This past weekend I had the absolute pleasure to attend the Chicago-North RWA Spring Fling Conference. It was a chardonnay-and-coffee-fueled few days where I attended so many amazing sessions and met a lot of fabulous writers. This was my first RomCon, and I had no idea what to expect, but what I found was a community of smart, warm, and supportive women, both readers and writers, who share the same passions I do. I posted a picture of facebook of myself signing books, and I jokingly wrote as the caption, “home, sweet home.” But it did feel like a bit of a homecoming because for the first time in a long time I felt like I could be completely myself. Before the first session I attended, another writer asked me what I write, and I said, “Oh, you know some Fae paranormal, urban fantasy stuff…and…” I lowered my voice to a faint whisper. “…some erotica.” She touched my arm and smiled at me and said, “It’s okay. You can say erotica here.” You can say a lot of dirty words at the Spring Fling conference. All the dirty words, if you are so inclined.
All the sessions on craft were outstanding, but I also attended a lot of sessions on the business of writing. From these, I walked away with a much broader picture of the strange and dynamic romance market, and since then I’ve given a lot of thought about who I am and what I want out of this business. I attended Courtney Milan’s session “How to Make a Living as a Slow Writer,” sort of on a whim because I believed…oh, my…I truly believed I was actually a “fast” writer. Before I attended this session, I thought putting out two to three books a year was “fast.”
All writers now, but especially romance writers, exist in a market with a growing population of self-pub authors who are churning out a book a month, maybe even a book every two weeks (TWO WEEKS!). To say I’m “competing” with these writers is not really the right word. The only person I’m competing with is myself and that last book I wrote. Nonetheless, there is a “market” and readers make choices in that market. Just as there is a significant population of writers churning out books every two weeks, there is a significant, a significant, population of readers who want a new book every two weeks. I’m not going to make judgment calls or talk about quality or anything like that in regards to this business model. Romance has enough shade being thrown at it from without, we don’t need it from within. However, I know the kind of book I could write in two weeks is not the kind of book I think my readers want. You know how they say, “Write what you like to read”? It’s no surprise to me that all the writers I love are what we would now call “slow writers.” Writers like Courtney Milan, for example! I don’t have a lot of time to read, and that window is increasingly shrinking with more responsibilities, so when I do read, the books need to be “distinctive and good.” That’s exactly what Milan said. If you’re going to be slow, be distinctive and good.
In this new age of Kindle Unlimited, self-publishing, and ebooks, the pressure to put out several books a year remains enormous. I’m a recovering academic, and for a long time I existed in a world that felt constantly on the verge of collapse. As my professors, colleagues, friends raced for scarce and highly-coveted tenure-track positions, I watched the best minds of my generation deal with deep depression and paralyzing anxiety. But I can say with all honesty, it’s nothing like what I see happening in publishing today. Just open twitter on any given day, and you’ll find several blog confessions from writers about their long descent into agonizing depression or how they had to be hospitalized because of their latest anxiety attack. It’s easy to blow it off and say, “Oh, well, you know…CREATIVES…look at Hemingway.” But no. These are smart, capable, bestselling authors with incredible business acumen. Courtney Milan was very candid in her session about her depression, and she has a law degree and a PhD in something I’m not sure I can even pronounce. The woman is no stranger to stress. In academia, they say “publish or perish,” but I really think there are some authors out there who are literally killing themselves to keep up with market pressures.
And this is why I found Milan’s presentation so refreshing because a part of my journey right now is understanding who I am as a writer and who I want to become. I don’t want to be the writer churning out books every two weeks, and I certainly don’t want to jeopardize my health for the thing I love–writing. What I enjoyed about Milan’s talk is she gave us concrete ideas about how to be smart in this current market by simulating the benefits of being a fast writer. One of those strategies is staying visible through promotional sales events, audiobooks, translations, box sets, etc. She also discussed the importance of memorability, and how we can do that by joining promotions with other writers, getting readers to follow you on facebook and twitter, and finding ways to urge readers who liked your book to subscribe to your newsletter. I’m sure there are more strategies she mentioned, but the point is, if you want to stay true to the kinds of books you want to write, it does require a bit of strategic planning. Of course the dream is to write full-time, but even if I had all the time in the world to write, I don’t know if I would want to put out more than three or four books a year. I think I would like to use that mental space to writer better books, but if that’s the case, I need to find ways to keep me from falling off what’s called “the 30 day cliff” on Amazon. Milan said it used to be 90 days, but now we have one month to engage our readers, or we’re done. Forgotten. Don’t sit around and cry about it. Figure out how keep connected.
But I have to admit, the marketing and social media circus is exhausting sometimes, and it can often feel like no matter what we do, it makes so little difference. I had the opportunity to attend a Q&A session with Robyn Carr, who is probably the most compelling, most captivating writer I have ever met. She was candid, thoughtful, engaging, and so, so real. She talked about her successes, but also her biggest flops, the eight years where she could not sell a book, the moments when she thought she might never succeed in this business. Toward the end of the talk, I asked her about what she thought about the pressures writers are under today to market themselves and if she has any advice about how to tune it out and prioritize writing in our daily lives. She waved her hand and shook her head. “Oh, there is so much pressure on writers today,” she said. “I am so glad I’m not starting my career now because the pressure is enormous.” She went on for a bit, but then she paused and looked me in the eye and said this: “Just remember, when someone is pressuring you to do something, it says more about them than it does about you.” I thought about this answer for a long time, rolled it over and over again in my head. It really resonated with me, but I wasn’t sure why. Then it hit me, and it connected to something Robyn Carr had said earlier in her talk.
No one knows anything.
No one knows anything! We don’t know about the industry, the market, Kindle Unlimited, where digital publishing is going, or how to sell a million books. No one knows! We have ideas, but there’s no formula. So all the pressure to write blogs, get on twitter, get on facebook, make a book trailer, etc., etc., etc., probably comes from other people trying to validate their own choices. That is not to say they’re not bad choices! I would urge any debut writer to try it all, say yes as much as possible, and embrace all the aspects of marketing. It’s actually quite a bit of fun sometimes. But when I look ahead to my books coming out later this year, and I’m thinking about what I’m going to do to help them find readers, I want to make sure that my marketing is coming from a place of love—not a place of fear. I don’t want to do things to validate past-Colleen’s choices, nor do I want to do things simply to validate anyone else’s choices. I want to do marketing that a) works and b) feels authentic.
Because this was the greatest lesson I learned from Robyn Carr and the RWA Spring Fling Conference. At one point during her talk, she asked us, “Who are you? And where is your authentic place?”
These are two questions this conference helped me to answer.
Through the Veil
Elizabeth Tanner is no Tinkerbell, and her life is no fairy tale. Broke and drowning in student loans, the one thing she wants more than anything is a scholarship from the Trinity Foundation. But after the ancient Irish text she’s studying turns out to be more than just a book, she becomes their prisoner instead. And when Trinity reveals Elizabeth is half-Fae, she finds herself at the center of a plot to save the magical races of Ireland from a brutal civil war.
As Commander of Trinity’s elite warriors, Finn O’Connell isn’t used to having his authority challenged. He doesn’t know whether to punish or protect the infuriating young woman in his custody. When he discovers the Dark Fae want to use Elizabeth’s abilities to control the source of all power in the universe, he’ll risk everything to help her.
At the mercy of Trinity and enslaved to the Dark Fae, Elizabeth finds herself alone on the wrong side of an Irish myth thousands of years in the making. Refusing to be a pawn in their game, Elizabeth has to fight her way back to the man she loves, but to do so, she must wage her own war against the magic that binds her.