ARRC09 Round-up (Part 2)
This is a round-up of ARRC09 and is not in chronological order. If you want to read more anecdotes, check out the liveblog. Click here for a list of ARRC09 posts and liveblogs .
I’d love to say that ARRC09 started off with a bang, but true to form, I had barely brushed my teeth when Maggie Nash made her welcome address. I had hoped that Wandergurl would be there–particularly since we were supposed to be liveblogging the event–but she sent me an SMS to say that she registered then went back to bed. We are not morning people. Wandergurl did catch the tail end of MaryJanice Davidson’s keynote speech and said that she was funny.
What do academics really think about romance fiction?
I was eager to hear the panel discussion on what academics think about romance, but I only caught the tail end of the Q&A. The panel included Karen Simpson Nikakis, author of the Kira Chronicles and Head of Program of NMIT’s new Bachelor of Writing and Publishing degree. Nikakis said this degree is the first of its kind in that it give equal weight to writing and publishing. First ever term started this week.
How can romance fiction can achieve more legitimacy? Glen Thomas, Associate Lecturer in professional writing at Queensland University of Technology, answered that we need more critical reviews in the mainstream press. I was shocked to learn that Kate Cuthbert is no longer with the Brisbane Courier-Mail (she wrote romance book reviews and columns). She said that staff writers now do all the reviews. She runs The Australian Romance Reader, which also has an archive of her past articles.
Do dodgy titles of the Greek Billionaire’s Virgin Wife’s Baby ilk hinder any chance of romance becoming more accepted by the literati? The panel answered that it doesn’t help. Stephanie Laurens was in the audience, and she said that it’s all about marketing. She has a book with “bride” in the title, and there are no weddings in the book. She said covers and titles are driven by marketing and that Harlequin Mills & Boon have excellent market research.
Cristina Lee, Sales, Marketing and Publishing Director of Harlequin Australia, echoed Laurens’s statements. She said that those titles sell and that Harlequin has a list of keywords that they know will sell. When she talks about selling, she seems to focus on purchasers from booksellers rather than actual consumers (although it stands to reason that readers love them because they’re buying them from the booksellers).
Why does the world love our Aussie accent?
The first panel I went to, “The Aussie voice”, only had about 25 people in it. (I suspect most people went to the Paranormal panel with Sherrilyn Kenyon.) Nevertheless, we had some good discussions about the Australian style of writing. In the panel were Melanie Milburne, Paula Roe, Michelle Douglas, Elisabeth Rose and Jane Tara. Anna Campbell, Bronywn Parry and Carol Marinelli were in the audience and put in their 2 cents.
A few of the authors wrote for HQN and talked about how British, American and Australian markets preferred distinct styles. Marinelli said that British authors, for example, have more narrative. Aussies are more pared back, more direct. So the authors adapt their style to whichever market they’re targeting. Parry said that she originally wrote As Darkness Falls for an American audience. But when she ended up selling it to an Aussie publisher, she had to trim down the writing because her editor said that it wouldn’t fly with Aussie readers. (And can I say, THANK YOU!) It was mentioned a couple of times that Aussie authors are exposed to American and British culture, so it’s not too difficult to write as an American or British writer; however, American and British authors aren’t able to write about Australians as easily. This is good for local authors, as they’re able to own this niche, although this gap may be narrowing as Aussie culture becomes more popular overseas. Also, books set in Australia are moving away from the outback and into urban settings.
I asked about parallel importation again, and all the authors who spoke up were against the removal of the 30/90 rule. They spoke about preserving territorial copyright, and Parry talked about the preservation of the local publishing industry and its ability to support local authors. I was hoping she’d speak up because I think that authors like her are most likely to be affected by changes to the rule. So she was in support of keeping parallel importation. She did mention that she was having trouble selling her book to overseas markets, particularly the American market, and that’s a crying shame. What’s wrong with Americans???
