This week is the Romance Writers of America annual national conference. This year, it’ll be in San Diego, but I’m not attending. I don’t always go to RWA, but I always think about it while it’s going on. This year, they’re showing a documentary called Love Between the Covers, about the business of writing and publishing romance. It’s an excellent piece, which I saw a few years ago – if you have the chance to watch it, do so! – and discussion about it is making me think back.
One of the time stamps RWA members use for events and memories is the location and date of the annual RWA conference. Accordingly, I remember that it was the 2010 national conference in Orlando where I first encountered the team working on this documentary. Another time stamp writers use is the publication date of a book – my Dragonfire novel Whisper Kiss was going to be published in August, as well as the finale of my Prometheus Project urban fantasy romance trilogy, Rebel.
Six years ago today (more or less) I flew to Orlando for the conference. As always, the industry discussion started at the airport in Toronto. There were other writers on my flight headed to conference and we started to talk shop early. Kate Bridges and Anne Lethbridge both shared news of changes at Harlequin – we had all written for Harlequin Historicals, although I no longer did so. Editorial had moved to the UK for that line and Harlequin was also offering more content in digital-first. By the time I got on the flight, I was already thinking about changes in the business.
Discussions at RWA conferences since 2005 (Reno, The Jewels of Kinfairlie trilogy) had been primarily about changes in the business that negatively impacted authors, like the trimming of the midlist, the shrinking print market, the closing of bookstores and resulting loss of shelf space, the diminishing popularity of certain sub-genres (like historical romance), the conglomeration of publishers and the impact of that upon each house’s list. The tone of conferences had been informative, but not always uplifting. I thought I was in for more of the same, but that wasn’t the case in 2010.
There was a woman entering the conference hotel ahead of me, who looked a lot like Julie Ortolon. I hadn’t seen Jules since our days at Dell, probably ten years before, so I surreptitiously read this woman’s luggage tag to confirm that she was Jules before I tapped her on the shoulder. After many happy greetings, Jules began to talk about digital self-publishing and Amazon’s new KDP portal. I was fascinated. We dumped our bags in our rooms and met up in the bar, and she talked more about the opportunities and possibilities. Her enthusiasm was infectious. We talked about pricing. We talked about rights reversions. We talked about packaging. This was an excellent example of the open sharing of information and ideas between authors that would come to characterize the indie movement. It was exciting! The bar had a strange location in that hotel—it was along one side of a corridor—but that meant that people caught a few words in passing and stopped to join in. The group kept growing and the exchange of ideas became faster and faster. It was wonderful to talk about the opportunities becoming available to us. It was wonderful to see people sharing email addresses and giving advice about requesting reversions of book rights and much more. It was wonderful to feel this kind of electricity and excitement. There was good news!
This was when we met the film-making team working on the documentary. I don’t think they were prepared for the energy of this group, and the lead film-maker clearly was more interested in writers pursuing a more traditional path. She left us fairly quickly – but the conversation carried on. It was revisited and expanded over and over again for the next few days.
That 2010 conference was amazing because it marked the beginning of a major shift in thinking for me and many other writers. In the PAN (Published Authors Network) retreat – a full day of sessions geared for published members – Lou Aronica spoke about indie publishing and its possibilities. I still have the notes from that discussion. There are a lot of exclamation marks in them. It was so exciting to think that we had choices, and choices that might prove to be financially viable.
Kim Killion was working full time in those days and writing books, too. I remember we had a discussion in their room as to whether authors would pay for cover art for their digital books. Kim’s design business, Hot Damn Designs, now The Killion Group, was established after that conference.
I had the rights to my time travel romances already, but began to pursue more reversions when I got home. I remember telling my husband about the conference when I got home and what I’d learned, and him reminding me to breathe. 🙂 I published my first digital edition of Once Upon a Kiss that August, with my own cover. (I soon realized I needed Kim’s services! The cover to the left is her design.)
When I look back, I see that the people who did best in the emerging market were the ones who leapt right in, either starting new series or republishing books that had never been available in digital format. I was “hybrid” before we knew what it was called. I had just signed two new contracts with NAL before that conference – one for the books that became Flashfire and Ember’s Kiss, and one for the Dragon Diaries trilogy – and spent the better part of the next two years delivering those contracts. Leaping in wasn’t an option due to time constraints, but I did re-publish backlist titles during that period and learned a lot about digital publishing. I left traditional publishing in March 2012, on the twentieth anniversary of my first book sale to a publisher, a choice that would have been unthinkable just two years before.
So, here we are, six years later. (San Diego, Wyvern’s Mate and The Crusader’s Handfast.) It’s amazing to look back and realize how much has changed and how quickly it’s changed. I’m very glad to be working the way I do now. I love the camaraderie between writers now, and the sharing of ideas and suggestions. The writing community on the indie side is warm and supportive, because there’s room for everyone to succeed.
The years have gone by in a flash. Thank you, Julie Ortolon. Thank you, Lou Aronica. Thank you to everyone who helped to open eyes to the possibilities. Thank you to all the writers who generously shared their expertise and even their mistakes. And a big thank you to readers, who followed me from print to digital, and who kept reading my books. The next six years will be even better!