“My family means so much to me,” said author Rosie Danan, while accepting the Romance Writers of America 2019 Golden Heart Award for Best Contemporary Romance, Never Have I Ever. It’s a shame, she added, “that they’ll never be able to read my book.”

A funny lot, these romance writers, whose works are united by a central love story and an emotionally satisfying ending. The books can have different levels of sensuality, from simply sweet to extremely hot. This formula has created one of the most popular genres in the business, representing about 23 percent of the overall U.S. fiction market.

Some 1,900 of them were recently on hand to share the love at the RWA 2019 conference in New York, where perhaps the only thing steamier than their storylines was the humidity.

They showed up to learn from some of the leaders in the business on topics like constructing a plot, how to make sparks fly, writing blurbs, building a reader base, appealing to teens and seniors and marketing your work. They also flocked to tight rooms to meet with agents and publishers and created a labyrinth on the floors of New York’s Marriott Marquis in their efforts to line up for book signings by popular authors.

Many of the packed sessions involved marketing – everything from building a 12-month plan to the art of writing synopses and blurbs.  “Many beginning writers don’t understand that marketing is not sales,” said Maria Conner of My Author Concierge. “Marketing is about building relationships, with your peers as well as with readers.”

RWA also handed out a number of awards saluting the best in assorted categories.

At a black-tie event, RWA announced the winners of the RITA Awards, the highest award of distinction in romance fiction recognizing outstanding published romance novels and novellas.

Up to 2,000 romance novels and novellas from 13 different categories are judged each year in the RITA competition. After the first round of judging by fellow published romance authors, the competition narrows to approximately 100 finalists. Then, final round judges, also published romance authors, select one winner in each category from among the finalists.

The 2019 RITA Award winners are:

  • Romance Novella: Bad Blood by M. Malone
  • Contemporary Romance Long: Long Shot by Kennedy Ryan
  • Young Adult Romance: My So-Called Bollywood Life by Nisha Sharma
  • Historical Romance Long: A Wicked Kind of Husband by Mia Vincy
  • Romantic Suspense: Fearless by Elizabeth Dyer
  • Paranormal Romance: Dearest Ivie by J. R. Ward
  • Erotic Romance: Three-Way Split by Elia Winters
  • Historical Romance ShortA Duke in the Night by Kelly Bowen
  • Romance with Religious or Spiritual Elements: The Saturday Night Supper Club by Carla Laureano
  • Contemporary Romance Short: The Bachelor’s Baby Surprise by Teri Wilson
  • Contemporary Romance Mid-length: Advanced Physical Chemistry by Susannah Nix
  • Mainstream Fiction with a Central Romance: How to Keep a Secret by Sarah Morgan
  • Best First Book: Lady in Waiting by Marie Tremayne

Winners of the Golden Heart Awards were:

  • Contemporary Romance: Rosie Danan, Never Have I Ever
  • Contemporary Romance, Short: Betsy Gray, Love on the Books
  • Historical Romance: Emily Sullivan, Tempting the Heiress
  • Mainstream Fiction with a Central Romance: Melissa Wiesner, Everything Comes Back to You
  • Paranormal Romance: Heather Leonard, Bless Your Heart and Other Southern Curses
  • Romance with Religious or Spiritual Elements: Martha Hutchens, The Promise of Spring
  • Romantic Suspense: Angie Hockman, The Hustler
  • Young Adult Romance: Susan Lee, Dragged!