A young woman approaches the romance booth with a big smile on her face. “Of course I made it out!” She fans herself with a program in the blazing afternoon heat. “I love reading as much as I love music, and meeting your favorite writer is like meeting a rock star!”
For the last three years, the Los Angeles Romance Authors chapter (LARA-RWA) has sponsored a booth at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. Now in its twenty-second year, the festival takes place on the campus of the University of Southern California (USC) and boasts weekend attendance of approximately 150,000 people. Exhibitors include authors, publishers, booksellers, and other writers organizations including Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America.
Attendees line up for panel discussions and signings across all genres. Michael Connelly, Joyce Carol Oates, Brian Cranston, and Dave Grohl were among this year’s many headliners. Food trucks, live music performances, and kids’ activities ensure a busy day for book lovers. This event is unique among many large conferences in that, except for a few ticketed panel discussions, admission is free.
“As an author and reader, it is amazing to be surrounded by book people discussing books. Plus, I get to meet new readers—which is always the best,” said author Maggie Marr, who signed books at the LARA-RWA booth. “I know that ‘extroverting’ for me is a challenge, but being at the festival allows me to ‘extrovert’ with people who love books! They are my tribe. I meet new readers, I find new books, I spend time with authors I adore. These are huge benefits to me both as a reader and an author.”
Connecting directly with new readers was the big draw for author Sabrina Sol, who also signed books at the LARA-RWA booth. “I really enjoyed my first time at the Festival of Books. Besides getting to spend the day with my author friends, I was able to share my books with potential new readers.” Sol’s approach focused on reader outreach rather than sales. “I don’t think this festival is really about selling your books,” she added. “It’s more about putting yourself out there as an author so people can discover your work. I also think it’s important for romance to be represented at an event like this.”
In the past, the romance genre has not been well represented at the Festival of Books. This has changed in recent years with the expansion of LARA-RWA’s presence at the festival, as well as with booths sponsored by LGBTQ romance publisher Dreamspinner Press and local romance bookseller The Ripped Bodice, both of whom made their Festival of Books debut in 2017.
Attendees at the festival are hungry for romance. Reader Christine Jalili and her daughter Jenny came specifically to meet author Caitlyn O’Leary. Christine, who found out about the event through a Facebook post, is a die-hard fan. She said, “I was hooked from the first page of the first book” and promptly devoured O’Leary’s entire Navy SEAL series and joined the author’s ARC team. “That’s about when she stopped playing with us,” Jenny added.
Reader Talaia de la Cruz was among the first visitors to the LARA-RWA booth. “This is the whole reason I’m here,” she said. “I was reading until two in the morning last night, that’s how excited I was to come.” Talaia is not a longtime romance reader. After someone gifted her a Sylvia Day book, Talaia visited the Festival of Books last year to see Day speak. “Then I came here to the booth and filled up my bag with new books.” With a big smile, Talaia showed off her empty bag, ready for more. “This is my new hobby—romance!”
Dates have not yet been confirmed for the 2018 Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, which usually takes place the second or third weekend of April. For more information about signing or exhibiting at the festival, please visit http://events.latimes.com/festivalofbooks or contact LARA-RWA through their website at http://www.lararwa.com.
Mia Hopkins writes lush romances starring fun, sexy characters who love to get down and dirty. She’s a sucker for working class heroes, brainy heroines, and wisecracking best friends. She lives in Los Angeles with her roguish husband and waggish dog. http://www.miahopkinsauthor.com