Over the last few days, 350 writers headed home either to parts of Melbourne where the conference was held, to other states, other countries and some across the pond to New Zealand to do it all over again there. As someone put it, the recent snowstorms across NZ made Melbourne look like Hawaii.
Judging by posts on Facebook and Twitter, the 20th anniversary conference was a resounding success. When I tweeted that I felt like Juan Antonio at the Olympic closing ceremony, declaring RWA Melbourne 2011 the best romance writing conference ever, conference guest, Bob Mayer, retweeted my message, adding “agree.” I haven’t heard any dissenting voices.
But is the memory of a grand time all we take home? As I posted previously, I don’t think so. Networking was practically nonstop between writers, agents and editors. As a result of casual chats, several people I know came away with requests to submit their work, and that’s before counting those who made appointments to formally pitch their book to a specific person.
During panel discussions, two editors and an agent said they don’t normally accept unsolicited submissions. However, because you were attending the conference you could put that on your envelope and it would bypass the slush pile, the place where authors hopes and dreams go to die. Such an invitation is worth it’s weight in gold.
But wait, there’s more.
The most valuable takeaway from this conference is HOPE. Too many authors are buying into the negativity currently surrounding the book industry. Sure, bookstores are closing, print runs are being reduced in favour of increasing ebook production, and new pricing models are being tested. But guess what? The sky is NOT falling. Every time I heard the word “challenge” it was paired with “opportunity”. Established authors are seeing their earlier books, known as backlist, given new life as ebooks; some are doing it themselves with great success. Publishers brought a shopping list of what they DO want – Random House has seen a doubling of their commercial women’s fiction. There are openings for “an Australian Penny Vincenzi”; time travel, pirates, gay fiction, sweeping commercial novels with romantic elements, books for readers aged 40-plus, and on and on.
NYT bestselling author Bob Mayer urged us to “act rather than react” to these opportunities. “Educate yourself, make courageous choices.” And this great advice from literary agent, Kristin Nelson, “Anytime you stand still in this business, you get run over.”
The overriding takeaway is that writers will still write, and readers still read, only through different channels. As Carina Press Executive Editor Angela James said, “The story is your book, not the format it appears in. Story is what you hold in your hand. It’s time to see past the fear.”
Can you see past the fear to the opportunity? Are you excited yet? I am.