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RT Booklovers Convention Recap

Romance readers, industry representatives, and authors of all ages and subgenres recently gathered in Kansas City for the 30th annual Romantic Times Booklovers Convention. As a first time attendee, I went in with a mind (and eyes) wide open. The Ruby Sisters who attended agree that meeting readers (and visiting with each other) was the best part of the convention, but if you’re looking for more details and opinions, you’ll find them below. (Beware: This is a long post, but we wanted to give you a good feel for the adventure that is RT.)

 

PROMOTIONAL OPPORTUNITIES & SWAG

 

Authors and readers alike are there for a common purpose – to celebrate books. In particular, romance books. So it’s the perfect environment for promoting yourself as an author, or, as a reader, meeting your favorite author and picking up some goodies. As Addison Fox points out, “RT is wonderful because it’s a group of people who love books. Everyone there celebrates the written word and it’s just such a fun environment to be in for days on end.”

Some of Kim Law's swag.

Some of Kim Law’s swag.

Got swag? Boy, I hope so. If you’re an author at RT, bring a LOT and ALWAYS have some on you. This felt different from RWA, where I was hesitant to “push” things on fellow writers and usually opted for leaving items in the goody room. But at RT, even the postcards went quickly as I met readers and authors who wanted something that would help them remember my name.

 

Kinds of swag? There were a lot of pens, bookmarks, lip balms and candies. Kim Law’s beach balls were a unique and popular addition. Jeannie Lin noticed that dressing up her bookmarks (for a minimal cost) created a big hit. Says Lin: “I didn’t have very expensive stuff (other than the Ruby playing cards) but my bookmarks stood out because I wanted to make them pretty and different. Who would have thought those 1-cent red tassels would make them such a hit? I had booksellers and just random people come up to comment on how beautiful my bookmarks were.” She also recommends choosing swag that makes readers feel special and is strongly branded so they’ll remember you.

Elizabeth Essex describes having tiers of swag ready for any occasion. “Carry your swag with you at all times. You never know when the top reviewer from RT is going to come up to you while you are dressed as a saloon girl and ask to see your latest. Have that ARC, or PDF, or whatever hidden in your purse and ready to give out. And carry your minor swag—every time a reader asked me what I wrote, I passed out my character cards. Every time a reader said she had liked something I’ve already written, I gave her an autographed bookplate to stick in her book. And even if she had read it on an e-reader, she was happy to get that little bit of something personal.”

 

Bring a pimp. Several authors brought grown sons, spouses, or a friend to help hand out items, both at book signings and in the general assemblies. Perhaps when my daughter’s of age, I’ll put her in a cute T-shirt so people will ask about her mom’s books. *wink*

Heather McCollum and Addison Fox mingle.

Heather McCollum and Addison Fox mingle.

Pimp yourself. Talk to people! There is no better promotional opportunity at RT than talking to the people around you—in line, on the elevator, sitting in a workshop, or wherever. Tamara Hogan says: “The most valuable part of the conference for me was networking: connecting with other writers, of course, but also chatting with book bloggers, reviewers, and librarians. A lot of these opportunities are kinda random – you never know who you’re standing in line with!” Rita Henuber also suggests reaching out to people you don’t know, asking them questions and they’ll start asking about you.

 

 

AUTHOR VISIBILITY 

 

Tamara Hogan and Jeannie Lin at the Jazz Breakfast

Tamara Hogan and Jeannie Lin at the Jazz Breakfast

Attend workshops and events. In addition to swag, the workshops and reader events were ways to connect with readers. Kim Law advises authors in attendance “to expect any workshop you attend to possibly turn into a reader workshop. And that that isn’t a bad thing! Always bring freebies to the workshops, and assume you’re going to be answering reader questions.” The after-hours parties with food and drink were also big draws. One thing I did was tweet during the “Readers Know Best” workshop, which resulted in several new followers and retweets.

 

Kim Law poses with cover model Harvey Gaudun-Stables

Kim Law poses with cover model Harvey Gaudun-Stables

Make friends with hot guys. The cover models were everywhere, appearing like co-hosts of events in addition to generating excitement among the attendees, who enjoyed a bit of eye candy. Don’t be afraid to talk to them and get your picture taken. I met some fabulous new people this way, and many authors generated a buzz by posting their pictures with cover models on Facebook.

