atlantanight Today was the first full day of conference and even though I felt like I was scurrying all over the hotel, there’s a pretty high energy mood here this year and I can’t say that I felt particularly tired. I attended publisher spotlights with Carina Press, Avon and Grand Central, and picked up other tidbits of information in chats here and there.

After hearing presentations from three publishers, there are some definite themes emerging at this conference. For starters, one hears the phrase “author branding” everywhere. At all the publisher spotlights and even in more informal conversations with publishing reps, I’m hearing a real emphasis on building brands around an author. For example, Angela James at Carina made a point of saying that she doesn’t want to publish just one book with someone; her idea is to look forward across multiple books with an eye toward building an author’s career. Part of that involves marketing a consistent brand for that author.

This was an idea echoed elsewhere as well. Folks from various publishing houses have mentioned in conversation that building author brands is key. Avon, Grand Central and Carina Press all mentioned the importance of using social media as a promotion tool as well as the idea of giving an author similar cover art styling across titles to help make that person more recognizable.

In all of this branding seems to lie an obvious assumption that authors will be writing series of books and indeed, Grand Central mentioned that it has a difficult time selling standalone books in any subgenre of romance. As someone who can get a little burnt out on trying to follow various series, I found this a little discouraging. There are some stories that really need only one book.

The other term that popped up at every publishing spotlight (no surprise here) was New Adult. Everyone is super-excited about getting on the New Adult bandwagon. Last year erotic romance was the hot new thing and New Adult seems to be the hot new area this year. Carina Press, Grand Central and Avon are all looking to acquire NA titles and I suspect I will be hearing this from other publishers as well. As with any subgenre, there are some NA books that are wonderful and others that are crap, and I suspect this will continue.

I had a chance to speak briefly with a rep from a publisher who wishes to remain nameless and I asked about the tendency of publishers to jump on new trends as I had not only heard folks asking for NA but I had also heard at the spotlights that publishers were looking to acquire motorcycle club books (in case you doubted that Kristen Ashley had really started something). I had heard at the Grand Central spotlight that in their experience, print buyers tend to be more conservative while the digital market is more open to experimentation. What I was told about the “bandwagon effect” seemed to back this up. This publisher’s rep thought that publishers liked to jump on trends because readers will enjoy a book and then look for something just like that reading experience.

Self-publishing and indie presses still seem to be getting a fair amount of buzz this year as well. The self-publishing workshops seem to have been well-attended. In addition, there was an indie book signing this afternoon and it was jam packed with people. I had assumed this wasn’t surprising, but to hear folks talking afterwards, I was reminded that not everyone spends as much time in the online romance world.

At one of the parties and receptions, I did have a chance to chat briefly with Malle Vallik from Harlequin and that was helpful. I’d heard from a few people who were curious about the new gothic line(Shivers) being advertised for Harlquin Digital. Since the examples listed with the writing guidelines included things like True Blood, I’d wondered whether this was truly gothic or whether it was another paranormal line similar to Nocturne. Vallik assured me that she is indeed looking for gothic tales. She described the concept as a modern interpretation of gothic plots. It could have an element of the paranormal but does not have to, and while she would prefer a sexier story, it doesn’t have to be. I started out reading my mother’s novels by Mary Stewart, Phyllis Whitney, Barbara Michaels, etc…, so I will definitely have to download some of these when they become available.

We still have two days of workshops ahead of us, so the conference is far from over. I’ve been checking on historicals, though, to see what the market holds. So far, the publishers are all looking for historicals and Carina Press made it clear that they would REALLY like to see some historical submissions over there. With regard to setting variations, Carina Press and Avon both stated that they were open to looking at a variety of settings (and it was at the Avon spotlight that I heard one editor tell the audience that medievals are not dead.) At Grand Central, this was mentioned as well, though one editor did proclaim her love of Regency historicals and mentioned looking for more of those. Given that publishers are looking to acquire historicals, I hope that this will mean we see more of them in coming years.

For those who want to follow the conference over the next couple of days, Blythe and I are both tweeting as we head to various workshops and events, so just follow our Twitter feeds at @LynnAAR and @BlytheAAR.

– Lynn Spencer