carinacovers As always, the Romance Writers of America conference is an almost overwhelming flurry of activity. On the one hand, I love walking through the hotel and hearing snippets of conversations from writers, editors, agents, and others. On the other hand, it can be something of a dizzying whirl. I’ve enjoyed catching up with folks I get to see only once a year, and I’ve gotten to meet some of the authors whose books I’ve loved, which is always a thrill. The sharing of ideas is quite contagious as people exchange information, tips, and gossip. As I’ve spoken to various authors, publishing houses, and agents, a few topics have already come up over and over again.

50 Shades of Gray – Like it or hate it, everyone is indeed going there. And after having followed several publisher spotlights and talked to a few agents, the word seems to be that publishers really want to acquire more erotic romance. It was mentioned both at the Carina Press and Grand Central spotlights and off the record, at least a couple of agents have mentioned that erotic romance has gotten lots of buzz. Publishers report strong sales, and I have yet to hear anyone say they’re not interested in acquiring. In addition, some of the cover unveilings seem inspired by that famous cover art. At the Carina Press spotlight, attendees got to vote on a cover for an upcoming work, and you can see the inspiration in cover choices, which I posted above.

Self-Publishing – I’m hearing LOTS of buzz about self-publishing. I’ve heard a couple of authors mention that their self-pubbed books have enjoyed stronger sales than their traditionally published novels. In her luncheon speech today, Stephanie Laurens spoke of changes in the way readers access books and it was obvious that she sees the current market as an author’s market because self-publishing, digital imprints, and similar innovations allow authors to reach readers directly.

Laurens’ speech made a good point, and it’s one that seems to be resonating with authors. Many authors have been re-releasing their backlists in eBook form via various self-publishing platforms, but it’s not only restricted to backlists. Historical readers probably already know that Courtney Milan has made the move from HQN to self-publishing, and mixed in among aspiring writers’ stories of making multiple pitches in hopes of getting The Call are stories that end with, “Well, I’m interested in Publisher X, Y or Z, and if they don’t take me, I’ll just publish it myself.”

Digital Publishing – Self-publishing is getting a lot of buzz, but so is digital publishing. At spotlights, the major publishers are touting their digital imprints such as Forever Yours and Avon Impulse. In addition, digital publishers seem to get a lot of attention. Just to give one example, the Carina Press spotlight brought in a good-sized crowd and quite a few people stayed afterward to speak with Angela James. In earlier years, digital imprints seemed to be mentioned by many publishers primarily as a means to market print books with novella tie-ins and so on. However, this year the traditional publishers seem to have embraced eBooks as something worth acquiring in their own right, touting the ability to publish books for niche markets or to take chances on unusual settings and characters that would be more costly in print editions.

What About Paranormals? – Most people are probably aware that paranormals have been doing huge business in recent years. This year, however, more than one conference attendee has been heard to wonder whether paranormals are dead. Somehow, I doubt this. At the literacy signing, the paranormal authors still had plenty of readers interested in getting signed books and plenty of aspiring authors still mention paranormal as their subgenre of choice. However, I do think the trend is losing steam somewhat as the market has gotten saturated. At the publisher spotlights, the editors have also sounded more picky about how much paranormal they plan to acquire. At the Ballantine/Bantam/Dell spotlight, one person asked about paranormals and received the response that paranormals acquired needed to be something special and have a fresh take on the genre.

A lot of buzz – and that’s just day 1 of the conference. I’m curious to hear more developments over Friday and Saturday. If you can’t wait for an RWA conference wrap-up next week, Blythe and I will be tweeting from Anaheim at @BlytheAAR and @LynnAAR. And we’ll be livetweeting the RITAs from @AllAboutRomance on Saturday evening!

– Lynn Spencer