear your articulate thoughts and breakdown of author issues, even though I'm a reader and reviewer, not an author. I have been toying with the idea of going to RT for a couple of years now, and your post is helping to nudge me to go next year.
So awesome that Ilona asked you to be on a panel! She is right to love your work, 'cuz its awesome!

Cathy Shouse said...

Thanks for all the tips!

Anne-Maree Gray said...

It all sounds fantastic. How awesome that you had the opportunity to go! And I would totally be fangirling, too.

Rachel Aaron said...

Thanks guys! I think I may have fangirled a little too hard at some people -_-

Still, great experience! I really wanted to do my impressions since I get so many people asking me "is RT worth it?" which I think is a very smart question. Gotta make sure you're investing your money/time smartly!

Amy J Murphy said...

I have elements of romance in my sci fi series. It's necessary for parts of the plot to move the story forward between two characters. But I'm used to blowing up spaceships and planets in my writing, not mushy love stuff. I'm wondering if you have any advice or can point me in the right direction or if something actually exists like a "formula" for having two characters getting together to make sense... if that makes sense?

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