This year, I had the great opportunity to attend the AWP convention (which I blogged about in March) and the RT (Romantic Times) Booklovers Convention since they were both held here in Chicago.  I was only able to go for one day of RT 2012 because of work commitments, but in that short period of time, I was struck by some glaring differences between the two conferences.  Of course, there were the obvious things.  The audience at RT was mostly made up of women, while at AWP, there seemed to be an equal number of men and women present.  There were people dressed up in costumes at RT–lots of hats and corsets and historical garb.  There were, alas, a severe lack of costumes at AWP, unless you count the over dependence on the color black, the “trendy” glasses, and the dour expressions.  In fact, if I think about it, most of the attendees at AWP looked like this guy:


Dieter also comes in a female version.

There was aggressive namebadge stalking at both conferences, where people don’t even try to hide the fact that they are check out your name first in order to see whether or not they should be schmoozing with you.  This initially became evident to me during about an hour long conversation with my awesome editor (more on that later!)  We had been gabbing away about all kinds of things, and no one around us paid us any attention until we got up to leave and she said something like, “Well, I’d better go.  I’m getting ready to take pitches later on today.”  I don’t know if she noticed, but the woman sitting by us nearly broke her neck whipping around to see who this “Very Important Person” was.  Instead of looking at her face, her eyes went straight to the namebadge.  Too bad my editor walked away before the woman had time to schmooze.

On the whole, these similarities and differences were rather insignificant (and amusing).  However, the most striking difference between the two conferences was the way the writers addressed the issue of the importance of the internet and social media in carving out a career as a writer.  Here’s the breakdown in a nutshell:

RT–A web presence is crucial to your brand.  Get a webpage and keep it updated.  Get on Twitter and connect with readers and other writers.  Get a Facebook page, again to connect with people.  Blog if you can.  If you don’t have time to blog, then comment on other people’s blogs.  Get a Pinterest account and pin things that you like and that reflect who you are as a writer.  Overall, carve out time every. single. day. to interact with people in some way online.

AWP–Social networking is stupid and unnecessary.  Spend the time working on your next book.

Ok, so maybe I’m being a little harsh on AWP, but I’m surely not misrepresenting the sentiment.  Panels at the two conferences had quite disparate takes on the subject.  At RT, I sat in on a session where the panelists extolled the virtues of Twitter and provided evidence for the viral nature of word-of-mouth (“OMG, YOU HAVE TO READ THIS BOOK! SQUEE!”) that translated directly into sales.  At AWP, one of the panelists said that Twitter was a waste of time because you’d only reach a couple hundred of people at the most and only like four of them might actually buy your book.  He again advised the eager young MFA students/future hopeful novelists not to waste their time on the internet and to keep writing/revising their book.

Now, I wouldn’t entirely throw away the advice given at AWP regarding social networking, and certainly, if something is too distracting and is keeping a person away from actually completing a manuscript then it does, indeed, need to be eliminated.  However, social networking can be a powerful tool, particularly for writers/readers of romance, which is a genre that takes up a huge piece of the publishing pie in general and dominates the e-book market in particular.

It’s my hunch that the strong tie to e-books is what is responsible for the advice that romance authors need to be savvy (or at least comfortable) with social networking.  Also, readers like to talk about what they are reading, and I have found that romance and YA readers have a particular enthusiasm for talking about the books they like and don’t like.  In our busy lives, the quickest and easiest way to connect with other readers is online, and there are hundreds upon hundreds of blogs and twitter feeds dedicated to talking about alpha males, sassy heroines, swoon-worthy teenage boys, and the conflicts that tear people apart before finally bringing them together.

So needless to say, I learned a heck-of-a-lot in my one day at RT.  It wasn’t all business related either.  Most of all, I learned that romance readers and writers are passionate, interesting people who love escaping into a sexy book, connecting online, and sharing their love of this billion dollar industry. 

And no one at RT would dare show up looking like Dieter.


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