Kansas City is a big market for romance authors. No, really.
Romance books are a billion-dollar industry, bigger than mystery and science fiction combined. They’re also the top-circulating genre across Mid-Continent Public Library’s 31 branches. And currently, according to the people who know such things, romance novels are actively being created and sold by no less than 60 active authors in the Kansas City area
“We have an unbelievable number of people writing romance and selling those romances in Kansas City,” says Morgan Perry, business specialist at Mid-Continent. “And they’re getting zero respect for this. They’re very secluded, because no one wants to say, ‘I write romance.’”
Creating a space for those writers — and the fans of their work — was the aim of last year’s Romance GenreCon, the first romance event of its kind in Kansas City.
“There was nothing [for romance enthusiasts] really in the middle of the country,” says Mid-Continent’s information and reader services manager Amy Fisher, who regularly attends romance festivals, usually on the coasts. “So we decided to take the pieces of the different conferences we’ve gone to and put them together for our community here.”
The 2018 Romance GenreCon, held at the Woodneath Library Center, drew attendees from Chicago, Minnesota, and Texas — a signal to Fisher and Perry that there was a Midwestern hunger for such an event. The free, three-day convention returns next weekend — August 1 through 3 — to Woodneath and is divided into two parts. Thursday and Friday is the “Romance Writers Convention,” which features workshops and networking opportunities for aspiring and published authors. On Friday evening, the event transitions to the “Romance Readers Convention,” which runs through the end of Saturday and gives fans of the genre the opportunity to hear from and meet some of their favorite authors.
Generally speaking, romance novels are defined as having a central love story and a happy ending. Though the stereotype persists that all romance novels are bodice-rippers, that’s not the case; the genre varies widely. Even back to the days of Jane Austen, romance authors have been using their form to address social issues.
“The authors of romance are very successful women that have had multiple careers, whether in academics, or law, or medicine, or technology,” says Janna MacGregor, a Kansas City attorney who writes Regency-era romance novels and will be appearing at the GenreCon. “The breadth of talent is out there is amazing. They bring all that wonderful knowledge to their books, and we get to read about it.”
Farrah Rochon, another author who will be at Romance GenreCon, says, “In my books, my heroines would be just fine on their own, but it’s okay for them to find love as well. It’s not as if their lives hinge on finding their perfect mate. ”
“It’s the literature of hope,” Perry says, attributing the phrase to Damon Suede, one of this year’s featured authors. “Personal relationships are the most important part of our lives. If you walk up to anyone on the street, they would say ‘Yes, my personal relationships are the most important part of my life!’ But because this [genre] is mainly by women, for women, we as a society have decided it’s not cool.”
She continues: “The subplot to [GenreCon] is battling the stigma that romance writers face. We have to stop rolling our eyes about our romance readers. This is the number-one-selling genre in the world. This is legit. We need to respect that. Also, it’s one of the most progressive genres when talking about diversity and inclusion.”
Inclusion and the promotion of a broader array of voices is the buzz of the romance community right now; authors of color and those writing LGBTQ romance have been able to show demand for their books, and mainstream publishers are beginning to notice. This dynamic will be reflected at this year’s Romance GenreCon, where the biggest draw is Alyssa Cole, an author of color who writes bestselling love stories with characters of diverse races and backgrounds, and includes characters who are lesbian, bi, gender-nonconforming, and disabled.
“In the past, some of the big publishing houses had one or two black authors, and it was known that they had their two people, so don’t even try [getting published there],” says Rochon. “When self-publishing [on the web] came out, and people didn’t have those gatekeepers anymore, that’s when so many diverse romance authors were able to make their mark.”
To serve current and would-be local romance authors, the writers’ conference will include workshops not just on writing, but on business aspects like author branding and budgeting for independent publishing. “We’re also now bringing in a publisher every year to take pitches,” Perry says. “Deb Werksman from Sourcebooks will have three pitching sessions. So if you’re a local romance author, this might be an opportunity you haven’t had access to before.”
But there’s also plenty for the fans — panels and signings and such. For some, Romance GenreCon will be work; for others, a vacation.
“[Romance novels are] just like a harbor in the storm from everyday life,” says MacGregor. “It re-energizes you, reinvigorates you.”
Romance GenreCon. Featuring Alyssa Cole, Tracy Brogan, Farrah Rochon, Damon Suede, Cherry Adair, Sierra Simone, Cathy Maxwell, Janna MacGregor, and Rachel Van Dyken.
Thursday, Aug 1–Saturday, Aug 3.
Woodneath Library Center, 8900 NE Flintlock Road.
Free, but registration is requested at mymcpl.org/romance.