Wednesday, August 04, 2010

WRITER'S WEDNESDAY - What I learned at Conferences

Kate Walker looks back at the Conferences she's attended and reflects on what she's learned from attending them.

So in the UK the Romantic Novelists' Association's 50th anniversary has been celebrated, in America, the RITAs have been announced and awarded at the end of a hugely attended RWA national event. The journeys home have been completed, the bags unpacked, the laundry done, and the lingering images of conference days are just memories. The Australian and New Zealand Conferences are still to come but, sadly, I won't get to those this time. I didn't get to RWA either but I did spend what seems like most of July at the RNA conference and then at Caerleon Writers' Holiday which, for all its name is very much a conference, where like minded people get together and talk about those important things - writing and books.

Over the years I've been to so many of the national conferences - UK, USA, Australia, New Zealand, and I've come home with a buzz of memories - the conference 'buzz' is both a sound and a feeling. The 'buzz' sound of hundreds of (mostly) women all in the same room and all talking, talking books and the writing of them has to be heard to be believe. And the 'buzz' of enthusiasm, inspiration and renewal that fizzes through one's nerves for days, weeks afterwards is an experience that makes all the upheaval, travelling and expense so worthwhile.

Each year I've attended a different combination of conferences but the result is always the same. So for those of you who didn't get away this time, here's what I brought home with me from my conference experiences.

1. The yearning to write is a wide-ranging and deep felt need in so many of us. The numbers of people at the conferences as small compared to the numbers of people actually sitting at home and trying to write. They are just the tip of the iceberg really, the few who could get away this time while the 'many' stayed at home. This means that the competition is fierce - more than fierce, it's almost savage. So much so that you'd think that it seems crazy even to try. Why even attempt to write for publication in the face of so much opposition? But does this mean that I advocate that you give up?

NO because

2. Every year there are more people who are at conferences because they didn't give up and because they achieved their dream. Whether they are wearing that coveted 'First Sale' ribbon at RWA or hearing their name announced in the Celebrations at RNA or the other conferences, these are the ones who rolled with the punches, took the rejections, picked themselves up and dusted themselves off and started all over again. They did the revisions and the second revisions .. . and in the end they succeeded.

At RWA Harlequin announced that they have bought 46 new authors in the past year. 46! That's almost 50 people whose dreams have come true. Who have a book with their name on it out there on the bookshop shelves. It can happen. Yes, the odds are pretty much stacked against it but if you don't try you have no chance at all.

(And with reference to that, if you haven't already heard about Harlequin Mills and Boon's New Voices Contest, where have you been sleeping?) Get yourself over to and learn all about the X Factor for romance writers. Or if you're interested in writing for the Medical line, how about the August Midsummer Madness when the eds are fast-tracking submissions to this line. Send a ms in now and get a response this month. Details can be found in the I Heart Presents blog.)

3. It wasn't all good news. I heard from agents that things have never been so tough. From writers whose contracts had been dropped or not renewed. I heard of publishers that had closed - but at the same time I heard of brave new publishers like Choc Lit or the brand new digital romance imprint of Salt Publishing with Jane Holland, the daughter of the late, great Charlotte Lamb in the editorial chair.

4. The one thing I always take away from any conference is the clear evidence of the fact that there are no rules. That there is no one way to write, no one system, or 'formula' that is the only way to do things. As a confirmed 'pantser' - unless I'm really really pushed to it - I sat in on a talk by skilled and efficient planner Kate Hardy and while admiring her system, just knew it wasn't for me. It works for her though - her productivity is amazing and we could all learn something from her time management and organisational skills.

