ECWC 2018

I got home a couple hours ago from this year’s Emerald City Writers Conference run by the Greater Seattle chapter of the Romance Writers of America. This year’s theme was that hot topic, diversity, which meant there were some interesting speakers. It was, like conferences are, intense.

It started Friday morning with Damon Suede’s master class on using verbs to create powerful characters. Damon’s a really great speaker and very entertaining, but he’s also very sharp, observant, and quick. (I took classes from him at the RT boot camp back in 2017). His master class focused on the idea that the traditional approach of character building by making a list of characteristics (name, height, eye color, religion, etc.) is not the right way to create vibrant and memorable characters. Since actions speak louder than words, focusing on actions (i.e. verbs) instead of other boring words to convey character attributes from the beginning leads you to deeper characterization throughout. There was a lot more to it—if you ever get a chance to do a master class or workshop with him, do it.

There were a couple of sessions Friday afternoon, but I have to guiltily admit that I skipped them because I got the results from the second of two beta reads on my most recent YA book back Thursday night and I was desperate to get started revising it. So that’s what I did Friday afternoon. I went to all four available sessions on Saturday, including one on product description (mostly back cover copy), one on neurodiversity (focusing on autism, AD(H)D, Tourette’s, and learning disabilities), one on human trafficking, and a panel on “seasoned” romance (i.e., anything with heroines/heroes over 35 (eye roll)). Sunday morning I went to a session about story structure.

All the keynotes (Damon Suede, Beverly Jenkins, and Elizabeth Hunter) praised romance as an important genre and also talked about the importance of reading and writing in the world, but especially in a country that’s as divided as ours is now. Damon talked about books that really have changed history, like Uncle Tom’s Cabin, as did Beverly. He said to “write books that create the world you want to live in.” He also talked about praising and bragging about other people’s books and how that usually comes back to help you in the end, and how we have to challenge ourselves to improve as writers. He riled up the room when he told us he was once asked by an interviewer how he felt about making people want what they can’t have—and he responded that that wasn’t what he was doing—he was teaching them to ask for what they deserve. Beverly told a hilarious story about an editor who told her that “on the down low” was incorrect grammar since she clearly meant “on the lower shelf” (which she did not). She pointed out that that was reason 657 that we need more diversity in publishing. She also talked about the dismissive media, with phrases like “bodice ripper,” “nasty books,” and the question, “Do you actually do all the stuff you write?” (always say yes because that’s what they’ll assume whatever you say). Beverly also talked about being a good community member—“Karma’s only a bitch if you are.” The last keynote was Elizabeth’s. She was new to me but I’m excited to read her book (they always give everyone one) because she seems interesting. She grew up white and middle-class but when she started writing wrote a very diverse cast of characters, which got her some attention and a fan base. She pointed out that “White middle class American girls haven’t been around long enough to make much impact in the immortal world” (that’s probably not a perfect quote), which is funny and very true. She also talked about the importance of empathy in writing and gave some steps to take if you want to improve diversity in romance. Overall, they were good talks.

Saturday morning, I also had the weirdest pitching experience of my life. Mine was the first pitch session of the conference, at 8:30. I went in, introduced myself to the editor and we shook hands, then I started my pitch for my first YA book, which is pretty short (the pitch). She asked a bit more about the book, then what inspired me to write it, and some comp titles. We talked a little more and everything seemed fine. She asked what else I worked on and I mentioned that I did both romance and YA but was focusing on YA while working on the MFA. I wasn’t sure if she was interested or not, but she definitely didn’t seem disengaged. Then they gave the two-minute warning and we kept talking. I was wondering if she was going to ask for pages or what, but I thought maybe she was still trying to decide while we continued to talk. Then they called time and the editor said, “Whoop,” and looked at me without expression. Like, oops, we ran out of time, nothing we can do about that. I awkwardly stood up and left. I mean, obviously she didn’t want it, but why didn’t she say so? Was she afraid? Did I look dangerous or something? Normally they tell you they’re not interested with actual words. Later, I met someone else who’d pitched to her and had a clearer negative response, but it also lacked good closure.

Anyway, that was my weekend. Back to the real world tomorrow.

ECWC 2017

I spent this weekend at the Emerald City Writers Conference in Bellevue, WA. It’s run by the Greater Seattle chapter of the Romance Writers of America every October. This is the third time I’ve gone and the second time I’ve gone as a chapter member. It’s a good conference, with lots of people taking over the Westin for three days.

There were three keynote speakers: Darynda Jones, Sarah MacLean, and Rebecca Zanetti. To my shame, because I’m still new to the genre and not extremely well-read in it yet, I didn’t know them. But they all impressed me and I’m looking forward to reading their books.

Darynda’s talk focused on aspects of being a writer—the challenges and demands and the need to constantly improve craft. She reminded us that even if we aren’t published, we’re still writers—it’s not a hobby. She also reminded us that it takes work, since “You can’t plow a field simply by turning it over in your mind.”

Sarah’s talk was mostly about how romance has a reputation for being silly and how stupid, insulting, and misguided that is. People dismiss the genre for many reasons, but often it’s because of the sex—but as she pointed out, sex is all about power. And in romance novels, women actually have power for once because they get to call some of the shots and enjoy themselves. Yay, feminism.

Rebecca reminded us that the work we do can be important, something that came up in the earlier talks, as well. We actually do impact people’s lives. We might not be the doctor giving the treatment, but we could be the author of the book someone using to comfort herself as she goes through that treatment. Helping people escape matters. She also pointed out that the best way to have success as a writer is to write the best book, which sells your next book.

All in all, the keynotes were inspiring but all the speakers felt relatable despite their levels of success. That’s one of the nice things about this conference—it makes everything seem attainable.

Besides the keynotes, I went to several good sessions. And then, I signed up for two pitch sessions and pitched my YA (written under a different name) to one agent and one editor because I’m still trying to get that one going. The agent liked it and asked for a large partial (up through the inciting incident, which is a little deeper into the book than some because there’s a faux inciting incident earlier on). The editor ended up asking for a full, but there was an awkward moment since I had misunderstood and they really only publish romance (there is a significant romance in the book, but I wouldn’t classify the novel as one). However, the definition’s a little flexible in YA and she liked my pitch so she decided to look at it anyway.

I tried to get a get a third pitch session with an editor at Penguin Random House to pitch my first romance. The manuscript was with my developmental editor for a second pass (though I got my feedback in my email during today’s keynote). I’m going to make necessary changes and send it to my line editor and then enter it in the RWA Golden Heart Contest, which is due in January. So, it’s close to being ready to send out. Consequently, I figured it’s time to start considering pitching it, even though I’ve been going back and forth about whether to go with self-publishing or try traditional. I worry about the expectations on authors in traditional publishing in terms of productivity (I’ve heard on multiple occasions that they expect you to generate 2 books a year or risk becoming irrelevant). But traditional publishers do at least some of the marketing and distribution work (even though authors are still on the hook for much of it), and that sounds good to me.

Anyway, I wasn’t able to get the extra pitch session. But then the very editor I’d wanted to talk to came into my last session of the day Saturday and sat next to me. We ended up chatting a bit during a break and I mentioned my reservations regarding productivity expectations. She was surprised and said that she’d heard that from someone else at the conference but that it wasn’t really true. In the end, I managed to tell her I’d hoped to pitch to her and she nicely asked what I write, so I actually did get to pitch to a third person. And she asked me to send the first 5-6 chapters once it’s ready to go. So that was pretty cool.