Twenty-five years ago, Black romance authors started the Romance Slam Jam – an annual gathering for authors of color and the readers who love them. The five-day event attracts writers from a wide variety of marginalized communities.
RSJ Chairperson Bonita Thornton has attended the convention for over 15 years. “There was a lack of diversity in the industry,” she explains. “Authors of color would go to conferences, pay for a table, and no one would stop at their booth and talk to them. RSJ got started so that the authors of color would have an audience that wanted their books. Now, we’re embracing all authors because that’s true diversity.”
The event’s marketing specialist, Karol Jarvis, agrees. “One of last year’s LGBTQ attendees told us, ‘I’ve never felt welcomed so much.’ A lot of authors are homing in on us, either because they’re authors of color or marginalized in another way, or because they want to make sure their writing doesn’t offend anyone.”
What you’ll learn
Writers attending the convention can take workshops on how to write interracial romance, how to include diversity in young adult fiction, and how to create authentic characters in historical fiction.
Attendees learn how to pitch a book in preparation for online pitch sessions with editors from major romance publishing houses. RSJ offers workshops on how to design a compelling book cover, edit your work, build an audience by taking advantage of various social media platforms, and navigate the differences between traditional and self-publishing.
“One of the important things newbies will learn is how much work is involved when you’re traditionally published and how much is involved when you publish independently,” Jarvis says. “A lot of the workshops reveal information that you wouldn’t know if you’re a new writer. And if you’ve published a book, you’ll learn strategies for how to sell that book – tips like instead of coming out with one book, come out with three, so that you always have a book for your reader and you don’t lose your audience.”
Last year, participants also learned how to overcome professional jealousy, break into audiobooks, get their books into libraries, and do a radio or TV interview.
In 2020, featured presenters at RSJ Book Lovers’ Convention included Julie Gwinn from The Seymour Agency speaking on “How to Break Out in Christian Fiction” and New York Times bestselling author Pintip Dunn on “How to Keep Your Readers Turning Pages Late into the Night.”
Bestselling authors Farrah Rochon, Naima Simone, and Nina Crespo spoke on a panel titled “Everything I Wish I’d Known Before I Got Into Publishing.” Authors Hadley Raydeen, Saharra K. Sandhu, Moni Boyce, and Stephanie Morris participated in a panel about intimate paranormal romance.
Heather Howland, senior editor at Entangled Publishing, gave a talk titled “Every Action has a Reaction: A Foolproof Deep POV Dive.” Bestselling author Dahlia Rose spoke about “The Journey from Indie Author to Hallmark.”
Many authors participate in the convention’s annual Pajama Café Cliffhanger Night. “That’s one of my favorites,” Thornton says. “When we met in person, we’d go to our rooms at night, come back in our pajamas, and authors would read a cliffhanger section of their books to get people interested in their story. For the remote conference in 2020, we took a break after the evening session, and then everyone came back to their computers with snacks and their pajamas. It felt like we were all together in person.”
Advice for first-time attendees
RSJ staff encourage first-timers to enter the Leslie Esdaile Banks Aspiring Author contest. Entrants must submit three chapters of a manuscript with a multicultural protagonist. The winner receives a mentorship with a published author. In 2018, South Carolina author Michele Sims won the contest. She’s now the author of six novels.
Emerging authors have another exciting opportunity as well. From January until August of 2021, RSJ and the romance publisher Harlequin will partner to create an “incubator.” “We’re going to have webinars to help writers figure out exactly which Harlequin line they’d like to write for and to ensure that they’re approaching their manuscripts in the right way,” Jarvis says. “This will help authors who’d like to be traditionally published.”
Thornton urges first-time attendees to take advantage of the numerous opportunities to meet people during the convention. Staff host remote reading-related games during the convention to help introverted authors network with one another and with industry professionals.
“New authors attend the event to build their audience. Often, when a reader discovers an author in attendance, they’ll buy her book,” Thornton says. “At RSJ, you get to network with published authors, editors, bloggers, and readers themselves.”
Romance Slam Jam Book Lovers’ Convention at a glance
Dates: Aug. 4-8, 2021
Awards: Leslie Esdaile Banks Aspiring Author and RSJ Emma Awards
Contact: Conference chairperson Bonita Thornton at [email protected]
—Contributing Editor Melissa Hart is the author of Better with Books: 500 Diverse Books to Ignite Empathy and Encourage Self-Acceptance in Tweens and Teens (Sasquatch, 2019). Twitter/Instagram: @WildMelissaHart