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