Monday, 14 July 2014

Ten new things I learned at the RNA 2014 Conference

I've returned from the Romantic Novelists Association annual conference, held this year at Harper Adams University in Shropshire, with severe jet lag. And I didn't even fly there. But romance is another country, and exposure to new cultures is stimulating and confusing in equal measure. It will take weeks to digest the rich diet of people, information, and Harper Adams farm-grown food, but here are my first ten observations;
  1. The number of men attending the conference (as writers) increased by a hundred per cent over last year, from approx three to approx six. Is there a mutual support group for men writing romance? Maybe the time to form one is now? Get in touch if you thinks so too. Anyway, thanks to the RNA and its female members for making a minority feel so welcome.
  2. Unlike the students, the cows, sheep and pigs do not go home for their holidays. The exotic perfumes worn to the fantastic gala dinner on Saturday night were mixed with the pungent aromas of the barn and silage tank. Thanks are due to the livestock, sadly now passed away, who contributed such excellent roast beef, bacon and sausages to the three good meals a day. The veggie food looked good too.
  3. It's always hot and sunny at the RNA conference. I base this on only two visits, but I am assured this is the case. 
  4. The Aussies have a great attitude. I knew this already from arguing cricket with Erica Hayes on Twitter, but Nikki Logan, President of the Romance Writers of Australia convinced us that the glass is well over half full when it comes to writing and selling great fiction, and was not in the slightest apologetic about a genre which some people feel does not get it's fair respect. Let people think what they want and focus on selling books, said Nikki. Did you think Chemistry was boring? If you want to understand what's going on in readers' brains, it's absolutely bloody fascinating. Sorry if you weren't there, but luckily you can buy her book on the Chemistry of Reading. 
  5. 'Writing is easy.' This quote from Jean Fullerton made at the start of her presentation on not losing the plot was said with irony. Jean illustrated (with rainbows) what a complex pattern a good novel should be. If that one hour could be distilled and sipped over the months it usually takes to write a novel, we would all be best-selling authors and no-one would bother to watch TV again because every evening would be spent reading.
  6. There will be more agents, publishers and industry types at the conference next year, when it is held in a London university conference centre and not in a farmyard. That is not to disparage Harper Adams University, which is a beautiful venue and has an outdoor swimming pool. Cool. Good old Harper Adams bequeathed his dosh to set it up in 1892, and its graduates have a ninety-six per cent employment rate. Lisa Eveleigh, the one agent who did venture north out of the smoke, was generous with her time and insights. 
  7. Kindle Direct Publishing are not the enemy. They can't be, because we drank all their wine, every drop. Self-publishing and ebooks are not a second class carriage on the publication express. This was explored in (at least) two fantastic sessions, the first by Dr Alison Baverstock (with Hazel Gaynor, she of The Girl Who Came Home fame) which was based on Alison's own research into the motivations and demographic of self-publishers; and the second by Ian Skillicorn of Corazon Books, who made it sound easy. The self-publishing, that is, not the self-selling. 
  8. Having said that, a good freelance editor and a striking, professional-looking cover are not options to be dispensed with lightly, however limited the budget available. It could be a good time to be a freelance editor like Eleanor Leese .
  9. Liz Harris was intelligent and engaging even at nine o'clock on Sunday morning when most people were reaching for the paracetamol. Her session entitled 'If only I'd known - The Path to Publication' came with a chocolate, laughter, and generous sharing of her experience of the year before first publication when she was also trying to research and write the second book in the deal. After the honeymoon excitement of publication, the relationship of the writer with their writing gets tougher.
  10. Writers are mostly introverts who are now forced onto the social media - Facebook, Twitter, Blogger - in order to (gulp) build a fan base and publicise their work. The new democracy in publishing means that thousands of titles appear every week. Visibility and sales are harder than ever to achieve. It's a good job the actual writing is so rewarding. Many more great talks and conversations happened at the conference, but I've run out of numbers.

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