Sunday, July 30, 2017

RWA 2017 recap

 I haven’t been to an RWA conference in three years, so Orlando was a reintroduction. I arrived Wednesday morning after  spending the night at the Hampton Inn in Melbourne, which was far less expensive than spending an extra night in Disney. Actually a night in Bali is probably cheaper than spending a night on a Disney property. I hadn’t planned to leave home until Wed. morning, but when I heard Mark Dawson was giving a workshop at 1 p.m. Wed. and that meant I’d have to leave home at the crack of dawn, well, I don’t do the crack of dawn well without looking like a zombie, so I left Tuesday night.

 Free breakfast at the Hampton Inn. Quiet. Great hairdryer. They even gave me toothpaste, because in my rush to pack two suitcases, a coffee maker, swag, a dozen dresses and outfits I would never end up wearing, AND a bathing suit (swim at RWA? WHAT was I thinking?!!!), I forgot toothpaste.

                Then it was the drive to Orlando, after muttering a few Hail Mary prayers and sacrificing a chicken, because I loathe driving in Orlando. Even though I live in South Florida, I hate Orlando traffic. At least in S. Florida I know how to merge. And dodge and weave. Orlando is just… blockage. I suppose that sounds like something you experience in your colon once in a while, but that’s an apt analogy.

                Anyway, I got to the hotel around 11 and self-parked, after a nice bellman put all my stuff on a luggage cart and whisked it away. I couldn’t get into my room until much later, so met up with Sharon Hartley and Cindy Thomason, two good friends. I stole half of Cindy’s sandwich at the Peekaboo cafeteria, where I guess the peekaboo part was where you see the cashier ring up the price of your first born child.

                We all went to Mark’s workshop, which was crowded. and hot, as in Dante’s Seventh Circle of Hell. No a/c. I took lots of notes. Mark conveyed his marketing wisdom, which included ways to beat the Facebook plan to make us all dole out money to boost posts so our readers and followers can see them. This includes doing FB live, the latest trend. He also talked about FB Messenger, the latest way you can dump all your promo dollars into FB. This is where you actually message your followers on your business/author page. It pops up on your phone. It’s annoying but the same as what ppl complained about email years ago. Those are the two things that I remember from his workshop, without referring to my notes. He’s a promo genius… got us all to sign up for his newsletter through his author page so that throughout the conference, his FB messenger app kept sending me polite reminders, like an annoying aunt who keeps nagging you to come to dinner and see her before she drops dead. Note to self: check out FB messenger for people to annoy so I can pop up on their phone at inopportune times, like during an RWA workshop when I’m trying to take notes on my cell.

                My room was ready so no more workshops for me. Instead, I went upstairs and unpacked all my clothing and fabulous swag, put books and bookmarks in the Goody Room. Tamara Lush, a good friend from TARA, texted me, but I had dinner plans. Went to Mulino New York Trattoria, a very nice Italian restaurant in the Swan hotel (I was in the Dolphin). I met Patience, my editor, and some of the other delightful HRS authors. We talked about food, NY, everything. Beverly Long was there. She was so sweet. I always wanted to meet her but was too shy to tell her. And so was Amelia Autin, who was a RITA finalist. She told us sweet stories about how romantic her hubby was. It was a wonderful dinner, and I had the beef, for which I was glad, because you will find out later.

Then it was back to the Dolphin for the Kiss of Death Awards. I had
finaled in the Daphne for Navy Seal Seduction, my first HRS book. I didn’t win, but it was fun to participate in an awards show for which I actually had finaled!

After that I went to the bar in the Dolphin for a nanosecond, but I was too tired to hang out long, so I headed to bed.