Liz Bemis with Scott (one of the handsome cover models).

Liz Bemis with Scott (one of the handsome cover models).

 

Make friends, period. As Elizabeth Essex recommends: “My philosophy/best advice for large conferences like RT is to tell yourself it’s just an opportunity to ‘make new friends,’ both with readers and with authors. I had a fabulous, if exhausting time, by telling myself that RT was just one big sleep-over party, and that everywhere I went, elevators, parties, workshops and bars were just opportunities to say ‘Hi’ to other people and ask them if they were having fun. I met so many readers that way, and I also met fellow authors and established common ground and mutual fan-girldom. At least one of those authors I met and hit it off with, gave me a shout-out on a big, national blog as a result.”

 

Advertising options. Personally, I didn’t find the smaller posters that lined one specific portion of the event space as eyecatching as the window clings that were something like 7 feet tall x 4 feet wide and lined the walking areas we passed through every day. The clings on the elevator doors were captivating as well.  There was also “Promo Alley.” For the low price of $25, authors could reserve a square of space in which to place promo items for attendees to pick up. Jeannie Lin highly recommends this option. “Put up a poster with your book cover on it as well as other giveaways  like bookmarks. It’s SO worth it and the cheapest promo you’ll find at RT.”

Laura Navarre in costume at the book signing.

Laura Navarre in costume at the book signing.

 

Elizabeth Essex dresses the part for the Rosie's Gulch party.

Elizabeth Essex dresses the part for the Rosie’s Gulch party.

Identify yourself (and your subgenre). Rita Henuber suggests wearing something that indicates what you write. “If your books are about weddings wear a veil. If you write historicals wear at least the top part of a costume. Wear a pirate hat and eye patch. Have a parrot on your shoulder. I was immediately drawn to authors who did this.”

 

Go big or go home. Either prepare to promote yourself as a big name readers should want to know, or spend your time at home writing the next book that will make you bigger. RT is about making a splash. Elizabeth Essex found dressing up to be fun and rewarding. “Be professional, but surrender your dignity: RT is all about dressing up and going to the parties. So I became a saloon girl, even if I was mutton dressed as lamb. I had fun, and made new friends, and those friends tracked me down at the signing and bought books. All because I had a fabulous velvet corset.” Jeannie Lin found this to be true as well. “It’s like any other ‘Con.’ It’s about stepping out in costume and interacting with other fans and readers. I think I was easily recognized because 1) I actually really like dressing up 2) and I’m Asian and I write Asian books  3) My covers and SWAG were really easily identifiable.”

 

WHAT WOULD I CHANGE?

 

I had a blast at RT, but there were some things I would have done differently…and definitely some lessons learned.

 

Club RT. This was a scheduled time to sit and let your readers come find you. For me (a relatively new author who doesn’t have a huge following), it wasn’t that helpful, though I had fun spending that time chatting with cover models and the other authors who were there.

 

FANtastic Day party. Mass hysteria. Dogs and cats, living together. Okay, this event might not have been that crazy, but it was the one time I truly felt overwhelmed. Thank goodness I had Kim and Addison to glom onto. I don’t know how readers/attendees were expected to locate authors, or how authors were supposed to match up with readers who might like their books. Unless you had very visible freebies (especially free print books) to give away, readers were likely to pass you by in the crowd.

 

Heather McCollum at Saturday's Book Fair

Heather McCollum at Saturday’s Book Fair

E-Book EXPO and Giant Book Fair. First, I was thrilled to be part of the E-book EXPO on Thursday afternoon. But, well, it was scheduled from 4-6 p.m. on a work day in the middle of a week…and it snowed. Sideways. I certainly don’t blame RT for the snow, and participating in the event was a lot of fun, but when compared to the BIG print book fair on Saturday? There were, maybe, a fourth of the attendees (and that’s probably being generous). Saturday was the granddaddy of events for readers. People could buy a day pass just for that. Readers turned out in droves.

But Jeannie Lin, who participated in both signings, had a different experience. “Surprisingly, I think I had more people approach me at the ebook expo than at the Giant Bookfair. Maybe it was because the expectation at the ebook Expo was you were browsing and would buy later? Or maybe just because it was first on Thursday and the Giant Bookfair was Saturday.”

