Book Expo America is competitive; the RWA Conference is collaborative. At the Wednesday cocktail hour just before the conference's famed annual Literacy Signing (500 authors and their readers all in one room), small groups of (mostly) women -- authors, would-be authors, editors, agents -- gather with happy shouts and hugs.

 

All is collaborative on the surface. Beneath the cute haircuts, coordinated outfits, and recent pedicures thump jealous hearts. But I don't think that's a bad thing at all. Let me explain.

 

The romance audience feeds, as mega-star-author Debbie Macomber explained to me in a Thursday interview, on perceived intimacy between author and reader. Romance novels are about touching a reader's desires. Sometimes those desires are for a white knight; sometimes (O tempora! O mores!) they're for really hot sex. But when a reader feels as if her deepest darkest needs have been fulfilled, even for just moments, she feels a connection to the person who fulfilled them.

 

The romance-book industry capitalizes on this connectivity. The Literacy Signing madhouse is open to the public, allowing readers within a reasonable distance of each year's convention location to swarm in for the chance to tell any number of authors why their books are life-changing. (There were lots and lots of mothers and daughters, many of the latter being adolescents.) These readers are the consumers who buy books by the cardboard-cartonful, who pre-order titles in a series, and who will happily shell out for themed merchandise (t-shirts, tote bags, coffee mugs, you name it).

 

So why do I say that jealous hearts are essential to this clusterhug?

 

Because without sub-genres, romance writing wouldn't be as much fun -- and the more traditional writers at the top of the genre wouldn't be quite as motivated to keep connecting with their audience. As one colleague reminded me, the varieties of romance experience (pace William Empson) are like a kooky Venn diagram: Basic Love Story in the middle with bubbles reaching off in every direction (including the newest category of "sexual fluidity" -- romance stories about men who have had long, loving relationships with other men before learning that happiness lies with a heroine instead of a hero).

 

From my conversations, it seems to me that the collaborative nature of RWA interactions helps to fuel the cross-pollination of RWA sub-genres. While individual authors fiercely guard their particular brands and story types, each time a new author springs up, she's received ideas and encouragement from many others.

 

Romance is a formula that works, and I think that romance writers and editors and agents and readers have also found an interesting formula to work with: Collaborative competition.

 

I could write much more on this, but I'd much rather hear what you think -- especially if you're a romance reader! 

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Comments
by Moderator dhaupt on ‎07-20-2009 09:18 AM
I LOVE romance of all genres and sub-genres, but my favorite are paranormal and romantic suspense. And my favorites in those happen to be series. My only constant is that it has to be a HEA. Romance reading  gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling that the world isn't as bad as the news says and that there is still hope out there somewhere. If I read a novel and at the end want to keep knowing those characters that says something to me. It matters not to me if the author is mega seller like Nora Roberts or a newcomer who I happen to love like Marie Force only that they keep my attention and keep me entertained. 
by Moderator becke_davis on ‎07-20-2009 10:02 AM

Bethanne -- I was there, too! I wish I'd known you were there - we could have had coffee! (Assuming we could find coffee -- I was missing Starbucks rather badly!)

 

I'm on Facebook under my pen name, Becke Martin, and I posted about 150 pictures from RWA there. Friend me if you want to check them out!

 

It was my first experience of RWA and it was unforgettable. Eloisa James' lunchtime talk on why she writes brought tears to my eyes and every word rang true.

 

I was very disappointed to miss Linda Howard's talk, which I hear was completely hilarious, but that was one problem with the conference -- so much to do, so many people to see, and not enough hours in the day! 

by Bethanne on ‎07-20-2009 03:45 PM

Thanks, DHaupt and Becke for your comments. Becke, sorry to have missed you, too! I'm also sorry I missed Eloisa's talk; she seems like an amazing person all around.

 

DHaupt, I like what you said about realizing that if, on finishing a book, you still want to know those characters, that that means the author did something right. I sometimes think that since romance authors generally plan for a happy ending, they pay special attention to characters because they are invested in them. What do you think? 

by Moderator dhaupt on ‎07-20-2009 04:04 PM
The HEA could be part of the reason, also I think women tend to pay more attention to details and little idioms etc and the majority of romance writers are women and I think that's the real reason for such impressive character development in romance.
by on ‎07-23-2009 08:30 PM
A devil's advocate question. If an author is considered the top of their genre field, is that why most at the top seem to slip? I'm finding the climers are writting the better material. Any one else agree?
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