Wednesday, July 22, 2009

What I learned at RWA 09

This is Eve Silver. We kept each other entertained as we sat across from each other at the Literacy Signing at RWA.

Home and hearth with a dash of sensuality are the hot new trend, seems like everyone agrees on this. Those books are selling well. Paranormal is still selling strong, but there’s a glut. YA is very very hot. Steampunk is an up and coming trend for some houses and urban fantasy is still doing well, but some houses don’t know how to market straight UF except with their best-selling authors (think JR Ward). When you don’t have a name like JR Ward, you have to rely on the subject matter of your book to sell you, so shelving is very very important.

Historicals are even, not making a big comeback like they did back in the 70’s, but not declining either.

I found it fascinating that Janet Evanovich is starting a comic book line next year. I know Sherrilyn Kenyon and others are into manga now, and I think what Janet said at her speech resonates with mainstream America. A woman struggling to make her budget during these troubled times will forgo the $7.99 paperback for herself (another reason why Walmart is powerful, they discount so heavily and the volume is enormous) but will scrape together every last time to buy a comic book to get her kid to read.

Another reason why YA is so popular, at least IMHO. If I were a mom, I’d be buying books like crazy for my child because I know how important reading is later on in life.

The recession definitely showed in this RWA conference, with at least two publishers cutting back on their big dinners. Publishers are struggling. On the whole romance sales may be up, but publishing is suffering. Just today I got an email from a bookseller who formerly worked for Waldenbooks who is now working for the bookstore that replaced said Waldenbooks. The store is a remainder store. Bad news for authors… I love used bookstores, and at least with a UBS, the author has sold the book once, so there’s a royalty. Remainder bookstores? Those are the books that publishers discount to get rid of stock or damaged (not stripped, an entirely separate animal) stock. The author doesn’t see a penny.

On the other hand, Harlequin, who is celebrating their 60th anniversary, had the best party! Open bar and each bar featured drinks from different eras. For example, the 70’s bar had Harvey Wallbangers. And those are drinks, not what some readers do to books they loathe.

I wish Harlequin would take its vintage covers and put out a line of products featuring the covers, such as retro clutch purses or even book jackets. I’d buy them.

The bar was the best place to hang to run into friends or just people watch. It got pretty noisy and crowded.

I made a point of telling authors I like how much I enjoy their books. This list includes Sharon Sala and Anne Stuart. It was also great chatting with people like author Eve Silver (who is terrific) Renee Ryan, Virginia Farmer, Lisa Renee Jones (who is so nice), Emily Bryan and many more, and meeting my fellow Nocturne authors. The best thing for me about RWA is reconnecting with people I seldom see. I saw Cheryl Wilson as well, who thanked me for taking a pix of her at lunch with a couple of people. Always great seeing CJ. And Kristin Painter (congratulating her on her new UF sale, woot!) and Lara Santiago, touring the spy museum and having lunch with them.

The first two days were spent mainly touring with my good friend Diane. The White House tour and the tour of the Capitol, and the Smithsonian, will be memories I’ll always cherish. I highly recommend coming early to play tourist. By the end of the conference, I was so wiped out all I could think about was going home.

For readers, I honestly think RWA offers a lot. I mean, for the cost, you get tons of free books signed by the authors (I shipped only one box home because I attended only one signing), get to hang with your friends, and the chance to meet your favorite authors. Or hear terrific speeches by authors you admire, such as Janet Evanovich. I missed Linda Howard’s speech, as I was having lunch with my agent and her assistant, but got to hear part of Eloisa James’ speech.

If I were a reader, I’d go to RWA just for the sheer quantity of the free books you get and the chance to meet authors all in one place. Where else can you catch a glimpse of Eloisa James or Nora Roberts? My last RWA was two years ago, when readers and bloggers were just starting to make a presence. Now I see this as a growing trend, which is pretty cool. After all, romance authors ARE readers, too, and so many of us started out as readers.

I had a grand time hanging with Caridad Pineiro and her friends and chapter members in a suite instead of doing the RITA awards. It was much more relaxing and rewarding for me. We got into an interesting talk on digital publishing. Personally, I’m all for change in the industry. I don’t read many ebooks, only because I’m on a computer all day at the day job (except when I’m traveling to Haiti or Nicaragua) and then all night when I’m on deadline. When I pick up a book to read for a few precious minutes, I want a paperback or hardback in hand. I want to dog-ear the pages, put it on the nightstand. I also want to be able to read in the tub without worrying about dropping my book into the water. A book dries out. A Sony ereader?

I am very curious about the Kindle and would like to get one, but the Orwell incident makes me very uneasy. Very Big Brother of them to go into the Kindle while the wireless feature is on, and take BACK a book readers downloaded. My books are scattered all over my house. It would feel like someone crept into my house and removed the book. Very very creepy. So that whole incident has me thinking twice before plunking down money on a Kindle.

New buzzwords to think about are “the cloud” and “mashables.” Heard of mashables before and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is one book I must buy. I foresee an interesting trend with this that will dovetail nicely with steampunk. Hmmm, makes me think of that scene I wrote in The Tiger and the Tomb where the Victorian ladies are all animated as they discuss Dr. Taylor’s Manipulator and how Ramses, the hero, is much more effective than the Manipulator. Erotic steampunk? The mind reels with possibilities.