 

Kim Law at Saturday's Book Fair.

Kim Law at Saturday’s Book Fair.

The signings. The biggest thing I learned from my E-book EXPO signing is how to better promote myself in the crowd. People don’t know my name, but when I wrote my subgenre under my name on my sign, more people stopped to talk about that with me, as we bonded discussing the books we loved. Conversation usually led to them taking a postcard and swag items, so maybe they’ll look me up again. Using a stand-up poster with an eye-catching cover also had a lot of people stopping to say hello. Basically, having a conversation starter was key to luring people to the table. Also, as I learned from the author next to me, bringing a pashmina or some other cloth to add color or background (other than the bright white that lined the tables) made my station more appealing. Next time, I’ll remember to bring a Sharpie for those hard-to-sign items. I also wrote “Take One” on my sign to encourage people to pick up swag, and it worked. Readers are shy and can be elusive unless you use bait.

 

I thought Jeannie Lin had a great take on what measures “success” at a signing, and how the RT bookfair is useful, even if you don’t sell a pile of books. “RT is not a bookselling event – There are so many book giveaways that readers aren’t usually there to buy from authors they don’t know. Expect to give away a lot of books. But that’s a good thing. Imagine when you blog how hard it is to get readers to come by and even comment to get a book? And then you have to pay postage to ship it to them. Here, readers and bloggers are clamoring for books.”

 

Sponsor something. At my next RT, I’d try to sponsor the bags, a party, a panel, or invest in advertising via the window clings. Or host a reader event. As Jeannie Lin, a second-time RT attendee this year, learned, “I did panels that were totally brainy and heavy. Forget that. For next year, I’m only going to do fun reader panels with prizes and games and feather boas.” RT 2014 is already accepting proposals.

 

Laura Navarre and Heather McCollum at the Disco Party.

Laura Navarre and Heather McCollum at the Disco Party.

Participate more. As a newbie, I confess I was a bit intimidated by some of the evening events, especially where costumes were encouraged. I wish I’d gone to more of them, especially the publisher-sponsored ones. But as a Carina author, I did participate in their cocktail party on the last night, which allowed readers to enter a drawing for an iPad2 (which turned out to be two iPad2’s!). To enter, they mingled with authors, searching for the one who wrote the book that matched a blurb in their hands. It was a great way to mix authors and readers as well as get them intrigued about books from the blurbs. I’d definitely do something like that again. And I admired Entangled’s author-hunt scavenger hunt, and how it took place over days and days, probably putting those authors’ names and covers in front of readers at least a dozen times over the course of the convention.

 

WRITER VS. READER CONS

 

I’m coming from only having attended national RWA and regional RWA conferences – i.e., writer-focused conferences. Having said that, the workshops at RT were okay, but some lacked a professional polish that RWA presenters and award ceremonies are known for.

Tamara Hogan suggests if you’re a writer looking for workshops with a writing/craft focus, that RWA might better suit your needs. Workshops at RT, even the craft ones, still had a “fan” slant. However, though she was able to connect with her readers, she wondered what the ratio of writers to readers was this year. “It seemed to me there were a LOT more writers there than there were the last time I attended, with every single one of us there to promote our work. Whether this is a positive thing or a negative thing for reader attendees, I have no idea.”

Still, there was an entire workshop track dedicated to self-publishing, including a couple of workshops presented by Mark Coker from Smashwords. And in a thriller panel I attended, Bob Mayer and other authors explained what an “espresso machine” was. I’d never heard of this tool for printing books from digital files. Sounds like the future of publishing to me!

Jeannie Lin, a second-time RT attendee this year, has observed an “RT culture,” saying that there are readers who’ve approached her saying they remember her from the past RT, or have read her books because they picked one up at the event. “There are also super-readers who scan the authors attending list and bring all the books on their bookshelves that match up. I got a couple of those wanting autographs of my backlist books that they had bought from Walmart or B&N. I’m not a big name famous author, I really believe these readers do it for ALL the authors they read. Don’t you love that there are readers like that?”

