Romance Writers of America 2015 Conference Wrap-Up

The best part of going to a conference with 90% female attendees. Oddly enough, lines were always shorter at the converted restrooms. Do I smell a patriarchal conspiracy?

The best part of going to a conference with 90% female attendees. Oddly enough, lines were always shorter at the converted restrooms. Do I smell a patriarchal conspiracy?

So I got back the other day from the Romance Writers of America Conference in New York. To be honest, I felt a little trepidation about going. Romance is not my primary genre (although all my works have romantic subplots in them, and I am considering writing something more romance-centric). Furthermore, going to the conference meant I had to miss going to the beach with my boyfriend and his family, which was great fun last year, so I was kind of bummed about that. To be honest, the main reason I decided to go to this—as opposed to another writing conference—was because Nalini Singh, who is one of my favorite authors, was going to be a keynote speaker.

I’m so glad I went.

I already live Tweeted many of the workshops, so I think, for this blog post, I’m going to keep to the highlights, for me.

I got to meet Carolyn Crane! I became “online friends” with Carolyn years ago after I interviewed her for CC2Konline.com. But I was a fan of Carolyn’s long before I was her friend. I had read the first two books in her Disillusionist urban fantasy trilogy, and I was so blown away by them that I sucked up my courage, wrote her an e-mail, and said, “Can I pretty please interview you please?”

Carolyn Crane

Anyway, after I stopped tripping all over myself, we actually became pretty good virtual friends, and she’s been incredibly supportive of my writing career. We got to spend several hours talking about writing, books, the romance community, and our cats. It was so cool spending time with someone I’m not only a huge fan of, but someone whose career I’ve come to admire and respect. I love that Carolyn has managed to jump seamlessly into a new genre. Her latest book, the RITA-nominated romantic suspense novel Behind the Mask, is awesome. Romantic suspense isn’t a genre that I read often, but I love that Carolyn can make her books both sexy and action-packed, and that her heroines are just as intelligent and badass as her heroes. No damsels in distress here! This book is a perfect example of that.

At the signing on Wednesday night, I got to meet Jeaniene Frost, who was nice enough to take a picture with her phone and Tweet it to me because mine had died. I also got signed books from Kristen Callihan, whose Darkest London steampunk books are completely amazing, and Thea Harrison, whose Elder Races novels made me fall in love with a dragon. Literally. I didn’t think it was possible to lust after a reptile, but it is.

And to top it all off, I got an autographed book from Nalini Singh at the signing! And a picture! She was so nice and gracious, and asked me about my own writing. I’m afraid I pretty much fangirl vomited all over her.

Me: OMG OMG OMFG I LOVE YOU YOU'RE SO AMAZING SQUEEEE!!! NALINI SINGH: Who is this crazy woman? Please get her away from me.

Me: OMG OMG OMFG I LOVE YOU YOU’RE SO AMAZING SQUEEEE!!!
NALINI SINGH: Who is this crazy woman? Please get her away from me.

That was all amazing. But here’s the main thing I took away from this conference.

This was the first conference where I’ve spent more time at the career- and marketing-oriented workshops than the craft- and getting published-oriented workshops. The authors who spoke were successful in their genres—not runaway successes necessarily, but steady, hardworking authors who had been writing and publishing for a long time, weathering the changes in the publishing world, and still making a living at it.

And after hearing them speak, I thought: I can do this.

This is the first time I’ve felt like success in the publishing world isn’t some magical, alchemical formula, or random luck. Yes, there probably is an element of luck associated with J.K. Rowling or Stephenie Meyer-type success. But for other authors, it’s just a lot of hard work, flexibility, and devotion to your craft.

Here are some of the main points I took away.

*The publishing world, for better or worse, is changing very quickly right now. Be flexible, be willing to try different things, and be prepared to misstep sometimes. When all else fails, come back to the writing. That’s why you’re in this business in the first place.

Also, authors and publishers give away a crazy amount of free stuff at RWA. This was just the bag I got when I checked in!

Also, authors and publishers give away a crazy amount of free stuff at RWA. This was just the bag I got when I checked in!

*Figure out where your priorities are, where and how to best spend your time. You can’t do everything. Once you have some success as a writer, consider hiring someone to assist you on things like marketing and publicity. Your main focus should be on the writing.

*One thing you should not hire someone else to do is fan interaction. Fans in 2015 expect a genuine connection with the authors they love.

*As far as social media goes…some of the authors/bloggers there liked Facebook, some liked Twitter, some liked Instagram, and some liked Pinterest (which I still have no idea what to do with). Use what works for you, and leave the rest alone. Set aside time to spend on publicity/fan interaction on social media, because it tends to be a giant time suck.

*Put together a newsletter, but don’t abuse it. Make sure your subscribers know when they’re going to get a newsletter (e.g. once a month, only when a new book is released, etc.)

*For slower writers (i.e. me), you can use your website to promote other authors and books you like, or post excerpts or blurbs from upcoming books. That way, you don’t fade out of readers’ memories.

*Find good critique partners! (This is a big one. I’m still working on it.)

