The retreat consisted of two editor and agent panels. There was lots of talk about e-books and how they’ll affect the publishing industry in the long-term. There was not a consensus. In fact, there was the opposite of a consensus. But here are some panelists’ comments on the topic, as scribbled in my notebook:
- E-book royalty rates will evolve
- Book piracy seems less prevalent than music piracy
- E-publishing is working especially well for short fiction (novellas and short stories)
- Authors should strive to be successful in all the streams of media
- Authors should make e-books part of a combined strategy (i.e., publish a novella at a low price before making backlist available electronically)
- When publishing with an electronic-only press, it’s especially important for authors to have a solid online presence
- E-books won’t replace print any more than TV replaced movies
- But format does matter
- Authors should be careful of how they price e-books and avoid undervaluing their work
- There are 700k self published authors on Amazon; only a handful sell more than a few thousand copies
Agent Donald Maas, on successful novelists:
- They have something to say
- They write stories that grab readers by the gut or the heart
- They come from an authentic and genuine place and give a unique perspective
On the role editor/author partnership (from various panelists):
- The editor is the author’s advocate
- The editor wants to set the author up for success—that means matching the offer/deal with what’s going to happen in reality
- The goal is to get an accumulation of titles on the shelf, each story better than the last
The Opening Session
The featured speakers were Steve Berry, Diana Gabaldon, and Tess Gerritsen. I'll be honest, I haven’t read any of their books. After hearing them speak, I can’t wait to read their books. The session was riveting and my note-taking sketchy. (I’d like to get the conference recordings and listen to the whole thing again.) Here are a few highlights:
Steve Berry wrote for 12 years and received 85 rejections before he sold his first book.
- He compared promoting a book to running for president and recommends writing thank you notes.
- When asked about the impact of e-books, he said that publishing is just getting bigger, and this is nothing new: the earliest writing was on stone, then clay, papyrus, and paper . . . and the next medium is ones and zeros (e-books).
- The weirdest mail he ever received was from a woman asking him, “Do you sweat when you write?”
Diana Gabaldon’s bestselling novel, Outlander, was her “practice novel.”
- She classifies characters as onions (3-dimensional characters with lots of layers to peel away), mushrooms (characters that pop up as needed and then walk out) and hard nuts (historical characters who are tough to crack).
- She has 3 rules for writers: (1) read--so you can know what you like and what you don’t; (2) write; and (3) don’t stop.
Tess Gerritsen, who's also a physician, likes to throw a mystery at herself (often taken from the headlines) and see what develops.
- She says that readers want to know secrets.
- She comes up with an intriguing scenario and lets organic things happen.
Here are a few of my favorites.
What Would Joss Whedon Do? Using TV Tricks to Write Snappy, Funny Dialogue -- presented by Molly Harper. I loved this workshop. Lots of great examples and tips for writing fun dialogue. Rather than recount them all here, I’ll refer you to the wonderful slide show that Molly Harper generously made available on her website.
Uniting Plot Structure and Character Arc – presented by Michael Hauge. I admit it--I’m a fangirl, particularly of his DVD, The Hero’s 2 Journeys. I like to watch it every time I start a new story. It’s like referring to a recipe before you start throwing random ingredients into the pot.
- A great story requires the heroine to make two journeys.
- The outer journey is her pursuit of a visible goal. It’s a journey of accomplishment and it defines the plot.
- The heroine’s inner journey is a journey of transformation, where she goes from living in fear (her identity) to living courageously (her essence).
- Hauge also has a six stage plot structure. Good stuff.
The Historical Romance Market: Advice from the Pros – presented by Victoria Alexander, Stephanie Laurens, and Lauren McKenna. I never miss a chance to hear Victoria Alexander or Stephanie Laurens speak. They are such talented, warm, and generous authors. They fielded questions from the audience--here’s a sampling of their wit and wisdom.
- When asked about trends in the historical market, Victoria A. said “Victorian Vampires have a lot of potential. Not for me, cause I like a man who can go out during the day.”
- Things that piss her off: “Extensive internet charges at hotels and stories without end.”
- Stephanie Laurens said the Regency period is so popular because it resonates with the modern audience. It was a time in history (as now) when men and women could marry for love, marry for obligation, or choose not to marry.
- She said the average age of marriage in Regency England was 24.
- "Gnomes and trolls aren't sexy."
- Her advice on creating good conflict: "What pleases the heroine should piss the hero off. And vice versa."
Writing the English-Set Historical – presented by Jo Beverley (in a lovely English accent). Jo Beverley is another generous and talented author. Her presentation was geared toward helping North American writers avoid mistakes with English history, language, and culture. Much of the information is available on her website, along with other excellent resources. She advises writers to somehow explain dark-haired dukes, as the aristocratic gene pool is neither swarthy nor dark. And they don’t have much chest hair either.
I thought this chart was fun and helpful too--American terms translated into proper English:
- Britches = breeches
- Vest = waistcoat
- Sidewalk = pavement
- Block = street
- Fall = autumn
- English muffin= crumpet
- Gotten=not used (avoid!)
Just typing these notes has made me nostalgic for Nationals in New York City. Sure, there was the rat on the sidewalk that scampered a little too close to my toes. And that guy on the train who tried to walk off with my suitcase.
But mostly, it was writing friends, informative workshops, passionate late-night discussions (fueled by wine), and endless inspiration.
Three-hundred sixty-seven days till Anaheim. Hope to see you there!