On Sunday, September 22nd, I ventured out of my writer’s cave to Queen’s Park in Toronto to be part of the “Word on the Street.” This festival is touted as a national celebration of literacy and the written word with events taking place in various cities from Lethbridge, Alberta to Halifax, Nova Scotia. Apparently it was the 24th year for WotS in Toronto and, I’m embarrassed to admit, the first one I’ve ever attended despite residing in fairly close proximity to that city.
I love Toronto but, like a lot of Canadians who live within the shadow of the CN Tower, I don’t love everything about Ontario’s capital city. I definitely don’t love the bumper-to-bumper traffic that says ‘welcome to Toronto’ more clearly than any roadside sign (in fact, I drove only so far as Kipling Station then took the subway to Queen’s Park), and I am not a Maple Leafs fan (and I hate that the “Hockey Night in Canada” games featured by the local cable company are always the Toronto games and never feature Ottawa or Montreal—unless either of those teams happens to be playing against Toronto)—but those are different topics for another day.
But I love writing and I love books, and when I found out that Toronto Romance Writers (a chapter of Romance Writers of America) would be at WotS, I wanted to be part of it.
As it turned out, more than 200,000 other people wanted to be part of it, too. There were all kinds of tents and booths with authors and publishers and vendors selling a wide variety stuff. At the Toronto Romance Writers booth, there were various items donated as giveaways by member authors and yes, even free books.
I was at the booth at four o’clock to sign copies of several of my backlist titles for any interested passerby who wanted to take one home and give it a read. The sole purpose in doing this was to promote the romance genre and, admittedly, myself as an author. For the most part, people—female and male—were gracious and appreciative of the gesture. So I was baffled by the woman who shook her head and said, almost apologetically, “I hope you can sell it to someone instead.”
What I took from that comment (and I’ll admit that I am sometimes overly sensitive to criticism about the romance genre), was that she believed I had to give my books away because no one wanted to buy them. Of course, she didn’t stick around long enough for me to respond, to tell her that I’ve published twenty-seven full-length novels with Harlequin and that many of those books have been translated into other languages and sold in other countries around the world. And I didn’t get to tell her that I wanted to put my books in the hands of readers who don’t usually go into a bookstore (or grocery store or pharmacy) and plunk down $6.00 for a novel that celebrates love and life and guarantees a happy ending, so that they would know such books exist.
I don’t really regret that I didn’t have a chance to say any of those things, but I do regret that she didn’t take one of my books—or even a title by any other author featured in the Toronto Romance Writers booth. Because if she had, she might have realized that a book is an opportunity to explore new horizons, regardless of whether that book is a $6.00 series romance or a $36.00 New York Times bestselling hardcover or a $60.00 college text book (although, admittedly, we didn’t have any of the latter on display).
Thankfully, my annoyance didn’t last long. The next young woman who tentatively approached the booth confessed to being a huge fan of the romance genre and an aspiring author herself. We chatted for a few minutes about writing in general and Toronto Romance Writers in particular. And when she left with an autographed copy of one of my books in her hand, her sincere “thank you” was worth a lot more than the cover price of the book I gave away.
PS. HUGE thanks to Gina, Sherry, Colleen, Joan and all the other volunteers from Toronto Romance Writers who made this event such a tremendous success!