Friday, 29 August 2014

It’s Conference Time!

By Catherine Hudson and Iola Goulton

August is the season for romance, starting with the Romance Writers of America conference (estimated 2,000 attendees), followed by the Romance Writers of Australia conference (estimated 350 attendees), and finally the Romance Writers of New Zealand Conference (150 attendees over three days). We (Iola Goulton and Catherine Hudson) attended the New Zealand conference, along with Kiwi/Aussie author Andrea Grigg. She’s originally from Auckland and we were staying just around the corner from where she used to live, so that was fun!

We in New Zealand might have had the last conference, and it was certainly the smallest, but there are advantages to size. For example, we were able to speak with most of the presenters. We got to ask the presenter (Flo Nicoll), from Harlequin) to put the slide up again so we can get pictures of ourselves with the book cover featuring our friend Narelle’s August new release:

(See The Doctor's Return on the left?)

And we got a photo with the main workshop speaker, James Scott Bell (which is the main reason we were all there!):

RWNZ was an eye-opening conference. It showed us how much we can learn from authors writing for the general market. They were welcoming, freely sharing their ideas for marketing and craft that resulted in very admirable sales. I know that the content of our books will differ (obviously ‘sex sells’ is not a phrase that applies to those of us who do not intend to include this in our books) but we can certainly learn from those who are making a living wage from writing, across a range of genres.

Going to conference helps keep us up to date with the latest craft techniques (yes, Iola went to the session titled “Making Your Sentences Rock”), and techniques that are selling books. We must not forget that we are creating a product, and that product needs to appeal to readers. Some of us only want to write for the Christian audience, but Catherine in particular was challenged to consider that it may indeed be possible to write books that instil hope, and can cross over to be appealing to a larger market.

James Scott Bell was excellent, clarifying many craft techniques, some that were familiar, and others that were new. This event was an exercise in clarifying our writing goals, craft, genre, and motivations.

Hearing from Jim Azevedo from Smashwords was exciting. The whole world is opening up for writers. While it is still paramount that we produce quality books readers will love, we are now free to get them into the hands of readers without going the way of the gatekeepers of trad publishing. The sales figures were astounding and very encouraging. There has never been a better time to be a writer—particularly of romance. If we are willing to apply ourselves and learn the craft, study what sells, and learn best marketing practices, it is possible to make a decent living as a writer. Just the fact we can get our books into the hands of readers is thrilling—ebooks have overtaken print books in the USA, and the rest of the world is shifting to the new technology.

Catherine says: conference, as usual, was a gauge of how much I have learned in a year—which is important in a career where deadlines are often self-imposed and qualifications are not set by a certain length of time and the approval of those more knowledgeable than us. If I could put one word to the experience it is ‘liberty’. Information is power they say and I feel free to make my own informed decision toward becoming published. It was worth every cent!

Andrea says: RWNZ was amazing. Brilliant speakers—I mean, James Scott Bell!?!— and a wonderfully accepting group of writers to converse with. When asked what I wrote, no one turned a hair when I said 'inspirational romance'. In fact, they were interested and encouraging. The conference was worth every cent.

Iola says: As a freelance editor, it was gratifying to hear successful a self-published author like Marie Force emphasise the importance of honing the craft of writing before publishing, and of the importance of excellence in both editing and cover design. The best sales techniques won’t get you anywhere without the basics of a good product. And, yes, it was worth every cent!

One of the highlights for all of us was the Awards dinner on Saturday night. We had spare seats at our table, and a lady we didn’t know joined us. She asked what we wrote—inspirational romance. And are you published? Andrea replied that she was, with an Australian publisher. It turned out the lady is a Christian, and was wondering if there were any publishers in Australia who were open to Christian work. Well, yes. It shows God can move anywhere … even in a room full of general market romance authors.


What conferences have you been to, or are planning to go to? What was the main thing you learned?

17 comments:

  1. Thanks gorls. You really made your experience come alive to those of us who couldn't make it. I love hearing all the little extras, especially about he lady who just "happened" to join you at your table! And your expressions when pictured with the great James Scott Bell...were you weak at the knees? Just kidding.

    Glad you found the experience so liberating Catherine.

    Good to hear you were so encouraged Andrea.

    Got to find out in your next post about those "rocking sentences" Iola.

    Again, I really enjoyed catching your excitement at this uplifting and informative conference!

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    1. He doesn't look it, but James was ill with a nasty cold for the whole conference and still managed to soldier on through his presentations. He almost lost his voice, but was strengthened by plenty of gifts of lemon and manuka honey throat lozenges.

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  2. Excellent post, ladies. As Rita said we are able to get a sense of your experience. I expect a smaller conference has some tremendous advantages over a bigger one especially when it still carries the same cache as RW and then yes, Mr James Scott Bell running a workshop.

    Can't wait to see the fruit that is borne out of your experiences.

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    1. It's a big commitment for the speakers to do three conferences in a row - it must be a huge chunk out of their writing time - but we were and are grateful, because it was an excellent learning experience.

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  3. As well as a learning experience, it sounds like you had a ball. Thanks for sharing it with us.

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    1. Thanks, Dale. We had a great time all right - ate too much, talked too much, and didn't get enough sleep.

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    2. Oh yes, definitely didn't get enough sleep - but the adrenaline held us through to the end!

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  4. You're right about a smaller conference having its advantages, Ian. It meant I was able to pull up a chair beside sue Brockhoff, head of publishing for Harlequin Australia, and ask what her thoughts were on the role of inspirational romance here in Australia. (We'd found out the night before that inspirational books are the third topsellers in the US). Sue didn't have an immediate answer and asked for my email address so she could let me know when she did. Nice!

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    1. And it was great you were able to come over, Andrea!

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  5. Great post, ladies! It's wonderful to hear more about the NZ conference and I'm glad you all had a fabulous time together. Iola, thanks for sharing the Love Inspired and Heartsong book cover slide. Thanks also to Flo for putting the slide back up so you could all take a photo :)

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    1. It was a real buzz to see it. There were a lot of published authors there, but they were mostly published through Harlequin lines I don't read.

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    2. In general I found that writers and the publishers are so personable, even the ones who are obviously real introverts. They'll always take time to offer help and this conference demonstrated that to me. Maybe I've had a really good run, but I feel blessed to be in this industry!

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  6. Fantastic to read all your conference highlights, girls. Like you, I had a good number of 'God moments' in San Antonio RWA conference.

    Never despise that empty chair. You never know who God had appointed to claim it. :)

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  7. Thanks for sharing the experience with us. A trip to NZ would be worth it!

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    1. Yes - but I'm also looking forward to my Australian conference experience in October!

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