Love Is In The Air

Participants wait in line for a book signing on the first day of the Romance Writers of America's 23rd annual conference. AP

There are workshops on plot development and characterization, meetings with publishers and editors. And, of course, there are tips on sexy love scenes.

After all, this is a meeting of romance writers.

The Romance Writers of America's 23rd annual conference opened on Wednesday, bringing together more than 2,000 published authors, want-to-be-published writers, editors and others connected to a lucrative section of the fiction market.

Despite being a target of derision and stereotypes over the years, the romance genre generates more than $1 billion in sales each year and has a market share that practitioners of other genres envy.

"There are smart, savvy women who write romance, and smart, savvy women who read romance, and we read it because it is emotionally satisfying for us," said Gayle Wilson, an author and RWA board member.

According to figures from the RWA, romance novels made up more than one-third of all fiction books sold nationwide last year, and more than half of all fiction paperbacks sold. The growth has been steady over recent years, according to the RWA, and the genre has produced subcategories from historical and mystery to paranormal and inspirational.

"We're very specialized in the types of romance we write," said Diana Palmer, a romance author who has been writing for more than 20 years. "It's just far-reaching because women's interests are far-reaching."

The conference, which ends Saturday, was to include a book signing for charity by 500 authors. But the rest of the meeting was given over to a not-so-sexy part of publishing: seminars on business issues facing writers, sessions about the industry, spotlights on particular publishing houses.

It also set up sessions about the craft of writing - research into settings, pacing, plot twists, characterizations. And there were topics specific to romance: the psychology of the alpha male hero, that strong, charismatic man who always gets the girl; the elements of the strong heroine who can rescue herself from danger.

And, of course, the "love connection." Not just simple attraction, but the deep connection between hero and heroine that drives the conflict and ultimately leads to the "happy-ever-after" ending.

The conference demonstrates romance writers' professionalism, said Wilson, and belies stereotypes about its authors such as "the notion that we're all frustrated housewives who don't know about the real world."

Wilson said that while romance is getting more respect, there is still ridicule.

"You have to wonder if there's not some sexism involved, because romance is written primarily by women, primarily for women readers," she said.

Others said romance had come a long way.

"When I first came here, there was that stigma attached to the books," said Katherine Orr, vice president of public relations at Harlequin Enterprises, a romance publisher. Now, though, "There's too many women making good money in a very rewarding business. They're very proud."


By Deepti Hajela
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