Attendees of the RT Book Reviews convention got the surprise of a lifetime at this year’s welcoming breakfast, when founder, Kathryn Falk, announced that, effective immediately, both convention and website had come to an end. The only constant in the publishing world, it often seems, is change, so what will this change bring, and what will rise in its wake? Let’s discuss.
In 1981, Kathryn Falk began a newsletter, Romantic Times, dedicated to the burgeoning romance fiction industry. Historical romance as we know it today, had only been on the scene a mere nine years, after Kathleen E. Woodiwiss gave the world The Flame and the Flower, but, of course, romance fiction had been around long before then. One might ask why it took so long for the ever-popular genre to have its own periodical, but once the newsletter took hold, it didn’t let go…until now. Arguably, the writing may have appeared on the wall about two years ago, when the magazine, which had already seen multiple transitions, from newsprint to glossy paper, newsletter to magazine, spawned a sister publication, Rave Reviews, which it then absorbed back under the Romantic Times umbrella, and launched a website, switched to website-only, ceasing the print publication entirely.
Gone, then, were the days of leisurely going through each new issue in a warm bath, but the e-version was still around, easily accessed from desk, couch, or bed; pretty much anyplace, really. Longtime readers, however, may have noticed smaller changes along the way, when the focus of the magazine expanded to focus on other genres, alongside romance. While there had always been smaller sections dedicated to genres like mystery, science fiction and fantasy, general fiction, and young adult, the announcement that the name of the publication would change, from Romantic Times, to first RT Book Club, and, shortly thereafter, RT Book Reviews, was met with mixed reception. For some, the more books, the merrier, and romance readers have actually been noted as those most likely to read other genres in addition to their favorite, so all’s good there. For others, there might indeed have been at least a little love lost, as pages devoted to subject X mean fewer pages devoted to subject Y, but whatever the name, Romantic Times or RT, print or web, this was the place to go for the latest on the news, gossip and fun of the romance industry.
Now it’s not. Though readers have been assured that the site will remain live for the next year (though there will be no new content added) this does mark the end of an era. Though the magazine was indeed Kathryn Falk’s creation, the women and men who came on board and made it what it was are countless, the readers and members of the online community even more so, and that’s a lot of people to be affected by this venerable institution taking its final bow.
Entire subgenres have come and gone since 1981, and one only has to do a quick search online to find multiple communities of romance readers, only a keystroke away. Most authors have websites for readers and potential readers to learn about them and their work, even with private message boards/communities/forums for specific discussions on particular books, characters, time periods, worlds, and more. Can one website or magazine provide all that? Hard to say. Times change, even romantic times, and Ms. Falk, also known as the Lady of Barrow, has certainly earned her retirement, with all she has done for romance readers and writers, over the years.
RT grew beyond the boundaries of the magazine covers, to launch an annual convention, focused on the readers. Scuttlebutt among romance writers was that, if one considered the Romance Writers of America national conference as going to college, then RT’s annual convention was spring break. From the long-running Mr. Romance pageant, to costume contests, elaborately themed parties, often sponsored by authors or publishers, RT was known as a place to let loose and enjoy the love. Those who had intended to attend next year, don’t lose heart. Word on the street is that many of the same people behind the convention we all know and love, are hard at work, launching a new book lover’s convention, to carry the torch.
So, what’s the legacy of Romantic Times, as it rides off into the sunset? That’s still to be seen. Those of us with back issues, years or even decades worth, may hug them a little tighter this weekend, flip through a few of our favorites, and remember that, once upon a time, the romance genre had a magazine all our own. Maybe, somewhere, there is a reader or writer who takes inspiration from all that has gone before, and embarks upon a new journey, to give our genre its own publication again.
So, dear readers, I turn it now over to you. Did you read Romantic Times/RT Book Reviews magazine? Did you attend one or more of the conventions? Have you ever found a favorite author, book, or subgenre, through the magazine or website? Made any friends thanks to RT, in any of its iterations? Have any RT related memories, of any sort, you’d like to share? Pull up a chair in the comments section and tell us all about it. There’s room for everybody at this table.