Monday, January 09, 2006

Conference Collectibles

I just found this online. It was an article I wrote for my romance writers group following the 2004 Romance Writers of America conference in Dallas. It's posted in the archives of my writers group, Windy City Romance Writers.

Conference Collectibles: Wisdom from the Front

By Haley Hughes
Blowing Kisses Newsletter, Windy City Romance Writers
Winter 2004

The first time I ever attended an RWA national conference was as a reporter for a chain of community newspapers. From that conference, a friend and I produced an article that had to be a few thousand words in length. We’d absorbed tons of information and felt the need to share all of it with everyone.

We don’t have that much space here and I wasn’t that diligent in my note-taking this time, but I do have some random pieces of wisdom that I jotted down during the conference.

On emotion

Eeally successful writers know what emotional response they’re trying to evoke in a book and they run with it, said Jennifer Enderlin of St. Martin’s Press during the Pro Retreat. Is the book funny, sexy, scary or a tearjerker? While the book may have elements of some or all of these traits, pick one emotion and do it really well.

On voice vs. heart

Play to your strengths and don’t fight your voice, best-selling author Jayne Anne Krentz said during a panel discussion. It may take a little experimentation to find out what type of book best suits your voice, she said, and your voice might not be the best voice to write the book of your heart.

When someone asked her what route to follow, writing the book of her heart or the book of her voice, Krentz replied, “Screw the book of your heart.” Write the book of your voice. Your work will be judged on how well your voice and your story hook up.

She went on to say that the book of your heart might turn out to be a self-indulgent and spoiled creature.

On the craft of writing

Write every chapter as though it’s the first chapter, said best-selling author James Patterson during his workshop. Write stories instead of sentences, try to leave out all the parts that we skim, and write as though there’s one person across from you and you’re telling a story.

On revisions

During her workshop, best-selling author Kristin Hannah gave a lot of good advice on how to approach revising your work. Two quotes stuck out for me.

1. “You need guts,” she said. “It’s terribly difficult to tear apart a book that works at the 80 percent mark.”
2. Later she said, “The gift of being unpublished is that you are on your own time schedule.”

On paranormals

The market for paranormals seems to be still evolving and there is still so much that can be done with it.

“The best paranormals do two things really well, they’re really sexy and they build a world,” Enderlin said at the Pro Retreat.

Mary-Teresa Hussey of Luna Books pointed out during the Pro Retreat that paranormal books allow readers to experience an alpha male in an emotionally convincing setting.

On romantic suspense and thrillers

Romantic suspense appeals to people right now because the world is an inherently scary place and readers want a heroine to be involved in her own protection and in control, Lucia Marco of Avon Books said during the Pro Retreat. She likes heroines who are strong, smart and sensible.

Enderlin added that she loves it when a heroine becomes her own hero.

Patterson talked along a similar vein when he pointed out that thrillers evoke fear in readers, but the readers get relief from that fear at the end of the novel, unlike in real life.

On market news

Market news was presented in several workshops, but there are sources out there that do a much better job presenting that news than I have space for here, and in a much more timely manner than two months post conference. But there are three general impressions that stick out in my brain:

1. Paranormals are hot, but time-travels are still difficult to sell.
2. Romantic suspense is also hot, but there are so many good writers out there doing it so well, that it can be tough to break into that market.
3. Historicals and Westerns are not at all dead. There are still many publishers looking for them and they still sell well.

“Sometimes it’s not your book that’s the problem, it’s the market that’s the problem,” said Bob Mayer during his workshop on Special Operations Tactics for Writers. He gave the example of a book he wrote several years ago with a strong female lead. The book didn’t sell then, but since the market has now changed, it has since sold.

On keeping your day job

As writers, we don’t usually focus on why we should keep a day job. It seems counter productive. It seems like we should be building our career so that we can afford to do it full time. But this wasn’t the attitude of the three presenters in the workshop “Have Your Cake and Eat It, Too! The Advantages of Keeping Your Day Job.”

Benefits such as health insurance and 401(k), being able to afford to maintain their current standard of living, getting out of the house and interacting with different people in the real world, sources for story ideas, public speaking opportunities, positive reinforcement on work, self esteem, and having structured time were all reasons voiced during a group brainstorming session.

One of the best reasons one writer said she chooses to keep her day job is that it holds off her sense of desperation in her writing. She can be more choosy about what she wants to write and not have to accept every opportunity given to her. As another person said, we can support our spirits as well as support our households.

Why it’s great to be a writer

In her keynote speech, best-selling author Lisa Gardner gave her top five reasons on why it’s great to be a writer. They went along the lines of:

1. Sometimes writing is a beautiful thing and sometimes that muse is a bitch.
2. But anyone can succeed as a writer, from any background—all you need is a rich imagination and desire.
3. And when one writer succeeds in this business, all writers succeed.
4. Creativity is never wrong. The wildest idea might turn into the new breakout book.
5. “We get to come to conference and we get to meet people just as neurotic as ourselves.”

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