Thursday was a busy workshop day. First I had breakfast with my good friend Renee Ryan, where we caught up, talked about the industry and Renee’s first granddaughter. I still am in total shock that Renee, who looks like a cover model, has a granddaughter. I had a breakfast of nuts and crunchy stuff like bolts and screws (it felt like that when I ate them, and only the good Lord knows what that stuff did to my poor colon). I did a workshop after that and then went to the Golden Heart Awards Lunch with my friend Cindy, but we had to split apart because it was crowded. It was only one of two meals at the conference, and everyone was taking advantage. The chicken was not rubber chicken, actually very good, with risotto, my new favorite side dish.

After, I went to Shirley Jump’s workshop on conflict. I had thought about the Fictional Felonies workshop, but I’m always trying to put more conflict into my books. One good rule of thumb is at a conference, pick the workshops by people who know what they are doing and if there is a conflict with another one you like, get the tapes. I am going to join Mystery Writers, which has wonderful resources, so I skipped the felony workshop.

I went to the bar, where I met Tamara Lush and other binders, including the very excite and sweet Stacy, who just sold to Hallmark movies. Stacy wanted to celebrate, so they found a hallway where it was less crowded, ordered drinks and everyone chatted. Great group of women! They were going to the RITA awards, but I was hungry and then Cindy texted me to ask me what I was doing.

Then Cindy and Sharon and I ordered pizza in their room, since we decided to skip the Rita awards. Instead, we watched them via live stream, which was more relaxing. After, we went to the Avon after party. Cindy and Sharon stayed, but I went back to my room. This conference, I was a party pooper and didn’t stay out very late. Mainly, I really wanted to make all the early appointments and workshops.

Friday, at 8:30 I attended a wonderful and very informative workshop called Cattle Ranching for Dummies by Becke Turner, who actually owned a cow and calf ranch in southern Missouri. It was fascinating. Since Becke’s husband worked in town, she pretty much ran the ranch on her own. It was great information, since I write about cowboys and plan a new series featuring a ranch. Learning how to castrate calves was extremely useful. (Note to self:Share with DH over a romantic dinner tonight. Ha).

One thing RWA featured this year that I took advantage of was the “Expert Hour,” in which you attend mini sessions on various themes. I attended the Productivity hour, and the most useful takeaway was OneNote by Microsoft, in which you can organize your workshop notes. I actually took notes after downloading the app. Hoping to figure this out so I can organize all my writing notes.

I liked it so much I stayed for the next “Expert Hour” on social media. Amy Alessio and Mel Jolly gave a great 20-minute overview of promoting on social media, including ways to get more visibility on FB on your author page, which seems to show up in your reader’s feed about as many times as a comet in the sky. A few tricks? Post quizzes, polls, things to get your readers to interact. Even if you have a PA, have authentic content. You can reuse it, but spread it out over different platforms. Put different content on different platforms each day. They actually use spreadsheets for their content for authors they work for.

Next was the keynote with Susan Wiggs. I met a longtime friend,
Alice Gaines, who writes for Entangled and made USA Today with them (YAY!!!). We sat together and ate beef with purple cauliflower (WTH?). Susan is an inspiring speaker. I was using my cell to post little quotes from her speech.

This conference, I barely used Twitter. In years past, I would tweet things from workshops, but this year, I used Instagram more. I’d take a photo with my cell phone, and post to FB, Instagram and Twitter. It makes it much easier to have all of them linked together. Photos used to post to my author page, but now FB directs the feed to my personal page. Note to self: See if I can fix that.

I didn’t attend the Amazon Indie Meet and Greet. Thought about it. But again, my priority at this conference was different. I honestly didn’t want to meet an Amazon rep who would tell me that KU is the way to promote. I did attend a great workshop on Nook Press instead. It was much smaller, I received good information about all kinds of promotions they are rolling out, including Nook first, in which your books are featured in a sale two weeks prior to other platforms. My goal as an indie author is to look for other ways to promote on other platforms instead of Amazon, which keeps changing their algorithms as many times as Donald Trump tweets.

Friday night is usually the publisher parties. The HQ party started at 8 p.m. and since Cindy’s birthday is next month, we went to dinner. Everything was crowded… except the Italian restaurant at the Swan. So I ate Italian, again. But it was good. Then we went back to Cindy’s room, and Cindy and Sharon and I went downstairs to meet Sharon’s friend and TARA pal Carol Post (who also finaled for the RITA awards) get an Uber.

