So on Smart Bitches this week, there’s been this whole bloffle (doing my part, Sara Dennis!) over a few authors’ decision to wear costumes to the RWA literary signing. A few authors in the new manga-inspired Shomi line donned manga-inspired outfits, complete with thigh-high stockings and miniskirts, and Sherrilyn Kenyon wore a now-infamous hat shaped like a black swan. In the sea of 450 authors, I honestly didn’t notice any of this, but evidently more than a few people were miffed that, with RWA raising tens of thousands of dollars for literacy and trying to promote a positive, professional image of the genre, the newspaper editors ran pictures of the swan hat.

There were scads of workshops on promotion at RWA. More and more, it seems authors are responsible for promoting their own books, growing a readership, creating buzz, etc. Some spend a great deal of money on it, and the concept of ‘branding’ – putting out a consistent public image that links you the author with the type of books you write – is key. The goody room was filled with all sorts of promotional materials with authors’ names emblazoned on them – from mints to rubber duckies to condoms.

You often hear the old adage, “there’s no such thing as bad publicity.” Is that true? Or is there a line authors should not cross in their promotional efforts; a point where they diminish the genre by pushing their own book? Personally, I had no problem with the manga-inspired outfits – I thought they looked cute. But then, I live in a large urban area, where it wouldn’t be strange to see a young woman wearing that on the bus. And although I wouldn’t wear a swan hat myself, I can’t say it bothered me that someone else did. I mean, there were plenty of questionable fashion choices on display, and I myself am no fashion plate.

I respect the opinions of those authors who are consistently called on to defend our genre in interviews and appearances, who feel this type of publicity stunt just makes their struggle all the more difficult. Perhaps I’ll feel the same some day, if I’m published and out there trying to gain respect for my own work. But when I think of defending romance, I usually think of defending a person’s right to read books that give them pleasure. It’s okay, I find myself arguing, to read books that end happily, that remind us of that giddy flush of attraction, that celebrate love and relationships, that are generally optimistic. To sum up, it’s okay to love books that are fun. And whether it’s a swan hat or thigh-high pink stockings or whathaveyou, I think it’s okay to wear clothes that are fun, too.

What do you think? Do authors have a responsibility to represent the genre that sometimes trumps promoting their own books? Where do promotion and professionalism become mutually exclusive? Should there be a dress code at next year’s signing?

21 comments to “Promotion and Professionalism”

  1. Kelly Krysten
    · July 19th, 2007 at 9:50 am · Link

    I saw this on the SB’s site. I found myself reading all 200+ posts with rapt attention and it took me a very long time to actually figure out my own opinion on the subject. When I first saw the pics of the girls in the thigh highs and mini’s I thought that that was just their personal style. The swan deal OTOH seemed like it had ran past some type of line. I would think that an author would want to project a resepectable image-and IMO that can include dressing in the thigh highs, or jeans and a nice shirt, etc… The swan hat just seemed too silly. And honestly, and probably stupidly, I think I would feel awkward approaching an author in that type of costume. FWIW,though, I really think Sherrilyn Kenyon is an awesome author and nothing she did could keep me from buying her books;)

  2. India Carolina
    · July 19th, 2007 at 10:02 am · Link

    I’m not sure how these clothing choices even made a blip on the radar. I’m with you, Eve–I saw all these people and didn’t even notice. I’m a big believer in personal freedom and that extends to the type of book individuals want to write, buy, or read and the type of hat they choose to wear.

  3. seton
    · July 19th, 2007 at 10:29 am · Link

    Paris Hilton is a walking advertisement for the adage — “there’s no such thing as bad publicity.” And as someone who avoids vampire/paranormals, the first time I ever noticed Laurel K. Hamilton was when people were mentioning how entertaining her bat-shit craziness has become on the AAR boards. I did eventually skim one of her books to see what the ado was about and I wouldn’t have done so if she was just another normal-behaving author writing a paranormal series. [yawn]

    Kenyon was the one who got her pics in the papers out of the 450+ authors there. I say — good for her. In the meantime, I know there was at least one tastefully dressed midlist author who was also there (quite proud of her tasteful covers too and also quite vocal about authors dressing up in costumes) but who is currently struggling to get a new contract for her next series. Dont know if a black swan hat would have helped but it would have helped her stand out from the other 250+ midlist authors there, I’m thinking.

