The weekend before last I volunteered at this years Romance Writers of Australia conference, ‘Ain’t Love Grand’, held at the Stamford Grand hotel in Adelaide (it took me an embarrassingly long time to realise the theme was a play on words).
I was lucky enough to score this opportunity as the con was being convened by my lovely Honours coordinator, Amy T. Matthews, aka Tess LeSue, and her fantastic conference team, who were all so welcoming and happy to have my friends and I on board. Little did they realise just how ecstatic we were to get a free tide into this conference (costing just over $600, not including the awards dinner). Now, professional industry conferences always come with a bit of a steep fee, and I suspect part of that reason is to price out regular, non-professionals from showing up, as the majority of sessions were very much craft based. This isn’t like Comic Con where people walk around in costume and get photos with B-list celebrities (although the cocktail party did have a costume prize, and you could pay for a photo with Hugh Jackman–or at least a cardboard cut out version of him). The whole affair is really just one big writer gathering, where published and aspiring-but-serious authors can mingle and chat and maybe learn a few new skills, alongside some big wig publishing representatives. Most importantly, there are pitching sessions in which people can book in a time slot to pitch their next novel to an editor or agent (or all of them) in the hopes of being asked to send their manuscript. I’ve anecdotally heard a fair few people have found publishing contracts this way.
As a volunteer I was primarily in charge of stage managing one of the presentation rooms, ensuring that the correct speakers and chair-people arrived on time, handing over the right gift to be presented at the end, and making sure the sessions didn’t run ridiculously over time. For the most part, this was a breeze. Some of the other managers had a few more difficulties, but I was incredibly lucky. The sessions themselves were all very entertaining and informative, and I really learned a lot, not just about the craft, but about the industry as well.
Being at this conference, listening to industry professionals discuss their jobs–the nit picking and mind-numbing meetings over every single detail–was eye opening. As someone who loves micro-management and goal-oriented projects, these descriptions were a dream, and really just cemented that this is where I want to end up; working in a publishing house (or for an agency), making books happen.
I still want to be an author myself, but I’ve always been at my most productive when I’m procrastinating something else. And having a job in the industry just seems like the most logical place to be, especially if it means I can attend more conferences. :p
Throughout the fun of this weekend I also gained a newfound respect for the romance genre. While I’ve never derided it, I’ve also never technically read straight out Romance novels (unless you want to count Twilight, which my 15-year-old self certainly did). I’ve always enjoyed books with romance in them. In fact, if a book doesn’t have any romance, I’ll usually pair up a couple or so characters in my head and read a bunch of subtext into otherwise quite dry scenes. I love romance. I love love (in fiction, anyway). But the idea of something where the sole purpose is romance is still a little…intimidating, like something forbidden, that I, at 25-but-still-feeling-16 am too young for. Perhaps because my mother has always read romance novels. It just seems like such an adult thing, which then makes it seem kinda daggy. We’ve never really shared a similar style in anything other than a love of arts and crafts. And for a long time I’ve always felt like my mother has her books and I have mine and never the two shall meet. Even now, in my mid-twenties.
Of course this is silly, and self-imposed. I’ve started to realise more and more that some of the things my mother enjoys for entertainment aren’t actually bad, or “for old people”. She was right about shows like Suits, and The Mysteries of Laura. I got her to watch BBC’s Humans with me, which she enjoyed. And now we’re watching Stranger Things together. After studying The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo in class a few years ago (another of Mum’s books), I’ve come to realise that my mother actually does have pretty good taste (even if I will never share her obsession with every single crime show that she comes across). So maybe I’ve been wrong about romance novels too. Maybe it’s finally time I add some to my pile, even if I just start with some cross-genre books first.
Listening to all these passionate speakers at the conference talk about their genre with pride, embracing the cheesiness and cliches with glee, was another turning point in my journey to romance fiction. It’s the unabashed love that I’ve come to associate with genre fiction writers. And it’s exactly this passion, this open defiance of snooty Ivory opinions, that I love about genre fiction. The rebellious, care to the wind pursuing of what speaks to you in spite of what lesser people might think (I’ve done many a thing out of spite). At this con I found myself in rooms filled with people I want to be; passionate, prolific, and published.
If I had any criticisms of the weekend, it would be a lack of diversity. It’s hard to judge, of course, without having an extensive knowledge of the entire genre, but there could have been more than just one panel that focused on romance outside of heteronomativity (The one LGBTI+ panel was in fact very excellent and very popular. Props to Daniel De Lorne). The academic talks (which I sadly missed because of aforementioned stage managing duties) did look like they had more in depth discussions in this area, but I don’t see why talking about issues of feminism in romance, or race, or varying sexuality, should be relegated to the academics. These are all issues that exist in society, and you don’t need a degree to talk about them (but I DO have a degree in looking at fiction in this way so maybe I’m biased?)
All in all, my experience of the 2016 Romance Writers of Australia conference was amazing. It simultaneously ignited my desire for working in the publishing industry and fueled my ambition to make it as a writer. In many ways, this experience was as valuable as my entire undergrad and honours, if not the natural progression from it. I’m so thrilled and excited for more of the writer/editor/publisher life. With luck, this is just the beginning.