5. Nothing stays the same for long in publishing. And that goes for covers and titles. I can almost date my confrerence-bought books just by looking at the covers and the titles, the way those titles are displayed on the covers - pastel pink or 'headless' heroines. glitz and glamour and gold lettering . . . And this time HMB revealed a sneak peek at their brand new cover designs. All the lines are getting a makeover and this month the new Historical covers are up on the M&B site. There's more to come - with more new covers, some line reshuffling, some new names for lines - and for the Modern line some new and none-Greek-Billionaire's-Innocent-Virgin style titles. (Can you hear the cheering from over here?)
Watch this space . . .

6. Above all else, the one thing the conferences show loud and clear is that romantic novelists/romance writers - whatever name you want to give us - are a busy, productive, proactive, professional group of people. Forget that appalling 'pink and fluffy' title that dogs us. Anyone who ever goes to a conference even for a day will see just how professional writers are. And you can also forget that tired old Crime Novelists' Association joke that while crime novelists are wonderful warm people, the Romantic Novelists are the ones who will stab you in the back. The wonderful greetings and hugs from old friends (one of the best parts of any conference) welcome given to first-timers at every event shows this to be totally untrue.

What else have I learned from the conferences I've attended?
That no matter where in the world the conference is held, some things will always hold true -

That you will connect with old friends from all over the globe, meet and make new ones some of whom will become friends for life.

That writers love a chance to dress up, for the Awards nights, the celebration dinners etc

That writers (specially the RNA writers) love shoes and see the conference as an excuse to bring out their best and most glamourous footwear

That no matter how many books you already have on the TBR mountain at home, the sight of the bookstall at any conference, with all those wonderful books, with appealing titles and covers laid out in front of you, will be to much temptation and you just have to bring some (a lot) home with you

That writers spend such an amount of time on their own in their offices with just themselves, their computers and their characters that when 'released' into the real world they talk and talk and talk and talk . . . .

That no matter how many times you explain it (as I did at my RNA workshop) there will always still be someone who gets confuzzled over Internal and External Conflict and has to have it explained all over again (If that person is you, then the Conflict Workshop over on my blog right now wmight just help.)

Conferences are expensive, they can be wearing, nerve-wracking, exhausting even, but if you want a real flavour of what the professional writing world is all about then they are invaluable - and no matter what else, they are an experience. I hope everyone who went to RNA or RWA this year had a wonderful time - and all you writers in Australia and New Zealand, I am so envious of the fact that you still have your conferences to come. I wish I could join you but I've used up ll my 'conference time' for this year (I'm teaching at another one - the National Association of Writers' Groups conference in Durham at the beginning of September). I'll be there with you all in spirit - and I have no doubt I'll hear your 'conference buzz' from right over here.
And finally - I just want nto quote what I thought was the best piece of advice I heard at the conference this year. It was aimed at those of you who want to enter the New Voics contest, but for my money it applies to every line and style of romance that you are trying to break into, no matter which genre or publisher. It was said by the Mills & Boon editors in their workshop and it is -
Don't imitate - innovate !

Kate Walker's latest release for Harlequin Mills and Boon is a little unusual. The Good Greek Wife? is part of a four book mini-series that retells classic Greek Myths, updating and 'Modernising' them in romance form. The mini-series is labelled The Greek Tycoons - Legends are Made of Men Like These.

The Good Greek Wife? will not be released in America until October when it is out in Presents Extra but Kate's most recent Presents title The Konstantos Marriage Demand with another sexy Greek hero is still available on eHarlequin and Amazon.

You can read how Kate approached writing The Good Greek Wife? on her website and all her most up to date news (including that Conflict workshop which might help you with your New Voices Contest entry) can be found on her blog.


  1. Kate, I just got back from RWA in Orlando and your comments really resonated with me. (I've still got the Australian one to look forward to but as I'm coordinating it, that might be a different experience altogether!)
    One of the panels of top publishing professionall at the PAN (published author network) was asked about their advice on how to write a break out novel. To a person, their reply was to write memorable characters that readers truly connect with at an emotional level.
    I think you and your fellow Pink Heart Society authors get that!
    I look forward to catching up with you at a future conference...