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I’m back into PhD mode, currently working on the all important research proposal for my confirmation seminar. These confirmation seminars happen about a year in to the degree study and one can present (in theory) an indepth research proposal and get approval to do the PhD proper. It’s weird because you know I’m doing the PhD now, and I’ll be doing it after confirmation. It’s a formal part of the process to ensure I have something worthwhile to research now I have had a year looking into the research material. I get assessed and I get a drilling on my presentation and the topic. All good.

I’m at present beavering away at writing up the proposal and pulling together my literature review. It’s not quite structured properly yet but I’m getting there. I have really enjoyed the research part of this degree. Romance fiction, feminism, incomprehensible French philosophers are all so enthralling. I haven’t really been able to pull myself away from it to work on the creative work. But after the confirmation seminar in March, I will.

Part of my research, a very important part of my unique contribution, is the two surveys I am conducting at the moment (and when I do them this year, the selected in-depth interviews). I am surveying writers of popular romance fiction and readers of popular romance fiction. When I was putting the proposal forward for clearance the biggest concern from the bureaucracy here was how was I going to reach readers of romance fiction. These days that is easier than people think. I’ve read articles where the researcher couldn’t get sufficient readers to participate in their research. This was years ago before the big websites dedicated to romance, social media and even here the Australian Romance Readers Association (ARRA). I’ve had a really good response thanks to all those means, Smart Bitches Trashy Books, Dear Author, Twitter, Facebook, WordPress and ARRA (who have been awesome!). Authors have also been spreading the word to their readers. The response is so good that we could go for statistically significant for reader response so yes I’m still looking for readers of romance fiction. Please spread the word. Do the survey if you are a reader of romance!

The irony is that I’m sadly lacking in romance fiction authors responding to the survey, particularly in comparison to the reader response. I know there are thousands of romance authors out there. I am having trouble reaching them. Romance Writers of Australia has nearly a 1000 members, Romance Writers of America has over 10,000 members. You think it would be easy. But it’s not. I’m not a member of the Romance Writers of America for example and it’s not easy for me to wave the flag and say lookie here.

Not easy to reach popular romance authors, not easy to convince them to complete me lovely survey. Come on darlings, look over here. Look at my nice survey!

However, I’m not giving up. The survey continues.

See my previous post for details and links. HERE

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Now that I’m back from Shanghai, I am back on the ball with the PhD.

An important part of my research is obtaining the views of romance readers and romance writers. I have been working on these surveys for a few months and they are ready to launch.

Now there are two surveys: one for romance readers and one for romance writers. Please use the correct link!

Yes. Romance writers can be romance readers but I have questions on their romance reading  in the writer survey so you don’t need to do two surveys.

I think the survey can take up to 15-20 minutes to do. I do it quicker but I’ve been looking at it many times. So do allow some time.

I am also going to select some people for a follow up interview. There is space to indicate your willingness to be involved in this is the consent form. The consent form is the first part of the survey.

This survey is for my PhD, which is examining romance fiction. Please help!

This is the link to Survey Monkey for Romance Writers

This is the link to Survey Monkey for Romance Readers.

Thanking you all in anticipation. Donna!

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It is my great pleasure to interview, Debbie Phillips, the president of the Australian Romance Readers Association (ARRA) one of the most organised and efficient organisations I have ever dealt with. They run a biennial conference for readers (with writers) of romance, as well as the annual romance reader awards, surveys of romance readers, signing events, author high teas, local area romance reader lunches and the list goes on. They are awesome. So if you like reading romance you should consider signing up to be a member. It’s a modest fee. And if your fancy goes to meeting other romance readers then you should head to Melbourne in February 2017!!

I was curious about the origins of the organisation so I asked Debbie to answer a few questions.

So, Debbie, how did the Australian Romance Readers Association start and when?

ARRA was established in 2007 to organise the first Australian Romance Readers Convention. That was our sole purpose at the time. Since then we have incorporated the association and have added other events to our activities.

It all started with a discussion on an online loop, where Maggie Nash suggested Australia should have its own romance readers convention. Other members of the loop thought that was a great idea and we set up an expression of interest form and set it out through our various networks. Then came the amazing moment when we received an email from Sherrilyn Kenyon saying she’d heard about the idea and could she come. (Umm, yes!) After that there was no turning back.

How long did it take for your membership levels to reach a critical mass?

Not long at all. We started out with just 16 members—the committee organising ARRC09—and by the end of 2009 we had over 120 members. Our membership today sits at 341. (Donna: OMG! that’s so many. So Fab)

Why is the Australian Romance Readers Association important to readers of romance? What does being a member do?

Other than the obvious benefit of the events we host each year, ARRA also provides a place where readers can find other readers (and authors) who share their interests. We have an online members loop where we chat throughout the month about what we are reading; we have a monthly newsletter that is jam-packed with articles and news about romance fiction; we have an active blog with regular articles from authors and publishers, with giveaways as well. We also have active groups on social media.

Being a member of ARRA means you are supporting that community. We have taken the $20 membership fees from our members and turned them into an enormous enterprise that is getting attention from around the world.

In addition to the biennial conventions we host a signing each August in conjunction with the Romance Writers of Australia conference. Taking advantage of the opportunity presented by so many authors in one place has meant we can keep costs low and offer a unique opportunity for local readers to come along and meet authors and get books signed.

We have also hosted special events with authors like Julia Quinn, Karen Rose and Maya Banks when they visited Australia. Being able to do that is something really special for both readers and authors.

