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Embracing Change and Celebrating Romance at the 2023 Romance Writers of Australia Conference

In the ever-evolving world of literature, the Romance genre stands as a juggernaut, captivating readers with tales of love, passion, and connection. The 2023 Romance Writers of Australia (RWAus) annual conference marked a pivotal moment in the association’s thirty-two-year history, ushering in a new era of growth and collaboration. With sponsors like Harlequin, Draft2Digital (D2D), Kobo, Simon & Schuster, and Penguin Random House, this year’s conference theme, “All That Glitters,” was a celebration of Romance’s enduring popularity and its steadfast position at the forefront of the literary landscape.

Romance, in its various forms, including the iconic Harlequin, Mills & Boon, and Hallmark, remains not only the highest selling genre in the book world but also garners some of the most ridicule, a notion that many conference speakers commented on frequently. This irony is puzzling, given that love and romance are undeniably the driving forces that make the world go round. The annual RWAus conference showcased the importance of the genre and provided a platform for authors, both traditional and independent, to explore new horizons, network with peers, and connect with major publishers and agents.

For indie authors, the conference offered an unprecedented opportunity to thrive. RWAus President Louisa West, a successful indie author with over twenty books under her belt, exemplified the potential of the indie route. 

“We want to make sure that indie authors are getting their craft and business needs met alongside the traditionally published authors,” West says. “Our ongoing partnership with Draft2Digital (D2D) and the range of indie speakers is evidence of our commitment. … Having publishing houses and international agents present their insights into publishing trends certainly helps me ensure my stories resonate with readers.”

The three-day conference kicked off Friday, August 11, with keynote speaker Steffanie Holmes. The bestselling indie author and publishing coach shared her journey from traditional publishing to becoming a champion of indie authorship. Her transition to indie came after a traditional deal fell apart because of editorial changes. Holmes explains that the emergence of Kindle and the growing buzz around indie publishing led her to explore this path with remarkable success. 

Steffanie Holmes

Indie author and publishing coach Steffanie Holmes gives the keynote address at the 2023 RWAus conference Friday, August 11.

“I started going to the Romance Writers of New Zealand conference well before I even published in Romance,” Holmes says. “It gave me the opportunity to learn about this incredible industry where women were at the top, calling the shots. It blew my mind in the best possible way and helped me see that having this as a career was possible.

 “Romance, as a genre, embraced indie before anyone else, and now we are at the forefront of the industry,” she continues. “Indie has taken over and changed this industry forever. Whether you are trad or indie, you need to know what’s going on, and conferences like the RWAus are the best place for it.”

The conference’s impact extended beyond writing and publishing advice; it reaffirmed the significance of community and connection. Heidi Wessman Kneale, who took a five-week sabbatical to focus on her passion project of an audiobook, found the experience life-altering. This respite not only allowed her to enhance her storytelling with audio effects but also inspired her to prioritize her writing career over a mundane day job. The conference provided Kneale with valuable insights into the industry, reinforcing her commitment to her craft.

Dan Wood, the COO of D2D and a long-standing sponsor and speaker, emphasized the transformative power of RWAus conferences. “Our attendance at the RWAus conference has not only facilitated connections between authors but also bridged the gap between Australian authors and the global market.” Wood’s involvement showcased the turning tide, where authors are realizing their options and making informed decisions that prioritize their creative journeys.

D2D COO Dan Wood and RWAus President Louisa WestHEIC

From left, Draft2Digital COO Dan Wood and RWAus President Louisa West.

“It’s well worth the trip for any US-based writers because Aussie readers love Romance,” he says. “Come and get to know the people and the market. Plus, Australia has the best coffee outside of Italy!”

The Power of Connection

Besides the thriving indie presence, the conference continued to embrace traditional authors, fostering a collegial atmosphere that transcended the traditional vs. indie divide. First-time attendees, or newbies, connected prior to the conference through a Facebook group and had dedicated Newbie Coordinators and events to help them overcome any anxieties that may have had about attending such a big event. It also set the intention that all authors are welcome. This was reflected across the conference program with a range of craft and business sessions that catered specifically to indie, traditional, hybrid, or any other combination of publishing strategies.

Keighley Bradford, a published indie author, shared her enthusiasm for learning and upskilling. “This is my first RWAus conference, and I cannot believe how welcoming everyone has been,” Bradford said at the event. “The social events are brilliant, and it doesn’t matter what stage of your writing journey you are at; there really is something for everyone.” 

