This month, the Upcoming Famous & Fabulous Romance Writers reflect on the RWA 2018 conference – the lessons & the laughs
Apart from the early start and my slow foggy brain taking a while to kick in, volunteering at conference was an absolute pleasure. I put my hand up to do the first shift of registration on the Friday with two wonderful ‘Fictional Fairies’ as another lovely author has dubbed us. I got to meet the powerhouse team running the Sydney conference which was in itself exciting, as well as getting to meet loads of conference attendees, putting faces to many names I’d seen on social media. I’ll be the first to put my hand up and say I’m pretty terrible at meeting new people, so this gave me the perfect opportunity to do so in a useful way.
Rachel Bailey’s workshop
Can I just start by saying that Rachel Bailey is absolutely amazing! Chocolate bribes aside, she really knows her stuff and puts it in a way that just makes sense. I’ve bought many (*cough*, ok many many) books on the craft of romance writing, and whilst they are all wonderful and full of information – this one-day workshop really just cemented so many aspects of writing a romance in an easily understood fashion.
My favourite quote from the day – ‘Do not let your middle sag.’
Writing and life advice that one really 🙂
Reflective teaching is something that’s become second nature to me; reflective ‘conferencing’ seems to make good sense. This year’s RWA Conference was its usual smorgasboard of delight, and what I took away was not so much the ‘food’ or break out sessions on offer (I was keen to pitch my manuscript and so time in workshops was often cut short), but more the wonderful experience of meeting up with folk interested in the business of writing.
I’ve reached a crossroads where I’m trying to decide whether to publish traditionally or go it alone, so the one breakout session I did zone in on was, ‘What a traditional publisher actually does and If you can do it for yourself’, given by Joel Naoum (Critical Mass Agency) and Alex Adsett (Alex Adsett Publishing Services). It was excellent and invaluable, although I think it boiled down to whether you need an agent or not. Both speakers gave frank and informative accounts of the highs and lows of publishing traditionally, or doing it Indie. 60% of published manuscripts in Australia are unagented and only a corpse would fail to notice that the publishing world is a-changing … but to faint-hearted, traditionalist me, self-publishing does still seem to be as daunting as tackling Goliath. Despite my military training (a whole other story), given a slingshot and a stone I’m still no David and suspect I’d miss my target, so what’s wrong with having someone else fighting in my corner? Preferably someone who knows the inside leg measurement of the publishing business, someone who, with their eyes closed, can hit bullseye and target the right people, someone who can steer me through the legal and contractual quagmire, and someone who has the foresight to give me a shove in the right direction (or tell me to run) when it comes to my potential writing career? Cough. I say potential, this is all still hypothetical of course as Obi-Wan Kenobi has yet to agree to represent me.
In the meantime, it’s good to know my fellow Upcoming Crew have my back. After a year of Skyping and Blogging it was a joy to sit down with them at conference and chew the cud. On the down side, I did also take away a blistering hangover on Sunday morning (thankfully I’d finished pitching before then). We are an odd Allsorts bag of ages, styles and writing interests, but somehow, like five fingers on a hand, we seem to fit together. Perhaps we are the literal equivalent of a high five!
Writing, like life, is often a solitary business. It’s easy to feel lost. I’m happy to have found my Upcoming Crew and grateful for the RWA network as a whole. Whatever our routes to market as writers, sharing and supporting one another is an absolute no-brainer. The conference provided an opportunity to reinforce this and celebrate friendship and diversity.
Editor’s note: Lou isn’t kidding when she says she had a blistering hangover … photo proof below. Piano bar, after midnight, need one say more?
Escape from muggle world
For me conference was always going to be a highlight of the year to catch up with friends, learn and engage. To be honest, it is in part a break from muggle world. The world of non-magical writer people. A world of school drop offs, washing, grocery shopping and readers. And who doesn’t love a break from that?
For me conference this year wasn’t really about the sessions – not that they weren’t great sessions but I didn’t feel I spent very long in them. There were so many people to catch up with I think I spent more time coffee-ing with other non-muggle writerly types. But far from frivolous, this was inspiring and reassuring.
It was a whole weekend to indulge in talking to like-minded people about writing, publishing, marketing and the things that only other writers ‘get’. Like nasty reviews on Goodreads, or typos that make it through seemingly millions of rounds of editing and proofreading or when characters just don’t want to talk to you.
We can’t talk to muggles about this stuff. Goodness knows I love the muggles in my life but they don’t get it. We need our fellow magicians and the RWA conference to help us make sense of our abilities. And let’s face it, it’s a whole conference of pure magic.