  4. Lori
    · July 19th, 2007 at 11:58 am · Link

    It personally wouldn’t bother me. But on the other hand I can understand why people would be annoyed since, as romance writers, we have to constantly work against a sterotype that says we aren’t professional. But I can’t say its such a big deal that we should be making a fuss about it. If anything, the outfits and the fuss everyone is raising have most likely helped promote their work. Hmm, if i get my newest book published, what outfit can i wear next year? lol. Maybe thats what we should be worrying about.

  5. terrio
    · July 19th, 2007 at 12:15 pm · Link

    I went over and checked out the outfits though I can’t find the swan hat. I can’t believe the fact that their skirts were a bit short is causing this much of a stir. It’s not like they were dressed like Hooter girls or something. Nothing against Hooter girls either but you know what I mean.

    This was an industry setting with a room full of media, writers and readers and that means this worked. If they showed up at the Whitehouse or some church service dressed like that then it’s not appropriate. I can’t believe any author would knock them for it.

    Perhaps it’s the same element that seems to appear to be making an effort to keep erotica authors and publishers at a distance. Just an observation.

  6. Cynthia Falcon
    · July 19th, 2007 at 1:46 pm · Link

    I have to admit, I wore a costume to the literacy signing. Does this make me a bad person? I had to go to the Beau Monde soiree and wasnt sure there’d be enough time between events (And, of course, I didn’t want to miss the CM birthday bash), so I donned my costume early. I can see where they want the more professional look for a professional organization like RWA, however. I only noticed Sherilyn Kenyon’s hat (which i agree, was kinda silly), that’s about it. But when you make hundreds of thousands of dollars selling books, you can wear what ever you want 🙂

  7. Tessa Dare
    · July 19th, 2007 at 1:53 pm · Link

    These are great comments, everyone. There are costumes, and then there’s a ‘look.’ It’s hard to tell where the line is at (although must seem to be agreeing that the swan hat’s on the wrong side of that line).

    I’m thinking about JR Ward’s sunglasses, for example (even though I’ve heard she has some medical reason for them, you can’t tell me she doesn’t pick the coolest-looking ones to add to the mystique). Or outside the romance world, how about Tom Wolfe’s trademark white suits?

  8. Lindsey
    · July 19th, 2007 at 2:24 pm · Link

    I can certainly understand the perspective of those who want to put a more professional look on romance – the genre does have many image problems that I’d like to see overcome. But at the moment I’m still a little uneasy about the conference’s attempts to define “professional” – whether it’s by who your publisher is, what your advance is, or what you wear.

    All the great stories and energy that I’ve seen come of of the conference don’t seem to have as much to do with the dress code as with the creativity, talent, and personality of the people who attended. So while “professional” might be nice, I’d rather be at a conference that’s “bigger, sexier, and a lot more swan hats!”

  9. Kelly Krysten
    · July 19th, 2007 at 2:39 pm · Link

    Bono has really cool sunglasses, and I heard recently that those are for more than ‘his image’ he medically needs them. But either way they make him stand out and he has never lacked respect,imo. So maybe what’s ‘professional’ or ‘respectable’ is different in an artistic field than say in a business field. These are just random thoughts I’m throwing out. I’m still not comfortable with the swan hat.If Bono wore a swan hat…

  10. Tessa Dare
    · July 19th, 2007 at 2:50 pm · Link

    **pauses to picture Bono wearing nothing but a swan hat**

  11. Kelly Krysten
    · July 19th, 2007 at 2:52 pm · Link

    Oh crud, I just had another thought(this is bad), it may make my whole point moot. Does the fact that Bono with his glasses is in the ‘performing’ arts change the way the public perceives him having a physical affectation? I mean if he or an actor went about to an event in costume I suppose that would be easier to swallow. Plus, from what I’ve garnered ,via the SB’s site, some author’s are sayinh that RWA is a business meeting type deal-I’ve never been so I have no clue about that- but if that is it’s purpose then I say no costumes. But I still don’t think that bars skirts and pretty socks if it is in fact the author’s personal style and not a costume…Did that make any sense whatsoever? I have a feeling it didn’t…

  12. Lynne Simpson
    · July 19th, 2007 at 5:35 pm · Link

    If I were doing a signing with other authors, I would hope I’d have the manners and professionalism to share the spotlight with them instead of doing something to draw all the attention to myself. But this is the publishing biz we’re talking about, so I guess not everyone plays by the same rules. 🙂

    That said, I don’t have a problem with the wearing of costumes, even at a signing with hundreds of authors, but I guess it depends on how the person goes about it.

