If you didn’t make it to RWA this year and want to know how it went or want to plan for next year I have below observations from one of my clients, Marian Vere, who attended the conference in New York early last month. You can find her blog here.
Marian writes women’s fiction and has currently completed her first novel, Once Upon A Second Chance, a contemporary retelling of Jane Austen’s Persuasion. She lives in Chicago with her husband and two daughters.
You do not have to have written anything to attend the conference. - Now yes, that should have been obvious, as many people come to learn, however I didn’t realize how many beginners there would be. I mean beginner beginners. People who didn’t know what Point of View was, people who didn’t know what a Query Letter was, people who didn’t know what the term ‘genre’ means, and so on. Made me feel a little better about myself.
Most people who write YA shouldn’t be. - YA is more than just making your characters a certain age, it is about voice. You have to have that very specific young adult voice to be successful in the genre, and most writers don’t have it. A panel of 4 agents and 2 editors all agreed that 9 out of 10 YA queries/submissions they receive are from writers who should not be writing YA. They may be excellent writers, but they don’t have the voice. They also said that many of those stories could very easily be changed from YA to Adult Fiction with only a few minor changes, so really examine your work to make sure it’s the best fit for you.
You can’t change your voice. - Voice is a very complicated idea and a very simple idea at the same time. Here is the best way I can describe it: Imagine sitting in a room with 49 other people. A man walks in, stands in front of the group, says “Hello”, then walks out. If you were all then asked to write a sentence describing what you just saw, the outcome would be 50 different sentences even though you all saw the same thing. That’s your voice. It is how you talk–how you use the English language. The words you choose and the order you put them in. You acquired your voice when you learned to speak as a toddler, and you can not change it. That’s not to say you can’t give each character you create a voice and personality all their own, because you can–should even–but the way you write will not change. It also has nothing to do with craft. You can always make yourself a better writer with practice and training, but learning about grammar and punctuation and formatting, and drafting, and research, and everything else you can learn about the craft of writing will not change your voice. That is why some people can write historical fiction and others can’t. That is why many people can’t write YA and others can write nothing but that. Some voices lend themselves to multiple genres, others don’t. That is why it is important to find your voice and let it direct you–as in write what your write best–not necessarily what you want to write or wish you could write. Me for instance, I love Regency romance and would love to be able to write Regencies, but it will never happen. I don’t have the voice for that, and it’s not something you can fake. You can spot a face voice in a heartbeat. Make sense?
Authors don’t change their website photos. - Apparently this is a dirty little industry secret, but I didn’t know about it, so I’ll share. Apparently, authors pick a head shot or two that they like, and stick with them… like forever. I was lucky enough to meet several authors who’s work I am familiar with–and more to the point, who’s websites I am familiar with. Now, I’m not going to mention anyone by name, but let’s just say… I didn’t see what I expected. Some were older, some *ahem* larger, and so on. One I had thought would be in her 40′s and she was 83! Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with all this. If that want to keep up older pictures, so be it and more power to them, I just had no idea how common it was.
There is no such thing as the ‘maybe pile’. - A lot for us like to think that when it takes a long time to hear back from an agent, that means we have been put into that agent’s ‘maybe’ pile, as in , they are considering asking for more material. Sorry to say, there is no such thing–at least for most agents. Most agents know whether they want more from you from about the third line in a query. They do this for a living, they don’t have to think about it. The only thinking they may do is at the last stage when they are deciding to represent you or not, but even then, it’s not something they have to think about long. If you haven’t heard back, it’s because they just haven’t read your query yet, or they are a no response agent. By no means is this to say that all agents work this way, but the six on the panel said that they all do and all the agent’s they they know do as well.
Well, that’s all the major stuff, but there were of course a ton a little things along the way too, like authors can be published by more than one house, and that most publishers these days actually prefer to sign multiple book deals, and what a Victorian woman looked like without her clothes on.(Yes, there was an entire seminar about the undergarments of a Victorian woman. It was a hoot!)
All in all, even with the drama I had in arriving and the move before and after, I can say it was a great time, and I will definitely be going back. Next year is in Anaheim and the husband is already planning his Disneyland trip. Oyi.