RWA Nashville Retreat Notes: Some Great Swag

The programming is light here, because it’s a retreat rather than a conference, but there are some sessions every day. I went to the Kiss of Death session, which is a group of romantic suspense authors. I didn’t really think I was likely to write romantic suspense myself, but I figured it was early in the conference, they could probably use some help with attendance. As it turned out, they had some great swag, so I got a cute bag from it.

Amusingly, while I was there (and playing bingo, which was a fun icebreaker activity), I realized that in fact, I *have* written romantic suspense. My Wild Cards Three Kings contribution involved a gay romance + murder. I hadn’t thought of it as romantic suspense, because I was thinking it as superhero fiction, but in fact, it fits both categories just fine. (Melinda M. Snodgrass, thought this might amuse you.)

The subgroups in romance are really interesting — it’s much more sharply compartmentalized than I’m used to in spec lit. Which I’m sure makes marketing easier in some ways (and interestingly, ‘paranormal romance’ is apparently being replaced by ‘speculative romance’ as a marketing term — less ghosts, more time travel?), but can also make for tight little boxes for your books that I think would drive me a little nuts.

The groups also are much more business-focused in approach. In SF/F, our conventions are generally a mix of writers and fans, often 90% or more fans. For RWA, it’s all writers (and other industry professionals) it seems, and it’s all networking all the time. Pretty much everyone I’ve met so far had a business card or bookmark to hand me. This is not typical for SF/F conventions.

RWA has a pretty steep annual membership fee ($99), and the local chapters have their own chapter membership fees (maybe $25 / year), AND they seem to usually charge for events too — if they get a speaker out, you might pay $25 to attend, for which you get an interesting talk plus some nibbles. It feels to me like RWA conditions romance writers to treat it like a business conference, which in some ways makes sense — romance is big business. But it also makes me a little uneasy, because so many new writers might put in a lot of cash outlay without seeing much in the way of returns for a long, long time.

I guess I’m thoroughly conditioned by my time in SF/F. “Money flows to the writer!” is such a maxim in our field, anytime anyone asks writers for money, it feels a little like a scam to me. I don’t think it actually is a scam in RWA’s case, but I also think it wouldn’t hurt if they did a little more in the way of free events, more affordable conferences (maybe in less fancy hotels), etc…

For the SLF, I think it means that as we add things that cost money, we want to be constantly asking ourselves, as a non-profit, what we can make free, or at least sliding-scale. If people can afford to contribute, great, that lets us do more. But we don’t want lack of funds to be a barrier to participation.

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