When a paperback novel that would go for $8 in the US is sold for twice and often three times that amount in Australia, you know Aussie romance readers are a dedicated bunch. But my respect for these readers is based on more than a desire to push books. I’d met many of them at conferences for the Romance genre in the States. They are fun, intelligent fans who have the good sense to dangle packages of Tim Tams in front of the writers, an encouragement for us to follow them anywhere.*
Indeed, I was so charmed I became determined to honor them in return by attending the biennial conference of the Australian Romance Readers Association (ARRA).
We truly are two halves of the same coin. Years ago, American romance writers and readers started pushing back at those who would edit our reading by not stocking on bookshelves this genre we love. Today, the delegates of the ARRA (they call their members delegates) are doing the same thing with growing success. In their six years of existence, they have changed the face of Australian publishing and stoked a thriving romance market. Because of the demand for books, internet publishing has taken off as well as online bookstores offering book prices close to what the US charges.
So what is ARRA exactly? The organization’s membership boasts a number of bestselling Australian writers coupled with the most loyal, discerning fans of the romance genre. They host a conference along with a website and message boards where readers can talk about the books they are enjoying.
Of course the conference is when everyone connected by internet can come together. This year it was in Brisbane but the next one is rumored to be in Canberra. I highly recommend the venture. I traveled from the States by myself but found a ready made group of new friends. All I had to do was turn to the person to my left or right and ask, “So what are you reading?” The conversation took off from there.
By the way, if like me you have wanderlust and lack traveling companions, think about arranging your trips around readers’ conferences. I spent three days wandering around Sydney alone which was fine. There is plenty to see and do. Then I hit the conference in Brisbane (a lovely city full of art) and found a host of new friends, and some old, waiting for me. Reader/Writer/Reviewer/Blogger Megan Bamford was gracious enough to take me around to a wildlife preserve and for a wine tasting and I came away from the whole experience with host of new friends. Indeed, some of my very best friends are people I first met at conferences.
Keynote speakers for this year’s conference were American writers Rachel Vincent and Kristin Higgins along with bestseller Australian Anne Gracie. Panels of readers and writers gathered to discuss favorite subgenres such as Paranormal and Contemporary. There was food, giveaways, and the best “Bling” contest in the world.