RWA Day 3

Jo Beverley: 21 Years and Counting

Beverley’s workshop was more a retrospective of changes in the industry, along with some advice on how to comport yourself.

Began writing in the 80s after a workshop at the library on how to write romance; had no knowledge of writing or the publishing industry.  And it was a completely different world, technologically speaking.  The downside of technology is that the high tech frills are only useful if they make writing easier, more often a distraction (in her opinion).  If it doesn’t help you, you don’t need it.  JB is still writing on 21 year old DOS computer.   Also, no WWW, no internet when she began.  Take it for granted now that research can be done online (Google Books, Project Gutenberg).  Great for marketing and communication, particularly when seeking the community of writers and shared experiences.  The downside is that it is a time suck, so you need to be able to prioritize (big rocks vs. sand in a bottle exercise).

General advice:

  • Be careful of agent choice; even the best of agents may not be the best for you.
  • Remember the personal/human aspect of the business: editors have a lot of choice and authors are replaceable.  Be professional, keep deadlines, but don’t be too much in awe because they are people too.
  • Learn how to read and understand rejection letters and their subtext.  Is it saying "fix these and resend" or is it saying "good but not for me"?  Also, you don’t always have to do everything suggested by editors and agents.
  • Information flow can be harmful (bad reviews, toxic groups), so be careful of what you consume.
  • Be careful of chasing the latest hot thing (YA right now); historicals were pronounced dead, but she just kept writing them and had no significant drop in sales.
  • Assume that an expert (in whatever) will read your book, so get the details right.
  • Don’t spend all the advance, hold on to some.  Equates money with freedom, meaning she could walk away or write what she wanted (or buy book back if relationship with publisher did not work out, as with Something Wicked)

Personal note:  JB is moving back to the UK shortly, has joined RNA.  My Lady Notorious being issued there as Lady Notorious.  It’s a completely different market; she has always written for North American market.

Suzanne Brockmann:  Breaking the Rules

Spock’s credo:  Infinite diversity in infinite combinations as her guiding principal.  
Sam & Alyssa:  their story arc included unhappiness and separation before HEA; when it finally arrived, no one mentioned that they were an interracial couple…because it was never a significant source of conflict for them.  "She’s black, he’s white, so what?"  Used the WWII subplot to have the interracial relationship be the source of conflict.

Harvard Becker:  only the second Intimate Moments with black hero and heroine.  But the buzz at the time was that her hero was an enlisted man, not an officer, not at all to do with his skin color.

Jules.  Oh, Jules.  First a witty sidekick, but always with the plan of making him a major player.  Increase role but also introduce the idea that he is not an asexual being; show that he is worthy, a hero, eventually get a romantic subplot that is a disaster, then walk away and regroup until he gets his own HEA.  His partner had to do the same — regroup, prioritize, show worthiness of hero status and HEA.

Non-HEAs for subplots are intentional.  Promise to always have HEA for main hero and heroine, but some love stories don’t have happy endings and she’ll show that through secondary characters.  (Spine of the book vs. the soul.)  This allows the readers to have a comfort zone, but to also take them out of it.

How to strike balance between message and entertainment?  "Soapbox moments" through dialogue of characters, but use sparingly.

Do you have to be an established author to break these rules?  It seems like publishing houses think there is no market for different things (ex: m/m romance set in 70s).  Being NYT bestseller helped, yes.  But there are a lot of small presses putting out GLBT work right now.  Or integrate it as a subplot and send to a mainstream publisher.  The market may be there, just not be on the publisher’s radar.

Asked SB after about the potential career advancement for Jules (and return to DC) if DC recognizes same sex marriages performed elsewhere.  Got a huge grin and a response that she hoped the council passed the law.  California disappointed her for political reasons, but also because of the effect on her characters’ careers.  So, yes, the DC outcome could be reflected in future books. 

Intellectual Property session
Moderated by Nora Roberts (who was wearing very strappy high heels).  Nora spoke for a bit about the Dailey situation, including some information that I had never heard before.  The lessons she learned:  shout it out, accept no excuses, don’t worry about their reputation.  Writers should not think plagiarism is no big deal, and the lack of support from the writer community was shattering.

The two IP attorneys walked through a scenario and gave a Power Point hand out that was helpful; I understood what they were saying but don’t feel competent to repeat it in a helpful way.

NB: Kaavya Viswanathan, Harvard plagiariser of several authors, is a law student at Georgetown.  Oh, the irony.

Eloisa James was the speaker at lunch and she was fabulous.  She writes for money, she said.  Then explained how she came to writing romance: to pay off student loans in order to grow her family.  But then she circled back to say that she earns money for her writing, but she pours out her loves, fears and dreams into her writing.  Best sellers are based on emotion more than anything.  Had most of the room in or near tears at some points.

Six Figure Deals for Debut Historical Writers
This mostly concentrated on the hook and the query letters sent by Sherry Thomas, Courtney Milan, Tessa Dare and Tracy Anne Warren.  (Note to self: buy Dare’s book.)

Caught the tail end of the workshop on "The Wit, Wisdom and Writing Advice of Jennifer Crusie".  The portion I caught was about how Crusie violates the norms, then returns to them, then violates them again for humor with examples taken from Bet Me.

Differentiating  Markets — YA and Adult
This was a very interesting workshop, and it addressed a lot of the wrong questions that writers who are thinking about changing to YA often ask.  It also addressed the fact that the two markets are hugely different (beyond just the potential readers):  different jargon, different timelines, different focuses, different royalties and advances, etc.  Your agent needs to understand these.

Key points:

  • Is your voice right for YA? Not everyone’s is.
  • YA readers are smarter than adult readers and will call you on things.
  • YA readers are savvy about marketing and will find you
  • Edgy for the sake of edgy is bad
  • The long tail is significant, with slower builds.  Ex: Ally Carter book hit NYT list 1.5  years after release because of gradual build.
  • Message books don’t work; tell a story, don’t preach.

Writer to check out:  upcoming July Harlequin Nocturne Bite about dragons.  Savage Dragon by Anna Hackett.  Met writer at Harlequin party.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “RWA Day 3

  1. Anything else from the Historicals panel? I downloaded the query letters and they definitely help (since I’m terrible w/ queries, the examples of stand-out ones is a Godsend), but I’m curious to know if the agents said other elements factored into the six-figure sales. Also, what did they say about today’s market?? (Milan got her 6fig sale right before the publishing and book industry meltdown of late Aug/early Sept ’08)

    • They spent a lot of time talking about hooks, really, and distilling the theme of the book into one sentence. But then they talked about how in some ways, none of the four followed the rules, especially Sherry Thomas, who engaged in what she called “infodumpery”. One emailed, even though Nelson’s website said don’t email query letters to me. I’ll go through my notes when I get home tonight, but they didn’t spend much time on the getting $$$, at least not while I was there. Maybe they spent more time on it after I snuck out for lunch.

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