On Thursday morning of the Romance Writers of America conference, I attended the PRO Retreat. PRO originally meant an unpublished writer who has completed a manuscript, but these days it includes small press or independently published writers who have not yet met the income requirement to join the Published Author Network. This year’s retreat workshops focused on business rather than craft.
The first session, featuring Dorien Kelly and Courtney Milan, emphasized the idea that the author, who can always say “no,” holds all the power. That still seems like a stretch for those of us who haven’t sold (or published) a book, but it does seem more believable today than a few short years ago. Dorien and Courtney packed their session with information on contracts with both publishers and agents.
The second session (and trust me, I wouldn’t be able to write this up if I hadn’t carried my faithful spiral bound notebook through the conference, making notes during breaks) gave us Esi Sogah, editor with Kensington, and MacKenzie Fraser-Bub, agent with Trident, talking about the value of traditional publishing methods and the changes going on in the distribution of books. In an interesting show of hands, most of the people in the room acknowledged owning an e-reader and downloading books. Far fewer had actually read most of those downloaded books, and only a handful had gone on to buy another book by an author they had downloaded. (Me, too. Of course I also have more unread paper books than I care to admit, and I fully intend to read them all. Someday.)
In the third workshop of the morning, Nancy Berland and Pamela Spengler-Jaffe discussed publicity and social media: Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, blogs, etc. (Throughout the conference, author-as-publicist was much talked about.) There was disagreement over the value of free books, with some authors feeling that free downloads stimulated their sales, while others believe that they only train readers to expect books to be free or very inexpensive.
The keynote luncheon featured good food and an inspiring talk by historical romance author Cathy Maxwell. I walked into the huge. crowded room a bit late and found an open space at a table full of “strangers,” but not for long. I soon discovered I was sitting with a friend of a friend. RWA is a small, and very friendly, world.
After lunch I went to a very crowded workshop on Character Development, given by Susan Elizabeth Phillips (who should have been given a much bigger room). I’ve read several of Susan’s novels, but I’d missed Ain’t She Sweet, which served as an example of how to make your readers care about an unsympathetic (at least as you begin) character. I’ve since acquired a copy. Susan talked about backstory (and how not to dump it all in the first chapter), motivation, and the ever-popular principal of Show, Don’t Tell.
By now my brain was buzzing with undigested information (a common condition during conference, and for weeks after), so I wandered around a bit. I visited the Independent Booksigning, a new addition this year, and picked up a few free books from friends, restraining myself with the thought of carrying them all home (by this time I already had a dozen free books to pack, although there was, as usual, a FedEx desk set up in the lobby for those who piled up so many books they needed to ship them home).
I belong to the Fantasy, Futuristic & Paranormal on-line chapter of RWA, and on Thursday evening I attended the annual FF&P Gathering with all of the 2013 Golden Heart Paranormal Finalists, a delightful evening complete with dinner and a costume contest (the theme was Southern Gothic, but several of the costumes were definitely Victorian Steampunk). By the end of the evening, dancing women (and two or three men), costumed or not, were entertaining the DJ as much as he was entertaining them.
Here are the 2013 Golden Heart Paranormal Finalists (at the Friday afternoon reception on the loft in the middle of the atrium). From left to right: Ella Sheridan, India Powers, Mariah Ankenman, Amy Jones, Dawn Marie Hamilton, Lark Howard, Kay Hudson, and Tara Sheets.