Why You Should Go to a Conference

With the one year anniversary of The Violet Femmes fast approaching, I’ve realized once again how blessed I am to have such a great group of women supporting me.

As you may or may not know, The Femmes came to fruition at last year’s Put Your Heart in a Book Conference, put on by New Jersey Romance Writers, an excellent sub-group of Romance Writers of America. Encouraged by a glass (or four) of white wine (it’s surprising how much wine can promote creativity), holed up in a hotel room after the awards ceremony, the Violet Femmes were born. It goes without saying that if we weren’t all at that conference, our little group might not exist. Which is what prompted me to write this blog.

First of all, I want to propose that we coin a new term…Pro-ference. Because, really, there are no “con”s to attending a writers conference.

So, here are my top five reasons for attending a Pro-ference…whether it be Put Your Heart in a Book, another local conference, or (gulp!), RWA Nationals:

1.  Camaraderie.  There is no better feeling for a writer than being in the company of others…lots of others…who understand the daily trials, self-doubt, and successes of being a writer. Plus, the sharing usually involves cocktails!


 2.   Advice.  Michael Hauge recently spoke at a special event for New Jersey Romance Writers, and he made an observation I found to be true from my first NJRW meeting. Romance writers, he said, above writers of all other genres, are generous to a fault when it comes to sharing information about our business.  Sure, there are egos, but I have never met a romance writer who guarded trade secrets more closely than Colonel Sanders guarded his secret fried chicken recipe. For example, at my first NJRW conference a couple of years ago, USA Today bestselling author Leanne Banks gave the Special Presentation, reserved for the first 100 registrants for the conference. We spoke a bit before her presentation, and I actively participated in a little exercise she conducted.Photo: Me sipping a "Harlequin Heartbreaker" at the Harlequin bash.

Later, she sat on a panel with Susan Litman, of Harlequin, and they talked about what Harlequin looked for in its different lines. Susan had just requested a full manuscript from me when I pitched her my category romance, so I sat in on that session. Leanne greeted me when she came in the room. Afterwards, I cornered her (poor woman!) in the bar as she grabbed a quick glass of wine, and asked her a question that had been nagging me ever since I had pitched to Susan. Leanne spent about fifteen minutes with me, answering questions and giving advice. And I had just asked her one question!

3.  Pitches.  As Michele discussed in last week’s blog, pitching is a prime reason to attend a pro-ference. Where else do you have the opportunity to meet, chat with, and pitch to several editors and agents in one place? Most regional conferences offer pitch sessions. NJRW’s conference offers lots…probably aided by our proximity to New York City, that publishing mecca. This year, NJRW’s Put Your Heart in a Book Conference offers a choice of almost 30 agents and editors…that’s a lot of potential to sell your manuscript!

 4.    Workshops. Probably the biggest draw for serious writers is the schedule of workshops offered. From the craft of writing, to resourcing, to brainstorming, workshops give us writers the tools we need to get the job done…not an easy feat, I can assure you. They help with confidence building, show us ways to get out of that corner we’ve just written ourselves into, and tell us what to do once we feel our manuscript is ready for someone’s eyes other than our own.

5.     Market knowledge. Whether it’s gleaned from editor and agent panels, or in conversations with other authors, finding out what agents and editors are seeking is invaluable information for aspiring and published authors alike. As audience demands are constantly changing, it is important to understand where the minds of the people helping you sell your book lay. Understanding the business of writing is instrumental in getting those books of our hearts published.

So, have you attended a pro-conference? What was your reason for attending, and what did you take away with you?



p.s. Stay tuned for a special contest celebrating the one-year anniversary of The Violet Femmes! Thank you to everyone who has followed us over the past year. We appreciate your support!

Following the Trends

Boeken Kringloop Woerden 02

On a recent trip home, my uncle asked me, “There’s no chance your pen name is E.L. James, is there? Ha, ha, ha.” (Yes, I know. Comedy runs deep in my family.) “I wish,” I answered sincerely, thinking of my mortgage. “Well, why don’t you write a book like that?” someone else asked me.

Yeah, I thought. Why don’t I write an erotic romance? Thanks to authors like Anne Rice, Lora Leigh, Lauren Dane, and Maya Banks, I’m very familiar with the genre. And it’s hot, hot, hot! right now, due to Fifty Shades.

But do I want to write a story because the genre is trending…or write the story most suited to my voice?

Which is not to say it can’t be both. I don’t think there’s any harm in trying to write in a different genre as long as you are willing to abandon it if it doesn’t feel right. Like trying on a pair of skinny jeans, hoping they fit, but putting them back on the shelf because all they do is emphasize your muffin top. (Note: This has SO not happened to me.) You may discover a talent for an untried genre. Plus, learning to adapt your voice to different genres seems to be the best way expand your talent as a writer.

Agent Rachelle Gardner says the only way to make a living as a writer is through volume and variety. To think you’re going to write one book that’s going to sell millions of copies is unrealistic. Yes, it happens to a lucky few. But for the rest of us, we’ve got to learn how to write many sellable, marketable books over different genres. Sounds daunting, doesn’t it?

That said, I don’t want to jump into every publishing fad that comes along, either. I would be hard pressed to ever write a paranormal, for example. Or an Amish romance (which I was told at RWA ’11 are very popular). My brain isn’t wired that way and that would be some Herculean flexing of my writing muscle.

It’s tricky. As newbies, we’re told, “Write a unique story that is riveting and polished, and it will find an audience,” but is that really true? Sure, self-publishing makes this idea slightly more plausible. But there are gatekeepers in publishing, whether it’s an agent or an editor, and they know what is selling and what’s still sitting on the shelves. You may have an outstanding vampire story on your hands, but no one’s buying it because the genre has been labeled as dead by industry insiders. (Pun intended.) Then what?

