Blythe’s Daily RWA Journal
July 19, 2002
Jen and I arrived a little early because she was told by several sources that Friday was the day to hit the goody room. Wrong, wrong, wrong! Practically everything good (meaning books) was gone. Note to anyone going to RWA in New York next year: Go to the goody room right away, on day 1.
There were workshops in the morning, but I eschewed them in favor of the publisher sponsored book-signings. I was armed with my AAR Bookbags so I could get signatures from authors I’d missed at the literacy signings, and was thrilled to meet briefly with Lisa Kleypas (who is even more gorgeous in person than she is on her book covers) Barbara Samuel, and Susan Elizabeth Phillips. Of the book signings I attended, Avon’s was the best. They rotated authors frequently, and the lines never seemed to be too long. While I was there I also got a signed copy of Princess in Love from Patricia/Meg Cabot for my daughter Scarlett, who beamed from ear to ear when she saw that the author had actually signed the book to her. Meg Cabot is also one of the authors writing for Avon’s new YA line. I spoke to some of the Avon publicity people while I was there, and told them that we would be interested in reviewing them (we’ve never received copies before). Several of our reviewers, including me, read YA romances as teens, and with books by authors like Cabot, Lorraine Heath, and former AAR reviewer Kathryn Smith, the line looks pretty promising.
Most of the people standing in line at the publisher book signings were the RWA members who are trying to get published, many of whom were at the conference hoping to impress an editor or agent. There is a definite distinction between those already published and those who are trying to get there. Published authors (or PAN members) have their own workshops, and wear very visible pink ribbons proclaiming their PAN status. Many of them have several ribbons with titles like “Contest Judge” or “RITA Finalist.” One RWA Chapter from Los Angeles capitalized on this division by selling similarly styled ribbons proclaiming the wearer to be an “Unpublished Nobody.” I thought they were very clever, and apparently many unpublished authors agreed; I saw them everywhere. Also seen: buttons reading, “I have a synopsis and I’m not afraid to pitch it!”
After lunch there were more publisher signings and workshops. I attended one entitled Spotlight on the Regency Market, which frankly depressed me. I was expecting something along the lines of the Silhouette Desire workshop I’d attended the day before, with authors and editors revealing what they what was “hot” in the Regency market. Instead, it was more of a brainstorming session for ways to save the traditional Regency Romance from becoming extinct. Everything from free giveaways (many are being pulped anyway) to soliciting book club orders from retirement and convalescent homes was suggested. Representatives from Zebra and Signet were both there, as well as former Signet author Mary Balogh. I left wondering what I could do, and I’m merely a fan. My first thought was that they needed to think beyond the retirement home and try to appeal to younger readers. I started reading Regencies when I was 23; surely there are others like me. One interesting tidbit from this workshop: Zebra editor Kate Duffy said that Zebra could not continue to publish Regencies without the book club. OTOH, Hilary Ross from Signet said that because of the structure and size of their company (NAL), a book club would make them lose money. The bottom line is that Regencies are an endangered species. When an editor utters a phrase like, “I’m desperate for ideas,” I get worried.
While I was attending the Regency workshop, Jen was waiting in line so we could have front row seats at Brockmann’s Tall Dark and Believable workshop (Thanks, Jen). It was all about creating a character, and in Brockmann’s case, the emphasis was definitely on the hero. When someone in the audience asked about heroines, Brockmann confirmed what many readers have said on AAR boards have said – the heroine is a little less important to her. The book is built around the hero and his flaws, and Brockmann finds a heroine that will challenge him and test his limits. When one reader asked if the hero and heroine could both have serious baggage, Brockmann said that scenario often turned into what she called an “Orphan off.” (“I’m an orphan!” “I’m and orphan too!” “I lost my parents when I was twelve!” “I lost mine when I was one!”) I had to laugh at that; I think we’ve all read books where the hero and heroine were both so tortured that group hospitalization seemed the only option. Brockmann’s main hero advice: “Make the hero a man who can’t help doing the right thing, but doesn’t want to do the right thing.” Han Solo from Star Wars and George Bailey from It’s a Wonderful Life were two examples.
Next I attended a workshop on Dialogue given by Julia Quinn. This was probably the most “nuts and bolts” workshop I attended. Quinn went over what worked and what didn’t, how to make a punchline funny (make the reader pause before you deliver it), and how to make dialogue tags work for you. Jen was with me here too, and early on we noticed a pattern to the questions asked by aspiring writers. Quinn would give an example of a technique she used occasionally. Someone would ask, “I’ve hear you should never do that.” Quinn would say, “No, it’s okay if you use it sparingly.” This went on throughout the workshop. The main point: As long as you can tell who is speaking, there aren’t many “nevers.” As a mere reviewer, I found it quite interesting; I don’t know that I always give a whole lot of thought to why certain writers’ dialogue doesn’t work for me. Now I’ll think more about why some dialogue is effective and some falls flat.
We ended the evening with another cocktail party, and this time talked to an author (whose first name was Carol but whose last name I didn’t catch) whose first single title contemporary will be released by Pocket next spring. It’s set in Italy, one of those unusual settings all AAR readers seem to be clamoring for and most publishers say no one wants to read. I’m always thrilled to hear that an author (and publisher) are willing to take a chance on something a little different. I talked to Carol’s agent for awhile too, and I couldn’t help asking if she had found anyone at this conference whose work really excited her. The answer – she never knew until she got home. Only a small percentage of those asked to submit a manuscript even follow through, and some aspiring authors may have a great pitch but a less than stellar book.
I went home to my family (they are starting to forget what I look like) and prepared for my Saturday morning round table discussion (I shared the podium with writerspace.com’s webmistress). Stay tuned for more on that – and a report on the RITA awards from Jen – tomorrow.
— Blythe Barnhill