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Wednesday, August 12 Living

Coronavirus puts romance writers’ convention on pause

When Kitty Berry launched the romance writer convention RomantiConn last year, she didn’t know what to expect.

Berry, 47, of Trumbull has written and self-published romance novels for several years, and often traveled to conventions to promote her books and meet new authors. At some point, she decided to put together her own event, signing more than 60 romance authors to appear and sign at the inaugural RomantiConn, which took place at the Trumbull Marriott last August.

But even after she booked a venue and got authors to sign on, Berry was still worried about whether her event would draw a crowd. “I didn’t know when I started this adventure if it was going to bomb or be something going to continue,” says Berry.

It was a hit, however, and people soon started asking her when the next RomantiConn would take place. “I really wanted to build on the success,” Berry says.

So she booked the Marriott for the 2020 RomantiConn, which was to take place this month. Berry says many of the authors from the 2019 convention committed to the 2020 celebration immediately. “I was ready to go,” Berry says. “We were starting to do some advertising for tickets. And then the pandemic happened.”

The COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed more than 100,000 people in the United States, and more than 4,000 in Connecticut, forced closures as cancellations as many states — including Connecticut — struggled to get the virus under control.

When the pandemic started building in March, Berry was worried, but was optimistic that RomantiConn would be able to continue as scheduled. “I thought ‘We’ll be fine. It’s July. We’re going to be OK,’ ” Berry recalls.

Meanwhile, events that Berry had been scheduled to appear at in March and April were canceled due to COVID-19 fears. Yet she held fast, still hoping the pandemic would dissipate, and she would be able to host her convention.

Eventually, in mid-May, Berry realized she had to make a decision. Though Gov. Ned Lamont was starting to reopen the state, she still wasn’t clear whether events such as her own — which she didn’t think could happen indoors — would be able to go on.

So Berry postponed. The second RomantiConn will take place July 24, 2021. The experience, Berry says, has been bittersweet.

“All of the authors have been great about rescheduling and postponing,” she says. “There have been very few that have had to back out.”

Another piece of good news is that none of the people who already bought tickets for the 2020 convention have asked for refunds, and seem to be planning to attend the 2021 event.

But the pandemic has hit her hard on many levels, Berry says. For one thing, it’s meant that all of the events that Berry had been scheduled to appear and sign at have been canceled. That’s a major hit for her, she says, as appearances are a huge sales driver for her.

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“I tend to sell best at the events,” she says. “Not everyone has that experience. I like talking to the readers. I play games with them. Even if someone comes to table never read me before, I can sell myself pretty good.”

Not having that outlet hurts her sales, Berry says, but she’s trying to make the best of everything. Though she didn’t think it was practical to turn the 2020 RomantiConn into a virtual event, she is using a Facebook group called RomantiConn Romance Author Event, which is separate from the RomantiConn event page, to help generate interest in her work and the work of others.

Berry says she tries to do theme days on the page whenever possible (including Eye Candy Monday, in which she posts a picture of an attractive man every Monday), and looking to do live virtual events on Saturdays.

Looming even larger, though, is the idea that canceling this year’s RomantiConn will mean a loss of momentum for the event, leading to fewer ticket sales for the 2021 conference.

“I feel like now the event is so far away,” Berry says. “I think the world is still sort of unknown for people.”

Amanda Cuda is a staff writer; acuda@hearstmediact.com

Amanda Cuda|Monroe reporter/Sunday breaking news reporter/general assignment

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