*Writing is a very solitary profession. Build a community of people who can cheer you on, stay positive, help you, and give advice.

Overall, it was a great conference, and a very warm and welcoming atmosphere. Next year’s conference will be in San Diego. I’m already planning to be there.

Best of 2014: Forged by Desire by Bec McMaster

My fifth pick for my best books of 2014 list is Forged by Desire by Bec McMaster.

The blurb:

A FEAR SHE CAN’T ESCAPE Ten years ago, Perry fled her thrall contract to find sanctuary among the Nighthawks. In that time, she’s become a respected woman of the Guard, and she’s wanted Garrett Reed for as long as she can remember. But when a new case takes a chillingly familiar turn, Perry finds herself once again in the path of a madman…only this time, there’s nowhere left to run.

A DESIRE THAT CAN’T BE TEMPERED Out of their depth and racing against time, Perry and Garrett must learn to trust the desire sparking between them…or risk losing themselves forever to the darkness stalking London’s streets.

I discovered McMaster’s London Steampunk series earlier this year. I was instantly captivated, and I read all the books in just a few days. McMaster’s taken familiar elements—vampires, steampunk—and mixed them up in a way that’s completely new and unique. In McMaster’s London, men of the nobility infect themselves with the “craving virus”—the disease that causes vampirism. In small doses, though, the craving virus causes increased strength, enhanced healing capabilities, and longer life. It can be controlled—until it can’t anymore and the infected turn into mindless vampires.

McMaster’s London is obviously a fantasy world, but I love the way she incorporates the classism and sexism that were so pervasive in real-life Victorian London into the fantasy.

This is the fourth book in the series, and it follows Perry, a Nighthawk (a law enforcement group for the infected) with a dark past. She’s been in love with her partner, Garrett, for years now, and Garrett has remained pretty much…oblivious.

Perry is a woman living in a man’s world; though she can and will wear a dress when the occasion arises, she prefers her fighting leathers. After an illicit kiss, Perry has been putting distance between herself and Garrett, fearing his rejection.

Garrett, who has recently been promoted to leadership of the Nighthawks, has been dropped into a role that doesn’t fit comfortably, and he misses his best friend. At the same time, he can’t stop himself from focusing on his newly discovered attraction to her. (This was, in fact, my one minor complaint with the book: they’d been partners for years, but it wasn’t until he saw her in a dress that he realized he was attracted to her? Oy.)

This will appeal to fans of Kristen Callihan’s Darkest London series. (Evernight, the fifth book in that series, was also featured in my “best of 2014” list.) It will also appeal to people who like their steampunk with a heavy dose of romance. Each book has a stand-alone storyline, however, there’s a heavy amount of world building in the first book, Kiss of Steel, so you might be a little bit lost if you jump in mid-series.

Best of 2014: Evernight by Kristen Callihan

evernight

My next pick for my top 10 books of 2014 is Evernight by Kristen Callihan.

The blurb:

Once the night comes . . .

Will Thorne is living a nightmare, his sanity slowly being drained away by a force he can’t control. His talents have made him the perfect assassin for hire. But as he loses his grip on reality, there is no calming him-until he finds his next target: the mysterious Holly Evernight.

Love must cast aside the shadows

Holly cannot fathom who would put a contract on her life, yet the moment she touches Will, the connection between them is elemental, undeniable-and she’s the only one who can tame his bouts of madness. But other assassins are coming for Holly. Will must transform from killer to protector and find the man who wants Holly dead . . . or his only chance for redemption will be lost.

I love Kristen Callihan’s Darkest London series. Callihan combines a richly developed world with compelling characters and romances. Steampunk is becoming more and more popular now, but when the series debuted in 2012 it was one of the first I’d read. I loved the juxtaposition of historical, technological, and magical. Callihan thinks outside the box when it comes to the paranormal. Each of her paranormal beings feels new and fresh, even the ones we see commonly in paranormal fantasy (vampires, werewolves). Rather than follow established rules and mythologies, Callihan throws them all away and creates her own.

But the main reason I read these books—and where Callihan really shines—is with romance building. For me, the most thrilling part of a romantic novel isn’t the sex, but the sexual tension: when you can feel the desire between the characters building and evolving.

Nowhere are Callihan’s talents on better display than in Evernight. The book follows the relationship between Will, a Sanguis demon (a vampire who feeds on human emotions through blood and other body fluids) and Holly, a human with the ability to control metal. Because of (circumstances I will not disclose because they spoil the previous book), Will is turning into metal—and Holly, with her unique powers, is the only one who can control his pain and madness. He literally cannot stay away from her. Swoon! (I say this with the full acknowledgement that, if my boyfriend could not stay away from me, I would go crazy and likely defenestrate him within a week. Maybe less. But my own hypocrisy aside, it’s really sexy in book form.)

Each book in the series has a stand-alone storyline and focuses on a different couple, so you can pick up at any point in the series without significant problem. However, you’ll be missing out on a big chunk of worldbuilding—which is one of the main appeals of the series—if you don’t start at the beginning, so consider picking up Firelight first and moving through the series in chronological order. You won’t regret it.