Last week, I had the great pleasure of attending the annual Romance Writers of America National Conference in New York City. This was my first RWA, and it certainly won’t be my last. While I hit a couple of the workshops, most are designed for writers and/or members, which I am not. For me, the highlights included seeing friends, making new friends, meeting authors, and finally connecting in person with bloggers, authors, narrators, and publishers I had only communicated with online. I didn’t take many photos, but grabbed a few from Joy, Kwana, and Stephanie (THANK YOU!)
My roommate, Liza, and I got to New York on Tuesday. We met up with friends for drinks and picked up our badges for the con. That night I went to my first Broadway show. Liza and I saw the Book of Mormon at the Eugene O’Neill Theater. The show is outrageously inappropriate and irreverent, and it was a blast.
The next day, we got New York bagels at Pick a Bagel (mine with lox and capers!), then walked from Time Square to Central Park and back along 5th Avenue. We made a stop at the New York Public Library and Rockefeller Plaza. And just because, we decided to hit another show. I throughly enjoyed seeing Wicked at the Gershwin Theater with Liza and Stephanie Julian. We capped off the day with burgers and shakes from Shake Shack (my first time!)
Having never been to an RWA before, I didn’t know about the publisher book signings. These are different from the conference-ending Literacy Signing, which is open to the public and one can purchase books for signature. At the RWA conference signings, publishers and/or authors provide FREE books to attendees, so if one is so inclined, one can walk away with a hundred or more books. I didn’t take too many because I prefer to read on my kindle or in audiobook, and I wanted to leave the books for those who would most benefit. However, I couldn’t resist grabbing a few for signature, and having the chance to meet and talk with some of the authors.
I’ve been blogging for over nine years and working with the different publishing houses for nearly the same amount of time, but I’ve never met any of the publicists in person. I did introduce myself to a few at the various signings, but I also got to talk more at length with a few more. I had lunch with the most awesome Michelle Forde from Avon, and went to the Berkley Cocktail party, where I finally met the team I’ve worked with the longest: the Berkley Romance team (Erin, Jessica and Brittanie). I also mingled with more authors and industry professionals.
From RWA.org “The RITA—the highest award of distinction in romance fiction—recognizes excellence in published romance novels and novellas. Up to 2,000 romance novels are entered in the RITA competition in 13 different categories.” Historically, there has been a serious lack of representation of Authors of Color (AOC) and LGBTQ+ authors. After the 2018 RITAs, the RWA Board worked tirelessly to begin to bring balance to the RITAs; however once again in 2019, the nominees were primarily white authors. Many were concerned about the award ceremony and questioned if they should attend. Well, the RWA rose to the occasion, giving romance an amazing ceremony in 2019.
First, MC Sarah MacLean put together a diverse group of presenters, including Sandra Kitt, author of Harlequin’s first romance featuring black protagonists and written by an African-American author; best-selling romance author and LGBTQ publisher Radclyffe; and President of New York Romance Writers, LaQuette. Each spoke of inclusivity and love for all. Their impassioned speeches spoke to change and inclusivity, giving those of us in the room hope for future years.
Second, history was made when Kennedy Ryan won the Contemporary Romance: Long for Long Shot. Kennedy is the first black author to win a RITA. History was made again when the winner for Romance Novella was announced: M. Malone, a black author, won a RITA for Bad Blood. Additionally, Nisha Sharma, a writer of Indian decent, won the award for Young Adult Romance for My So-Called Bollywood Life. The entire room was on its feet for each author, once again giving me the hope that change is here to stay.
In addition to the RITAs, I attended the Golden Heart luncheon, where Courtney Milan was presented with one of the 2019 RWA Service Awards, and she challenged attendees to look around and acknowledge the lack of black authors who should have been nominated for and/or won a RITA. There was the breakfast with key-note speaker Jennifer L. Armentrout, who emphasized the need for diverse books because everyone deserves love and books save lives. Finally, I also attended the Librarian and Blogger day breakfast, where Alyssa Cole talked about how books shaped her life and that we need more diverse books so all young people can see themselves in books.
Three years ago, RWA added a blogger track to its schedule. This year included a breakfast with the librarians, a few workshops, and a mixer with authors. Additionally, we were given a bag full of books and some snacks, which was a nice touch! Unfortunately, due to my travel schedule, I missed the mixer. I did enjoy the breakfast, which featured Alyssa Cole, an author I adore, although my table didn’t have the books the other tables had. What disappointed me, however, was the scheduled workshops, which were podcasting heavy. I have no interest in podcasting and wish there had been more on how to grow my blog, reach new readers, and how to stay relevant in today’s market. But my biggest issue was the timing of the event – it was Saturday morning, and I was exhausted by the time it came around. I would have much preferred the event take place on Wednesday or Thursday for a couple reasons. First, I could have come into the event with a fresh mind and more energy. Second, I wanted to connect with other bloggers. Waiting until the day I left to have the event meant I missed out on face-to-face time with other bloggers, something I really wanted to do while in NYC.
Just a Few Things
Overall, my experiences in NYC and at my first RWA were positive. Every attendee I ran into, whether at the signings, events, workshops, stuck in the elevators, or just passing in the halls, was friendly and took the time to make small talk. While I knew New York would be expensive, I was still shocked at how much it was to eat and drink at the hotel bar. Additionally, the cost of drinks for the RITA celebration was a bit outrageous, and I was disappointed with the complete lack of food and beverages at the RITAs – there wasn’t even water on the tables.
In the end, my time in New York was well worth it. The best parts were definitely spending time with friends, both old and new, and meeting authors. We ate, we drank, we watched shows, we laughed. Was it perfect? No (elevator issues!), but I left full of hope for Romancelandia and the motivation to be part of the coming changes.