My fellow ‘Freighter Laurie Green has already given you a great rundown of events at this year’s Romance Writers of America national conference in Orlando (“When You Wish Upon a Star”, Monday, August 9). If you’re curious about all the workshops and speakers and truly excellent career-building information that was pumped out during those four days in the Florida heat, I urge you to check out the RWA website, join if you haven’t already and dig in.
Urging Each Other On
I found myself in the position more than once in Orlando of being a cheerleader for RWA, for science fiction romance and for our (relatively) newly formed Science Fiction Romance Brigade. As new as I am at this game, I even found myself mentoring one or two newbies through their first conference. But that’s the way it’s supposed to work. You climb one step with a hand up from those above you, then you turn around and offer a hand to those behind you. In no other professional organization of which I’ve ever been a part has this been so true as it as of RWA.
You need examples of how those “above” are still reaching down to those of us “below”? Authors Linda Howard, Suzanne Brockmann, Angela Knight, Kerelyn Sparks, Jessica Andersen and others gave workshops at the conference sharing their writing and business secrets. New York “mega-agent” Donald Maas spoke to the PRO retreat, an audience consisting almost entirely of writers whose major accomplishment has been completing a manuscript and sending it off to an agent or publisher (often to receive a rejection in response). Other agents gave up their time to critique real queries (a very instructive two-hour panel ) or discuss other thorny aspects of the writing business.
Real live editors from all the major publishing houses made themselves available at meet-and-greet events throughout the conference. A highlight for those of us in the SFR business was the enthusiasm shown by the digital and digital-to-print houses Carina Press and Samhain Publishing and the woman-owned Sourcebooks toward science fiction romance. Their editors are all interested in acquiring quality manuscripts for publication in our sub-genre. What was even more exciting, from a writer’s perspective, is that their writers are all happy with them and the digital royalty model. No advance and a higher than traditional return on sales seems to be working just fine for the Carina and Samhain authors I talked to.
The Next Big Thing
New ways of getting books to readers was, of course, a topic of conversation at nearly every lunch and dinner table. The phenomenal growth of digital publishing and the success of fledgling Harlequin offshoot Carina Press was on everyone’s mind. Just how to take advantage of that new market and the opportunities it offers is not clear to everyone, however. In that, I believe SFR has one of its few true advantages. We have a built-in, tech-savvy audience, already familiar with e-publishing and various forms of online promotion.
But, aside from the format of publication, in nearly every workshop I attended one question was asked over and over, of agents and editors, authors and marketers: What is the next big thing? What are the trends, as you see them? Are vampires dead? Are werewolves done? Are historicals making a comeback? Is it angels or steampunk or YA or something we’ve never seen before?
As much as everyone would like to be able to answer these questions, the response went something like this: Nobody knows the Next Big Thing until it hits. And unless you already have a complete, polished YA steampunk manuscript languishing in your desk right now ready to go, you’ve probably already missed the trend. Find your voice. Write your own story. Forget about catching any sort of wave.
That said, I do think SFR has a chance at being at least the Next Interesting Thing. The folks at the small presses, at Carina and Samhain and other digital presses are eager for manuscripts. Agents can’t help but perk up their ears at that. A lot of unpublished writers I spoke to are intrigued by the idea of writing science fiction romance and were encouraged by the fact that there is an organization (the SFR Brigade) out there dedicated to promoting the sub-genre.
At the first informal face-to-face meeting of the SFR Brigade at the conference the idea was broached of presenting a workshop of SFR at next year’s conference in New York City. I think there would be a lot of interest in a panel discussion of what SFR is and what editors might be looking for in an SFR manuscript. More writers might be willing to let their imaginations fly with a little encouragement. And we might create a buzz that more editors and agents would pick up on.
Last year I skipped the big awards ceremony at the end of the conference. I’d had plenty of inspiration from the keynote and luncheon speakers and I had only just met Golden Heart nominee Sharon Lynn Fisher (now my co-blogger here). But this year, of course, Sharon was a nominee again, along with fellow Brigader Kylie Griffin (who won!), so I made sure I was in the audience.
And what I learned in listening to the wonderful women who’d worked so hard to earn their awards could fill another post. Many of these authors had to overcome any number of obstacles to get that book on the page: illnesses, deaths in the family, unsupportive husbands, no husbands, no paychecks, the loss of friends and mentors in the business. And yet they were standing there, accepting the acknowledgment of their peers. They had done what they set out to do. Just by being there, they were stretching out a hand to the rest of us.
The day before I’d been searching for a seat in a very crowded cafeteria at lunch time and asked a teen-aged girl if I could share her table. She was on vacation at Disney World with her family and asked what all fuss was about. Specifically, she wanted to know what all these women were doing at the hotel. When I explained that we were all writers (or in the writing business), her eyes began to shine and her face to glow with an excitement usually reserved for rock stars. I was peppered with questions about what romance writing consisted of, exactly, and did people actually make a living at it, and ohmigod you actually wrote a book that is so cool!
By the time she left to find her family I was feeling pretty good about myself. Inspiration. Works both ways, I guess, and I had the distinct impression I’d just reached out a hand to the future.