KUNR 88.7 – Romance Conference comes to Reno

By Kristin Larsen (2005-08-01)

RENO, NV – (KUNR) – Romance lives! Or at least it did at the twenty-fifth annual Romance Writers of America conference.

Some 2 thousand mostly female readers and writers of romance novels met in Reno for the four day conference to learn the ins and outs of publishing, to meet and mingle, and to hone their craft in writing workshops.

While some took their chances on slot machines at the conference, others spent their time focused on the more certain – and happy – outcome of romance novels. In these stories, the passionate tension between the voluptuous heroine and the handsome hero usually ends in an equally passionate marriage. The genre does not garner as much respect as other forms of literature in fact, critics call it pure escapism. But Jessica Jiji, a romance novelist — and news writer for the United Nations — asks what’s wrong with that?

“Sometimes I think we feel like we have to grapple with the heavy philosophical subjects of our day,” Jiji said. “But it’s OK to indulge yourself a little in some sort of escape. I work at the United Nations. I deal with a lot of body counts. I write about AIDS, refugees, wars. I mean the worst blights on the planet. When I got home I really didn’t want to read an analysis of the genocide in Rwanda; I wanted to read Cosmo. I think it keeps me sane.”

In addition to providing millions of readers with escape, The romance novel industry also provides more than a billion dollars in annual sales. It comprises one third of all popular fiction sold around the world. Large distributors like Harlequin Enterprises sell more than 4 books per second and about half of those sales are outside the United States. Romance novels are published in more than two-dozen languages, from Afrikaans to Korean.
The global popularity doesn’t surprise Best-Selling author Heather Graham, who says emotions translate easily. A romance novel is less about language and more about the universal passion of human relationships.

There is no finer emotion than love,” Graham said. “And I mean obviously it goes beyond a husband and wife. I mean you love your love for your parents, your love for your children. But as human beings very few of us want to spend our lives alone. Most people really want to find a companion who is the soul-mate. The person who you share your trumps with, the person who when you’re desperate to cry on someone’s shoulder when you need help.

But romance novelist Rachel Gibson says even literature about passion must be tempered with reason and it’s important to know what’s selling.

I think that to be successful you have to write what you love but I think you have to pay attention to the market and what readers want to read at the moment, Gibson said.

Publishers also pay attention to that. Pamela Jaffee, Director of Publicity for Avon and William Morrow books, says trends in the market have prompted booksellers to create subcategories of romance, such as books geared toward older women, and ones with a Christian emphasis in addition to a love story. But Jaffee says novels designed to appeal to 20- and 30-somethings – young women of so called generation X and Y — is the best selling sub-category.

The point of those stories wasn’t perhaps your typical happily every after where you ride off into the sunset with the man of your dreams,” Jaffee said. “The purpose was more about self-realization self actualization, which goes more toward the gen-X and gen-Y age-groups who are so independent and strong and don’t need Mr. Right. They need Mr. Right-Now.

Whether it’s a novel for the Gen-X audience or a more mature crowd, Leslie Wainger, author of Writing a Romance Novel for Dummies says romance authors need to believe in love to convince anyone else of its authenticity.

You have to believe in the fantasy because if you don’t you can’t fake it,” Wainger said. “Romances, at their core, they’re about emotion, they’re about people falling in love and the reader has to experience the feeling of falling in love and you really can’t fake that in fiction any more than you can in life.

According to historical romance novelist Julia Quinn, that emotional intensity can forge a special relationship between readers and authors. She recalls a letter she received from a woman who was sharing Quinn’s books with her ailing mother before her mother passed away.

When she went to the hospital to collect her things she saw the book and she realized that her mother had never finished the book,” Quinn said. “And so she took the book to her mother’s gravesite and read the rest of the book to her. It just made me sob. I couldn’t believe that someone would do that to something I had created. I can’t even explain to you right now how it made me feel. It’s really very touching.

The market for love is an ever evolving one and is no longer limited to the printed page. Romance enthusiasts can now download audiobooks onto their computers and even some cell phones and listen to the stories.
As the authors, would-be authors and publishers at the Romance Writers’ Conference considered what’s next for their industry they agreed whatever it is, it will end happily ever after.

I’m Kristin Larsen, KUNR News.

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