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Fall Into Romance

by Jennifer Lohmann

*Originally appeared in the February 2014 issue of RA News.*

On a Friday night in November, 2012, fans of the romance genre glided up the stairs of the West End Wine Bar for the first day of Fall Into Romance, a three-day event celebrating their favorite books. With a glass of wine in their hands, readers picked up a plate of snacks and a bag of books then talked with authors like Virginia Kantra and Beverly Jenkins. Yes, this was a library program (even the part at the wine bar) and you can host a romance fan-fest at your library. Let me tell you how I did it.

The foundation of this program started years ago, when Marian Fragola (then the librarian in charge of the Humanities programs for the Durham County Library system) agreed to host a "romance tea." We invited romance authors to a panel, served tea and snacks, and watched romance fans bond with some of their favorite authors. Over the years, we had two more romance teas, hosted blogger Sarah Wendell of Smart Bitches, Trashy Books for two author events, and I started a romance book club. These programs created a sense of trust between the local romance reading community and the Durham County Library. It gave the readers – both long term and new -- a safe place to share their love for the maligned genre.

And still the readers wanted more

Meanwhile, Amy Godfrey, children's services manager at the Southwest Regional Library, started an annual ComicsFest, funded with grant money from the Friends of the Durham Library. I was reading romance bloggers and author tweets from fan conferences, and thought "I can do this."  I applied to the Friends for grant money and got about two-thirds of what I requested. I had to trim a little but no matter, there was still plenty. 
 
I knew I wanted a social event on Friday (the wine bar party), fan-oriented talks on Saturday, and a keynote and book signing on Sunday. North Carolina is a hotbed of romance authors, so I approached Virginia Kantra and Laura Florand (whose talks often come with chocolate for the audience) to speak on Saturday. I also asked then professor, now editor Sarah Frantz to speak on Pride and Prejudice. I wanted an African-American author as well, so contacted Beverly Jenkins, who I'd met during my tenure as Romance Writers of America's Librarian of the Year in 2010. And, for the keynote speaker, I invited New York Times-bestselling author Sabrina Jeffries. The Community Relations Manager at my local Barnes & Noble agreed to run a book signing. Avon, Pocket, Harlequin, and Grand Central all agreed to donate books for goodie bags. I approached authors for other goodie bag items and got an overwhelming response., including bookmarks, gum, and jar openers with bare-chested men on them.  No one was going to go home empty handed.
 
I had a lot of help organizing the event. One of my best ideas was to ask two library science students to help out. In exchange for class credit and my everlasting gratitude, Megan England and Elizabeth Reynolds did the bulk of the detail work that made the event come off without a hitch. They designed graphics, made booklists, created flyers, coordinated with the Wine Bar, did set up and take down, stuffed goodie bags and much, much more. 
 
Fall Into Romance was marketed as a featured program in our adult programming brochure, with flyers, social media, e-newsletters, and word of mouth, with word of mouth being the most effective. Our webmaster designed an informational website for attendees and I put everything up on my book club's Meetup site as well. The authors also advertised the program on their websites and calendars. And because I am a member of the local romance writing group and so are many of the authors who spoke, we also had some marketing help from the Heart of Carolina Romance Writers. Our branding, done by Megan England, was absolutely fantastic. 
 
As I had expected, the programs were amazing. Virginia Kantra talked about romance novel heroes (with visual aids). Laura Florand described the research she does for her Chocolate 
Romances series. Beverly Jenkins discussed her heroines (and made the room teary when she read an excerpt from Indigo). Sabrina Jeffries talked about her addiction to romance. And, in a last minute switch suggested by Sarah Frantz, she talked about how Fifty Shades of Gray became such a huge phenomenon, the structure of the book, and its place in romance, erotica, and BDSM literature. 
 
All the programs had between 30 and 50 people. Some attendees only came to one or two programs but there was a core group who came to every single one. All in all, it was a great success. The evaluations were universally positive, with pleas for me to run another one (look for Fall Into Romance again in November 2014).

Can you do it at your library?

Yes!  One of the first things you should do is join the Romance Writers of America as an affiliate member. Then join your local chapter and get to know people! Having awesome local authors was a huge benefit for my program as it helped keep costs down. Romance Writers of America lists authors willing to speak on their website so even if you don't live in area as populated with romance authors as I do, there are probably some within an easy drive. 
 
While some of the contacts I had were ones I'd made as Librarian of the Year, publishers are quickly learning that the best marketing tool for books is free books (Authors already know this) so don't hesitate to contact publishing houses for donations. If there is a school with a Library Science program in your community, solicit for interns. If you don't have a library school nearby, a couple of volunteers would serve you just as well.
 
Want some more ideas? Take a look at the schedule for Fall Into Romance 2012.

Let's talk budget

My budget for Fall Into Romance 2013 was $3500. Most of that was spent on speaker fees and travel and the wine bar party. We also bought decorations (which I'll use again), tote bags, giveaways, and snacks. You could save money by not having any of those items. You could also not have the party, though offering a social occasion was good for both the authors and the attendees. Speaker travel will depend entirely on whether or not you get local authors or fly someone in and you might be able to negotiate speaker fees.

What will be different this year

I'm very excited that I've received another grant from the Friends of the Durham Library for Fall Into Romance 2014. Even though the event was a huge success, there will be some changes. One thing we will do differently is how we structure the book signing component. I included all the local authors at the book signing but there were too many authors and not enough people buying books. Next time I will have a book signing for each author-speaker directly after the talk  rather than having one big signing. Another change is the length of the event. Three days might have been too much of a commitment for both the library and the attendees; we had a drop-off in attendance on Sunday. As far as marketing goes, I will do my best to build awareness earlier, so that the event will be solidly on people's calendars. Finally, we are going to modify the wine bar party. This year we were worried about too many attendees, so we required tickets. We had good attendance, but tickets weren't needed and really just complicated the issue.
 
Readers still ask me about Fall Into Romance and when I'm going to host another one. Fan festivals aren't just for comic geeks and science fiction nerds anymore!
 
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Jennifer Lohmann is a librarian at the Durham County Library in Durham, North Carolina, and the 2010 RWA Librarian of the Year.