While I didn’t catch a lot of sessions, I was thrilled to sit in on Tamar Sloan’s session Grit for Writers. Tamar’s discussion of finding ‘grit’ to overcome obstacles – no matter where you are at with your writing journey. Growth mindset, optimism and specific goals can help you persevere to achieve success. The strategies were extremely useful and I’d highly recommend Tamar’s book Grit for Writers if you missed the session.
So caffeined-up, gritty and inspired, I return to muggle world. See you in Melbourne in 2019!
The Business of Books
As an aspiring author – who is not aiming to self-publish just yet – my focus is ninety percent on the craft of writing, ten percent fiddling with my brand and social media engagement and zero percent on what happens once I’ve completed the book. The 2018 RWA conference saw me broadening my education to the business side of getting a book to market. Hooley-Dooley, this was an eye-opener!
I learnt that publishers study trends, follow trends, analyse the print market, analyse the digital
market. They have statistics and percentages. They question readers on what they do to relax; on what else they’re reading; on how the publisher can get the books into the readers’ hands.
They find out where readers go to find their next read. (It’s Goodreads.) They contact reviewers.
They study the influencer market. In short, they work hard to get your book into the hands of people who will love your stories.
I also learnt that I can do my part in this process and wanted to share my top ten takeaways on how you can help the publisher do what they do best.
- Follow the submission guidelines.
- Do a brilliant pitch – “The better your pitch to the acquiring editor, the better the editor’s pitch to acquisitions.” Jo Mackay, Publishing Editor, Harlequin.
- If your book is your debut novel, compare it to another debut author. The publisher needs to position you at where you are now.
- Find a luminary who can put a quote on your book.
- Have a great title. (Also, covers are vital but you may have little control over that.)
- Have a good website.
- If you’ve made changes to your manuscript or are running late with edits let your editor know.
- Have a fascinating event that the publisher/marketer can use in promotional work.
- If your manuscript includes other peoples’ work, for example, a song lyric or line from a film, find out who owns the copyright for it and apply for permission to use it.
- Be professional.
The Upcoming Famous and Fabulous Romance Writers had a great post-conference Skype session re-living the highs of the weekend. We’d love to hear your big takeaways from the event.
Contests & Awards
I joined RWA in late 2016 with the intention of throwing myself into every opportunity that came my way. OWLS: check. Competitions: check. Slushpile submission: check. I’ve learned a heap by taking advantage of these opportunities, and I would encourage everyone to be courageous about entering too.
Here’s a big but: readers, editors and judges are subjective. If everyone you trust is telling you the same thing (your dialogue is clunky, you have too many sentence fragments, your saucy scenes suck, and not in a good way) then you need to listen to that. But you will get some feedback that you either have to ignore, or work really hard to find the good points.
Here’s two examples from my own experience. In a recent kids book competition, I entered a middle grade manuscript. One judge: 97%, the other: 57%. I was like WOOHOO and NOOOOO all at the same moment. The disparity in their comments and marks helped me realise a stone cold truth – my writing will not appeal to everyone, so keep entering, but don’t be too crushed when entering doesn’t bring glory.
Here’s a second example: I entered the slushpile section of the conference, and a few pages of my writing were read out. This was a far from enjoyable experience, but I had thought, hey, if there’s problems, better to know than not know. I wrote a few comments in my journal that afternoon after hearing the editors comment on my pages: OK. So my lesson learned is never do this again unless wearing nancy gants and spanx. Ouch! Were they mean? No. What did I learn? The editors’ subjectivity was filtered through the lines they manage — they were answering like businesswomen with an eye to profit and success — not necessarily with the same response a reader would give. Useful? Perhaps. A death knell on my writing? Absolutely not.
So my mood was a little downcast as I frocked up in preparation for the Awards dinner that night. But then, guess what happened? They say a picture tells a thousand words, so here’s a picture filled with 1000 words of glee:
I went from zero to hero within the space of a few hours, met the legend herself, Valerie Parv, celebrated with champers, felt like a rockstar and guess what? None of this would ever have happened if I hadn’t had the courage to enter competitions, and the fortitude to learn how to use feedback to improve. So why not go ahead and enter one? You’ll be in for a rollercoaster of highs and lows, but the lows can be character (and craft) building, and those highs feel pretty darned fabulous.
What were your takeaways from conference RWA2018?
The Upcoming Famous and Fabulous Romance Writers
The Upcoming Famous and Fabulous Romance Writers are five aspiring and emerging RWA members. Like many new RWA members, we worry about our skills, we have pride in our growing accomplishments, and we are nervous about whether we can ‘make it’. We share our journey from newbies to (fingers crossed, hearts wildly beating) accomplished writers.
We connected at the RWA Conference 2017 in Brisbane, and formed a support group that has become an important step in our writing journey.
We can be found on various social media below. We’d love you to come visit.