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Professional gatherings like the annual Romance Writers of America conference have always been a great way for authors to network with editors, publishers, and other writers. In contrast to conferences, which have a business focus, romance conventions like Romantic Times's Booklovers Convention and the eponymous RomCon let readers share book recommendations and meet their favorite authors. Now publishers are using these events to market titles, find out what fans really want, and build brand recognition.

Conferences are the first port of call for writers looking for a business boost. "Writers who choose a more industry-driven conference get the opportunity to meet with their publishers one on one, attend writing workshops, and sometimes pitch projects to editors and agents," says Jean Anne Rose, the director of publicity at Simon & Schuster. "For publishers, conferences can be a way to assess trends and hear feedback from booksellers in the field, and spend quality time with authors outside of the office."

Writing conferences tend to be future-focused and give writers an opportunity to influence the trends. "One of the most exciting parts of writers' conferences is the exchange of ideas," says Kensington editorial director Alicia Condon. "This is where editors, writers, and readers discuss—and launch—the latest trends."

Many authors, both new and established, attend conferences hoping to sell a novel or at least to interest an editor in looking at a manuscript. Mary-Theresa Hussey, executive editor at Harlequin, says, "The final decision to acquire is always based on the work, but the early conversations about the characters, conflicts, and motivations of a novel can pinpoint areas for further development. And in the end, the sheer pleasure—as well as eventual exhaustion—of meeting with like-minded others who love to talk books and authors and plots and ideas and pop culture can be immensely stimulating and rewarding."

In our brave new electronic age, the Internet provides a platform for book promotion and discussion, but nothing replaces the face-to-face encounter. "With social media playing such a huge role in how readers discover new books and interact with authors, it's more important than ever to attend offline events and conventions as a way to supplement those online relationships," says Kensington editor-in-chief John Scognamiglio. Shauna Summers, executive editor at Bantam Dell, agrees: "We find these events extremely useful in connecting with our authors and getting to see them face-to-face, which is a refreshing change from the e-mail world we all live in."

Making Big Plans for RWA

This year more than 2,100 published and aspiring romance writers, editors, agents, and other industry professionals will gather for the 31st annual Romance Writers of America Conference in New York City, June 28–July 1. The event is so popular that even in these tight economic times, it's sold out.

RWA is the peak of most publishers' business calendars, and attending publishers go out of their way to make a splash. Mass book signings, readings, author panels, celebratory dinners, and plenty of networking are commonplace. A traditional highlight is the Rita Award ceremony, which recognizes outstanding romance novels published the previous year. The Golden Heart awards are given to high-quality unpublished manuscripts, and many Golden Heart winners acquire their first agents and even make their first sales at RWA. The award ceremony is often referred to as the "Oscars of romance," for the importance of the awards as well as the spectacle of 2,000 women (and a few men) dressed in glamorous red carpet–worthy finery.

At special Spotlight panels, editorial teams and publicity and marketing staff will answer writers' questions and offer advice on how to be successful in the current market. Editors will also be available for appointments to meet with authors who want to pitch a novel or series.

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