That was really funny.

Our driver was named Luis. Cindy got the Uber, her second time in ordering one. You can see on the app where Luis is, and where his car is going. And his rating as a driver. Cindy said, “Luis has a 4.4 rating. Uh oh.” We watched Luis and his little dot of a car on Cindy’s cell screen going around and around and then out to the Parkway, which meant he was NOT going to find us, so we hailed a cab.

There was lots of dancing and chocolate and more chocolate and wine and some kind of lemon champagne (uck) at the HQ party. We saw Heather Graham and Dennis (yay!) and Erin McCarthy. We didn’t stay past 10:30. We were tired and the DJ kept playing hip-hop instead of the dance tunes we liked. We shared a cab with the amazing Carla Cassidy, whom I admire very much.

Saturday, I went to the best workshop of the entire conference. It was a PAN workshop on Story Genius by Lisa Cron. Amazing. I sat next to Stacy Kade, whom I hadn’t seen at conference the entire time, so it was nice to see her again. Stacy said something that is very true. What Lisa told us is something we do intuitively as writers, but she actually gave us a process to follow. And that is always helpful when you are writing, or drafting, or rewriting.

My only regret is that I took paper notes and not notes on my alpha smart. Lisa is a huge fan of romance writers.

The workshop was from 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. I did not leave the entire time, but my butt was glued to the chair the entire three hours. Afterward, I got up feeling like I was covered in concrete. But it was worth it. PAN workshops are NOT recorded, so I’m glad I attended Lisa’s workshop. I’ll post highlights later in another blog post.

After, I needed alone time. I went upstairs, changed into shorts and a Tshirt and went with my alpha smart to look for a quiet place to review my workshop notes. But I ran into Tina, Elayne and Janet from my chapter, who were searching for lunch, so I went with them to a burger grille place on the boardwalk. It was crowded, with a 20 minute wait for a table, so we sat at the bar. I had to leave them early to get ready for the booksigning.

I went downstairs to the Pacific ballroom for the signing, which started at 3 p.m. and lasted until 5 pm. What was most fun was seeing Edie and Ody, friends from my RWA chapter. They write as Jane Ederlyn and this was their first signing. They were so excited that I got tears in my eyes. Their passion and excitement reminded me of those incredible first moments when you get published.

The signing was crowded. Amazing. I sat between Rachel Van Dyken, who is amazingly popular. She has fans who wear T-shirts with her “club” of readers. Watching Rachel was educational. She interacted with everyone. Insisted on taking photos with them, and she was genuinely affectionate and happy to greet each one. I’ve seen this before in booksignings with other authors. It’s challenging for authors who are naturally introverted, but if you remember that we’re all readers, and lovers of romance, it helps to overcome your shyness. I also sat next to Victoria Vane, who lives in S. Carolina and writes hot cowboys for Sourcebooks, and historicals as well. She’s a hoot and so sweet. She had a pink lasso, which I envied. Never thought I’d have lasso envy. (note to self: purchase pink lasso at Boot Barn to rope and tie up DH. Yee Haw)

I met some wonderful readers who loved my books (including Tina, pictured here), which is always so sweet to hear! As an author, you sit behind a keyboard, hoping that your books will resonate with readers, and it’s always wonderful to hear it straight from a reader how much they enjoyed your work. Some readers enjoy my Werewolves of Montana series, some because they feature curvy girls. Others like the HQ books. I also met Chanpreet Singh, a huge fan of my Egyptian historicals. She brought all of them for me to sign. Because they were not allowed to take in outside books, I met her outside in the hallway after and signed them for her. She loves those books because they were so different. I loved writing them as well, and it was so much fun to meet and talk with her.

After the signing, I went with Edie and Odie, their friends and Gennita Low to dinner. And guess where we went?

