I’m back home after a packed last week of workshops, publisher parties, author meetings and seeing friends at Romance Writers of America’s 31st annual conference held this year at the Marriott Marquis Hotel in New York City. My daughter, Lisa, attended with me. It was her first national conference whereas I’ve been to almost too many to count over the past several decades. You’d think I would have heard it all before but I continue to learn and grow with each and every conference.

Check In Begins

Luckily, I was able to attend a mini-conference on Tuesday afternoon, sponsored by the Women’s Fiction chapter of RWA. It began with a 2 hour workshop with Hollywood story consultant and author Michael Hauge. Using selected clips from My Best Friend’s Wedding, he demonstrated how to create memorable three-dimensional characters. Very informative and I took notes like crazy. Since I’d arrived on an early morning flight, I’d had no sleep the night before and this workshop was just what I needed to keep me awake. (Okay, along with a nudge or two from Lisa!)

Women’s Fiction in the Marketplace with agents Andrea Cirillo, Kristin Nelson, Meg Ruley and Ballantine executive editor Shauna Summers discussed today’s shifting marketplace. The afternoon wrapped up with authors discussing Surviving the Ups and Downs of Women’s Fiction: From Veteran to Newbie. Then it was on to the Literacy Autographing.

Unbelievable Literacy Autographing

Heather GrahamPicked up my conference registration package and immediately put on my name badge which was needed to get into all the events. The “Readers for Life” Literacy autographing was held Tuesday from 5:30 – 7:30 p.m. and open to the public. About four hundred authors were autographing books for sale or brought by readers. This year the line extended from the 6th floor down the escalators to the main level and out the door, wrapping around the block! It was incredible!  For the first time, I was thankful to wear my badge as it seemed to help get me in ahead of the many patient readers who waited for hours. Kudos to those authors who elected to remain well after the designated closing time to accommodate those readers.

Heather Graham, Mary Burton and Cathy Maxwell were among the group of signing authors and it was so good to see them there.

Beginning Wednesday there were three days of workshops featuring approximately 10 tracks each hour geared from a newbie to published author. In addition there were frequent Spotlights featuring various publishers. Also, there were special workshops just for published authors and not taped. Then, of course, there were the Publisher Book Signings where authors signed FREE books! Again, unbelievable! Lines started forming well before the signing time and I saw many people stagger out with boxes filled with autographed books. There are shipping facilities at the hotel fortunately as getting all the books from the conference home is a very real problem.

Opening Session

New York Times bestselling authors Steve Berry, Diana Gabaldon and Tess Gerritsen entertained and shared their stories about the journey to publication with an enthralled early morning audience. Some highlights were:

  • Tess Gerritsen, whose books the popular TV series Rizzoli and Isles is based on, says, “People want to know secrets.” Her own secret–shared with her agent of 9 years only after she told Tess she’d need to be a doctor in order to sell a medical thriller: Tess is a physician!
  • Steve Berry claims “selling a book is like running for president.” An attorney, he wrote for years before going to work. He completed 5 books and received 85 rejections before he sold a book. He didn’t quit and stayed until the world changed and the demand for his spy thrillers returned. The little nagging voice that said, “Write!” kept him going.
  • Diana Gabaldon‘s Tips for Writers are (1) Read everything you can; (2) Write and (3) Don’t Stop! (Most important.)

The E-book Discussion

There were many workshops either specifically about digital books or–at the least–questions posed to panelists about this subject. Most answers were non-committal in terms of what the future holds. Matthew Shear, SVP Publisher, St. Martin’s Press had the best e-book answer, “The most exciting moment in publishing history.” E-books represent 25% of his company’s sales and his recent signing of famed e-book author Amanda Hocking allows her the opportunity to expand her audience to the other 75% of his market base.

The PAN Digitizing Your Backlist workshop was during the last track on the last day and the absolute best one I attended.  Why?  Because I got the best overview and answers about e-books from the Amazon and B&N professionals as well as authors who have successfully digitized their books and are making money!  So exciting!  As Madeline Hunter, a luncheon keynoter, said in her speech that the e-book option gives a writer a new sense of freedom and removes the fear of not being able to earn income

New Terminology:

Legacy Publisher: traditional publisher
New Adult: emerging market featuring characters ages 18 to 25 years old.
Crossover: features characters ages 25 to 30 years old.

Interesting and Best Promotions:

Trading Cards: Rather than bookmarks, authors are using trading cards with book info on the front and the back featuring a book character–usually a hunky male!

Nook Giveaway: At a PAN workshop Digitizing Your Backlist and More, Liz Scheier, Editorial Director for B&, had a basket of delicious “write it pubit! profit” candy bars passed around to all attendees. One bar contained a token for a free Nook which she had with her and presented to a thrilled winner. Jon Fine from said that was a promotional idea he fully intended to steal!

Best Workshop Comments and Advice:

 “Authors have the potential to interact directly with readers.  Authors who are actively in social media experience significant increases in sales.”  (top literary agent)

 “Reviews on Amazon mean a great deal. Libraries read reviews before they place orders.” (well-known literary agent.)

 “If you believe in your writing, don’t give up.” (author)

 “Voice: don’t try to emulate.  Innovate. Be yourself.  Infuse yourself with your own author voice and personality.  We want originality, not paint by numbers romance. ” (editor)

 “Excerpts on website.  No better selling tool.”  (e-book professional)

 “Covers important.  Your name is your brand.”  (successful author with e-books)

 “Print books (sales) are rising, too, so people are reading more in different ways.”  Jon Fine, Amazon.

 As always, literary agent Maria Carvainis speaks with such wisdom … her words are gold:

 “Have an agent who will tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear.

 Once you’re published, you have not reached heaven.

 Writing is not like turning on a faucet.  Writing doesn’t work that way.

 Horrible (writing) gets you to the good.

 Isolate a writing schedule that’s inviolate.  You need to do it for yourself and your world…”

Suzanne Brockmann & Sally

I networked with authors, editors and agents and enjoyed catching up with them all.  The Random House cocktail party in their executive boardroom was a highlight.  Everyone was so hospitable and welcoming.   I enjoyed talking with Suzanne Brockmann, who is one of my favorite authors and the author of over 50 romance and romantic suspense novels including the popular Troubleshooter series, and learned she just finished filming a movie she wrote herself with her husband and son.

I also made it to a number of conference workshops that interested me and always learned something–or was reminded of something I already knew but hadn’t thought about it awhile.

Will I go to yet another RWA national conference?  You bet!   Bottom line: the trip was worth my time and money in every possible way.

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

3 Responses to RWA 2011 Conference: BRIGHT LIGHTS, BIG STORIES

  1. Mary Ricksen July 8, 2011 at 11:57 am #

    Thanks Sally, it was almost as good as being there! You’re the best!!!

  2. Nancy J. Cohen July 9, 2011 at 7:51 am #

    Thanks for the summary, Sally. Since I couldn’t attend, I was eager to read your remarks. It sounds as though you had a great time and learned a lot!

    • Sally Fairchild July 9, 2011 at 11:34 am #

      Thanks, Nancy! You usually supply me re-caps so especially delighted to return the favor!

Leave a Reply

Powered & Created by TalkInk