What made ARRA decide to run biennial conferences? What is special about these conferences?

With the growth of online communities and social media Australian romance readers were able to see all the fun readers have at the RT conventions in the United States. For most readers a trip to RT was something they would probably never be able to afford. So we decided to establish our own convention here in Australia. We move it around the country to make it more accessible to readers.

They’re special because they’re total immersion in romance fiction for an entire weekend. You get to meet and chat with authors and readers for two whole days (longer if you come to some of the optional social events). And even better, it is a judgment-free zone! Everyone there gets your obsession with reading romance and you will not see a single eye roll.

Where have these conferences been? Can you give me some highlights of the guests you have had?

We have had the most amazing guests!

The first convention in 2009 was held in Melbourne. Keynote speakers were Stephanie Laurens, Sherrilyn Kenyon, MaryJanice Davidson, Dianna Love, Susan Grant and Liz Maverick. (All these speakers very generously paid their own expenses, so we could afford to have six keynotes!) There were also another 40 authors at the convention.

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Sherrilyn Kenyon (L) and Dianna Love (R) with reader Lami, ARRC09

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Back row: MaryJanice Davidson, Liz Maverick and Susan Grant; Front row: readers Pamela, Carrie and Sarah, ARRC09

The next convention was ARRC2011, held in Bondi. Our keynotes were Anna Campbell, Nalini Singh and Cindy Gerard. There were another 40 authors in attendance as well.

In 2013 we hosted the convention in Brisbane, and keynotes were Anne Gracie, Kristan Higgins and Rachel Vincent. Our author numbers had jumped to 60 by then.

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Nalini Singh, Anne Gracie, reader Willy and Keri Arthur, ARRC2011

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Kristan Higgins, Rachel Vincent and Anne Gracie, ARRC2013

Last year we hosted ARRC2015 in Canberra. Our keynotes were Helene Young, Sylvia Day, Victoria Dahl and Kelley Armstrong. There were an additional 90 authors at the event, our biggest yet.

How do you decide who to invite as keynotes?

We ask our members who they would love to meet and then we compile a list and make our way down it. For every convention we are in contact with probably a dozen authors before we lock in our keynotes. All the authors we speak to are excited at the thought of coming to Australia to meet their readers, but unfortunately for some it just isn’t possible at that particular time. Authors are busy people! The list of authors who have regretfully declined our invitation is just as start-studded as the authors who have been at our conventions!

ARRA also gives out readers awards. When did these start? Are they well received?

The first awards were held at ARRC09. We hadn’t planned them at first, but when we saw the enthusiastic reaction to the convention we decided to establish the awards. Authors and readers alike love them. We hold them each year. In convention years the awards dinner is part of the convention. In the off-convention years we hold the awards dinner as a standalone event in Sydney.

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Inaugural award winners: Anna Campbell, Sherrilyn Kenyon, Melanie Milburne and Stephanie Laurens, ARRC09

Can you tell me a bit about the conference coming up in Melbourne? I understand you have a guest coming via Skype!

Next year ARRC2017 will be back in Melbourne, and our keynotes will be Kylie Scott, Courtney Milan and Kristen Callihan. And of course there will be some 80 romance authors from around Australia.

Yes, we are thrilled to say Thea Harrison will be joining us for a Q&A. She had accepted our invitation to be a keynote speaker, but then realised that her health would preclude the very long trip to Australia. That’s when we decided to try a Skype session for the first time. If it goes well that will really open up the possibilities for the next convention.

If anyone is interested in more information on the convention, they can find it here. There’s a link to buy tickets as well.

What is included in the conference fee?

The conference fee includes entry to all the sessions over the weekend. Delegates can choose from a number of panel sessions throughout the weekend (see the program here). It includes morning tea, lunch and afternoon tea on both Saturday and Sunday. There will also be a special screening of the documentary Love Between the Covers, speed dating sessions, the chance for a special morning tea with an author host, an epic signing event, and of course our keynote speakers. Another highlight will be out gold tickets, which 21 lucky readers will find in their goodies bag when they register; these tickets entitle them to a private lunch with one of the keynotes.

In addition to that, there are a number of optional social events over the weekend that are ticketed separately. Readers can meet authors ahead of the convention at a High Tea on the Friday, or join us for the wind-down lunch cruise on the Monday. On Friday night there are welcome cocktails, followed by a trivia night, complete with popcorn and ice cream. On Saturday night they can join us at the fabulous awards dinner.

Are readers able to meet authors at the convention as well as hang with other romance readers?

Yes! Throughout the weekend readers have the chance to meet and chat with all the authors. Whether mingling at the cocktail reception or enjoying the awards dinner, you could well be sharing the evening with your favourite authors. During the day you can sit in on the panel sessions, chat with authors and readers during tea breaks, chat one-on-one with authors at the speed dating sessions, and then catch up with them at the signing as well. The whole weekend is about authors and readers hanging out and chatting!

Do you have any tips for romance readers and writers on how to meet?

Don’t be shy! Everyone there loves romance fiction just as much as you do, and they can’t wait to talk to someone about their favourite authors and books. (In fact, some of the authors are just as shy as some readers, and they are all absolutely lovely! So don’t be intimidated.) All it takes is “What are you reading at the moment?” to get a conversation started.arrc2017-banner_700

 

You can find ARRA here: Website | Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

Thank you Debbie! Your answers were great. I had no idea all that was going on in the background. I’ll be there in February, but now I’m thinking after conference cruise? Why not?

 

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