RWAus19 Roundup: What I learnt from some best-selling authors

What a joy it was to attend the recent Romance Writers of Australia 2019 conference in Melbourne, RWAus19, and learn from bestselling authors Natasha Lester, Nalini Singh, Anne Gracie, Amy Andrews and more!

Image courtesy Jaime Lopes

Just as inspiring was the chance to connect with Indie authors, cleverly forging their own futures and fan bases with the help of Kobo Writing Life, IngramSpark, Draft2Digital and the Australian Society of Authors.

We were among some 300 fellow writers, mostly women, juggling professional careers and family care, while promoting their books and author platforms.

I heard that last year 1.3 million new books were published worldwide, a million of which were self published. Anyone know if this is true?

Uplifting endings

Romance writers enjoy writing stories with uplifting endings, and plenty of people love to read them.

How’s this for a statistic?

Globally, one Mills and Boon novel is sold every two seconds, offering hope and an escape from the hardships of everyday life.

Perils of pitching

The conference gave us the chance to pitch our latest manuscripts to traditional and newer publishers such as Harlequin, Allen and Unwin, Random House, Penguin Random House and Boroughs Publishing and to meet local and international agents such as Jacinta Di Mase Management and Marisa Corvisiero of Corvisiero Agency.

“Pitching”? Excruciating. 

Take a writer, most at home accessing memories and emotions to bring characters and their conflicts to life on the page. Now put these shy, reflective dreamers in front of the people who can make or break their careers, and give them just five minutes in a pressure cooker.

We must reduce our 70,000-word creations to just 150 words, memorise them, then sell ourselves and our stories to these patient experts who were also judging our marketability. Did we look professional enough? Would we be able to help market ourselves and our books if they invest in us?

It’s nerve wracking to say the least! If the conference were a novel, the pitches would provide plenty of motivation and conflict, an underlying electric current, jolting us out of any comfort zones.

“Have you pitched yet?” “Good luck.” “How did it go?” “Did they ask you to submit?”

I bought special clothes for my pitching session, only to discover it was freezing in that part of the venue. Shame about the overcoat!

Fresh ideas

I came out of the conference with so many ideas for improving my writing and getting my books out into the world I can’t act on them all fast enough.

What we learnt from Natasha Lester

More of a pantser than a plotter, Natasha Lester says she writes a strong main story before embarking on detailed research, lest she lose herself in archives, and she estimates she spends just 10 per cent of her time on her first draft.

Natasha, author of A Kiss for Mr Fitzgerald, The Paris Seamstress and recently released The French Photographer, had the grace to tell us she was in our shoes just four years ago, attending her first RWAus conference in 2015. 

She advised us to weave “motivation”, “stakes” and “emotional response” throughout our books to make our stores “sparkle”.

“Take yourself seriously,” she said. “Learn as much as you can.”

What we learnt from Nalini Singh

To say Nalini Singh is prolific is an understatement. She’s written multiple series and is full of ideas and helpful tips.  

When readers love our characters, our worlds and our writing, they don’t necessarily want to let them go, she says. 

So, once we’ve gone to the trouble of creating a fresh world, fictional family, sporting team or setting, why not write more books with the same or related characters and worlds! 

Perhaps I will.

What we learnt from Anne Gracie, historical romance writer

Author of more than 21 popular novels, Anne Gracie reminded us our readers need to care about our characters.

“Help the reader bond in the first five pages,” she said. “Your character must be unique, real and multidimensional.

“Give them an undeserving misfortune. Show a small moment of everyday courage. Have them show humour in adversity.

“Make them vulnerable, but not pathetic. Make them gutsy, human, fallible and imperfect.

“Know their back stories and secret fears, and put them through hell.”


What we learnt from Amy Andrews

Amy Andrews, billed as USA Today bestselling author of 24 novels so far, brought down the house with her frank closing keynote address.

“Help each other out,” she said. “It’s up and down. You have to have guts and ego to push through.”

She advised us to avoid comparison.

“It’s natural to feel envious, but it can be paralysing, so don’t give it oxygen. It’s death to creativity. Use is as a pathway to inspiration, not a benchmark to failure.

“Keep writing every day, even if it’s just one word,” she told us. “One word leads to another.”

Excuse me. I must get back to my latest story…

Thank you

A thousand thanks to the many RWAus volunteers who made the conference possible, to all the other attendees, every aspiring, emerging and accomplished writer who chatted and shared ideas and contacts with me during the breaks. 

Thanks also to my cheer squad, my critique partners and friends and family who show an interest in my writing and share such valuable feedback along the way.

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