Thursday, July 15, 2010

Conference Musing - An Overview of The RNA Conference 2010


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.

20 comments:

Talli Roland said...

Great overview, Liz. I like your take on Joanna's talk.

Anne Booth said...

I could only attend Friday, so I am very grateful to you for the overview and the summary of Joanna Trollope's talk. I feel very encouraged. Thank you.

Anne Booth

Vanessa O'Loughlin said...

Hi Liz,
A brilliant summary of the main points of the conference that will be a revelation for many writers who could not attend. Illuminating for me too! Superb!

Anne Whitfield - author said...

Enjoyable post, Liz. Thanks.

Phillipa said...

Liz. Thank you so much for your overview for one who coulnd't be at the conference. In ref to the JT comments about disguising romance or calling it by another name... what about the USA? They don't seem to be wringing their hands over there about writing and reading romance.... or in Malaysia and Singapore.

Chris Stovell said...

Thanks for posting an overview of the whole conference. It was very useful to read what the general thoughts are about (shhh!)romantic novels. Good luck with that book of your heart.

liz fenwick said...

Thanks Tali - it hit home with me.

Anne - I'm pleased you do. i will try and put up more of what she said from my notes soon.

Vanessa - I don't think brilliant is quite the right word but thanks :-)

Thanks Anne

Phillipa - this is very true but of course I didn't go the session on the US markets and that may well have given a very different view.

Thanks Chris

lx

R F Long said...

Super post, Liz. A great round up.

Jane Holland said...

You definitely touch on the main points I also took away from the conference, Liz. That we need to look at rebranding romance as an association of novelists who write it if we want to be taken seriously and not treated, as JT suggested, like five year old girls. And that cover looks and marketing are as much part of that as anything writers can control - which isn't much, as it stands. Unless we happen to be as well-known as JT, perhaps.

As a new editor in romance, thinking right now about how to brand Embrace Books, this talk of 'faux romance' - I missed the Mira presentation, will you be covering it in a future blog post? - and of romance that doesn't look or smell too much like the traditional object, is of enormous interest to me.

Strange times.

Jx

liz fenwick said...

Thanks RF

Jane - it's interesting that you took away some of the shame things. I will write up and share the notes from MIRA talk and hope some one will do the same for the session on the US market - see Phillipa's point above - yes, I think you as editor and we as writers have a challenge on our hands. As as yet-to-be-published writer I feel the conference gave me much to think about a=as in where my writing fits or doesn't fit. I sat through JT talk and wondered how I would feel if someone slapped a pink cover on A Cornish House which is a dark book but does have happy ending - would it sell more copies? Many but would it deceive the reader - absolutely.

I think for me the biggest surprise came when I found my voice and it was dark but still romantic...now I need to think of how to package it...

lx

Lesley Cookman said...

I'm very surprised that nobody commented over the weekend on the fact that we oldies remember several attempts in the past to re-brand the RNA for the very reasons brought up by the speakers. Hang on - where can I put a comma in that sentence?

Women's fiction is as near as anyone got, still used in some bookshops, as distinct from "Romance". But we, and the industry, haven't succumbed.

Mind you, I'm a crime writer.

Susie Vereker said...

Yes, thanks for this, Liz, and all your work on the RNA blog. Glad you are safely home.

liz fenwick said...

Lesley - it's a tough one and I'm not sure the Womens' Fiction Association has quite the same ring :-)

Thanks Susie.

lx

Julie Cohen said...

Thanks for that, it takes me back!

Anonymous said...

Great summary, Liz. Looking forward to the MIRA notes, as I didn't attend their session.

One key thing David Shelley said, was: “Romance is at the epicentre of fiction – it’s never been bigger than it is now.”

Which is heartening!

Jan

liz fenwick said...

Hi Julie - I needed to sum it all up in my head so i didn't lose it...

Jan - That was very heartening...
lx

Lizzie said...

Liz, for those of us who couldn't attend the conference your blog was a great overview – especially Joanna Trollope's talk. Thank you. It sounds like a great weekend, both socially and learning more about writing. The shoes weren't bad either! I will definitelytry to go to next year's conference.

Leigh Russell said...

Sounds wonderful, Liz. Glad to hear you're back safely.

cs harris said...

Interesting, Liz.

Any word on when they think the vampire thing will finally go away?

liz fenwick said...

Lizzie - thanks and I'm glad you have found them useful. The shoes were fab!

Leigh - it was a great conference.

CS - From MIRA talk and the LIttle Brown one I got the impression that vampires are here to stay. There seems to be let up on the paranormal...

lx