So, time for me to report back on how I got on at the Festival of Romance at the weekend. This was the first ‘author event’ I’d ever attended, so I had no idea what to expect. I’m one of those people who try to imagine how a place will look, and what will happen there, before they go. It helps me feel less anxious. For the Romance Fair – the main event for me – I’d imagined a big room with loads of stalls, romance-related stuff for sale like cards and cupcakes and jewellery perhaps, with authors positioned around the room, selling and signing books and talking to readers about their work.

I’d imagined that this room would lead somewhere, perhaps to a refreshment area – somewhere the festival goers would be keen to get to and obliged to walk through. I’d figured lots of footfall and a busy old day.

My little space of loveliness

I took 10 copies of Can’t Live Without, along with some bookmarks, a folder of reviews, a newsletter sign-up sheet, pens and my new postcards of The Family Trap. My husband tried to convince me to take more books, in case I sold out (bless him), but I resisted. Boy, am I glad I did!

I sold 3 copies, and one of them was to a friend, and another – amazingly – to author Miranda Dickinson. Her asking to buy a copy of my book was the absolute highlight of the day for me, but by then I was far too tired to think of photographing it. The other highlights were meeting a lovely reader (thanks for coming along Emma) and meeting Kim of Kim The Bookworm fame. And meeting some fantastically friendly fellow authors, including Emma Calin, Berni Stevens, Hazel Osmond, Gilli Allan, Miranda Dickinson and Nicky Wells. There were a few fellow indies there, and I managed to pick the brains of self-publishing veteran Jon Beattiey, author of more than 8 novels published via Matador. More on this, and other thoughts about self-publishing inspired by my festival experience, tomorrow.

Nicky Wells – a real tour de force

What went well was the networking – or, as I like to call it, meeting fellow authors (networking is such an icky term). Although exhausted after being up since 5.30 am, it was a real pleasure to chat other writers, to share experiences and thoughts about the industry, and to learn some new tips and tricks. I also picked up some great ideas for future events (not that I imagine I’ll do many – the next will be the launch of The Family Trap in February next year). Chocolates, price tags, and banners are some of the ideas I picked up. I also wish I’d made a big sign telling people Can’t Live Without was set up the road in Milton Keynes. Missed a trick there.

What didn’t go so well? It’s nobody’s fault, but the venue wasn’t perhaps best situated for passing footfall. Up lots of stairs in the Corn Exchange, there was no real reason for a member of the general public to come up, unless they had the sole purpose of seeing a particular author, perhaps. There were no refreshments, and no non-author stalls at all. The room was quite small, and the tables fairly crowded. I honestly think most of the visitors to the Romance Fair were other authors, and readers were very, very scarce. Also – and this is entirely my fault – I was very shy. I didn’t push myself forward much, didn’t rush up to every new face and press a book into their hands. By the end of the day I was tired, and I confess, quite homesick.

I didn’t make it to the conference the next day, but want to say thanks to the lovely Emma Calin for filling me in on what I missed. One of the highlights of the festival was the amazing Mills and Boon production of actors travelling around the venues, acting out scenes from a Mills and Boon novel. They were brilliant!

All in all, not a waste of time but perhaps not the best use of the better part of £100, including overnight stay, petrol and tickets. I will go again next year, but I’ll take my family with me and make a weekend of it. In the spirit of ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’ it was a good experience for me.

Coming tomorrow: 5 Shades of Self-Publishing – my thoughts on the current state of self-publishing in the UK, inspired by the Festival of Romance. Controversial? Me?