Entrepreneurship is a special experience, which takes a certain level of optimism, excitement, common sense and really great hunches. When we talk about local small businesses, frequently we focus on manufacturing, retail, food, wholesale, etc. Lately, we have been talking on and off about literary tourism—or specifically how it’s picking up in this area. Besides the talented Wilmingtonian writers, we have a successful MFA program at UNCW, Lookout Books and the NC Writer’s Network Conference. The latest offering on this topic comes from Lisa Fillipee, owner of Tasty Book Tours and the founder of the Tasty Author’s Weekend at the Hilton Riverside, held February 28th through March 2nd. Intrigued by the possibilities presented by this genre of writing, and its passionate followers, I interviewed Fillipee, a writer and blogger, about the conference.
encore (e): How and when did you start romance blogging; why?
Lisa Fillipe (LF): After college I started reading romance again and became hooked. I started a blog, “ A Tasty Read Book Reviews” (http://atastyread.blogspot.com) just to share my love of romance and all the fabulous authors and books I was reading!
e: Do you have a book out?
LF: I wish! Not yet, but I am hoping that 2014 is my year, as I have been writing for years!
e: What has been the biggest surprise since you launched your blog?
LF: Since I launched my company? Well, I just celebrated my one-year anniversary on February 1st and have already booked over 300 plus virtual tours, which is a huge accomplishment, especially with all the competition out there.
e: Please explain what the “tour” is?
LF: As authors are so busy with the writing end, they contact me to host a virtual tour, where I set up stops with bloggers who are signed up as tour hosts with Tasty Book Tours. Each tour is set up to gain exposure for new authors or new releases, to maybe grab some new fans along the way. The tour stops consist of reviews, interviews, guest posts, and promo stops. It’s a great way to introduce new authors into any bloggers’ or readers’ library. Most of the tours have fun giveaways that anyone can enter.
e: When and how did you decide to put together a conference?
LF: As a new mother and aspiring author, I was finding it hard to travel to any of the romance writers conferences I had wanted to attend, so I thought, Why not bring some fabulous authors to Wilmington for a fun conference and book signing? I began to contact bigger names in the business as keynote speakers, because who else knows more about romance than the ladies who have been writing it for years. From there, I was contacted by authors who wanted to attend and be a part of the book fair, to meet readers and maybe gain a new fan.
e: And you are doing all this with a new baby at home?
LF: Well, funny you ask—when I first started planning the conference, my daughter was a few months old, so I figured by the time it came around, it would be easy because she was a bit older. Then, I found out I was pregnant. I thought, Oh, boy! Please, don’t let me be due on February 28th [laughs]. Alas, I am due on March 29th.
e: How did you pick Wilmington and the Hilton?
LF: Well, because I live here, and downtown is so much fun. My mother-in-law stayed at the Hilton a few summers ago, and the view is fabulous! Plus, Molly Johnson was fabulous and answered all my crazy questions with ease. I had a great feeling about it when I went on a tour of the facilities.
e: How many people do you estimate will attend?
LF: I have about 30 signing authors, and about 20 more people from the romance industry attending (agents, publishers, aspiring authors, readers, etc.), and the Reader’s Luncheon will be a blast, with Avon authors Candis Terry (“Sugar Shack” romance series, and the “Sweet, Texas” series) and Jennifer Bernard (“The Bachelor Firemen of San Gabriel”). These ladies are not just funny and sweet, but they know how to write a romance. They keep me on the edge of my seat, waiting for more.
e: What was the process of getting agents and editors to come? Which ones did you pick and why?
LF: I was looking for fresh and fabulous, and luckily all the people I chose were able to come. Pamela Tyner from Beachwalk Press, who is local and who I have been working with for the last year; Lisa O’Hara from Omnific Publishing, which is a new publisher who has released books such as “Tangled”; Melissa Jeglinski from The Knight Agency, one of the top agencies in the business; and Chelsey Emmelhainz, from Avon/William Morrow, who will be doing Pitch Sessions through Skype but [we are] still looking for some fabulous new talent.
e: Who is your “superstar” of the conference?
LF: I have so many! I am thrilled about all of the authors who are attending, and I am going to be in fan-girl heaven. My keynote speakers are great: Pamela Palmer, paranormal romance extrodinaire, is published with Avon Romance; and Joanne Rock, one of Harlequin romance’s top authors. She is also newly published as “J.K. Rock” with her sister-in-law, featuring their “Ya” series, starting with “Camp Boyfriend.”
e: What can aspiring romance writers/fans hope to get out of the weekend?
LF: The biggest draw will be the pitch sessions with industry professionals. I love learning from the ladies who have come before me, so the workshops on different topics, such as “Breathing Life into Characters” and “Creating Hot Heroes,” can be quite educational and fun.
Plus, they’ll meet some fabulous ladies. I for one am so excited to get books signed by all my favorite authors. Anyone interested in attending the “All-Day Saturday” option ($110), gets to join us for breakfast, attend the author Q&As with Madeline Sheehan, Kendall Grey, Carey Heywood, local author Christy English, and so many more. After the signing, folks will attend the dinner/awards reception, and be able to win amazing giveaway baskets.
Also, there will be a raffle for the book fair attendees, which will include a welcome bag and raffle ticket for $5, along with two gift baskets featuring $400 worth of romance goodies.
e: What was the first conference you attended and where?
LF: I attended the New Jersey Romance Writers Conference three years ago, and I had the best time. Not only were some of my favorite authors attending (Kristan Higgins, Rachel Gibson and Laura Griffin), but I met some great friends and learned so much about where I wanted to take my writing.
My favorite memory from that conference, was when I said ‘hi’ to Kristan Higgins, whom I had met once before. She remembered me as I sat there shaking, and I don’t think I even got a full sentence out I was so nervous. But she pulled out advanced copy of her upcoming release and signed it for me right there. It was a moment I will remember forever!
e: What sort of support have you gotten from the community? What do you still need?
LF: I did go local with Go To Press for the welcome bags for all the attendees. I have gotten huge support from the romance community, from authors to publishers donating books, swag, gift cards, e-readers, etc., for the giveaways. I couldn’t be more thrilled with the amount of people sending in donations, even those authors who are not attending.
e: Will this conference be an annual event?
LF: Unfortunately, I don’t think so, with baby number two on the way and the success of my tour company, I just don’t think I will have the time to dedicate to another conference—at least not next year. Never say never!
Gwenyfar Rohler is the author or ‘Promise of Peanuts,’ which can be bought at Old Books on Front Street, with all monies donated to local nonprofit Full Belly Project.