When someone is anal in romance… The liveliest discussion was to do with Aussie slang and how well it translates overseas. Lots of the authors had anecdotes about queries and changes they’ve been asked to make. I think it was Paula Roe who said that the majority of queries she gets back are to do with Aussie slang, although editors are querying fewer words, it seems. Aussie words that the rest of the world apparently grapples with: couch, doona, lounge room, fairy floss, ute, footy. Marinelli had to change “She’s so anal.” LOL
Booktopia and ebook readers
After the panel, I was approached by Tony from Booktopia, an online bookseller. I tried to ask him if he was for or against parallel importation, but basically he said it didn’t matter. I think that’s probably true to an extent, although I suspect it might matter more (or less) when digital and territorial rights are sorted out. He struck me as someone who wasn’t quite sure what this romance phenomenon was all about, might even be a bit old school when thinking about romance fiction, but was open to learning. Certainly, we’re a significant part of his market. He said that he started as an out-of-the-garage business and grew rapidly. I asked him how business was and he said it was booming and that romance sales has been growing even without any special effort on their part to target that particular niche, which was why he was at the convention.
Booktopia is interested in selling ebook readers. Tony also talked about ebook readers. He said that he could probably sell them now on a subscription/book club type deal where readers could get the device for free if they committed to buying a certain number of books per month for a year or two. (Similar to a mobile phone plan.) That would be fab, I reckon. This was mentioned in the ebook panel as well, so I think it’s something that Booktopia is seriously considering.
What’s so great about rakes and assorted historical heroes?
After lunch, I went to the historical romance panel with Stephanie Laurens, Anna Campbell, Alison Stuart and Sara Bennett. All agreed that a rake in the truest sense would never be an acceptable romance hero—they were arrogant and immoral, they would deflower virgins with no care for the devastating effect this would have on their lives, and they would get girls pregnant and leave them with no support. Laurens said that at a time when reputation was everything to a woman, it was highly unlikely that they would engage in the sorts of activities we often read about in historical romances. Campbell and Laurens were adamant that they don’t write about rakes (although I’d argue that Kylemore comes close to the line) but they can’t always overrule the wording on the blurb or the title. Laurens doesn’t even like “scoundrel” in her titles. The authors talked about how Americans interpret the word “rake” as a shorthand for a hero who isn’t really a rake but someone with a reputation of a rake yet acts like a gentleman. When asked why this happened, someone said it’s because they didn’t look it up in the Oxford Dictionary. Heh.
Laurens also pointed out that a lot of Regency romance has an Austenesque feel, yet written about the aristocracy. She said that Austen’s books were very narrowly set, and that vicarage life is not at all the same as life in the aristocracy. They also discussed the weather and how few authors either get it right or incorporate it into the story. Campbell said that it can add dimension when used well.
The panelists talked about the evolution of historical romance, and Laurens had some interesting things to say. She mentioned that the bodice-rippers of old have become increasingly unacceptable now, and that some of Johanna Lindsay’s books aren’t even mentioned in her backlist because they go over the line. (Natasha, one of the ARRC organisers, said that they were all at her house. Hehehe.)
Historical accuracy. Someone asked how much research they did for their books, and the panelists responded that for them, the historical period they write in are their hobbies. Laurens said that she’s come to the point where she has to make a list of topics to research before she starts; otherwise, she gets too carried away reading factual sources and it cuts into her writing time. Someone then asked Bennett how she felt when a blogger criticised the historical accuracy of her writing, when in fact Bennett was right all along. I can’t remember what she said because at that point, I started to slink in my seat, but basically Bennett said that her editor advised her to ignore it. All the authors agreed it was a no-win situation because no matter how you word a response, someone was bound to interpret it in a bad light. Inevitably, someone mentioned the champagne flutes.
Bloggers get a bum rap. And here I had an uncomfortable moment as everyone had a bit of a laugh about bloggers. I mean, I know they didn’t mean every single one of us, but I also think they were a little too dismissive of blogs that promote authors more than they diss them. Still, rather than say *some* blogs were out for controversy to attract traffic—and I disagree with this anyway—it sounded like they were talking about all blogs. Didn’t like that at all, but I also didn’t feel it was the right time or place to object.
Stephanie Laurens speech and Tempt the Devil launch
Back in the auditorium, Stephanie Laurens spoke about the differences between literary fiction, general fiction, and genre fiction. She had some good insights that I felt were accurate, and in particular, how she described the different goals of each type of fiction. For literary fiction, what’s most important is the arrangement of words on the page. For general fiction, what’s most important is the subject. For genre fiction, what’s most important is the story. Measuring literary fiction by how well it goes in the bestseller lists is “ludicrous” because commercial success isn’t the goal of literary fiction. But for genre fiction, bestseller lists are a measure of success, because it’s all about how much the story appeals to people.
