Conference Notes – Part 2

Day 2 of the Romance Writers of Australia conference was just as busy. Survivor: Submission Island was brilliant — but I’ll get to that. First up, the MC for the conference was Jennie Jones and I have to acknowledge the clarity of her guidance and the whole conference team’s successful time management. For such a busy conference, our schedule remained tight yet never impossible.

The morning started with Harlequin Australia‘s Sponsor Address. This included my editor, Kate Cuthbert, talking about Escape Publishing. Harlequin Australia will now be publishing Young Adult (woohoo! I was chatting with a local author whose book will be out soon – not sure if it’s still a secret). They’re also looking to increase their single title books over the next couple of years, although series/category romances remain big for Harlequin. Finally, after chatting about the rise of Rural Romances (and mentioning fellow West Australian Rachael Johns‘ amazing success), they announced their new big thing *drum roll* COASTAL ROMANCE. This was huge for me since I’ve started my Jardin Bay series. I love stories set on the coast, any coast. I think that’s my Cancer star sign πŸ™‚

Almost forgot! For those interested in sub’ing their stories to Escape Publishing (and you don’t have to be an Aussie author), Kate said she’s particularly looking for science fiction romance, romantic suspense, rural romance, contemporary Australian romance and erotic romance. Since I write contemporary Australian romance I was interested to hear it sells strongly in the American market.

SURVIVOR: SUBMISSION ISLAND put a panel of editors and agents out the front of the conference room and first pages from anonymous entries were read out. When the experts encountered something that they thought would stop them reading a submission they held up a red “stop” card. If they were interested in a submission, they raised a green “more” card. Mostly “stop” cards were held up which was disappointing — but at the end of each reading the experts were asked why they’d raised their cards. The results were fascinating.

A recurring theme was that the genre of the story wasn’t instantly identifiable. Other issues were too much exposition (info dumps in dialogue and backstory paragraphs – don’t belabour internal monologue in the opening), slow openings (“we want action!”), small potential markets (as with a pirate historical — I was surprised to hear a few times that historical romance was a small market. Really???), over-extending the scene, cliched storylines, never open with a funeral or journey, and nice or competent writing isn’t enough (ouch!). Β More positively, strong voice was appreciated, a title with a hook worked well, and solid characterisation works.

Sarah Wendell‘s presentation on social media was incredibly useful — plus she was smart, funny and energising. Let’s see if I can condense everything she said.

Readers now connect directly with authors and publishers. As authors we are building our brand, our promise to readers. We need our own social media policy (what we’re willing to talk about, at a minimum). Be genuine.

You don’t have to be fluent in every form of social media (Sarah spoke of the various media as different languages). With Facebook, include images (actually, I think this is true of all social media — but beware of copyright!). Interestingly, Sarah described Pinterest as aspirational. I liked this point — although it makes this medium difficult to use for book promotion; i.e. people don’t aspire to be books.

When you’re on social media, you must be present. Your website (and as authors, you MUST have a website) allows you to be present even when you’re sleeping. It should also direct people to where you hangout — e.g. Twitter, Facebook, wherever. Your website should include a booklist, contact details, simple bio (update quarterly) and links to social media. Also a press kit, so add a good photo to that list. (Eek!)

Sarah also recommended a mailing list. But remember, it’s a privilege to be in someone’s inbox.

Speaking of email inboxes, apparently some people suggest that readers should/could contact authors in non-email ways (Facebook, etc), but Sarah pointed out that we write about romance, which is about intimacy. People will want to email (talk privately) rather than share their stories/responses publicly, so keep an email contact option.

On BLOGGING (hey! that’s what I’m doing) she had a few comments:

  • a way to be online talking with readers
  • update regularly
  • blogs are the longest form of online communication
  • think about why reader is visiting your blog
  • check what works or doesn’t work on other authors’ sites

Or her three part sum up: generosity, authenticity, consistency.

Kim Hudson spoke on “The Voyage of the Writer” based on her book The Virgin’s Promise. She presented a full day’s workshop on this on Friday, but I was at the academic conference. Kim is so nice, but also wise. In looking at her use of Jungian archetypes to develop the idea of the Virgin’s Promise, she also applied that journey to her own life and showed how it not only develops stories, but gives meaning to our lives. “Virgin” originally meant “to know you are of intrinsic worth”. Apparently for Jung, stories were the way we engage with life and how we go through change. This resonated with me because I often think of stories as giving meaning, making meaning.

Basically, believe in your creativity and protect it.

The final break-out session that I attended was Shona Husk and Nicola Sheridan‘s “Beating the Tsunami: Getting Ahead on Paranormal Trends” and it was scarily good. There are so many monsters out there, so much mythology and supernatural thinking that transcends geographic boundaries. There was even a vampire with a glowing bum. I am not kidding! Great research and clear presentation, but my big takeaway from this session was the realisation that a memorable hero can come from imagining a huge villain and redeeming him. That might be obvious to you, but it struck me like a blinding light.

The conference wrapped up with more inspiring, funny and inclusive words. The sense of community was powerful.

Thank you to the conference committee and all the volunteers, the guest presenters, sponsors, the hotel staff (so professional and courteous), and most of all, to my fellow attendees for making my first ever writers’ conference an overwhelmingly positive experience.





6 Replies to “Conference Notes – Part 2”

  1. Wow! You had so much information you could blog about each topic for weeks.

    It sounded fantastic. All of it.

    So are you tired? πŸ™‚ It's a lot to take in, isn't it? You'll be mulling over what you've heard for weeks on out. Thank you so much for the summaries.

    1. Maria, you're absolutely spot on re the info-overload. I could feel it all jostling around in my brain. Hopefully it'll sharpen up my professional author skills — once I sort it all out.

    1. Lily, were you at the conference? You were one of the people I wanted to meet! I got overwhelmed and could have walked straight past people I'd known for years — and it turned out I'd shared a primary school bus with one of the other Escape authors. If only we'd known, nearly thirty years ago…

  2. Survivor – Submission Island sounded pretty intense but it was great they gave examples of why pieces were red flagged and what they were expecting from authors.

    A few god points on social media too.

    Shona and Nicola's session is another I would love to have attended. (I'm still getting my head around the vampire with the glowing bum). And I love the idea of redeeming a villain and turning him into a hero.

    Best of luck with your new coastal series although I am sure you won't need it. πŸ™‚

    1. Shona and Nicola's session was almost the best of the conference — so many were fantastic that it's a tough call. But the range of strange critters definitely got my brain ticking.

      I can't imagine being brave enough to enter Survivor – Submission Island, but the feedback was incredibly useful. We're in a very professional, but supportive, industry.