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Archive for April, 2008

And now for something completely different (Romantic Times)

April 24th, 2008 17 comments

by Alexandra Sokoloff

I have to warn you, this month’s post is going to seem a bit radical to some of you. You may even feel, well, horror, at what I’m about to tell you.

I’m going to talk about my secret favorite convention. And no, it’s not WHC, or WFC, or World Con or Horrorfind or DragonCon or any of those.

It’s the Romantic Times Booklovers Convention.

(I’ll wait for the gasps to subside…)

But I think it’s important for people in the mystery, thriller and, yes, even horror genres, to hear this because Romantic Times is a convention that probably is not on the radar for other genre writers – but it should be.

Let me make this perfectly clear. I never read romances as a kid, or any time after – I had less than zero interest, although looking back I can see there was some romance crossover in the Gothic thrillers I gobbled up in my endless quest for the supernatural. And it’s that crossoverness that definitely makes Romantic Times a more obvious bet for me than a balls-out horror writer, because paranormal is so huge right now – in romances AND mysteries, and though a lot of paranormal seems to be about warm and fuzzy werewolves and endless variations on quirky vampires, there’s also a significant segment of the paranormal readership that likes a good straight-up ghost story.

Now, if you are writing balls-out horror, this is not the place for you. But if you are writing comic horror, erotic horror, horror/mystery crossovers, horror/thriller crossover psychic detectives, ghost stories, fantasy thrillers or, bluntly, if you are a female author, period – you might want to pay some attention, here.

What you’ve probably heard about RT – if you’ve heard anything at all – is that it’s that it’s full of women dressed as vampires and fairies, and half-naked male cover models slinking around. Well, you would be right. But there’s a lot more to it than that.

I heard from almost the very beginning of my promotional efforts that I should go to RT because I write sexy and I write paranormal, and because romance readers simply Buy Books. In fact, they Buy Books voraciously, which I discovered when I went to my first romance-centric workshop in the fall, Heather Graham’s Writers for New Orleans and sold more books to an audience that didn’t know me from Adam than I had sold at several other genre conventions combined.

But the thing that stunned me from the very first moment of the Romantic Times convention last year was how incredibly professionally and logically organized RT is. It’s put on by the Romantic Times review magazine and it’s very adamantly a fan conference. Even though there are lots of aspiring authors there, and great programs for them, this conference is a goldmine for published authors because there are so many people there just to meet authors and buy books (well, okay, and attend the endless and amazingly fun parties, which I’ll get to…)

And here’s my main point. I think we all, admit it, can be a little snotty about our own genre, and look down on writers who write and readers who read things that we wouldn’t necessarily read or write ourselves. But romance readers buy more books than any other single group of readers and they do NOT have the same prejudices. They love reading, they love authors, they love books. Period. Give me THAT reader any old time.

I am frankly staggered at how smart this genre is about marketing and promotion. RT really works to recruit and organize a thriller track and a mystery track (track = a series of panels and events in that genre), alongside their bookseller track, a huge paranormal track, writing tracks, and breakout (how to get an agent/publish) tracks. ITW (International Thriller Writers) and various mystery groups work well in advance with RT planners to organize outside book signing at the truly lovely Murder By The Book bookstore bookseller events (last year the fourteen thriller writers chipped in to host a breakfast for all 75 booksellers in attendance at RT, where we did a meet and greet and gave out promotional material and books. 75 booksellers at once – think about it…).

The conference also features some unique ways of handling reader/author interaction. Apart from outside bookseller events, there is only one mass signing – that takes place in a HUGE convention room on Saturday, after all the authors have already done their panels. The book fair is heavily promoted to the community, on radio, TV and in print, and lots of readers turn up just for that. The authors are lined up alphabetically at long rows of tables, and the readers just walk up and down the aisles. There are drawings for dozens of author-donated gift baskets going on throughout the whole three hour signing, and video screens project book trailers through the whole event as well (THAT was fascinating, and this year I was excited to have both of my book trailers playing in the book room and on the hotel TV during the convention. And yeah, you bet that sold books for me this year, and beyond that, was putting my name and my book titles out there for the entire convention, so that even people who would never buy what I write are now aware of me as an author.).

Another cool feature of RT is “Club RT”. Throughout the convention, in the dealers’ room there are a couple dozen little café tables set up and authors are scheduled for one hour slots where they just sit at these tables and anyone who wants to can come up and chat, get books signed, etc. If I were an aspiring author I would have spent half my time at this conference just going around to chat with different authors in my genre. A truly unique and intimate opportunity for authors, aspiring authors, and fans.

Of course a feature of RT I really love and am thrilled to be able to participate in is Heather Graham’s Vampire Dinner Theater, an original musical review written by Heather and her longtime, comically brilliant collaborators, writer/director/performer Lance Taubold and writer/manager/performer Rich Devin, always featuring several of Heather’s charming and multitalented offspring. Last year the show was “Vampires of the Wild Wild West”; this year it was “Blood and Steel, a Pittsburgh Monster Mash,” in which I was tricked out as a kinky Bride of Frankenstein, and F. Paul Wilson played Riff Raff, the butler – belting out an insane version of Hotel Transylvania).

I also have to say, when women organize these things everything is just – prettier. The attention to detail is staggering. Promo Alley, where authors put out their postcards and bookmarks and giveaways, is a long aisle of covered tables on both sides, and instead of having people just throw their swag on the tables, all the giveaways have to be in displays or decorated baskets. Yes, that takes an extra hour of prep time, but oh man, is it worth it. You can actually SEE the promo stuff, and you get a feel for each author from the decorations of the boxes and baskets. Brilliant idea.

Ditto with the parties. RT has professional costumers/decorators who dress the ballrooms for the theme parties – Moulin Rouge, Midnight at the Oasis, Vampires of the Wild, Wild West, Immortals of Rock and Roll, the Golden Age of Hollywood and of course, the Faery Ball. There is lighting. There are trees. There are enormous Moroccan pillows. There are stage backdrops. There are mirror balls and candles. There are screaming mechanical skulls. And the level of personal costuming rivaled the Renaissance Faire events and special effects masters’ parties I’ve been to in LA (I never even dreamed there were so many variations on fairies. Seriously…).

And these women DANCE. All night. I’m sorry, but you can only talk so much. You get out on the dance floor with a bunch of readers screaming “It’s Raining Men” and you have made friends for life.

And the point of the parties, is, of course, that they attract fans. Boy, do they.

If this is all sounding a little estrogen-heavy, you’re right. But remember – women buy books. And male authors are catching on to the gold mine of readers to be – mined – at RT and are coming over to the decadent side. This year F. Paul Wilson and Barry Eisler were featured authors (Joe Konrath dropped out at the last minute… terrible drag) and I expect that more and more men are going to be realizing what an advantage that Y chromosome gives them in a situation like this.

And well, okay, I admit it – all professionalism aside – after years of having to put up with only female strippers at Hollywood events, I like the turnabout of having half-naked beefcake at a convention.

Sue me.