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Archive for August, 2012

Saturday started with the Ballantine Bantam Dell Publisher Signing. Free books from Random House authors; get ’em while they last!

Publisher Signing room

Here’s the room where we had the Publisher Signing. That table at the left edge of the picture is where I sat. Ruthie Knox was just to my left. I love this carpet and these weird blue light fixtures.

The Publisher Signing was a slightly different experience from the Literacy Signing. At the latter, I was approached mostly by people who’d already read my books and wanted to tell me how they enjoyed them. At the former, I met a few of those, but most people were there to try something new. Some had heard of me; some hadn’t. Two different people told me Amazon had recommended me to them, which I know – thanks to Courtney Milan’s workshop of the previous day – is a very good thing.

I gave away all my books and got to meet lots of interesting people and hear their conference stories (by this time many people had already been through their pitch appointments and had good news to tell).

After the signing I caught the second half of “Self-Publishing for Traditionally Published Authors – A Discussion,” in which the discussers were Courtney Milan, Mia Marlowe, Kristan Higgins, and Liz Maverick. It was a good spectrum of self-publishing involvement. You had people who viewed self-pub as an adjunct to their more advantageous trad-pub career, people who’d gone to self-pub when their publisher folded and they finally got back their rights, and people who’d walked away from trad pub altogether.

(As you’ve probably gathered, there was a lot of talk at this conference about self-publishing, and as far as I saw it was all positive. Surely there’s got to be someone out there who tried self-pub and thought, “Screw this; it’s too hard and I’m not cut out for it.” Maybe those people just don’t have a platform?)

I only went to a few workshops that day, since I needed to pack and to deal with shipping back some books. But one of them, Erin Quinn’s “SOS (Simple Organic Structure) for Writers,” gets my vote for Hidden Gem Workshop of the Entire Conference.

It was one of those “How to Plot, for Pantsers” workshops, and Quinn did a fabulous job of breaking plotting down into manageable, bite-sized, non-terrifying pieces. She starts a first draft by writing the first scene, the last scene, and three key (turning-point) scenes in the middle. And she uses these simple worksheets for each scene, on which she records things like, “What did the POV character want?” and “Did s/he get what s/he wanted?” The answer to that latter question should either be, “Yes, but now things are more complicated because…” or “No, and to make matters worse…”

As someone who’s overwhelmed and intimidated by the idea of plotting out a whole book, I found a lot to like in her system. She’s a believer in a messy first draft, which is difficult for me but theoretically would be more do-able if I knew I was going to come back to it with those worksheets and a methodical plan for tightening things up. Anyway I’m going to try this on my next book and see if I can’t get more efficient.

The last workshop I went to was “Making it Work – Getting Your Novel Down the Runway.” Michelle Marcos, Miranda Neville, Deb Marlowe and Heather Snow talked about, basically, what it’s like to be traditionally published. (How much promo can you expect your publisher to do? How many books do you have to sell to count as successful? What kind of print run should you hope for? etc.)

A lot of this was stuff I already knew; some of it wasn’t, but in truth the whole reason I went to this workshop was to meet Miranda Neville, whom I’d failed to randomly run into at any previous point in the conference.

Miranda Neville is one of my favorite historical-romance authors right now. What she does – writing humorous books that don’t feel feather-light or forgettable – is so difficult and she makes it seem so easy. We talked a bit about her next book, The Importance of Being Wicked, and I won’t say a whole lot about it except that I am now looking forward to it even more than I already was. Can. Not. Wait

That night was the Rita (for published books) and Golden Heart (for unpublished manuscripts) awards ceremony. Big glitzy party; everyone looked glamorous; some books I loved won prizes; people made funny and heart-warming speeches. Many thanked their husbands, with obvious deep-felt gratitude and affection. Not that being in a romantic relationship is necessary to writing a good romance, but I wish there could be a clip reel of all those acknowledgments, to refute the charge that romance fiction is a way for women to fill the relationship-shaped hole in their lives.

OK, this is getting really long and I need to wrap it up. So let me paste on two conclusions to which I came during the course of this conference:

1) Having read her books, chatted with her online, and now met her, I’m about ready to declare that Ruthie Knox is the future of romance. She’s not the first romance author to specialize in wonky, outside-the-box characters or stories, but I think she does it in a way that will appeal to readers who weren’t consciously seeking wonky, outside-the-box reads. Plus she’s making a lot of what strike me as smart career choices. It’ll be interesting, over the next year or so, to watch where she goes.

2) This was the first conference at which I met people who’d read things I’d written. And it clarified something I’d already vaguely known, which is that, for me, writing books is primarily about connecting with people. When someone says, “I loved your book; I’ve always wanted to see a scene where the heroine was unimpressed by the hero’s naked body;” that establishes a baseline accord from which we can progress to talking about really interesting things, like what they’re writing, or what other books they’ve liked that it turns out I’ve liked too. Telling stories is gratifying, and getting paid to tell them is an incredible privilege, but connecting with people that way is still the real thrill for me.

That’s it! Please enjoy this picture of the Long Beach airport, from which I departed:

Long Beach Airport

This might be the smallest airport I’ve ever flown into & out of. Glad I avoided LAX, which I imagine is relatively overwhelming.

