Romance Writers of America (RWA) conference. After all, it's not a conference geared towards readers and other than the half-assed ramblings I post on the Internet, I'm not working on writing towards publication. My stock answer is, that as a librarian, I tend to get something out of the conference every year from a "professional" standpoint. Also, I'll be honest, I've been kicking around long enough that over the years I have built up casual, as well as, genuine friendships with other readers and authors. I like going to RWA every year (when it's possible) to hook-up and see these folks. To hang out. To get my yearly book-fix. Because while it's fun as hell to talk books online? To connect with people online? It's a jillion times cooler to be able to do that sort of thing live, and in person.
Two people I always love seeing at conference are Blythe and Lynn from All About Romance. I always admired what Laurie built at AAR, pre-social media days, and I do think the online romance community as we know it owes quite a bit to AAR's existence. Blogging is, I think, an extension of that "at the back fence" vibe that AAR was built on. Also, I'll be honest, Blythe and Lynn are as "old" as I am in terms of Internet years. Collectively, I think, the three of us can truly appreciate and understand the changes that have gone through the genre (and the RWA organization as a whole) because dude - we remember what it used to be like.
RWA gets knocked down a lot for its rigidity, lack of change, and inflexibility. And, you know, I can see that. Their decision to do away with "strong romantic elements" at the RITAs is not one I embrace. There's also a lot of discussion about RWA's lack of inclusiveness, its unwillingness to support diversity (LGBT, characters/writers of color etc.), it's inability to get with the times and see the writing on the wall (digital, self-publishing etc.). Have these criticisms been fair? Yes, in many instances they have been. And I do think RWA and its membership still have work to do. But the fact is, just chatting with Blythe and Lynn again in Atlanta last month, I was reminded of how much RWA has changed. No really, it has. Maybe not as fast as some of us would like, but it has happened.
TRR and/or at my own blog). My name badge said my name, and my real-life job title. Why? I'll be frank, I got way more love as a librarian. TRR and AAR were "the enemy" for a long, long time - and while not all authors had their panties in a bunch over us - you just never knew what sort of reception you were going to get. Most authors were, at least to me, cool about my reviewing when/if it came up (to my face anyway, I obviously don't know what was said behind closed doors). But it's hard to know that going in blind, so yeah - it wasn't something I was actively broadcasting from the on-set.
I'm not sure when the shift happened for me, but maybe around 2009? By that point I had been online for ten years and blogging for six. I think that might have been the year that "Super Librarian Blog" appeared on my name badge for the first time. It took a long (oh Lord did it ever!) time, but I think what happened is that the longer you're around, the more people get used to you being there. After a while you become furniture. Wendy, Super Librarian and potted plant. Also, there were a new breed of debut authors coming up through the ranks, authors who were readers first and who "grew up" with TRR, AAR, Mrs. Giggles, blogs, the online romance community in general. These days my blog is usually the first thing authors latch on to when they meet me in person, and this year was the first time I was recipient of a couple of squee'ing incidents (for the record, I paid those people to say things like "OMG, you're SuperWendy!").
There were several "big deals" that happened at the Atlanta conference this year that I want to highlight. Were some of these changes long overdue? Yes. But like all things when it comes to change - it either doesn't happen fast enough to our liking, or it happens way too fast for our liking. Totally depends on what side of the fence you're standing on. These were all changes I saw that were most welcome and I hope a sign towards more awesome things to come:
2) Self-published works can now be entered in the RITA. This is how fast things are changing, while it took erotic romance a good 10+ years to crack the RITA nut, self-publishing didn't have as long of a slog. Why? The big reason, I think, is that so many authors who have (and maybe still are) traditionally publishing, are also exploring self-publishing and finding success. Plus, let's be honest, an author who has published traditionally is a "known commodity." As a reader I'm going to be more willing to take a chance on a self-published work if the writer has also published via traditional routes. And, you know, is obviously open to the editing process.
Side note: I find it interesting that both of these changes were implemented under the watch of current RWA President Sylvia Day - a writer who built her career writing erotic romance and who also found a lot of success in self-publishing before taking her Crossfire series over to Penguin. But, you know what? I think we probably should all thank E.L. James as well. Money talks, and it will not be ignored. An erotic romance RITA category has been talked to death for many years, Fifty Shades is a ginormous success, and now guess what? We have an erotic romance RITA category! Coincidence? Yeah, probably not so much.
3) Self-publishing as a presence, in general, at the conference this year. Holy cow - it basically had it's own "track" in the workshop schedule. You could have been at the conference and attended nothing but self-publishing panels. This is a huge step from previous years, when digital (let alone self-publishing) was either not mentioned at all, or there was maybe one workshop tucked away somewhere. This year also marked the first time there was an "indie" booksigning. Many recognizable names (Claire Delacroix, Barbara Freethy, Courtney Milan....) alongside not-so-known names. It was a very well-attended signing and a great bit of networking for all involved.
4) eBooks. Certainly one of the cool things about book conferences are the freebies, and RWA is no exception. This year saw the first time where there was an increased presence of ebooks. Samhain, for the last several years, has been beating this drum loudly by making available, at their free booksigning, both coupon codes for free downloads alongside print books. It's typically about half-and-half for them. Half the authors are just signing download cards, the other half are just signing print books. This year though, juggernaut "old school" publisher Avon got in on the act. Many of the authors at that signing were offering both print and digital copies, giving the attendee a choice. Then they had a digital-only signing a day or so later - where authors used the software program Autography. The attendee punched in their e-mail address, the author then made out an inscription, and viola! Book, complete with autograph, was delivered right to your e-mail to download in various formats of your choosing.
Yeah, publishers? More of this. I do still read print. I love print. But holy heck on a cracker, Atlanta is a long ways away from where I live and the less I have to ship home? The more of your books I'm going to take. The more of your books I will try. The more of your books I can share with other readers not lucky enough to attend the conference. At the end of the day it's about your books finding readers. If I lived closer to Atlanta and had driven? Yeah, I would have taken more print books - but you know what? I don't. So yeah, the ebook option was brilliant.
5) An increased presence of LGBT authors and publishers. In years past I could count on seeing L.B. Gregg and K.A. Mitchell and? That was pretty much it. This year I met several more authors, many of whom were excited to talk to me about library purchasing, and Sarah Frantz from Riptide Publishing may have been the busiest woman at the conference. But I also want to talk about something I overheard this year. An LGBT author (who I won't name because I didn't ask them for permission) mentioned that some of the best connections she makes at RWA are with inspirational authors. Yeah, inspirational authors. Which you would think would make for strange bedfellows, but this author mentioned that the inspy folks she has met are all about "love is love" and tend to be very open and accepting people. So yeah, pretty damn awesome if you ask me. Certainly I cannot imagine that these communities mesh too much in the online sphere, but these authors getting together and networking at conference? That equals a big ol' WIN in my book.