Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Chicago North RWA Spring Fling Conference

On April 27-28 I attended the Chicago North chapter of Romance Writers of America's Spring Fling conference. Now, if you'd told me a couple years ago I'd end up at a romance writer's conference, I wouldn't have believed it.

This is what I thought all romance novels looked like:

Ok, I know they're not all like this. But what I didn't realize until more recently is that most books I read have what we call "romantic elements." Something else may be primary plot-wise, for example sci-fi with "romantic elements" can still be considered on the fringes of the romance category. RWA is incredibly inclusive!

Since RWA as a whole is widely recognized, and the conference was local, I signed up with hopes of learning more on the craft of writing. RWA Spring Fling did not disappoint! I was so impressed by the level of organization -- I encountered no hiccups whatsoever; it may have been busy behind the scenes, but it appeared seamless to me. The atmosphere was friendly and welcoming, I met tons of great people, both published and pre-published (don't you love that phrasing?). Also impressive: the quality of industry insiders who gave keynote speeches and taught workshops. I heard things at this conference I haven't heard elsewhere. True, I am newer to writing, but I do lots of research on blogs, agent websites and have read at least a few craft books on writing. After this conference, I feel like labeling myself a beginning writer is no longer true. I have an arsenal of resources including local chapters I can join for extended networking and critiques. Now what awaits me is the tough work of finishing my book.

If you're interested in a more specifics of what I found helpful, including my Top Three Take Away Pieces of Advice, please read on! Here also is a link to the event website.

The keynote speakers were Dianna Love, Susan Elizabeth Phillips and Simone Elkeles. A year or so ago I made a comment on an online forum that I wasn't really sold on romance books (see above picture). Numerous people said, "Then you haven't read Susan Elizabeth Phillips." So I picked up a few of her books expecting to be disappointed (I really am a tough sell!) and I really enjoyed them. Her characters are complex and hilarious. Hearing SEP (as fans call her) talk about growing plot from characters made so much sense after having read her work. Her characters are layered, flawed and real, so even if they're up against a conventional romantic plot, the story veers all sorts of unexpected directions because of the characters themselves. This is a great nuance for writers -- make your characters interesting and believable and we readers will GO THERE with you on the journey.

Simone Elkeles is a YA writer famous for her Perfect Chemistry series. She is unabashedly honest, passionate and dedicated. Also super funny. She spoke so highly of RWA (it's her chapter that hosted the event) I pretty much decided I needed to join up. She gave a lot of insider  information based on her own journety to publication in her workshop, but the great nugget she shared is that the stock photo for Perfect Chemistry is also used in an STD ad!

As for agents, Scott Eagan spoke on dissecting a novel to the point you study a publishing house's line well enough to know if your writing suits it. This goes beyond subject matter: the style of writing, how the story unfolds, how the dialogue is laid out. Although I've picked apart novels by authors I love, I've never thought far enough ahead to a whole publisher's line. Caveat: this may be more of interest to romance writers interested in category romance, but still, knowing the industry is always an advantage. Find the agent & publisher you want to write for and study their clients' work. You may find you don't write to fit their needs, which saves you some grief in the long run.

Take Away #1: Know the industry.

Shockingly, Scott also said that only roughly 30% of writers who pitch an idea at a conference follow through with submitting requested pages. What?! The reason being, many writers pitching their work aren't actually done with the book.

Yowza. So Take Away #2: FINISH THE BOOK.

Sara Megibow -- an agent I'd love to work with if I had my dreams work out -- said something particuarly inspring about The Slushpile (i.e. when you query an agent cold, your email is one of thousands piling in the inbox). Her agency received 39,000 queries last year. Let that sink in. 39k separate book ideas pitched to one agency. She said that 50% of those are queries that her agency/agent addressed to does not represent at all. Then, another fairly large percentage she said are poorly written with basic grammar mistakes that are so acute it's clear this person does not have a sellable book. So, it narrows down the legit queries to about 1,000. She said you (specifically the "you" who attends a writing craft workshop and/or connected to an organization like RWA or SCBWI) are not competing with the 39,000. You are competing with the 1,000.

Take Away #3: FOLLOW DIRECTIONS. In addition, of course, to writing the best book you can.

So, I just may join up with RWA after I check out a local chapter. I just recently joined SCBWI, the Society of Children's Book Writer's and Illusatrators, and I look forward to attending some of their local events. How about you? Have you found any workshops or conferences particularly helpful?


  1. Very glad it was a worthwhile experience!

  2. So glad you enjoyed Spring Fling! Good luck with your manuscript and please, feel free to attend a CN chapter meeting. You can sit in on two before we handcuff you and drag you into membership ;-)


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