Monday, July 27, 2015

A First-timer's #RWA15 Highlights

by J. Lea López


Broadway, baby!
Last week I attended the Romance Writers of America national conference for the first time. It was held in New York City, which was both amazing and slightly overwhelming for my introverted brain. But aside from the noise and the hustle and bustle of thousands of other people at nearly all times, there were dozens of workshops and speakers to inspire and inform attendees. Now, I will be completely honest with you: I was traveling back home today (yesterday when you read this) and I'm exhausted from the week, and my brain is a bit mushy from all the information swimming around in it. So instead of a critical analysis of the conference, or an in-depth discussion of some of the things I learned, this post will cover some of my highlights from the conference in small tidbits. In no particular order, here are my RWA conference highlights.
  • Kresley Cole's brilliant technique for avoiding the dreaded back story info dump. She uses brackets and symbols (such as [**] or something similar) to mark every time she talks about a character's back story while she's writing. You could use a different symbol for your hero and heroine to track both of them. Then you simply do a search for those brackets/symbols and use the navigation pane in Word to see how well you've spaced out that information throughout the story. I think this is an especially great technique for writers who like visual representations.
  • Sherry Thomas and subtext. I love subtext, which is all the stuff in a story that is implied under the surface, but never explicitly stated. Author Sherry Thomas gave a great presentation on subtext, and one of the great things she said was, "Subtext well done does not call attention to itself." I wasn't familiar with her as an author prior to the conference, and even though most of her romances are historical (which is not my favorite subgenre), the way she spoke about subtext during her presentation, and her humor and fun personality during that presentation and also another panel I attended have me wanting to rush out and pick up one of her books.
  • Jenny Crusie's presentation on turning points and character. This was one of the presentations that I wish every author could attend at some point. The presentation notes and handout are available on her blog (along with those from her Motif and Metaphor presentation that I was unable to attend) so anyone who is curious can at least look at those notes. The general concept of turning points was nothing new to me, but she expanded and explained it in a way I'd never encountered before. I found myself thinking about my WIP a lot during the lecture and how I had already incorporated the technique to some extent, and also how I might be able to further incorporate turning points. A major takeaway from this presentation was the symbiotic relationship of plot and character: characters change because things happen, and things happen because the characters change. While it may seem obvious, it's a complex relationship.
  • Your proofreader is not your copy editor. This presentation was given by Carina Press editor Angela James. I often see conflicting opinions and expectations about what the different levels of editing actually entail. She explained, in depth, the four levels of editing at Carina Press, as well as tips for hiring the right editor if you're looking for a freelancer. But in short, these are the different levels of editing: 
    • Developmental editing - Macro level; all about the story and little about the mechanics of writing
    • Line Editing - Little to do with the story itself and everything to do with the mechanics of writing
    • Copy Editing (or final line edits) - Very detail-oriented look at story, craft, and grammar usage, with some overlap of things covered in developmental and line editing
    • Proofreading - The final, micro-detailed pass; catches any missed errors as well as any that were introduced during previous editing steps
  • Championing the importance of an engaging, well-written story with characters readers love. Throughout many of the workshops I attended, whether they were about the craft of writing or trends in publishing, there was this constant positive message about writing your
    Keynote speaker Barbara Freethy
    story and utilizing techniques in the way that best fits your story. I didn't feel like anyone was encouraging writers to chase cash trends, and the craft sessions weren't about "rules" of writing.
  • Sarah Wendell! There were workshops about diversity in romance, and the topic also came up during a panel discussion about trends in romance publishing. Sarah Wendell, of Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, was on that panel, and she differentiated the need and desire for more diversity in romances from any trend. Trends rise in popularity and then disappear. Diversity, she said, is not a trend, but rather a necessity to accurately reflect our society. I wanted to cheer. And then I had a bit of a fangirl moment when she cheered my question about the market for more beta heroes in romance. So basically we're best friends now. That's how that works, right?
And now, while I said this list was in no particular order, I did actually save the best for last. The biggest highlight of the entire experience was getting to meet (some for the first time) and talk shop with a small group of amazing author friends from across the globe. We chat online and compare notes on writing and business stuff, but getting to do that in person made it even more special. To my friends, authors Julie Farrell (from the UK), Jean Oram (from Canada), Lucy Marsden, Evelyn Adams, Cali MacKay, Mallory Crowe, and Lori Sjoberg: Thank you ladies for helping to make my first RWA conference a lot of fun! Can't wait to do it again sometime.

If you were at the conference, what were some of your highlights?

J. Lea López is an author who strives to make you laugh at, fall in love with, cry over, and lust after the characters she writes. She also provides freelance copyediting focused on romance and erotica as The Mistress With the Red Pen. She welcomes online stalkers as long as they're witty and/or adulatory. Kidding. Maybe. Check for yourself: Twitter, Facebook, Blog.

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