Romance Conference Takeaways

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First, NEW RELEASE! The Do-Over (Extra Credit, Book 2) is out May 1st on Kindle so I've got promos!

Phew!!

Now, on to the takeaways. I attended a panel on new romance markets at the Reading for Pleasure conference at Williams College last weekend and here are a few lessons learned from the inspiring women who spoke.

  • Eloisa James spoke about how to navigate the international market, noting that authors can negotiate with foreign sales agents on their own as long as they haven't given away those rights to their U.S. publisher. Those rights, she points out, can be lucrative, in part because they are renegotiated after a specific term. They are so lucrative, in fact, that HarperCollins bought Harlequin in part for its robust international sales.
  • She also paraphrased Sonali Dev, another romance novelist who spoke on another panel last weekend, that American romances are so popular abroad because of their optimism, because America has a mythic association with happy endings and hope. Dev called it "wellness."
  • Katy Regnery attributed the breakout success of her Blueberry Lane series to Bella Andre's advice and mentoring. Andre told her to write a multi-book series of short novels (50-75K words) fast and make the first book perma-free. It worked: the fourteen-volume Blueberry Lane series earned Regnery 500K in royalties in two years. (yup, I checked the transcript! and yes, of course the books have to be good too!) She also points out that with ebooks you can easily make editorial changes in midstream, and you should: when readers complained that the hero of Breaking Up with Barrett was pervy for desiring a girl he knew as a child she just changed their ages in one swoop and clicked republish.
  • Smart Bitches, Trashy Books founder/editor Sarah Wendell offered lots of snappy shorthand for describing books. There's reader catnip, the plot hooks that always snag you even if you don't know why (like couples stuck together in snowstorms or heroes-who-grovel or nerdy heroines) and competence porn (characters with cool jobs described in detail, especially when they are women like in Julie James's books...).
  • The Q&A centered around how to diversify romance, with a variety of approaches. The panelists all agreed that it has to be done responsibly in order to avoid stereotypes.  Eloisa James admitted that she tried to write a historical romance with an Indian princess heroine, but even with mentorship from Sonali Dev and much research she said it felt inauthentic to her and she cancelled the book. Katy Regnery, on the other hand, has explored characters outside her own experience, like a Jewish heroine, and thought the risk was worth it. They pointed out that might be easier in contemporary romances than in historicals though. So here the takeaway seems to be to trust your instincts about your voice and your genre.

Incidentally, I was impressed by the hard work and mutual support shown at this conference, as in other romance arenas. I've been at academic conferences where speakers leave right in the middle of a panel, after they give their own talk, without waiting to hear the others! In contrast, this panel was full of speakers from the other days' events and everyone showed up enthusiastically for each others' talks and referred to them. Heartening!