 

Ruby Dinner! From front right to front left: Heather McCollum, Laura Navarre, Rita Henuber, Anne Marie Becker, Addison Fox, Liz Bemis, Jeannie Lin, Tamara Hogan, Sara Ramsey (taking the picture is Kim Law).

Ruby Dinner! From front right to front left: Heather McCollum, Laura Navarre, Rita Henuber, Anne Marie Becker, Addison Fox, Liz Bemis, Jeannie Lin, Tamara Hogan, Sara Ramsey (taking the picture is Kim Law).

Like with any conference, stamina is the name of the game. Rita Henuber recommends eating a good breakfast every morning. Jeannie Lin reminds authors to bring a cup of coffee or bottle of water to the book signings. Addison Fox recommends finding time for a quick nap. Elizabeth Essex balances it all: “Lather (go to the bar), rinse (short time alone in room), repeat!”

Hope to see you in May 2014 in New Orleans at the next Romantic Times Booklovers Convention!

Have you been to RT, as a reader or a writer, or both? Have you attended other reader cons? What were your experiences, and do you have any tips or tidbits to share?

43 responses to “RT Booklovers Convention Recap”

  1. Kim Law says:

    Terrific rundown, Anne Marie. You just made me want to go back. You also made me want to take a nap 😉

    It is an exhausting event, so afternoon naps are critical! But all in all, I had a really good time. It was different, and overwhelming, but I expected that.

    Oh…it helps to get a great roommate too! 😉

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  2. Jenn! says:

    Looks like a grand time was had by all. I admit, I’m a bit green with envy. But, NEXT year, I will be attending RT. Can. Not. Wait!

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  3. Jeannie says:

    Wonderful recap Anne-Marie! This is great information for first-timers and I think we should totally post something like this before RT next year as well. For first timers it can be daunting because you feel you don’t know anyone, but it helps knowing a lot of other people, readers and authors, feel the same way.

    I think the best part of RT is really the meet ups. There are authors like Susanna Kearsley and Stephanie Draven (huge fan of both) that RT has become the place where we can reconnect. Then there are the random breakfast hookups like Barbara Vey catching you without your makeup on at 7am and inviting you to breakfast. (She didn’t have her make-up on either, so it was okay.) So my biggest tip would be just to be friendly and open and let things happen.

    It’s so hard to be everywhere at once at RT so I always walk away feeling I’ve missed something. I didn’t even get to the Carina cocktail hour or the Harlequin party. And I missed Jade Lee’s birthday roast! There’s always next year. 🙂

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    • As a first-timer, I was definitely intimidated, but I had a lot of fun once I got there. You’re right about not being able to do anything. I would have been exhausted had I attended all of the parties and events! Hope to do more next year…

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  4. Jeannie Lin says:

    Oh, and I was NOT kidding about the fun times and feather boas next year….*wink*

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  5. Elisa Beatty says:

    Thanks for this post, Anne Marie. RT is a total unknown for me, and it looks sorta terrifying…and fun. LOVE all the costumes!!

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    • LOL – It was a bit terrifying for me, too, but now that I know what to expect, I’m excited for next year! (I think the costumes are the most terrifying part…I’m not a dress-up kinda gal.)

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  6. Wonderful, insightful post! Thanks!

    One of my RT highlights was meeting Jeannie Lin in person. Loved talking books & writing with her!

    As an author who did both the serious (Diversity in Romance with Jeannie Lin, Shawntelle Madison & Suleikha Snyder)and fun (Jazz Breakfast), I think I’m going to keep it mixed up.

    I loved the discussion generated on the diversity panel and connected in a meaningful way with readers and fellow authors.

    The Jazz Breakfast was a lot of fun and great opportunity to get my name and book covers out again in an entertaining way. But, man, those boas leak feathers and the heels were killing me! Lol!

    So my mission for next RT Con: Find comfy, but stylish shoes!

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    • I think keeping it “mixed up” is a great idea (as are the comfy shoes!). There are so many people to meet, and mixing it up gives you more opportunity to get yourself, and your name, out there. Great tip!

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  7. Elise Hayes says:

    *Such* a helpful snapshot into RT, Anne Marie–thanks! I’ve heard about this conference for years, but I guess I’m so writing-centric that I’ve had a hard time envisioning what a *reader* based conference would be like. Now I think I get it.

