As I mentioned last week, my RWA chapter, Chicago-North hosted its bi-annual conference this past weekend. Chicago Spring Fling 2012 was a huge success. The conference ran from Friday through Saturday night. I didn’t attend any workshops early on Friday because I was on transportation duty and had to pick up an editor from the airport, but from what I heard people started early and the information was great.
Our headliners were Simone Elkeles, Susan Elizabeth Phillips (both C-N members), and Dianna Love. These three women are funny and entertaining and offered great advice.
We had an agent panel and an editor panel and I think one of the most surprising things I heard from both panels is that the vast majority of requests they make at a conference never get sent. Something like only 30% of the people they request pages from send in the pages. Personally, I don’t get that. The book is supposed to be done before you pitch, but I suppose there are people who pitch without a completed manuscript, so that would account for some. But really? Why wouldn’t you send? If they asked, they are obviously interested.
Friday night I moderated Hot Night, which is something we do at a chapter meeting at least once a year. We are a critique chapter and at every meeting, we are critiquing someone’s manuscript, usually the first 20 or so pages. Hot Night is different in that anyone who wants to read brings a love scene (sweet, sensual, or spicy) of about 5 pages to share. Then we offer critique. A chaptermate, Melonie Johnson, and I moderated the sensual Hot Night group and it was a ton of fun. The session was supposed to last an hour and we went for more than an hour and a half. We had a great time and quite a few people came up to us afterwards or even on Saturday to talk about how much they got out of the session even if they hadn’t read.
Simone Elkeles did a great workshop where she shared all kinds of personal information. She laid it all out there: the advances she got for her books, the promotion efforts she tried that worked and those that didn’t, print runs, you name it. She said that it pissed her off when she was a newbie and wanted information and no one would give specifics, so she decided she would.
Susan Elizabeth Phillips did a workshop on using character to drive plot and I’m so glad I attended. The more I hear her speak, the better I feel about my own process. Our writing styles and methods are similar and although I do try other things, it always comes back to be being a pantser and writing until I figure out my characters. Some of the exercises she had us do got me thinking about my WIP (on which I’ve been a little stalled) and I now have new ideas about how to fix it.
Blythe Gifford offered a workshop on how to write it without being there. Blythe writes historical romance, which is not my genre. I’ve never been a fan of historicals, but I’ve always said that there are a few people who can lure me in with their beautiful words and stories. Blythe is one of those people. In addition to sharing how she does her research for her books so that they can be as historically accurate as possible, she talked about the role of setting, which isn’t something I’ve given a whole lot of thought to. My books are set in Chicago and especially for the first one, Chicago plays a role. I couldn’t turn it into a small town romance because it wouldn’t suit the story or the characters, but I never thought about how the setting influences my characters and shapes who they are.
I also attended Kensington’s spotlight, and although my editor wasn’t there, I met with another editor, Martin Biro. After the spotlight I had a bunch of people stop me to talk about my experiences with Kensington. People were very interested in the new digital first division that will be launching soon.
There were so many more workshops and panels I went to, I can’t even wrap my head around it now and it’s been a couple of days. The one thing I’ve learned to love about conferences, besides meeting people I only know online, is the energy and buzz you get from being around people who understand.
As writers we spend a bunch of time by ourselves listening to voices in our heads. Our friends and families for the most part, don’t get it. They see all the hard work for little or no pay and question why we do it. At a conference, everyone gets it. They understand why and they understand the struggles and they can commiserate. And you come away from it dying to get back into your own writing.
I would highly recommend finding a conference that is affordable for you and go. I had a migraine for 2 days before the conference and then I was away from my kids for 2 days. By Sunday, I was woefully behind in everything in my life, but the time I spent with other writers was well worth it.