Last week I was fortunate enough to make it to San Diego for the Romance Writers of America National Conference.
I’ve been a member of RWA since 2000. (I was originally a ‘regular’ member, but now I’m an affiliate—I think that’s what it’s called—since I’m in the industry, but not currently writing a romance novel.)
Having been around awhile, I think it’s fair to say that the industry changes (an understatement, especially in the last 16 years), the board changes, the people driving the conversation change. There are mean people in RWA. There are amazing people in RWA. Sometimes the people who are mean to you are not mean to me, and vice versa. It is what it is, and what it is ebbs and flows.
In other words, RWA is an institution. It has its pros and its cons, and I have ignored, struggled with, and embraced many of the conversations, progressions, and flares that have come up since 2000.
In the end, it’s up to you as to whether RWA is a good fit or not.
If you’re an aspiring writer, I can guarantee that you should at least consider RWA. I don’t think any other writers’ organization or its members are as generous with resources, information, and inspiration as RWA, both on the national and local levels. Time and again, in conversations I’ve had with writers and industry people, this simple fact has come up.
In my opinion and experience, the smartest, friendliest, most innovative, and empowered (and empowering) writers are romance writers.
At the convention this year, there was a lot of talk about our tribe—about how authors found their best friends, their purpose, their “place,” in the romance community. I agree. I think, as romance readers, we tend to keep our heads down about our love of this oft-maligned genre, so when we find people who read it too—friendly, smart, engaging readers who are like us and actually like romance novels!—it’s as if a whole new world has opened up.
The internet has opened up the romance industry, but it has truly opened up the romance community, and enabled romance lovers who may not have friends in their own ‘real life’ to find friends and fellow fans virtually.
All in all, the romance industry and the romance community have seen a surge of connection in the past ten years; the powerful, pro-romance voices are collectively turning around the coverage of romance novels in media, especially online media; and we’re seeing an interesting change in the way romance is treated and talked about, as well as the way we see ourselves.
As Beverly Jenkins said in her compelling keynote speech this year (more on that below), “Romancelandia’s table is very large. There are enough plates for all of us.” That includes all romance writers, no matter who they are, what they write, what platform they publish on, or whom they choose to love.
It’s an exciting and revolutionary time for us, all of us: romance readers, romance writers, and the industry as a whole.
And if you’re in the romance industry, there’s no better place to be in July than at the RWA convention.
This year, the RWA keynote speakers were amazing. On Thursday, Beverly Jenkins’ speech included a quick history of African American publishing, which started with narratives as far back as the 18th century, then moved into a brilliant and inspiring set of successful steps for writers, with a few pointed comments for the industry in general. Avon Romance live streamed the keynote, which you can still find on their Facebook page here. It’s well worth a peek if you haven’t already seen it (and a re-peek if you have).
Sherry Thomas’ breakfast keynote on Saturday was, like her books, both funny and heart wrenching, and traced her life story from Chinese immigrant living beneath the poverty line, to avid romance fan who used romance novels to help her learn English, to being accepted into Harvard grad school, which she decided to decline since she’d recently found out she was pregnant. Becoming a full-time housewife wasn’t too bad, until the baby came and she was struck by postpartum depression, which pulled her down so completely she didn’t even recognize herself. Until the day she decided to write a romance novel, and through the process, reclaimed the smart, engaged, empowered Self she thought she’d lost. (I’d link this one too, but haven’t been able to find it posted. I hope RWA posts it somewhere soon.)
There was also an outside motivational speaker, Dr. Valerie Young, who introduced the idea of the Imposter Syndrome to attendees, and encouraged us to overcome our fear of not being good enough and to embrace our greatness. Fascinating topic, especially for a group of women, most of us whom likely put others ahead of ourselves and feel unworthy whenever we’re in the spotlight.
Finally, on Saturday night, we learned the winners of the RITA and Golden Heart Awards, the industry gold standard for romance, and were treated to Kristan Higgins’ beautiful introduction of Robyn Carr, who won the RWA Nora Roberts Lifetime Achievement Award. (Three of the loveliest and most generous women in the industry.) Robyn has two upcoming women’s fiction novels—Swept Away (7/26) and The Life She Wants (9/27)—both of which have women escaping wealthy yet unfulfilling lifestyles, and finding love, community, and their best selves in simpler lives.
Special shouts out to Pintip Dunn, who won the Best First Book category for Forget Tomorrow, a YA title which received tons of buzz when it came out last year; to Julie Anne Long for It Started With A Scandal, a well-earned historical win against a crazy-competitive field just as she heads into the land of contemporary romance; and to Alexis Hall’s erotic romance win with For Real, the first-ever RITA for an LGBTQ title.
You can find the full list of RITA and GH winners here.
I also want to note that for the first time, Nielsen had an official presence at RWA, and I hope their side conference continues in a way that allows more writers and industry people to participate. The analysis and information they presented was fascinating, and expanding the audience so more people can access it would be a great opportunity for a different kind of romance business conversation.
Overall, however, it was a great conference, a great city, a great venue. Great job, RWA! I hope to see you next year in Orlando!