So in your writing journeys, how have you grappled with the trends? Let us know! Anyone who leaves a comment in the next four weeks will be entered to win a $10 Amazon gift certificate, courtesy of the Femmes.

When an Agent Calls

Hi everyone! Thanks for stopping by the blog. This month, one random commenter will be chosen to win a $20 Barnes and Noble gift certificate. Leave a comment over the next four weeks and you’ll be entered to win.

Last fall, I compiled a bunch of research on agents when I began querying. I recently sent a lot of this advice to a good friend of the Femmes—who just got her own call!!!—and she suggested I write this up for a blog post. So here goes, and I hope you find some of this useful.


You’ve got your manuscript completely polished. Your query rocks and your synopsis shines. So now you’re ready to query agents. Hooray! This is a very exciting step for writers. Industry professionals commenting on my work! Wait, that’s not exciting—it’s terrifying. Rejection is brutal at best, and we writers constantly brace ourselves to be told how much we SUCK.

But what happens when someone actually likes your story? What happens when the agent you’ve queried actually wants to—gasp!—talk to you?

If you’re querying agents, you should be prepared to talk to them at a moment’s notice. This means you’ve done your homework on the agents you’ve queried. You should already know:

  • The genres they represent
  • How long they’ve been in business
  • Their current list of clients
  • If they are a member of AAR
  • If they have negative comments or are listed on Preditors & Editors, WritersNet forums, or Writer Beware

In other words, DO YOUR RESEARCH. Don’t send out blanket queries to agents you don’t know and aren’t sure you want to work with. If you do, you’re wasting everyone’s time.

So, all that being said, Jane Q. Agent has expressed interest in your work and would like to talk to you. Hooray! After you take sufficient time to let that sink in and subsequently freak out for a few minutes, get your game face on and get prepared. Here are a few tips on what to expect and what to ask your potential agent. (This assumes it’s not a call about revising your work, but rather an offer of representation.)

LINK: Good places to start researching agents are Publisher’s Marketplace and Agent Query.

Your Manuscript

Jane Q. Agent should be excited about your story. She will be pitching it to editors for you, so she should “get” it. That doesn’t mean the manuscript is perfect, but it’s got enough positive points that she thinks it will sell. As you’re discussing the story, ask:

  • Does the manuscript need major revisions before it gets submitted to publishers?
  • What are the strengths/weaknesses of the story?
  • Are you both on the same page with regards to the type of story it is and/or in which genre it best fits?

LINK: An agent’s view of revision letters.

Submitting to Publishers

If you accept the offer of representation, Jane Q. Agent will soon submit your manuscript to publishers. Some questions you might ask:

  • Which publishers/editors does she think will be the best fit for your story?
  • Is there a Plan B if those publishers turn it down?
  • What is a realistic timeframe to expect responses back from editors? (I’ve heard some people sold a ms as quickly as a few weeks, while others took months—or even years.)

LINK: This is a great article on the 10 Myths About Editors.

Your Writing Career

More than likely, Jane Q. Agent isn’t just looking to sell ONE book for you. It’s in her best interest (and yours) to develop your career as a writer where you can sell many books together. Some questions that might come up:

  • Is she interested in representing your future work? (If so, be prepared to discuss what else you’re working on.)
  • How many books can you write/does she expect a year?
  • Does she envision this story as part of a series?
  • What if you want to write a story in another genre?

LINK: Agent Sara Megibow wrote a nice piece on what agents do for your career, You’re Fired!.

The Agent/Writer Relationship

You and Jane Q. Agent will begin a *business* relationship together. (Note the emphasis on “business.”) What does that mean to each of you? Some questions to ask:

  • What are her rates for domestic and foreign rights?
  • What is her preferred method of communication with clients?
  • How hands on is she with brainstorming? Editorial revisions?
  • Will you be dealing directly with her, or an assistant?
  • In her opinion, what makes an ideal client?

LINK: Author Kristan Higgins wrote a great piece Working With your Agent and Editor for Romance University.

After the Offer

While you can accept representation on the spot, of course, it doesn’t hurt to take some time to think about it. After all, you may have queries out to other agents, want to talk to your friends in the industry, consider what you learned in the conversation, etc. So take a few days or a week to consider what you want.

If you have queries, partials, or fulls out to other agents, you should definitely email those agents to let them know you’re considering an offer of representation from another agent. It’s common courtesy to either withdraw your ms/query from their pile or give them a reasonable time frame in which to get look at it and get back to you.

LINK: Agent Query’s When Agents Offer Representation and The Call from an agent’s perspective.

My Own Call Story

Full disclosure, when I got my own call, I was probably far from calm, cool, and collected.

In December, I was honored to receive an offer of representation from the amazing Laura Bradford of the Bradford Literary Agency. I had met her at RWA Nationals that summer, where I pitched her a contemporary story. While she passed on that particular ms, she did send along some very insightful thoughts on how I might make it better. I thanked her and promised to query her again when I finished my historical WIP.

When I completed my new Regency manuscript, The Courtesan Duchess, she was one of the first agents I queried. I was giddy when she requested a partial, and then ecstatic when she requested the full. Imagine my surprise when she called me the morning after I sent the full to tell me how much she loved it!

After Laura and I hung up, I ran to tell my husband the good news—only to have my oldest daughter throw up all over the couch. So there I was, cleaning up puke, grinning from ear to ear.

Hey, no one said a writer’s life was glamorous.

We love hearing from our readers! Tell us…do you have advice for The Call, or a call story of your own?

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