I love the Victorian era.

Dinner with Tara Gavin and new Nocturne author Kendra Castle was wonderful, and I’m glad I had the chance to finally meet Tara, who is so excited about the Nocturne line.

I missed Steven Axelrod’s workshop, which I really wanted to attend, but the false fire alarm forced me, I mean forced me, to have lunch instead with Robin Lee Hatcher, Elizabeth Boyle, Kim Lowe and Cathy Maxwell. I wanted to attend his workshop because he makes sense. I believe in online promo, but there is only so much you can do, and only so many hours in the
day, and an auth
or has to pick and choose what works best. Otherwise, you spend precious writing time blogging about stuff that maybe some readers will enjoy, but subtracting time away from writing a better book. You could drive yourself insane with trying to get your name out and that’s all you end up doing.

In the crazy world of publishing, the only control most writers have IS writing the book. Sometimes there is nothing else you can do. Covers, distribution, publisher support, sales, can all be out of your control.

You may never make enough money, certainly not enough to afford this pretty I saw at the National Gem Collection at the Smithsonian, but you can make this a career that can support you.

Sometimes you write the best book you can and it still tanks. That’s the business. It’s a business, and it’s all a numbers game. If I were a new writer, I’d take time to learn about sell-through and reserves against returns and why Walmart can make a huge difference in your career. If you make the Times list, then there’s the expectation to follow that up with another hit on the list. You should pick and choose agents and publishers based on what you want and where you are headed in your career.

Sometimes it’s better to go for a house that will build your name and your career instead one that will give you the most $$$. Same is true for selecting an agent. Truthfully, some agents will sign you on based on the book you pitched to them, and if that book tanks or something happens, you can become the low man on the totem pole. Go with an agent who is excited about your work, who sees your potential and is aligned with what your needs are at the time. Sometimes you can end up switching agents several times over the course of your career. It’s okay… and accepted.

Above all, publishing is a business. You must, must, must, learn to treat it as such. It’s an odd combo, because you’re creating something out of your wild imagination that becomes a commodity. There are no true hard and fast rules, and everything shifts. Much depends on timing and luck . So learn to control what you can. Having a good agent is one of those factors you CAN control.

You hear all kinds of stories about authors who were sailing upward and then crashed, or authors who were virtually unknowns and are now hot commodities. One of the more interesting things at this RWA is hearing about P.C. Cast’s success. She and the RomVets (Cindy Dees, Lindsey McKenna and Merline Lovelace) are doing the Nocturne series of time travels this year (P.C.’s Time Raiders book is out in October, same month as my Immortal Wolf is out).

When they sold that series four years ago!!, Nocturne wasn’t in existence. They sold it based on the strength of two other authors and their popularity. Now P.C. is the author in the lead. The YA books she’s written with her daughter are hot. One knocked Twilight off the number one spot on USA Today. She has a hardback out next year with a staggering print run.

And she just quit her job of 17 years of teaching high school… last November.

Go P.C.

You just never know. Most authors will never reach that kind of pinnacle of success, but hey, this is a fluctuating business. You never know. This is why it’s so important to be in charge of your career and know what’s going on so you can make the right decisions, not have someone else make them for you. And this is why friends are so important, real friends who will cheer you on when for you when you make it, commiserate when you don’t or when you crash, and encourage you in your writing and your career choices.

I’d also learn to be flexible and know about marketing, so that in writing the best book possible, you make sure the sales team knows where to place you in the catalog and on the bookstore shelf. If you write a steampunk home and hearth urban fantasy romance, that has elements of all (using a wild example here) then your editor can pitch your book to the sales team using those elements and the sales team can pick out the most popular one to the book buyers.

I attended four workshops this year, including Jennie Crusie’s turning points and two great workshops on conflict. If I have a chance, (insert more laughter here) I’ll try to type up my notes on the conflict workshops. Crusie said notes from her workshop, which was not taped, will be posted on her blog.

That sums it up for me. RWA National is still one of the best conferences for the money. You get great craft writing workshops, free books, hang out with friends, network with agents and editors and find out what’s happening with the industry. What more could you want?


Anonymous said...

I want to make writing a career. But I'm not stupid either. I know that it's a very slim chance of making it a full time career. So I'm getting a degree in writing, but so that i can go into advertising or try to get a gig in tv writing.

I'm also going to go on to become a priest (I hope), cause well, it's a stable professor until I would retire.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I forgot to mention! Don't forgot that TONIGHT we're doing our POST-RWA Noctune chat from 8-10. I hope to see you, and you're fans there!

Mary Ricksen said...

Steampunk? Man am I behind the times!
Sounds like you had a great time at the conference, and all the free books are worth it alone.
Did you sell a lot of books?

Leiha said...

Bonnie, this is a great blog post! I'm going to share it with my friends because it was so interesting. Harlequins party makes me sad I didn't make it there most of all, I love their parties, LOL.

Of course Gennita danced all night long. I would expect nothing less *G*.

Frances said...

Bonnie, thanks for a wonderful report. I wish that I could have been there.

Flo Moyer said...

Just wanted to say thank you for all this interesting info.

Traci said...

Bonnie, this is incredible information - I am impressed that you could coherently put all of that together!! I would have been scattered all over the board. Thanks for being so positive!!!!

Bonnie Vanak said...

Thanks everyone, glad you found the report useful!