    And the costumes were awesome! If I ever do RT, I’m totally going to have to figure out several costumes. Did people wear those all day, or mostly just at events?

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    • While there were writer/craft workshops, there were reader-focused panels, events, and workshops, too. The majority of costumes were in the evening, or at signings sometimes, but there were a few people who were distinguishable because they’d have bright pink hair, wear a steampunk-style corset all the time, or some other distinguishing feature. It all depends how much you want to be noticed. 😉

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  8. June Love says:

    This is valuable information for someone like me who has never attended RT. Anne Marie, you’ve done a terrific job of putting this together. I loved seeing the pictures of my Ruby sisters and am a little jealous I wasn’t there to party with all of you. 🙁 However, I am glad y’all had fun.

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    • Thanks, June! 🙂 You’ll have to come party with us one of these times. The pictures are great, aren’t they? Thank you to my fellow Rubies for sharing them!

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  9. Wonderful post and a fabulous time! Thank you so much for summing it all up : ) It was lovely to meet so many rubies, including you!

    Ruby Sister – Heather

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  10. Tamara Hogan says:

    Let me reassure other massive introverts out there that, even with all the parties and people and activities and events (and lions and tigers and bears, oh my!) it’s possible to have a fabulous time at RT! Give yourself permission to sit some things out, and attend what interests you.

    I’ll out myself here as someone who had serious concerns about RT’s “Mr. Romance” cover model contest in its previous incarnation – attendees behaved so poorly toward the models at #RT11 that I swear I was ashamed for my gender – so let me reassure you that all prior skeeviness is long gone. Without exception, the cover models were friendly, polite, and respectfully treated by attendees.

    From a lessons learned perspective, I underestimated the amount of promotional material I should bring and ran out early. I had no books or swag to hand out at the Fandemonium (!) event – OMG what a madhouse! – so I switched into reader mode and got some free autographed books like everyone else. (Though…I was NOT happy when some authors started working the waitlines, handing out their own promo. Tacky, tacky, tacky.)

    And of course it was great to see some of my Rubies in person! Great post, Anne Marie, and kudos for the GHOSTBUSTERS quote. 😉

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    • LOL – thanks – I still picture Bill Murray saying it. 😉

      You’re right about the promo…I could easily have given away more. There was one bookseller from Australia willing to haul back whatever leftovers authors wanted to give her.

      As for the cover model situation – they were extremely nice. I want to give a shout-out to Harvey’s wife, Natalie – she’s a class act. 🙂 They were all very friendly, down-to-earth people.

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  11. Wow Anne Marie! I’ve heard people talk about RT but was really unsure if I could handle it. After your breakdown, I think I’m a little more secure about attending. Plus the next one is closer to home for me.

    Glad to see so many Rubies together in one pic 🙂

    Melanie

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    • Oh, I’m so glad you found the post helpful, Melanie. I felt SO unprepared not knowing what to expect when I went in. Having a few friends there really helped, too, but everyone is friendly. I SO enjoyed chatting with readers. You could feel their love of books. I sat outside as people went into the big print fair and overheard snatches of conversations – people very excited to meet their favorite authors (some toting luggage full of books to get signed) and discussing what they think the so-and-so author will do next with such-and-such series. Made me smile!

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  12. Rita Henuber says:

    RT is an event not to be missed. It is also overwhelming for first timers. Good advice has already been provided for dealing the events. You simply cannot attend all. There is nothing wrong with hanging out in the lobby and watching the goings on and looking for Ruby Sisters. Or, escaping to your room for awhile. BTW plan on mailing home plenty of books and goodies.

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  13. Kate Parker says:

    Wow, Anne Marie, I loved the pictures. Sounds like a wonderful time.

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  14. Gwyn says:

    Oh, wow! Sounds like a blast. Can’t wait until I have a reason to go!

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  15. Ana Barrons says:

    Man, now I’m mad at myself for not going. It sounds like a wonderful time and a great way to connect with readers and other writers. Next year for sure!

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  16. Addison Fox says:

    Such a fun recap of the conference, Anne Marie. Hanging with the Rubies was one of the very best parts for me!!!

    Addison

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