Right. The Italian restaurant. Ha. It was good I had the beef on Thursday night, because I was slowly making my way through the pasta dishes the other nights! I ordered the spaghetti carbonara, which was excellent, and Gennita entertained us with stories about her squirrel, which she goes running with on a leash and makes her neighbors scratch their heads because the squirrel runs on the grass so it looks like she has a leash with nothing on it, as you can’t see the squirrel.

And then we watched the fireworks at Epcot. I said my good-byes because my back and feet were aching, and gave hugs and retired for the night. Now it’s time to head home to hubs and the doggies. I had a wonderful conference, positive and energetic, and the best part of all was seeing all the fans and readers at the booksigning. Not necessarily MY fans, but all the readers. Because I have worried about this industry and talk at the conference about ALL the changes in publishing make you wonder where everything is headed.

Recently someone told me, “No one reads books anymore.” That kind of blanket statement is troubling, but when I saw all the readers at RWA, hundreds and hundreds of them, who were so excited to see their favorite authors, my heart is glad. Maybe “no one” reads books anymore, but damn, thousands of REAL PEOPLE do read, and love books and romance, and that is what it is all about. In the end, all the workshops, notes, learning and techniques and promotion all boils down to one thing – the readers. the readers are why we write. The readers are the ones who escape into the worlds we create for a rich, deeply emotional and satisfying experience. The readers are the ones who matter most – and for them, I give them a huge THANK YOU. Romance readers rock!

And so does Italian food. Seriously!

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Here at RWA2017 in Orlando

I'm here! I made it to Orlando for #RWA17, the annual Romance of America writers conference. Imagine thousands of women, and men, mingling together in the drenching Florida heat in Mouseland, all here to discuss books, writing, drinking coffee in the morning and then wine at night. And then discuss more books!

I arrived yesterday and had lunch with two of my fav. peeps - Cindy Thomason and Sharon Hartley. We attended Mark Dawson's promotional workshop, where Mark proceeded to inform us of all his delish marketing tips, while the AC in the room was turned off so it made the salon into a giant humidor. V. good workshop.

Last night was dinner with my Harlequin editor and other romantic suspense authors, which was a lot of fun. I had the most delicious steak with mushroom sauce. Then it was off to the Daphne awards, where I had finaled with Navy Seal Seduction, my first Harlequin Romantic Suspense book. I didn't win, but had a great time and consumed some delicious chocolate!

Today it's breakfast with another friend, workshops, meeting with my editor, and I'm looking forward to meeting some of the Binder women later at a bar. And the Golden Heart luncheon and the RITA awards. And books. LOTS more books!

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

RWA is coming up!

I'm in denial that July is here. We barely returned from S. Dakota, where I was researching my next Harlequin book, and now RWA is in two weeks. I'll be there, signing my Harlequin books to raise money for literacy. And I will also be giving away copies of Seduction, the first book in my Mating Mini series of werewolves and dragons. 

If you've never been to RWA, it can be quite overwhelming. Imagine thousands of people all gathered together and that is the conference. It's one reason I always try to get a room at the conference hotel instead of the overflow. 

Here's a few tips for surviving RWA and being more comfortable:

1. Bring a lightweight sweater. Although Orlando is, as a friend put it, "the seventh circle of hell in summer," the hotel will be icy cold with the a/c.

2. Carry a small container of eyedrops to wet your contact lenses. Hotel air is quite dry.

3. Many publishers have book signings where they give out FREE books. If you are flying, you can ship them home. Don't wait until Saturday night or Sunday! It gets crowded. Bring a rolling backpack or suitcase for the publisher signings and the literacy book signing. 

4. Dress is usually business casual, except for nights like the RITA awards. Wear comfy shoes...all that walking will wear out your feet!

5. When you first register you will get a tote with a lot of stuff. Bring this up to your room so you don't have to lug around all the material. But use the tote - it  comes in handy to stash books, handouts, cards.

6. Be sure to download and utilize the RWA app for a check on your schedule!