    Wearing a handmade Regency gown on the way to the Beau Monde soiree is an entirely different matter, IMO, and I wish I could’ve been there for that! I hope you’re going to post pictures, Cynthia!

  13. Maggie Robinson
    · July 19th, 2007 at 5:36 pm · Link

    This is America. We’re all entitled to be idiots, as long as we don’t harm others…and I truly don’t think Manga Maidens or a middle-aged mega-selling woman swanning around in a swan hat will destroy the reputation of romance. The detractors will never be won over anyhow.

    And it’s amazing, with hundreds (thousands?) of people in attendance, that such benign silliness took the spotlight. It only proves that superficial trumps successful. But self-promotion is so stressful, I imagine authors were dreading what might be expected of them next. Leather bras? Tattered chemises?

  14. Alice Audrey
    · July 19th, 2007 at 5:54 pm · Link

    Although I respect the position of the authors who struggle for respect I can’t help but think “sour grapes” because the focus went to someone more fun.

  15. Gillian
    · July 19th, 2007 at 7:48 pm · Link

    You cannot command respect by simply wearing a suit and sensible shoes. You have to really believe in what you’re doing, and be able to convey that belief to someone who is pretty darn sure that making you look superficial or silly will sell more magazines/newspapers, etc. It’s all a matter of being comfortable in your own skin, and also acknowledging the huge variety of sub-genres in romance today. I doubt inspirational authors are going to promote in quite the same way as erotica authors, but there is Nothing wrong with that variety, and if they turn in a quality project, then they’ve done their job, no apologies necessary.

  16. elyssany
    · July 20th, 2007 at 1:11 am · Link

    I think there’s a reason behind SK’s wearing a swan hat during the Literacy signing. I’m trying to remember what blogger wrote about it (perhaps Dear Jane?) but on one of her covers, there’s a black swan on the back of it that SK HATED. And when she was shopping, she saw the hat and was like I’m going to buy it and thought of her back cover debacle and decided to wear it. Maybe it was SK’s way of giving the f-you to the art department?

    And besides, at least it wasn’t a swan dress. *g*

    But you know what… SK did get herself photographed and publicity out of a lot of other authors. And besides, doesn’t SK publish tons of books and is widely popular?

    I don’t see the harm in wearing what you want to wear or what-have-you. Plus, I would have loved to the authors on either side of her… think of the the people who would come to that table to see the swan hat and SK.

  17. Tessa Dare
    · July 20th, 2007 at 6:52 am · Link

    Maggie, I think you’ve hit on something important. The “Oh God what’s next?” factor. I think that’s what is at the heart of some authors’ complaints – if Sherrilyn Kenyon wears a swan hat this year, next year will I have to wear an armadillo on my head, or come in full Regency attire, etc.? And I certainly understand that point – with 450 authors in the room, it could become a real circus.

    I doubt that anyone would have complained if SK or the Manga girls wore these outfits to their own, solitary booksignings (they might have rolled an eye or two). It think it was the context of RWA that rankled.

    Personally, though – I can see why SK made the paper – a person in a swan hat makes for an interesting photo. If she hadn’t worn the swan hat, perhaps RWA wouldn’t have merited a photo in the paper at all. So I remain on the fence about whether swan hat in the paper is good or bad for the genre and RWA as a whole.

  18. Alice Audrey
    · July 20th, 2007 at 7:58 am · Link

    Seems to me any real strides we make in our image will come from the education sector. Research projects on Romance that gain repect and show our power will have more impact in the long run than swan hats.

  19. beverley
    · July 20th, 2007 at 8:03 am · Link

    LOL!!! Are you talking about the black swan on someone’s head?? Unless she’s showing skin or doing something illegal, I think all bets are off. Imagine if Julia Quinn came dressed like one of her heroines. I think that would be so cool!!!

  20. terrio
    · July 20th, 2007 at 5:49 pm · Link

    Here’s the thing. After all these years and all these books sold, if the industry is not getting respect now, it never will. So though I can completely see the point that these authors are not helping, I’m pretty sure this is a losing battle anyway. And considering how successful the romance industry is – as in sells more than just about anything else – doesn’t the industry get the last laugh anyway?

  21. Ericka Scott
    · July 28th, 2007 at 5:36 pm · Link

    Seems like sour grapes to me.

    I mean, I could have dressed up to go to the Harry Potter signing at B&N and got MY picture in the paper (as did all the ones standing in line)….it was MY choice NOT to.