Readers…Rock Stars…Synonymous!

by Shirley Hailstock

If I didn’t know before, I am in no doubt now that readers are our Rock Stars.  For years I’ve heard about the invitation-only Reader Appreciation Luncheon that former Publishers Weekly Contributing Editor, Barbara Vey, host in the mid-west. As I’d never been invited, I didn’t give it much thought. But last year, during the Romance Writers of America Conference, I was sitting in the bar talking to Sharon Sala when Barbara came over and Sharon introduced me. Barbara and I had met several times, but without a name tag, the same clothes and hairstyle, identity is totally lost on most of us. But I digress.

Barbara invited me to the weekend and I accepted, not knowing what I was going to do with my daughter since I would need to be there for at least one whole school day. But I was determined. I wasn’t passing up this invitation.

To my surprise, the reader luncheon had grown into a weekend. Tickets for the readers went on sale at 12:01 August 1st for a weekend that was eight months away and sold out in a few days.
In April, sixty authors and 500 readers flocked to South Milwaukee, Wisconsin (which I learned is a different town than Milwaukee.  It’s not part of the Milwaukee we think of, but is its own incorporated city.).

Each author was responsible for decorating a table for eight attendees (including herself). The tables do not need to be elaborate, but you’re talking to creative people and they pulled out the stops.  Look at this one from Brenda Novak.

And this one from suspense author Alex Kava. Take a close look at those Crime Scene runners.  They are actually knitted, not made of plastic tape.  

As a newbie, I was unsure of what to expect or what I should do.  Checking with some other authors, who were attending or had previously attended, I got an idea, but I was unprepared for the elaborate outlay of decorations or the warmth of the readers who’d stood in line to get in and visit with us.

Notice the centerpiece that Tina allowed me to use. There jar is a Texas boot.

The theme for my table was weddings because I have so many books with a wedding in them. My decision was to fold the napkins provided by the hotel into tuxedos, place a wedding gift in front of it and have some kind of centerpiece. I could carry all the things except a centerpiece (somehow I missed the part where I could ship everything to Barbara and she’d have it delivered to the hotel).  But we’re writers and wonderful sharing people. So to my rescue comes Tina DeSalvo, an author I met for the first time that weekend. Her table also had a wedding theme and she offered me a centerpiece. I’ll love her forever (and buy her books).


Tuxedo Napkin

These had to be the best cupcakes in Milwaukee.  I even had one for breakfast Sunday morning.

Seven wonderful readers (six women and a man) sat at my table for the luncheon.  Three of them drove from Detroit, MI just to have lunch with me.  Then they had to rush back to another conference they were attending. Do I feel honored or what…

I can’t tell you how long I smiled, how genuine that smile was and how much I appreciated the readers.  We talked books, plots, stories we’d read and appreciated. It was like having family visit and bring friends you hadn’t seen in ages. Even in the hallways, we’d meet readers . Yep, definitely rock stars.

I can’t show you all the photos.  I took almost 200 of them.  Most are on my Facebook page (  However, some of my favorites are below:

This is an actual book, where the pages are folded into a flower.  (I gotta learn how to do this.)

                                                   Susan Elizabeth Phillips wearing a cheese hat.


Tina DeSalvo’s wedding table. The cake is made of the small cake boxes that guests usually take home with them. The photo does not do the table justice. It was absolutely beautiful.

I sure hope Barbara invites me again. I already have a hundred ideas for table decorations.  But more than that, just being able to meet and talk to so  many readers is worth all the effort. Bravo Barbara for bringing readers and writers together!

As always, keep reading…

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