This year’s Romance Writers of America national conference was my first. It was held in lovely San Antonio, Texas, and it was a blast. We did editor/agent pitching appointments where we stood in lines telling each other how nervous we were before we sat down at little tables across from the editors and agents we wanted to sell our books to in the publishing version of speed dating. We also went to workshop after workshop on how to improve our craft and networked with other writers at all levels from those who had only written a chapter or two all the way up to New York Times best sellers. Now that I’ve been back home a week and gotten my first week of my new day job out of the way, I feel compelled to share some lessons I learned from the conference. Except lessons about pitching. Those are getting their own post! Let’s just have some fun with it, shall we?
- Your first book isn’t going to be perfect. After going through all of those awesome workshops, I realized that there were lots of places in my book where I could improve. I think probably a lot of us, if not all of us, have that little fantasy in the back of our minds somewhere that our first manuscript will come out needing minimal changes and that we’ll be some kind of prodigy. Well, guess what. It ain’t you. It wasn’t me either! Or the millions of other authors who came before us. And that’s okay! One of the most glorious things about this craft is where it can take you. If you started out perfect, where the hell would you go? Nowhere. You’d completely miss out on the awesome rush that is seeing your writing grow and improve, and you’d miss those beautiful moments of inspiration when someone teaches you a technique that transforms your book into something even more awesome than what you initially thought it could be. This is part of hanging on to your joy!
- Other writers are incredible. At some point recently, someone referred to my fellow romance authors as “the competition” jokingly. I know it was just good humor, and I took it as such. But it made me think. We aren’t competitors, not at all. Just because you’re a fan of Johanna Lindsey, does it mean you’re only going to read her books and not, say, Judith McNaught’s? Of course not. The conference taught me that when we band together, we’re far more powerful than when we huddle in our caves writing in our own separate vacuums. It’s good to have other eyes on your work. Lots of them. And it’s also good to get out and network. I talked to so many other writers who were fascinating and had the most awesome ideas. This not only helped spark my own creativity, it was like a support group. There’s something so powerful about being around other people who are experiencing the same highs and lows you are when writing and attempting to publish books.
- Chances are you can do much more than you think. I believe that there’s a core in all of us, a core of strength. We draw on it when we write, when we juggle our writing with the rest of what life throws at us, and, most importantly, when we put our work in front of other people. That’s not easy. It requires a lot of courage and sometimes a fairly thick skin. Going to the conference wasn’t easy either. I was nervous and more than a little afraid. Aside from pitching (which terrified me!), I was afraid of taking those steps to get out there and network and advance my writing career. Sitting down and writing a book seemed relatively easy. Going to a conference to actually begin taking concrete steps to try to sell and publish it and meet all these people made my brain want to shut down. I made myself go. I knew I would regret it if I didn’t. I’m so glad that I did. I had a blast and learned so much that I’m putting to good use. This was probably the most valuable lesson of all. When things get scariest, that’s when it’s time to really push. Maybe you’ll regret that move forward, maybe not. But you’ll definitely regret standing still.
I hope this has been insightful to anyone stopping by regardless of whether you were able to attend nationals. If you were there, what was your experience like? I’d love to know in the comments.