Monday, July 31, 2006

What I learned at National

Things I learned at National

Some observations, thoughts and learnings from RWA National. It was worth every cent. Wow! I just saw an Osprey! It’s sitting atop the telephone pole in front of me. I’m outside my B&B room in northern Florida, where I stopped for one day for the pure luxury of taking a whole day to do nothing but write, process and write.

Anyway, what I learned:

1) Publishers buy what sells. Sex is selling now. So are inspirational romantic suspense books. Historicals are making a slow comeback, but it’s still mainly Regency-era English settings. Historicals are still considered pre-20th century, but there is some leeway, depending on the book and time period. Paranormals are selling, but there’s a glut of them on publishers’ desks. You need to write a book that will sparkle and stand out from the crowd.

2) Publishers will drop you if your books have crummy sell-throughs or drop you from the schedule, but readers have power. It IS possible to launch a reader protest and get your publisher to pay attention (as long as you’re still contracted and they have a vested interest). Thus the importance of the mailing list and loyal readers.

3) Go with your gut, in everything. From writing the book, to finding an agent who is right for you, to knowing what to do next. When searching for an agent, find one who is the right fit and is enthusiastic about your work as a whole NOT just one project. The high-powered agent who gets terrific deals for Jane Doe may not work right for you. Ask friends, chapter members, get info. Trust your gut if you get to meet an agent, and read between the lines with rejection letters or requests for submissions. The same is true with publishers. There are different restrictions with different lines and publishers, and those restrictions aren’t outlined in the guidelines.

4) Be savvy about the marketplace. If you write a Civil War book with all your heart and all your passion, it probably won’t sell in a flat historical market. But if you know that sex is selling, then weave in an erotic element to give frosting to the book and an element that will attract an editor’s eye. Your chances are better. Still, if you have the choice between writing a setting/genre that is selling, and that Civil War book, write what’s selling, even if you’re more excited about the Civil War book.

5) Authors have NO control, or very very little, over some key ingredients to their book’s success. The number one frustration? Covers. A bad cover can literally cause an author’s numbers to tank. Most readers choose books by cover, back cover blurb and author recognition. Authors seldom get to choose their covers and this can bite them, severely, in the end.

6) Use decorum at a professional conference like RWA. You never know who’s watching. Dress for business because it IS a business. Use the experience to make friends, network, introduce yourself around. My biggest regret was I wasted a whole morning in pain from a sinus migraine and missed key workshops and people I really wanted to meet. But I realized also that I was in no shape to be “on” and could barely be civil when it felt like a giant railroad spike was being hammered into my head.

7) Don’t waste time envying others’ success. Christina Dodd gave a terrific luncheon speech on how we’re all walking on the sidewalk to success…some are skateboarding and some are strolling and some lie there, crumbled after skateboarding, because they soared too high too fast. No one has it perfect. The RITA winner has faced personal setbacks and private struggles. The woman with the gadzillion book contract from Superstar Publisher can barely function due to a health problem. Christina wrote for 11 years before getting published. Susan Elizabeth Phillips at the RITA awards said she had a severe career slump 15 years ago. Rejections, setbacks, slumps. Everyone has them.

8) Cheer on your friends and those you admire when they achieve success, because it’s the right thing to do and this business can be so damn draining and hard. Be a cheerleader when you can, because tomorrow it may be your turn and there’s no better feeling in the world in publishing than reaching a longtime goal and having your friends cheer for you.

9) Everyone is different. I can’t stress this enough. Don’t pay attention to someone who says there is only ONE way to write, or get published. My roommate, Cindy Thomason, is a terrific Superromance author. She can write them with any element in them. They suit her fine. I have another friend who can’t write category, even if you paid her $1 million (well, she’d really try hard!) Find what works for you, in writing style, genre, and passion. There are authors who can switch from single title to category easily. If you’re one of them, more power to you. But if it doesn’t work for you, don’t force it. Stop wasting time and concentrate on a genre that you like.

10) Write proposals, if you’re published, and keep writing them instead of writing the whole book… except if you’re writing a book you’re very keen on. I’m passionate about the Empath story I’m working on today. I’m passionate about it because it’s my escape from watching my beloved dog slowly die from cancer. But at the same time, I’m writing another Egyptian historical because those are my bread and butter.

11) Make writing your priority if you want this to be a business. Ask yourself if it’s a hobby or a business. If it’s a business for you, treat it like a business. This means sectioning off time not just for writing, but learning about the business. Know what sell-throughs are, joint accounting, the importance of shelf placement, distribution, reserves against returns, and basic contract language. Think very carefully before signing on that line. Don’t’ get locked into something that you’ll regret later, just because it means you’re getting your goals accomplished. Trust your gut.

12) I already mentioned this, but section off time for writing, business and marketing. When you become published, it means you have to market yourself if you want to stay published. Find out what works for your books and keep doing it. Haywood Smith does book talks at Junior League lunches instead of booksignings. Someone else may find doing ads in magazines works well. Test, try it out on your budget and stick with it if it works. Some booksellers hate bookmarks, others love them. I personally like bookmarks and hand them out as business cards, because they have my cover on them. You’ll forget my name, but hopefully not that cover.

I did decide I need to schedule time for writing and business and become more disciplined about it. Because I work FT in a demanding day job, this means finding time in the a.m. and p.m. Go with your natural body rhythm for the most productive use of your time. If you write better into the wee hours of night, do that. Since I’m NOT a morning person, I’m testing out a new schedule that looks like this:
6:00 a.m.- 8 a.m. Get up, handle emails, requests, stuff I need to mail out such as letters, ARC’s, etc. Shower, dress for work.
5:30-7:30 p.m. Home from work, cook dinner, time with Dh and dogs.
7:30 p.m. Work out at gym
8:30- 10:30 p.m. Write
10:30 p.m. Sleep

13) People will envy you when you achieve some success. Just getting a book published means someone, somewhere, will envy you and may try to shoot you down. Ignore them. Don’t get involved in internet flame wars, fights, etc.

14) Every writer has fears, about their success, the other shoe dropping, getting published, staying published. Even someone as amazing and successful as Sherrilyn Kenyon worries about the other shoe dropping.

15) When it all comes down to it, just write the damn book and write at the pace that suits you best and will result in your best book. It’s a journey of self-discovery. Nora Roberts has 7 original books out this year. Teresa Medeiros, whose books I adore, has one. Everyone has a writing pace, style and technique. Find what works right for you, and then just DO IT!

Oh yeah, a footnote... do NOT forget to turn off cell phone while at workshops, speeches. Usuallly I'm very good at this, but it slipped my mind the day I had the headache from hell. The phone rang right in the middle of Christina Dodd's speech. Very embarassing and rude. Yoikes. I hate when that happens.


Anonymous said...

This was very informative and inspiring. Thanks!


Bonnie Vanak said...

You're most welcome, Michelle, glad to help!

Jordan Summers said...

Terrific blog entry. :)

Bonnie Vanak said...

Thanks Jordan! Love your new book cover.

Ciar Cullen said...

This was just what I needed to read today. A number of your points really hit home. Thanks!

Larissa said...

Excellent post! I'm SO bookmarking this! :)

Bonnie Vanak said...

Glad you liked it, Ciar and Larissa. Thanks for stopping by.