Laurens made a couple of assertions that I didn’t agree with. She said that genre fiction is the only type of fiction which requires the readers to exercise their imagination. I totally disagree with this.
Laurens then launched Anna Campbell’s latest release, Tempt the Devil. Campbell explained how the term ‘Regency noir’ was born. She’s chuffed that her books spawned their own subgenre. For someone who writes quite dark novels, she’s one of the bubbliest authors in the convention.
I had to go back to my apartment to grab the books I wanted signed by Kenyon—there was no way I was lugging Acheron around the entire day—and when I got there with over an hour to spare, the line was long and slow-moving. So I went into the goodies room first to see what that was all about. Most of the goodies were bookmarks, excerpt booklets and autographed cover flats. Not really my cup of tea. There were a couple of free books, but they were the same ones we got in our bags after registration. There were some items I found amusing: Jim Butcher badges with very funny slogans, a ruler that says “Heroes who always measure up” from Kimberly Lang and a doorknob sign that says “Her Ladyship is Engaged” from Marissa Doyle. These were very popular because when I came back the next day, there were no more rulers or signs left.
I waited in the Kenyon line for aaaages. She needed to have her own room for the signing. Meanwhile, I struck up conversations with random people, some of whom had been in line and back again multiple times (it was the queuing system—don’t ask). As I was waiting, I snuck over to Bronwyn Parry’s table to get some autographed book plates. I wish I had a book to sign, but when it comes out in mass market, I think I’ll buy a copy to give away on the blog. I’d love for her to get a wider readership.
I also snuck over to Anna Campbell’s table to get my new copy of Untouched signed (thank you, R*BY awards), and had a squiz about how I got into her books. She laughed when I told her that neither I nor Wandergurl wanted to read Claiming the Courtesan, but that I finally succumbed and I admire what she tried to do and how honest it was about what Kylemore did. I was so busy yacking away that I got the books mixed up and ended up with a personalised autograph on the TRADE copy, when I was actually planning to keep the MASS MARKET copy. So then I said, Oh, no, I’ll have to buy the other two books in trade. And without a beat, Anna said, Oh, what a shame. My heart bleeds for you. Maybe not in those words, but you get the drift. It was so funny. I’m officially declaring my girl crush for Anna Campbell.
When I finally reached Kenyon’s table, I met Dianna Love, who Kenyon is collaborating with on the BAD books. I forgot this, though, and wondered why she was signing my Kenyon books. (She wasn’t—I was just dumb!) She was very gracious and very chatty, and now I want to check out her books, too! Kenyon looked a bit tired, so I didn’t linger. I wasn’t sure when she arrived in Australia, but she looked a bit jetlagged. When I looked at my books later, she had stamped Acheron with an official Kenyon Minion stamp.
I came back the next day for a couple more signatures (I was very early that time—half an hour before it opened and the line was halfway down the corridor already), and it turns out that the HQN authors were all giving away free books. I wanted to grab one from each author but I felt a bit embarrassed. Carol Marinelli gave me one of each of her books, though, which was great because after hearing her speak, I wanted to try her work. Once again, I forgot to ask for generic autographs so instead of blog freebies, I’ll have to keep them. Shame, that.
Paula Roe, Carol Marinelli and I had a lively chat about books in libraries, and I mentioned that I brought my librarian with me to the convention—my librarian who loves Mills & Boon.
And yes, I bought a copy of Tempt the Devil in trade paperback and had it signed. Author crush. *sigh* Of course, this means I now have an autographed mass market copy to give away. Watch this space! Oh, and I pointed out to Anna that her book blurb had both “rake” and “scandal” in it … and then I asked her if the hero on the cover was wearing a chastity belt. (See picture on the right. I’ve kept the image large so you can see it.) Hilarious!
I never managed to sit in on any of the speed-dating sessions. I think it was mistake to have this at the same time as the signing. Or maybe it should have been held in a waiting room and force the booksigning line to go through the room. It would’ve made the wait more entertaining and given the authors more exposure, I reckon. But maybe I just think that because I never actually went to one. I peeked into a session the next day, and it looked like an intimate Q&A.
Stay tuned for part 3 of the round-up (maybe tomorrow if I have Internet time left). A list of ARRC09 posts and liveblogs are listed here.