I’m at the Romantic Times Booklovers Convention this weekend – as I said last week, it’s my secret favorite convention, and no, not just because there’s stunt dressing and real, actual dancing every night.
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 may not be on the radar for other genre writers – but it should be.
I never read romances as a kid, or any time after – just had no 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 makes Romantic Times a more obvious bet for me than, say, a noir 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.
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 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.
But the thing that stunned me from the very first moment of the convention last year was how incredibly professionally and logically organized it was. RT had really worked 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, huge paranormal track, writing tracks, and breakout (how to get an agent/publish) tracks. ITW (International Thriller Writers) had been working well in advance with RT planners to organize an outside book signing at the truly lovely Murder By The Book bookstore and a bookseller event (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 mystery track similarly organized a group signing and events.
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 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’m especially excited to have both of my book trailers playing in the book room and on the hotel TV during the convention – it was seeing the trailers playing last year that convinced me to do trailers for my books.).
I sold dozens of books, and was just in hardcover last year and not nominally a romance writer.
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/two 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 the feature of RT I really love is Heather Graham’s 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’s “Blood and Steel, a Pittsburgh Monster Mash.” This year not only are all three Killerettes in the cast again – Heather, Harley Jane Kozak, and me – but we’ll also have F. Paul Wilson and Dave Simms from the Killer Thriller Band. There simply is no more fun to be had with clothes on.
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 – last year, Moulin Rouge, Midnight at the Oasis, Vampires of the Wild Wild West, Immortals of Rock and Roll, and of course, the Faery Ball. There was lighting. There were trees. There were enormous Moroccan pillows. There were stage backdrops. There were mirror balls and candles. There were 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.
But RT is not just for women. 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 I know F. Paul Wilson and Barry Eisler are joining us (I hear Joe Konrath dropped out at the last minute… terrible drag) and I expect that more men will realize 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.
Will do what I can to report on this year in real time, but no promises! There’s some serious dancing to be done, here…