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Okay, so I said I was going to go to two marathon Michael Hauge workshops on Friday. I wound up only going to one, but it was excellent. “Using Inner Conflict to Create Powerful Love Stories” was the title, but it was really, as I understood it, more about turning points, inner and outer conflict, and basically how to build and pace a story. Author Jami Gold did an excellent two-part writeup of it on her blog, here and here. Go check it out if you’re interested.

I was sitting next to Erin Satie, a twitter-friend (we’d bonded over our shared dislike of “the grovel” in romance) whom I finally got to meet at RWA, and we grumbled together a little about the presumption – common among non-romance storymeisters – that every story has “a protagonist” and “a love interest.” One of the defining characteristics of the romance genre, IMO, and one of the things that makes it a challenge to write, is that a good story has two protagonists, whose journeys are of equal weight. (Erin also did a good writeup of the workshop in her post here.)

I might have gone to the restroom after this workshop. Anyway at some point on this day I went into one of the commandeered men’s restrooms, which are a traditional feature of RWA conferences, and snapped this photo of the artfully screened urinals:

Picture of curtained-off urinals

Yeah, I’m terrible at taking photos, plus I got a new camera and it’s too high-tech for me. But if you look at the left end of the curtain, you can make out a ghostly urinal shape behind it.

Sarah Wendell of Smart Bitches, Trashy Books tells me previous conferences have gone all-out, decorating the urinals with fresh flowers and bunting, for example.

I went out to lunch with Alyson and Janine of Dear Author, and also the writer Bettie Sharpe. Alyson (she mostly does interviews for DA) has a double identity: she’s also soon-to-be debut novelist Alison Atlee, and since we share an agent we were already a little bit acquainted. I ran into her the day before and she invited me to lunch, so that’s how that happened.

I have a whole post’s worth of mixed feelings about fraternizing with reviewers (Janine in this case), but 1) it doesn’t seem like most romance writers try to avoid being friendly with the big blog reviewers, and 2) we (writers) really face that same issue with any casual social-media acquaintance now, in this age of Amazon and Goodreads. I’m still not 100% sure it’s a good thing, but I guess we’ll all figure it out as we go along. Anyway Janine is well read and full of interesting opinions, as you might gather from reading her stuff on DA, so it was good to meet her. Also I was grateful for the opportunity to meet Bettie Sharpe, since I loved her book Ember and I got to tell her why, in some detail. (This turns out to be one of my favorite things to do: meet an author who wrote something I loved, and tell them specifically what I loved about it.)

I got back a little late and so missed part of the second Michael Hauge workshop I’d planned on attending. This one was about story structure and was built around an analysis of the movie “Pretty Woman.” (I rented & watched PW for the first time, just for this workshop, and I have at least a post’s worth of thoughts about PW, too.) I snuck in late, listened for a few minutes, and decided it wasn’t going to cover enough different ground from the morning workshop to make it my best use of time. So instead I went to “Secrets of eBook Publishing Success,” led by Mark Coker of Smashwords.

Coker had a lot of interesting things to say. If I hadn’t already been convinced that I oughtn’t to worry about piracy, I think this workshop would have convinced me. (Also, like lots of speakers I heard and lots of people who’ve talked about this online, he was very big on the importance of backlist. Write a good book, write another good book, then another and another. Best advertising for your last book is your next book, and/or best advertising for your next book is your last book.) He has a free e-book with the same title as the workshop, so if you’re interested in his ideas, that’s probably worth a download.

After Coker’s workshop came the one I’d circled in biggest, boldest red on my schedule: “How to be Your Own Lead Title,” by Courtney Milan. Courtney Milan has done darn near everything right, as far as I can tell, when it comes to self-publishing, and she’s breathtakingly generous in sharing what she’s learned. She talked a lot about the importance of covers, the importance of the first page after the end of the story in your book (useful for things like “Here’s how you can find out when the next book is out. Here are some other books by this author,” etc.), the importance of honest reviews (lots of them), and the importance of backlist. (Seriously, one of the biggest takeaways from the conference as a whole was get more books written!) She said she believes the single best thing you can do with promo money is get your book into the hands of people who read and talk about books; as many such people as you can. Lots to mull over; luckily I took detailed notes.

That was it for Friday workshops. I had dinner with author Rose Lerner, with whom I’ve been friendly ever since I first read and fell for her debut, In for a Penny. Bear with me a minute while I gush about her.

Something I adore about Rose Lerner is her committed eclecticism. She’s quick and thoughtful both; knowledgeable about poetry, history, Russian novels, and arcane kinds of math… and she unironically enjoys TV shows like Teen Wolf, and can speak passionately about which contestant on America’s Next Top Model was sent home too early. I particularly admire her broad taste when it comes to romance. She’s one of the most committed researchers I know – one of those writers who works really hard to weave in historical details and get the basic social fabric and period mindsets right – but she doesn’t demand that same level of accuracy in all her reading. She’ll never dismiss something as “wallpaper.” Anyway whenever I spend time with her, I come away resolving to be more open-minded about the things I’m not so open-minded about now.

That was Friday. I went back to my hotel room and browsed some of the photo websites from which Courtney Milan gets her cover images (did you know she makes her own covers?), wondering whether making my own cover is beyond me.

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