Keighley BradfordTanya Nellestein Louisa West

From left, author and first-time attendee Keighley Bradford, author Tanya Nellestein, and RWAus president Louisa West at this year’s RWAus conference.

Becca Symes, a firm favorite in the RWAus community for her Write Better Faster Academy and annual workshops and keynotes, lauded the conference’s unique collegiality that fosters a sense of belonging for writers, which she says is often missing in other spaces within the industry. Her advice to indie writers on attending the conference echoed the sentiment of pushing boundaries and embracing discomfort. 

“The Australian Romance community’s support is invaluable and provides a source of acceptance that many writers crave,” Symes says. “It’s a fourteen-hour trip from the US but so worth it. I come for the workshops and the people, and also the coffee.”

Highlights from 2023’s Event

The conference program offered a mix of business, writing craft for aspiring authors and for emerging and established authors, industry research and insights, panel conversations, interviews, and roundtables. Everything from writer burnout to writing about animals to leveling up your TikTok game was on offer. Pitching and business appointments were available for all delegates, and of course, there was an array of social events, such as the annual cocktail party and gala awards dinner.

Rachel Bailey was made an honorary lifetime member of the RWAus at the gala awards dinner and recognized the dedication and volunteer hours required to maintain the organization. “I’m fully aware of how many volunteer hours it takes to keep our organization running and growing from strength to strength. With sponsors like Harlequin and Penguin Random House, the conference’s stature speaks volumes about its impact on the industry,” she said.

Crowd shot of the annual Cocktail Party

The 2023 RWAus conference’s cocktail party.

RWAus Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Manager Jack Bridges has helped infuse RWAus and the conference with a significant and long-awaited cultural shift. “A lot of people wanted to see their own community represented, and many more wanted to be allies. Taking a leadership role in this space can be confronting, but for me—having transitioned later in life and being without passing privilege—the social cost of being the Diversity Chair is not significant.” The annual LGBTQIA+ and Allies Networking Session was incredibly well attended, as were the numerous diversity workshops across the conference weekend.

Stefanie London gave the closing keynote and hailed RWAus as an unparalleled writing and Romance community. “There will be highs and there will be lows in your career, but this community will support you through all of it,” London said. “Black moments and happily ever afters aren’t just for our characters.”

The 2023 RWAus conference reaffirmed the genre’s undeniable power, proving that Romance is more than just a literary niche; it’s a dynamic force that continues to captivate hearts and minds across the globe. With every session, keynote, and connection made, the conference heralded a new chapter in the RWAus’s history while embracing the timeless essence of love that fuels the genre’s eternal appeal.

And 2024 is shaping up to be another cracker of a conference. Taking place in Adelaide, South Australia, with the theme “Trope Actually,” the event will be held August 16–18. Headline speakers will include Christina Lauren, Elana Johnson, Cathay Yardley, and BJ Daniels. The event will also celebrate fifty years of British publishing imprint Mills & Boon.

Tickets are available to purchase now at http://romancewritersconference.com.au/2024, and you can even pitch a workshop presentation, as the final program will be announced in January 2024. “We are committed to bringing a really curated, quality program with so many more exciting announcements yet to come,” West says.

The 2024 conference will include pitching and business appointments, author signings, a themed cocktail party, a gala awards dinner, keynote sessions, and concurrent workshops.

In a rapidly evolving industry, the RWAus conference plays a key role in shaping trends and fostering a nurturing environment for many. As the publishing landscape shifts, the event serves as a beacon of inspiration, guiding authors toward paths that resonate with their creative ambitions. It celebrates both the enduring magic of Romance and the indomitable spirit of the writers who bring these stories to life.

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Picture of Tanya Nellestein

Tanya Nellestein

Tanya Nellestein is an avid reader, experience enthusiast, outstanding car vocalist, and Queen of fancy dress. In her spare time she is also a bestselling and award-winning author and journalist with a penchant for bloodthirsty battles and steamy romance. From Vikings to present day, Tanya writes page-turning, gut-churning stories with a romantic angle that always includes good sex and a happily ever after - eventually. Her debut novel, The Valkyrie’s Viking recently hit Amazon’s best seller list and her sixth novel, This Side of Fate, was the 2022 winner of the Romance Writers of Australia Sapphire Award for Best Unpublished Romance Manuscript. In 2021, Tanya won the Romance Writers of Australia Romance in Media Award. Tanya lives on the outskirts of Sydney, Australia amidst a cavalcade of never ending disasters, both natural and those of her own making.

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