These are my notes from the Romance Writers of Australia 2022 conference. Please be aware that this is not a transcript.
Panel Discussion on Publishing Trends
with: Jo McKay (Harlequin), Ali Watts (Penguin), Cassandra de Bello (Simon & Schuster), Anna Boatman (Little Brown)
Question: Thoughts on Booktok
AB: Tiktok books not necessarily romance, but represent new opportunities. Authors don’t have to be on there, it’s a reader place. Colleen Hoover over 1billion views on Tiktok
CdB: Tiktok has been great for romance, as has Bridgerton, it’s helped get romance into retail shops
AW: romcoms have been flat. Tiktok is only benefitting a few, but it’s making young people read again
JM: Can’t control it, but love the way it has breathed life into backlists
Note: Zoe York tweeted more about this question here.
Question: Should we put COVID into books?
JM: it depends on the books. It’s trauma, so needs to be dealt with sensitively. We haven’t pushed for it as it’s too fresh, but it will probably come.
AW: we want to escape it not read about it. Am seeing more pandemics in history, eg Spanish Flu, as a way for people to process it
CdB: one of her authors said, “The best stories are written from scars, but we are still bleeding.” They do have one book that uses it as a plot device (Jodi McAlister)
AB: balance is difficult.
Question: What is the ideal length for a book?
JM: paper prices are an issue and make a difference. 80-140k, and the longer ones would have to earn their place.
AW: not too long. longer is harder to translate to audio. 90-120k
CdB: genre dependent. Historicals 120k, rest 80-100k
AB: ditto what CdB said. Under 80k is an issue, while over 140k is too much re paper prices
Question: Do you need an agent?
I didn’t take any notes on this bit, as they just repeated what was on their websites. There was a follow up question about being self-published, and they all said they wouldn’t take a book that was already out there, but would be open a new book from an indie published author.
Question: Do you take into account an author’s Social Media?
JM: A bit. It’s imporatnt to have a presence, especially for debut books
AW: reader want to engage with you
CdB/AB: yes, it’s important
Questions: What trends do you see in 2023?
CdB: Romance will continue to be strong, as people want happy, comforting stories. SFF might take off. We publish Anita Heiss and would love more Indigenous authors
AW: more diverse voices, more romance
JM: – feminist retellings of history, or history from a feminine pov. – darker versions of thrillers, but from a woman’s perspective, eg a woman trying to live her life during a train strike
AB: horrors, thrillers, but female led. dystopian stories.
Follow up question about Australian historicals
AB: yes, if the book has broad themes