I’m back in Dubai with so many things bubbling in my head – in a good way. The conference this year was amazing – location, speakers, food. The only downside was the accommodation (university digs which it always is but this time the heat and non opening windows were the worst culprit) and none of us go on conference for the food or the accommodation...
This year I wanted to write up my thoughts first as an over view as so many of the sessions seemed to link together – well at least in my head and where I am in my writing journey.(will try and post more session specific notes - I promise)
The industry day was filled with challenging information from the small budget for marketing and PR to a publishers take on romance (it’s big but call it anything but romance) to the agent’s perspective of how important it is to maximize your sales world-wide and that luck is still a key ingredient.
On Saturday’s sessions I heard the same things albeit in a different way – your USP(unique selling point) for the ‘X Factor’ session, ‘fauxromance’ from the MIRA editors, Sarah Duncan in her talk on ‘Mind the Gap’ exhorted us to find pzazz on every page and every paragraph (in other words leave no stone unturned to keep your reader with you for every page to the end), and Kate Hardy encouraged us even if we are not planners to use some to be more effective – even if it’s just time management...
What tied everything together for me was the somewhat controversial talk by, in Katie Fforde’s words our ‘Koh-i-Noor’, Joanna Trollope because for her too ‘romance’ is a problem. To get around it she gave us a history of the word romance and then moved onto to its origins in literature...where we come from as romantic novelists. (Note: she separated herself from us at the end by saying that we wrote about romantic relationships whereas she wrote about relationships – which made me smile because I was then left with the impression that she too had fallen foul of the pink fluffy jackets she complained about and not had not read many of the writers sitting in front of her)
No one over the weekend including the JT denied that romance sells, but the clear message was that everybody even those writing it are afraid of the implications of romance. It has been downgraded by society in general – possibly over loaded by images of superficial sides of romance. JT spoke of the cartoon covers put on books that degraded not only the contents but most importantly the reader. My brain immediately jumped to David Shelley’s comment about how books which as essential romantic novels are been rebranded as inspirational lifestyle books (I heart Paris for example) or vampires (The Twilight series). This then led me to the session with the Mira editors who were talking about their new young adult line and the need to bring these readers to romance but please let’s not call it romance... but cover it with paranormal or whatever works.
Then JT spoke of the snobbery and a fear of emotional display which in effect dismisses a whole genre that has something to say to us all - I wanted to stand up and cheer. I have read romance all my life from Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer (yes it is an adventure story but I loved Becky’s part), Harlequin/Mills & Boon, Georgette Heyer, Jane Austin, Anya Seton....to my favourites of today. They have carried me through my worst days and continue to do so. My life would have been so much less without them. I would dreamed less and aspired to less without these romantic books.
She spoke of how ground breaking Brigid Jones Diary and Sex in The City had been and how in an overcrowded market the consistent cloning had brought romance down and lost the important message in the hearts of woman.
So JT’s talk and the industry have fired me up. I’m not yet facing deadlines, editorial demands, and pink fluffy covers so I have time. At this stage I can still write the book of my heart which is my unique selling point and that can’t be found anywhere else...in JT’s words roughly – offer something that can’t be found anywhere else...the quality of hope...engage with the complexities of the heart...write with your voice...think of your reader(which came from every speaker)...lift the imagination out of the habitual and reboot the soul to the possibility....your readers know that this is fantasy but need to believe in the possibility...
So the conference’s industry day and JT’s bracing talk gave me the courage to continue to write the books of my heart and not chase publication at any cost (ie the latest trend in publishing ie paranormal if that is not me) and through the craft sessions the conference gave me the tools to lift my writing to the level that will make my readers believe in the possibility of the world I have created. I simply could not have asked for more.